Unless Britain votes to leave the European Union (EU), the National Health Service (NHS) will face a “myriad of dangers” from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), according to a former Foreign Secretary.
Lord Owen has warned that if TTIP negotiations are finalised without special protective provisions, the NHS will be at risk of further privatisation. Speaking to The Guardian he said that unless people opt for Brexit in June’s In/Out referendum it will be impossible to take the NHS back to its original purpose.
With his extensive experience in relevant fields, Lord Owen speaks with authority. He trained in medicine before entering politics, working for a period as a neurology and psychiatric registrar at St Thomas’s Hospital in London before he became a Member of Parliament for the Labour Party. He later went on to be a Minister of State for Health and became the youngest Foreign Secretary for over 40 years in 1977.
The most controversial TTIP provisions will enable U.S. companies to sue the British government for pursuing policies that harm their business. The Unite trade union — despite being headed by the pro-Remain leftist Len McCluskey — commissioned a legal opinion which argues that those clauses would render the privatisation of parts of the NHS irreversible for future governments wanting to restore services to full public ownership.
That legal opinion is what Lord Owen refers to when he warns of TTIP’s effects on the NHS. He said:
“The legal opinion is very clear that there are a myriad of dangers if health comes under the current TTIP system.
“The government could apply for an exclusion but even if we do that we are still left with the problem that the EU has gone more and more into the health service, because as more marketisation comes in there it becomes a greater justification for not treating it as an exception … such as the insistence on putting more and more out to contract.”
Explaining why he believes a government independent of EU influence is important, he added:
“All I am saying is I want to be able to vote for the essence of the NHS to come back if we have a government that is not a Conservative one…We have got no chance whatever of going back unless we get out.”
As a former Europhile Lord Owen campaigned to remain in the European Economic Community, as the EU then was, in the 1975 referendum. He now appreciates that he was wrong then, saying:
“Barbara Castle and I disagreed in 1975. I thought the common market would leave the NHS alone but she turned out to be more perceptive than me.”