DONALD TRUMP provoked outrage by saying the NHS should be ‘on the table’ in post-Brexit trade talks.
The president, who sat opposite Theresa May at a breakfast meeting with business leaders yesterday, said the healthcare system could be part of a ‘phenomenal’ UK-US deal.
‘When you’re dealing in trade, everything is on the table,’ he told a press conference. ‘So the NHS or anything else, a lot more than that, but everything will be on the table, absolutely.’
The American ambassador in London Woody Johnson has suggested US insurers and pharmaceutical giants could become involved in the NHS as part of a trade partnership.
The comments raised fears that the taxpayer-funded system, free at the point of use, could be gradually replaced by US-style privatised care.
Mrs May attempted to put Mr Trump’s remarks in perspective, telling the press conference: ‘The point in making trade deals is of course that both sides negotiate and come to an agreement about what should or should not be in that trade deal for the future.’
And health secretary Matt Hancock, one of the contenders to replace the PM, tweeted: ‘Dear Mr President. The NHS isn’t on the table in trade talks — and never will be. Not on my watch.’
Jeremy Corbyn went on the attack over Mr Trump’s comments. He pointed out that Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, an ally of the president, has called for the NHS to move towards an insurance-based system managed by private companies.
The Labour leader tweeted: ‘Theresa May stood next to Donald Trump as he said the NHS will be “on the table” in a US trade deal. And that’s what Tory leadership contenders and Farage are lining up for the no-deal disaster capitalism plans they have.’
Mr Corbyn earlier told demonstrators at an anti-Trump rally in London that the NHS was ‘not for sale’.
First minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon said: ‘Scotland’s NHS is not and must never be “on the table”.’
And Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association’s council, wrote to the contenders in the Tory leadership race to express his concern.
His open letter said: ‘Patients and NHS staff — indeed, anyone who cares about our health service — will understandably be alarmed.
‘We have an unequivocal message for the next Conservative leader and future prime minister — profit should never take priority over the protection of the health service and the healthcare of citizens.’
Several of the leadership hopefuls joined Mr Hancock in ruling out any dismantling of the NHS if they won.
Dominic Raab said the NHS would not be ‘for sale’ under his watch, while Sam Gyimah said it ‘should not be used as a bargaining chip’.
Lib Dem leadership contender Sir Ed Davey said: ‘Those who called for Brexit on the basis it would mean better trade deals for the UK should hang their heads in shame.’
Mr Trump was full of enthusiasm at the press conference for a deal that could give UK firms greater access to the US market.
He told reporters: ‘Our nations have more than $1trillion invested in each other’s economics. As the UK makes preparations to exit the EU, the US is committed to a phenomenal trade deal between the US and the UK. There is tremendous potential in that trade deal, I say probably two and even three times what we’re doing right now.’
The press conference followed talks between the two leaders, with aides present, in Downing Street. Mr Trump’s party also included his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner.
The prime minister acknowledged that the discussions had covered subjects they disagree on. These included policies on China, Iran and tackling climate change.
She told the press conference: ‘I’ve always believed that co-operation and compromise are the basis of strong alliances and nowhere is this more true than in the special relationship.’
At the meeting with UK and US business bosses, Mr Trump said he hoped Mrs May would stay in power to negotiate the trade deal, appearing not to realise she is due to step down within weeks.
‘It’s an honour to have worked with you,’ he said. ‘I don’t know exactly what your timing is but stick around, let’s do this deal.’