Press release from Berwick TUC on public meeting held 26th February 2016
A well attended public meeting has expressed fears about the threat to the NHS posed by the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated in Brussels. Held at the Granary on Friday 26 February, speakers included Jude Kirton-Darling (MEP for the North East and a member of the Trade Committee in the European Parliament), Simon Roy and Frank Robson (campaigners for The Peoples NHS in the North East). Using recent legal advice from specialist barristers, they explained how privatised NHS services would not be exempt from huge compensation claims if, in the future, the government wished to take the services back into public hands, or even to transfer them to an alternative provider. Many NHS contracts are currently being awarded to private companies, many of which are multinational corporations.
The meeting heard how such fears had also been communicated to Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan in a thousand-strong petition delivered on 22nd January. The only response so far has been an emollient Tweet claiming that “The Prime Minister, the European Commission and the US government have all confirmed that the EU-US Free Trade Agreement will pose no threat to the provision of key UK public services, such as NHS healthcare, and EU countries will be free to decide how they run their public health systems”. The meeting heard how this is misleading and the People’s NHS has called for Mrs Trevelyan to seek release of the legal advice, currently being withheld by the Government, on which such a claim is based. Those attending the meeting were all concerned that our local MP should urge the necessary exclusions to prevent our NHS falling irreversibly into the hands or American Multinationals or other foreign investors.
Some notes from the meeting:
Chair: Laura Kay
- Simon distributes notes about TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and there are free copies about the European Union available.
Simon is passionate about the NHS and has brought along two placards which imitate “For Sale” notices and implicate Cameron and Hunt in the sale of the NHS.
He thanks the Berwick Trades Council for its petitioning against the TTIP deal and for handing in the approximate 1000 signatures collected locally. The distribution of postcards to be sent to M.Ps was also helpful.
- Frank has involvement with 38 degrees campaigns and reminds us that they provide legal advice. There is a need to get the NHS exempt from privatization. U.S. multinationals could sue the U.K. if we try to stop the privatization.
Jude puts the issue into context. She thinks many people do not understand how the EU works. She is a member of the EU Trade Committee and partakes in negotiations along with MEP Paul Brannen. They both voted to keep public services out of any future deal. Labour would prefer a global deal rather than a bi-lateral one. She states that we need regulation of the global economy. At present workers compete with each other in different countries.
- Trade Agreements are crucial to protect broader groups of society. She wants Planning before Profit. A good union is a negotiator with a mandate from employees and must provide feedback. That should be the case with the EU.
- In the EU there is a Swedish Commissioner who sits in front of 28 Commissioners who give the mandate. Trade Ministers know what is going on. In contrast there is no transparency in our country. Decisions in the UK are at Cabinet level and with the PM are in secret.
- Tariffs at present vary with a high cost between the U.S. and the E.U. for medicines and pharmaceuticals as well as intellectual property like protecting the names of commodities(e.g. Wensleydale Cheese).
- Jude thinks that all public services, not only the NHS should be defined democratically and not be constrained by International Trade.
- She admits that there has been massive privatization in public service. Labour wants a full carve-out with privatization removed from the NHS and Care Homes as well as most of Education.
- Multinationals use the threat of legal action to prevent public policies. The shift in smoking was challenged and now climate change policies are at risk. Obama tried to stop imports of Canadian oil. The European Parliament can reject things. At present Americans are distracted by the imminent election in November.
- Why are we not asking the government for other options? Answer: the govt has hidden the NHS problem within the Data Protection Act. The main problem is in Westminster.
Frank states that accountability is lacking because of legal advice.
Jude reminds us that different countries have different priorities. In Germany the key policy is security and universal free water.
We have not got a unilateral agreement with the U.S and we need the protection of the EU.
If we withdraw from the EU and follow Norway’s example we still have to pay in and obey the rules but will have no MEPs and no representation at the discussions.
Question: If there is no deal do we remain with the same trade barriers?
Answer: Jude predicts an early agreement with six of the major manufacturing industries such as Automobile, Medicine and Pharmaceutical. She advises us to follow the US trade negotiations on Twitter and to keep up the pressure of campaigning on Tory MPs (they are sensitive at a local level)
Question: What should we be doing?
Answer: Keep up bombarding our MP (Anne Marie Trevelyan). Write or email or attend her surgeries. Expect a reply within a week or two.
Question: Is the Referendum a distraction?
In the North East we benefit strongly from our membership. The extra cash is invested in Tyne and Wear projects and Northumberland to compensate with local government cuts. 160,000 jobs are linked with the EU.
Jude gives us a reminiscence about her activist mother who won a case about toxic waste when she went to Brussels and provoked an Environment Assessment.
Jude stresses that Climate Change needs countries to help each other. We would be less influential outside the EU.
Frank confirms that as a heavy goods driver for Eddie Stobart he helped to reduce the maximum working hours and increase the days of paid holidays with the help of the EU regulations and his union.
Thanks to Rose Kay for notes
The meeting ended at about 8.15 pm.