Brexit, Trade Deals, Food Standards and the NHS

Thank you for contacting me about the NHS, food standards and international trade following Brexit.

Free trade is a driver of economic growth which can raise incomes, create jobs, and lift people out of poverty, which is why I am glad that outside the EU the UK will be able to strike new trade agreements with countries across the globe. But more trade should not come at the expense of the high levels of quality and protection enjoyed in our country.

With regard to scrutiny of future trade agreements, the Government is committed to transparency and scrutiny of its trade agreements. The Government has committed to Parliament scrutinising our future trade arrangements. Parliament will be able to inform negotiations, be regularly updated, and will ultimately play its role in the ratification of any new Free Trade Agreement through the process set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. I am confident these measures will ensure that both the public and parliamentarians get the chance to have their say on future trade agreements.

Like you, I cherish our National Health Service and the role it plays in ensuring that no-one is denied medical treatment because they cannot afford it. The Government has been repeatedly clear that our NHS will never be on the table in any trade negotiations, a position I fully support.

In the EU trade agreements to which our country is currently party, our NHS is protected by specific exceptions and reservations. Outside the EU, rigorous protections for our NHS will be maintained and included in any future trade agreement to which our country is party.

Following the US state visit, I welcomed President Trump’s clarification of his remarks about a potential US-UK trade agreement, in which he stated: “I don't see it [the NHS] being on the table” in negotiations.

With specific regard to investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms in trade agreements, the Government is considering the future approach. However, it is important to note that ISDS does not, and cannot, force the privatisation of public services or oblige the Government to open the NHS to further competition.

The right of governments to regulate in the public interest is protected in investment chapters in free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties. The UK has more than 90 bilateral investment treaties in place with other countries and there has never been a successful ISDS claim brought against the UK, nor has the threat of potential claims affected the Government’s legislative programme. 

I would like to reassure you that ISDS does not, and cannot, force the privatisation of public services. In addition, the UK supports transparency in ISDS. The new United Nations Rules on Transparency in Treaty-based Investor-State Arbitration, to which the UK is a signatory, are specifically designed to address such concerns.

Our food standards will not be reduced in the pursuit of trade deals. Any future trade deal must work for British farmers and consumers. For instance, EU standards on food such as chlorinated chicken will come into UK law through the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018. EU regulations on hormone treated beef are already part of UK law. These prevent the use of growth hormones in imports and domestic production. These will continue after the UK leaves the EU. I can also assure you that farmers will continue to receive the same cash total in funds for the duration of this Parliament whether or not a deal is reached.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Craig Whittaker MP

October 2019