General election 2019: SNP launches campaign with ‘NHS Protection Bill’


Nicola Sturgeon

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Ms Sturgeon launched the campaign at an event in Edinburgh on Friday morning

The SNP has launched its election campaign by promising to bring forward legislation to protect the NHS from privatisation and future trade deals.

The NHS Protection Bill would block any UK government from using the NHS as a “bargaining chip” in trade talks.

If passed it would also give devolved parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a veto on any deal.

SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the NHS should not be for sale “at any price”.

And she challenged the other parties at Westminster to back the bill to “stop the Tories trading our NHS for trade deals with Donald Trump”.

Ms Sturgeon claims that despite health policy being devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the UK government could still “sell off” the NHS in trade negotiations.

Other opposition parties have also expressed concern about the possibility of the NHS being opened up to American healthcare companies in a trade deal, after Mr Trump said “everything was on the table” during a joint press conference with then prime minister Theresa May.

But the UK government has insisted the NHS is “not on the table” for trade talks and is not in any way “up for sale”.

The NHS has been a key topic in the early days of the election campaign, with Labour also claiming they could be vulnerable to privatisation.

The UK’s political parties are setting out their platforms ahead of the general election on 12 December.

Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to put opposition to Brexit and backing for a new independence referendum “at the heart” of the SNP’s election bid.

However, she is also set to prioritise health services at her campaign launch event in Edinburgh, with a manifesto commitment to bring forward an NHS Protection Bill at Westminster.

The party said the legislation “would explicitly prevent any future UK government from signing up to any agreement that made the NHS, in any part of the UK, a bargaining chip of any kind in any future trade deals”.

It would also require the “explicit approval” of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish parliaments before any new trade deal could be signed, so they could agree that there was “no negative impact” on the NHS or the price of medications in their countries.

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The prime minister insists that the NHS is not in any way “up for sale”

Ms Sturgeon said Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been “very clear about his desire for a post-Brexit trade deal with Donald Trump”, and said this could pose a threat to the health service.

She said: “The NHS in Scotland is run in Scotland, for Scotland and under the SNP it will always be in public hands. Our NHS is not for sale at any price.

“And while the Scottish Parliament has control of health policy, we cannot currently stop Westminster signing away that protection in a trade deal, or entering agreements that dramatically push up drug prices or risk our public services, including the NHS.

“So in order to deal with the immediate threat from the Tories’ post-Brexit plans, the SNP will bring forward a bill that would protect the NHS across the whole of the UK from ever being harmed by a Tory-Trump trade deal.”

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Media captionElection 2019: What happened on Thursday?

Labour has claimed a Conservative trade deal with the US after Brexit could cost the NHS £500m a week by driving up the price of medicines.

Leader Jeremy Corbyn said this money “could be taken out of the NHS and handed to big drugs companies” after US trade negotiators said they would want “full market access” for US pharmaceuticals.

When US President Donald Trump visited the UK in June, he said the NHS would form part of negotiations over a possible future trade deal between the UK and US. The next day, he rowed back from those remarks.

Mr Johnson has been joined by his Health Secretary Matt Hancock and International Trade Secretary Liz Truss in insisting that the NHS is “off the table” in trade talks with the US post-Brexit.

The Conservative leader has pledged to bring forward the “biggest programme of NHS investment in a generation” and upgrades for hospitals.

In a visit to Scotland on Thursday he also hit out at Ms Sturgeon’s goal of holding a new independence vote in 2020, saying the Tories would “prevent another referendum”.

He added: “We are the party that is saying come on, let’s get together as a whole UK, let’s get Brexit done, get this thing over the line and then get on with bringing our great country together and unleashing the potential of the whole UK.”

Meanwhile Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson is also set to campaign in Scotland on Friday with a visit to Fife.

She promoted her party as “the home of Remain” and also backers of the UK, saying: “The four nations of the United Kingdom are stronger when they work together, so we should work together to stop Brexit.”

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