Theresa May refuses to rule out selling off the NHS in post-Brexit trade deal with Trump

Theresa May and Donald Trump

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Theresa May and Donald Trump
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REUTERS/Carlos Barria

  • Theresa May sidesteps a question on whether the NHS will be part of any post-Brexit trade deal with Donald Trump.
  • The prime minister says it is too early to say what the US will ask for in negotiations.
  • Labour accuses the government of secretly plotting to privatise the health service.
  • The row comes within days of Trump’s public criticism of universal healthcare in the UK.

LONDON – Theresa May has been accused of secretly plotting to sell off the NHS after declining a request to rule out making the NHS part of any future post-Brexit trade deal with the US.

The prime minister was asked by Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable in the House of Commons to give an “absolute guarantee” that the NHS “will not be for sale” when the UK government begins negotiations with the Donald Trump administration.

However, May declined the opportunity, saying the UK did not yet know what “requirements” the US would make as part of any deal.

“We are starting the discussions with the American administration,” May replied.

“He doesn’t know what they are going to say in their requirements for that free trade agreements. We will go into those negotiations to get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom.”

Watch May sidestep a question on selling off the NHS

Asked by Business Insider to clarify the prime minister’s comments, a spokesperson for May said that discussions about the detail of any trade deal had not yet begun.

“We are at the outset of those discussions and her comments reflect that fact,” the spokesperson said, adding that “the point is we are not into the detail of those discussions. We are very much at the outset of them.”

Labour said May’s comments were a matter of “great concern” and accused the government of secretly seeking to privatise the health service.

“Any attempt to push Britain into a race to the bottom in standards and regulation is completely unacceptable and obviously a faction in the conservative party leadership wants that,” a spokesperson for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said.

“It is a matter of great concern. The British people do not want the cherry-picking or privatisation of the NHS.”

The row comes within days of the US president criticising the NHS. Trump tweeted a claim that large numbers of British people had taken to the streets in protest against Britain’s universal healthcare system.

The health secretary Jeremy Hunt publicly dismissed the comments. However, May has yet to comment on them and did not raise the matter when the two leaders spoke on Tuesday evening.