Trade Agreements

The NHS and Trade and Investment Agreements

Until now, trade deals have been negotiated by the European Union on the UK’s behalf. Negotiations have been secretive and undemocratic in that our Members of the European Parliament have had very limited access to information, and the UK Parliament has no way to definitively veto a deal.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), currently undergoing final ratification, is a case in point. CETA is a so-called ‘new generation trade deal’ that, besides removing most tariffs on trade, will cut regulation and so reduce governmental control over transnational corporations. A council for ‘regulatory cooperation’ will allow corporations to influence draft UK legislation. CETA also includes a punitive investment protection mechanism (Investment Court System or ICS) that allows foreign corporations to use an international trade tribunal to sue the UK government for massive compensation if it introduces new measures (however beneficial for the public) that happen to affect corporate profits.

CETA, like many trade deals in the pipeline, covers not just goods but trade in services, including the NHS. There is an intrinsic tension between public services like the NHS that meet social needs on a not-for-profit basis and treaties covering trade in services that promote commercialisation and treat public services as potential sources of profit. Including a measure like ICS in such deals means the increasing privatisation of the NHS will be nigh on impossible to reverse.

Brexit means that the UK will be negotiating its own trade agreements for the first time in over 40 years and it looks like these deals will be central to shaping the UK’s future and how it relates to the rest of the world. So far, it appears that negotiators will use CETA as a template for future deals, and continue to prioritise the interests of transnational corporations at the expense of public services like the NHS.

Keep Our NHS Public is opposed to agreements along the lines of CETA. Instead, we want:

  • Future trade deals to be based on the greater good of the general public, rather than the interests of multinational corporations.
  • Public services (such as the NHS) to be explicitly and comprehensively excluded from all chapters of future trade treaties.
  • Parliament to set the mandate for each treaty, following public consultation.
  • A transparent negotiation process during which MPs have access to a treaty’s texts, and Parliament has a right to review and, if necessary, withdraw from deals.
  • The use of domestic courts for dispute resolution, not ICS.
  • Full protection for the right of government to regulate in the interests of the public: no secret ‘regulatory cooperation’.
  • Amendment of Part 2 of the Constitutional Reform of Governance Act 2010, so that Parliament can debate and definitively decide whether to ratify any UK trade deal.

For more information on trade agreements and the NHS including the current position on CETA, see

All KONP articles relating to trade and investment deals can be found in our resource cabinet
Please see our most recent CETA briefing in our 2018 CETA fact sheet