Jeremy Corbyn recently said he would veto a trade deal called 'TTIP' if he became leader. He is right to do that. This deal is a major threat to British jobs, working people and public services, especially the NHS. But it will not be possible for Jeremy to veto this deal if we remain a member of the EU. We will be forced to accept its damaging consequences.
TTIP is a trade deal that is currently being negotiated behind closed doors between the EU and US. It will make it easier for American companies to access British and EU industries – from healthcare to manufacturing – and vice versa. As with all trade deals, it will mean giving American companies unrestricted access to sectors of our economy in return for them doing the same.
This will, of course, benefit large multinationals in America and the EU, who will use it to grow even bigger, make more money, and shift jobs from Europe to the US, where workers' rights and protections are weaker. We know this is the case because a similar deal between America and Mexico, NAFTA, led to the displacement of almost 700,000 jobs from the US to low-wage Mexico.
Most worryingly, this trade deal is being stitched up away from the eyes of the public, as well as democratically elected politicians. Career bureaucrats in Brussels who we do not know – and, more than likely, are not British – are bargaining away access to many of our key industries, industries that support the jobs of millions of people across the country. The safety and security of millions of working people is being jeopardised to enable multinational companies and their rich shareholders to make bigger profits.
One of the sectors American conglomerates are most interested in is Britain's healthcare system, the NHS. These corporations recognise there is big money to be made from people's illnesses and distress. If the giant healthcare companies in America had their own way, they would grab huge swathes of our health services and over time do away with the concept of healthcare 'free at the point of use', introducing fees for GP appointments.
The safety and security of millions of working people is being jeopardised to enable multinational companies and their rich shareholders to make bigger profits.
We know this because that is exactly how they run their healthcare system in America, leaving poor and desperate people racking up bills to pay for healthcare – and in some cases bankrupting the families of sick people suffering from cancer and other debilitating medical conditions.
One might have expected that our vital public services, like the NHS, would be off the table for this trade deal. But that is not the case. In fact, the European Commission has said specifically that public services are to be included. Negotiators are currently discussing how much access American companies will have to our critical healthcare system. Tory Trade Minister Lord Livingstone recently admitted that talks about the NHS are on the TTIP table.
It is too easy to be alarmist, but in the case of TTIP there is every reason to be worried. All it takes is for the introduction of some form of marketisation in UK health services to start a rapid race to the bottom. Experience shows that multinational companies do not compromise, and that they will not stop with what they are initially given. If they are allowed even to get their foot in the door, they will push and push, introducing further market reforms and taking further steps towards privatisation. The only answer is to stop these discussions altogether.
I'm proud of the historic role that the Labour Party played in bringing universal healthcare to millions of people across this country, regardless of how much money they have or their situation. The NHS is a wonderful British institution and testament to the best of what we can do when we stand together as a country.
But this is not the only thing we should be worried about. TTIP will also introduce so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlements, allowing companies to sue governments for loss of profits due to policy decisions. This would mean that American companies could sue the British government if we didn't allow them to make as much money as they feasibly could – or if we did not allow them to access profitable markets from which they are currently excluded. The NHS comes immediately to mind, as does the transport system.
This would put a dramatic – and almost certainly irreversible – stop to renationalisation projects. Any future progressive Labour government would be prevented from renationalising the railways and any other critical national services or else face the risk of being sued. The government would moreover also have to think carefully before running vital low-cost or subsidised services for working people.
We need to take back control of our public services, and strike trade deals on our own terms.
This would put big corporate businesses in the driving seat. It would give power to companies and shareholders and take power away from governments and democratically elected representatives. It would put the interests of big business above those of working people.
I am sure these concerns keep Jeremy Corbyn awake at night. That is why he recently pledged to veto TTIP if he becomes Prime Minister. He has fought tooth and nail for working people across the years and realises the very real threat it presents to working people. But this is sadly not something that Jeremy can promise. In the EU, trade deals are decided solely by Qualified Majority Voting in the European Council. His vote couldn't – and won't – stop it going through.
As a Labour MP, I argue that the only real way to avoid this possible scenario is to vote to leave the EU. That's what I will be doing on 23 June. It is also increasingly what many Labour supporters will be doing. We need to take back control of our public services, and strike trade deals on our own terms. These deals should be conducted by democratically elected politicians in the full light of day, and they should put the interests of working people above those of companies. The EU is defending the interests of big business and not working people.
Kelvin Hopkins is Labour Member of Parliament for Luton North.