Just days after the announcement of a general election, Donald Trump made clear that Boris Johnson is his preferred candidate as Britain’s Prime Minister. But although Trump sees a kindred spirit in Johnson, his support is undoubtedly motivated by more than the similarities between their gravity-defying hair and penchant for populist rhetoric. Trump correctly understands that a victory for Johnson would be a victory for US big business.
Johnson has made clear that a trade deal with the US is a key plank of his post-Brexit strategy. Although he has repeatedly claimed that the NHS would be ‘off the table’ in any such deal, we should know better than to trust this serial liar. After all, if he was true to his word, shouldn’t he be dead in a ditch right now?
The US has already published their negotiating objectives, which state that ‘full market access’ to the NHS is one of their main goals in any trade deal. One key issue within this desired market access is the price the NHS pays for drugs manufactured by American pharmaceutical companies.
The NHS already spends £18 billion a year on drugs but UK regulations allow it to negotiate vastly lower prices than those paid in the US. American Big Pharma wants to see an end to the NHS’s ability to ‘artificially depress prices’.
The US pharmaceutical companies are prepared to spend big to get what they want. They have already spent half a billion dollars in lobbying the US government to pursue these objectives and all that money is paying dividends. Trump has made ending foreign ‘freeloading’ on drug prices a key pillar of US trade policies and recent trade deals with Canada, South Korea and Mexico have all included an increase in drug prices.
Recent revelations in a Channel Four Dispatches documentary confirmed that drug prices have already formed part of UK-US trade discussion. In complete contradiction to Johnson’s pledge to keep the NHS out of trade negotiations, at the six meetings that have already taken between US-UK officials, drug prices have been on the table. At the same time senior British trade representatives have held five secret meetings with US Big Pharma.
In an Orwellian twist, Dispatches also revealed that UK trade officials have been instructed to refer to this issue in coded language – increasing drug prices is now talked about as ‘valuing innovation’. But valuing innovation is set to come at a significant price to the NHS. Research by an advisor to the World Health Organisation has shown that if the NHS was forced to pay American prices for all drugs the annual cost would balloon to £45 billion, meaning £500 million a week would go straight into the pockets of Big Pharma bosses.
The astonishing amount of money at stake makes clear why Trump is so keen on a Conservative victory in this election. The alternative is a Corbyn-led Labour government that has pledged to take on Big Pharma with a publicly owned drugs company. We would go further and say that all the drug companies in the UK should be nationalised and their resources put to use for the public good.
The NHS is one of the last vestiges of civilisation in our austerity wracked country. Opening it up to the interests of US big business would take it on a path that leads to its destruction. We cannot allow this to happen. We say: For a publically-owned and funded NHS, free for all and free from privatisation.