The UK government has insisted it will not water down welfare standards or put the NHS up for sale to secure a trade deal with Donald Trump, as it set out its negotiating objectives.
In a 167-page document, published by Liz Truss’s Department for International Trade, the government said it was aiming to reduce tariffs and other barriers to trade, but without compromising standards.
Overall, the government said it was seeking to achieve “broad liberalisation of tariffs” and “simple and modern rules of origin”, to determine which goods can pass freely between the two markets.
Fears have been expressed that the UK is preparing to water down standards in areas including food production – allowing imports of chlorinated chicken, for example. These were intensified when Boris Johnson said in his Greenwich speech last month that such rules should be “governed by science, not mumbo-jumbo”.
But the document reiterates the Conservatives’ manifesto commitment not to allow welfare standards to be compromised.
“The government’s manifesto has made it clear that in all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards,” the document says.
It also insists that NHS drugs prices will not be up for negotiation, saying explicitly: “The price the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table. The services the NHS provides will not be on the table.”
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, laid heavy stress during the general election campaign on the risk that drugs prices could increase significantly, after a Dispatches documentary revealed a series of meetings had been held between UK and US officials in which the issue had been raised.
The US negotiating mandate, published last year, pointed to public services as one area for potential liberalisation.
Trade expert Sam Lowe said the document showed the government intended to take a robust approach to US demands that the UK drop barriers to trade in agriculture and food, including chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef and to its desire to get access to the NHS.
“If you consider this as an opening document in a negotiation, then it shows the UK is holding firm on the NHS and is quite strong on agriculture making promises not just on food safety but on animal welfare. So the UK is saying it doesn’t want to compromise. This means that we are in for proper negotiations not just a quick deal, so we are in for the long haul,” said Lowe.
The document is being published on the same day that negotiations with the EU27 in Brussels over the future relationship kick off. Truss had argued the two processes should run simultaneously, believing that would maximise the UK’s leverage.
The government stresses the potential advantages of a deal, including potentially boosting exports of salmon, cheddar cheese and cars, claiming that “removing trade barriers with the US could deliver huge gains”.
However, the economic analysis laid out in the document also reveals the limited impact of even a generous free trade arrangement.
The most optimistic of two potential scenarios modelled yields a modest 0.16% increase in annual GDP growth over the long term – and an annual £222m saving for consumers on tariffs. That amounts to just £8 a household.