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PM to downplay ties with Trump amid accusations of 'NHS sell-off'

The Guardian logo The Guardian 02/12/2019 Rowena Mason and Heather Stewart
Boris Johnson, Donald Trump are posing for a picture: Boris Johnson said that he would not welcome any input from Trump into the election debate, after the US president offered him his endorsement over the summer. © Reuters Boris Johnson said that he would not welcome any input from Trump into the election debate, after the US president offered him his endorsement over the summer.

Boris Johnson will seek to downplay his relationship with president Donald Trump at this week’s Nato meeting, amid Labour’s accusations that a US-UK trade deal will lead to an NHS sell-off and higher drug prices.

As the US president flew into London on Monday night, Tory strategists were hoping Trump would not add fuel to accusations that the US will seek to profit from the NHS as the price for any trade deal.

Johnson has made clear that he would not welcome any input from Trump into the election debate at such a sensitive time in the campaign, after the US president offered him his endorsement over the summer.

Video: Johnson reminds Trump not to interfere with general election (The Independent)

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There is nervousness within the Conservative campaign about Trump’s unpredictability, as he has a full two days in the UK and is expected to give a press conference on Wednesday. Johnson said last week that “close friends and allies” like the UK and the US should not get involved in each other elections.

As Trump landed on Monday night, Jeremy Corbyn wrote to the US president demanding assurances that any trade deal would exclude any reference to pharmaceuticals and accept the role of the UK’s drugs watchdog in setting the threshold for the cost-effectiveness of drugs for the NHS.

He also requested that the US drop the demand for “total market access” to UK public services and rule out any investor-state dispute settlement mechanism by which the UK government could be sued for protecting public services.

British healthcare © mattjeacock British healthcare

Corbyn also wrote to the prime minister urging him to break off trade talks with Trump until any reference to pharmaceuticals is struck out of Washington’s negotiating objectives.

The Labour leader has repeatedly accused the prime minister of preparing to sell off the NHS, and Labour activists at recent rallies have taken up a chorus of “Not for sale! Not for sale!”

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, accused the opposition of scaremongering, denying the NHS would be up for sale.

Gallery: The fascinating history of the NHS in photos (StarsInsider) 

“Once again, Jeremy Corbyn is desperately trying to whip up absurd scare stories about our NHS to distract from his confused position on Brexit and plans for two referendums,” he said.

“Just this week, a former Labour health minister blasted Corbyn’s claims about the NHS as ‘delusional’ and warned that Corbyn’s own policies would increase the price of medicines and put the development of life-saving drugs at risk.”

Johnson is yet to have a fixed bilateral meeting with Trump in his diary but he may still meet the US president one-to-one on Wednesday.

Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn leafleting outside Finsbury Park station, London, whilst on the General Election campaign trail. (Photo by Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images) © PA Wire/PA Images Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn leafleting outside Finsbury Park station, London, whilst on the General Election campaign trail. (Photo by Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, he will host a reception in Downing Street for the Nato leaders and attend a separate event at Buckingham Palace, where Corbyn will also be present.

The Nato meeting is expected to be dominated by tensions within the alliance over the conflict in Syria and Turkey’s incursion into Kurdish-held areas.

The leaders’ meeting, hosted by Johnson just outside Watford, was called to mark the alliance’s 70th anniversary.

EDIRNE, TURKEY - NOVEMBER 30: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during the opening ceremony of the TANAP-Europe connection in Ipsala district of Edirne, Turkey on November 30, 2019. (Photo by Serhat Cagdas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) © 2019 Anadolu Agency EDIRNE, TURKEY - NOVEMBER 30: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during the opening ceremony of the TANAP-Europe connection in Ipsala district of Edirne, Turkey on November 30, 2019. (Photo by Serhat Cagdas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

However, the celebrations are likely to be overshadowed by French president Emmanuel Macron’s accusation that Nato was “brain dead” for failing to stop Turkey’s attack on Kurds.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, accused Macron of having “a sick and shallow understanding” of terrorism, suggesting he was the one who was “brain dead”.

Johnson will host the two leaders, together with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, for talks in Downing Street on Tuesday ahead of the main gathering on Wednesday, when the 29 world leaders are expected to give speeches and discuss Nato missions, member states’ spending and Nato’s role in responding to threats around the world.

FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump meets with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File) © ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump meets with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “The PM’s position is that Nato is the most enduring and successful alliance in military history and that it continues to adapt to the evolving threats that we face.

“It is the cornerstone of Euro-Atlantic security and it helps to keep a billion people safe. The PM will emphasise that all members must be united behind shared priorities so Nato can adapt to the challenges ahead.”

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