The US will want business access to the NHS in any post-Brexit trade deal, the US ambassador has said, prompting anger from politicians and campaigners before Donald Trump’s state visit to the UK this week.
Woody Johnson, who is a close friend of the US president, said every area of the UK economy would be up for discussion when the two sides brokered a trade deal.
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Asked if the NHS was likely to form part of trade negotiations, Johnson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I think the entire economy, in a trade deal, all things that are traded would be on the table.” Asked if that specifically meant healthcare, he said: “I would think so.”
His comments were met with alarm from opposition politicians. The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said the comments were deeply concerning.
“The ambassador’s comments are terrifying and show that a real consequence of a no-deal Brexit, followed by a trade deal with Trump, will be our NHS up for sale. This absolutely should not be on the table,” he said. “Nigel Farage and the Tories want to rip apart our publicly funded and provided NHS. Labour will always defend it.”
Ed Davey, a candidate for the Lib Dem leadership, said the comments showed the NHS would be “up for sale under the Conservatives” and Brexit would leave the UK in a “far weaker negotiating position against Trump and his America First agenda”.
Johnson was also pressed on whether the US would seek a loosening of agricultural standards, including the importation of chlorinated chicken. He said the products should be offered to British consumers who could decide whether to buy them.
“There will have to be some deal where you give the British people a choice,” he said. “American products can come over and be allowed to come over. Agriculture is extremely important to the president and to any American president … but if the British people like it, they can buy it; if they don’t like it, they don’t have to buy it.”
Johnson said complaints about US food standards were ill-informed. “It’s completely safe. They can have a choice, we have five million Brits coming over every year and I’ve never heard a complaint about anything to do with chicken,” he said.
Trump, who gave several interviews to UK papers before his state visit on Monday, has suggested the UK should send the Brexit party leader, Nigel Farage, to negotiate its departure from the EU and has said he hopes Boris Johnson becomes Conservative leader.
Woody Johnson said on Sunday that Trump’s support for Boris Johnson stemmed from their personal relationship. “He’s known Boris Johnson for a long time and what he’s commenting on is his knowledge of Boris Johnson as a person,” the ambassador said.
On Sunday Trump denied calling the Duchess of Sussex “nasty” for having previously criticised him. In a tweet after the Sun made the claim, he said he had “never called Meghan Markle nasty” and claimed the “Fake News Media” had invented his remarks.
The Sun posted a recording of the original interview to prove that its reporting was accurate.