Jeremy Corbyn nails exactly what damage the Brexit Party ‘pact’ could do to the Tories

Jeremy Corbyn
Tracy Keeling

Nigel Farage has revealed that the Brexit Party will not contest any of 2017’s 317 Tory seats in the upcoming election. Instead, Farage said the party will put its “total effort” into Labour-held areas.

On Twitter, Jeremy Corbyn pointed to who and what he believes would be the real winners and losers of any successful Brexit Party/Tory “pact”. His comments, which centre on one of the election’s most important issues, don’t bode well for Boris Johnson.

Winners

The Labour leader tweeted:

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Corbyn is referring to comments the US president made on 4 November. Donald Trump said what he would “like to see is for Nigel and Boris to come together”. Now, Farage has decided not to stand Brexit Party candidates in areas held by Conservative MPs, signalling that he’s trying to help Johnson’s party out. So Corbyn rightly says the US president “got his wish”.

Losers

Corbyn also argues that the NHS could lose big from this “Trump alliance” (i.e. Farage, Johnson, and the US president). Because he says the health service could “send £500 million a week” to pharmaceutical companies as a result.

Channel 4‘s Dispatches recently revealed that UK and US officials have discussed “drug pricing” in six meetings on a post-Brexit trade deal. The programme also highlighted that there have been “secret meetings between US drugs firms and British civil servants” which included discussion of “price caps”.

This could be a pivotal issue in any UK/US trade deal. Because the NHS essentially caps the prices it will pay for drugs based on assessments made by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). The price it negotiates with companies is often lower than the market rate. Those NHS prices, meanwhile, are also used as a baseline by other countries. So numerous countries avoid paying market rates as a result of the NHS system.

Trump isn’t happy with this set up, however. So US negotiators have said they want “non-discriminatory” access to the UK market in any deal. And the US has form on the issue. Its trade agreement with South Korea stipulates that drug prices should be “based on competitive market-derived prices”.

The £500m figure that Corbyn cited comes from an academic report which gave the “worst case scenario” for price increases based on spending on drugs in the US.

Vote killer

Johnson’s government has made numerous pledges on the NHS since its inception. Clearly, it understands what an important issue access to healthcare is to the majority of Britons. On drug pricing, in response to the Dispatches revelations, it said:

The NHS is not, and never will be, for sale to the private sector, whether overseas or domestic‎… The sustainability of the NHS is an absolute priority for the government. We could not agree to any proposals on medicines pricing or access that would put NHS finances at risk or reduce clinician and patient choice.

But since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, they have systematically brought the NHS to its knees. The party introduced legislation in 2012 that has allowed private companies to scoop up the most profitable parts of our health system, and be paid for it handsomely with our taxes. It has also starved the NHS of adequate funds, forcing numerous trusts into financial trouble, and overseen a major staffing crisis.

In short, the Conservatives are on very shaky ground when it comes to people trusting it with the NHS. And hearing that the party is part of a “Trump alliance” that could see big pharma rinse the health service for eye-watering sums will do nothing to improve its reputation.

Featured image via Sky News/YouTube

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  • Show Comments
    1. … and again the USA interferes with our democracy and our country! How much damned proof do we need before we realize that our so-called ally is our worst enemy by far? Russia hasn’t done half the shit to us that the corrupt US administration has, and still we obediently continue to let perverted old uncle Sam take us from behind.

    2. Neo-liberals don’t (or won’t) grasp the meaning of ‘market’. They fantasise over ‘open markets’ providing the most efficient means for delivering goods and services; a key element of this being ‘price discovery’. Yet, they refuse to acknowledge quasi-monopoly powers of conglomerate enterprise and the law-backed monopoly pertaining to products based upon so-called ‘intellectual property’ (IP). Non-generic pharmaceuticals are monopoly products protected by patents.

      The concept of IP, was introduced under the banner of encouraging creative activities through guaranteeing income to creators by monopoly manufacture and distribution rights; these variously enshrined in patent and copyright law (trade marks too but not subject of discussion here). ‘Rights’ became tradable commodities and nowadays few reside with creative individuals; rather they are held by corporate entities to justify price gouging for tangible products (e.g. pharmaceuticals) and intangibles (e.g. digitally encoded culture).

      The public and politicians have been persuaded (induced in the case of the latter) into accepting the proposition that without monopoly rights creative activity would cease, this to detriment of all. With respect to pharmaceuticals it is argued that immense R&D costs must be recouped. The basis for this is shaky. Most important pharmaceutical innovation arises from research funded by public money (from taxation and donation to charity) via universities and government agencies. ‘Development’ is costly but for pharmaceuticals depends upon willing public participation as test subjects in Phase 1, 2, and 3 clinical trials plus expense of post-market monitoring for adverse effects which generally is borne by state agencies.

      Phase 2 and 3 trials take place wholly in the general community; either in hospital or primary care settings. In the UK these are subject to strict prior ethical approval and follow-up. They are undertaken in NHS facilities with clinicians and academics in charge, these being on the public payroll. The UK offers unique facilities in the world supporting symbiosis between the pharmaceutical industry and state for R&D. These arise from near universal coverage of the NHS, its coherence as a whole, close co-operation between primary care and hospital care, and overall excellent patient information systems tracking individuals as they progress through modalities of care and keeping computer accessible records of clinical status. This integrated system makes it fairly straightforward to identify recruits for clinical trials.

      Contrast that with the piecemeal provision of health care in the USA and its vestigial regulatory framework. It is greatly more easy to organise (ethical) clinical trials in the UK than USA. From the point of view of market-economics the NHS is a major provider of R&D and ought charge accordingly for access to its facilities. As matters stand, the NHS subsidises pharmaceutical R&D. This arrangement can persist only so long as the pharmaceutical industry backs off from being uppity.

      Setting that aside, there is another strand of argument, this rooted in the language of markets. An open market is supposed to allow buyers and sellers to strike a price. There is nothing in market economics, as understood by supporters of conventional market-capitalism rather than the neo-liberal reinterpretation, to say that buyers must be individuals. It is open for buyers to combine for enhanced bargaining power over price. The NHS buys on behalf of its patients rather than, as in the USA, expecting them individually to haggle over price at a wholly independent pharmaceutical retailer for prescription dispensing. Also caveat emptor cannot apply when a purchaser is largely ignorant about the nature of the product on offer.

      It is arguable that the NHS has monopsony powers. Conventionally monopoly and monopsony are regarded pathological states in a market. Yet, in economics as in everything else, one size rarely fits all. Certain goods and services are better provided other than through a supposedly open market. In any case, the open market proposed by the USA for pharmaceuticals is a sham. It can be nothing other when one party in a transaction has monopoly power conferred by law protecting so-called IP. In that context purchasing in combination is both necessary and rational.

      For purpose of convincing the general public over undesirability of changing the way we acquire pharmaceuticals it’s necessary to teach by examples. Thus Labour should highlight the sorry and expensive state of healthcare provision in the US. It ought be a telling point that US residents cross the Canadian and Mexican borders to acquire staple generic drugs, e.g. insulin, for a small fraction of the US retail price.

      It is said some potential Labour voters will opt for Johnson/Farage on basis that definite exit from the EU is offered. Seemingly, the EU is perceived as intrinsically neo-liberal with all the evils that flow from that. That may be so. However, they might think twice when fully apprised of many undesirable consequences of a Johnson/Trump trade deal. Although Mr Corbyn’s position on the EU is criticised by some within the party as being equivocal it does offer prospect of options other than offered by Johnson. Remaining on the table would be orderly complete Brexit, revoking Article 51, and possibilities (e.g. Swiss/Norweigian arrangements) between. Particularly to the point is prospect of the electorate being asked to ratify a deal.

    3. Does anyone else remember this scandal?
      Unlike the UK……US citizens get paid for donating blood, so the drug addicts use it as a method of purchasing more street drugs. Also prisoners earn a few dollars too. In the 1980’s the blood was never screened,
      This contaminated blood was shipped to UK from the USA and was unknowingly given to haemophiliacs, which resulted in transference of the AIDS virus. amongst others to the NHS patients.
      Governments of every shade have refused until now to hold a public enquiry into this scandal. Most of those affected are already dead.

      So can we look forward to more incidents like this in the NHS? Boris won’t care how many ‘plebs’ die since he and his pals all pay for Private Healthcare.

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