On 26 May the recent Queen’s Speech was voted on in parliament. It passed by 297 votes to 237. But the approval was conditional: Cameron’s government had to accept an amendment to its plans that explicitly protects the NHS from the toxic Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated with the US.
This marks the first time in centuries that a UK government has accepted a concession of this nature to its Queen’s Speech. In fact, until fairly recently parliamentary wording on amendments to the Queen’s Speech were as follows:
If the Queen’s Speech is amended, the Prime Minister must resign.
But apparently that statement has just been removed. A footnote on the parliament’s web page acknowledges:
This page was amended in May 2016 to remove the sentence ‘If the Queen’s Speech is amended, the Prime Minister must resign.’ Although it could be seen as a test of a new government’s strength, amendments to motion on the Loyal Address do not necessitate a resignation.
Cameron’s government rewrote the rules on parliamentary procedure in the 2011 Fixed-term Parliaments Act. This act essentially changed the terms of what is considered ‘no confidence‘ and weakened the actions that could be taken as a result of amendments like this.
However, the removal of the article at the very moment this NHS amendment is being tabled shows the Prime Minister is very aware of how precarious his position is.
The amendment was backed by Labour, the SNP, the Green party, and around 40 Tory MPs. The Conservative government currently only has a parliamentary majority of 17. If it had resisted the proposal it would have been faced with a crushing defeat over its plan for the next session of parliament.
The development is great news for the NHS. Cameron has previously refused to consider any clause in TTIP that exempts the health service from its conditions. This would leave our national treasure in serious danger of being completely swallowed up by the private sector. Labour MP Paula Sherriff, a signatory to the amendment, explained:
It is clear that a majority in the Commons, as well as in the country, do not accept the government’s position on TTIP, and believe that the trade deal that is currently on the table is a clear threat to the NHS and other public services.
However, the NHS is not the only aspect of civil life threatened by the controversial deal. Climate change protections, food standards regulations, workers’ rights and our digital privacy are all at risk of being diminished under TTIP.
And although this particular trade deal has received publicity, and opposition, it is not the only one on the table. A similar deal called the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is currently under negotiation with Canada. Recently documents have been leaked from these talks which show that the UK is demanding the “fastest possible implementation” of this particular trade agreement.
Both deals are being discussed under the EU umbrella. But the UK is one of the countries most fiercely pushing for the green light. As Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden has noted:
Toxic trade deals like CETA are inherently undemocratic. But Cameron seems perfectly happy to go beyond what the EU requires — he seems to be interested in handing over sovereignty for the sake of it. Again, Britain plays the role of making the EU less, rather than more, democratic.
Under pressure from a potential Tory revolt, Cameron has capitulated to demands that will protect our NHS from total corporate capture. But be under no illusions. He is hell bent on ensuring that the desires and rights of big business have precedence over ours.
So, whether in or out of the EU this fight is far from over. But shielding our NHS from this rotten deal is an extremely good start. Let’s carry on the momentum and protect the rest of our public services and democratic sovereignty from US giants.
Take action with Global Justice Now against these toxic trade deals.
Sign the petition against TTIP.
Support the campaign against the privatisation of our NHS.
Image via Department for Culture, Media and Sport/Flickr