Delyth Jewell AM, Plaid Cymru AM for South East Wales
At election time, the NHS often dominates debate. But the reason why the future of our beloved health service is so starkly at stake in this dark December election is just this: if Boris Johnson gets his Brexit deal, there’ll be little to stop parts of the NHS being privatised in order to make way for a trade deal with the US.
In the Senedd today (Wednesday), Plaid Cymru is holding a debate that’s aimed at ensuring that this privatisation can’t happen to our NHS in Wales. Unfortunately, Welsh Labour seem unable to put politics aside and are on course to water down the motion down. Why is this?
We’ve known for months that Donald Trump wants the NHS to be on the table in future trade deal negotiations, and documents released last week showed that Whitehall is preparing the ground for allowing full market access for US drugs in the NHS. You can almost hear the big pharmaceutical companies’ cash registers ringing in delight.
If this nightmarish future comes into being, NHS funds would be diverted from frontline services, and patient safety could be compromised by deregulation and a race to the bottom with standards. It would be unconscionable for us to allow this to go ahead. Especially when we know what actions are needed to stop it.
Most people understand that certain policy fields like health and education are devolved, and that responsibility for these areas lies with the Welsh Government. So far, so good: you’d expect that this would mean that no such threat to the Welsh NHS could go ahead.
Damningly, however, there is a little-known (and, until now, unused) provision in the Government of Wales Act 2006 in Section 82 which allows the UK Government to interfere in these devolved fields if international obligations are in question. That means that a UK Government Minister could be allowed to ride roughshod through devolution and compel the Welsh Government to comply with an international trade deal – including one that puts the NHS up for privatisation.
And I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t trust the Tories with our NHS. I never have and never will, but this latest threat is one that strikes at the very heart of our health service.
It’s for this very reason that Plaid Cymru AMs are calling for Section 82 of the Wales Act to be repealed – so that no Westminster government could force any Welsh Government to comply with their bogus and dangerous trade plans. We’re also calling for devolved parliaments in the UK to be given a veto over trade matters that affect devolved fields.
After all, there are some countries where even regions within nation-states are given a veto in these circumstances, such as Wallonia in Belgium. If a Belgian region can have this right to block dangerous deals from affecting their citizens, why on earth shouldn’t the nation of Wales have that same right?
It’s baffling to me that the Welsh Government look set to vote against these measures in our debate this afternoon. Let’s make no mistake here: Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are a threat to our NHS in Wales.
I think we should take every step that we can to protect this national institution from destruction. I can only hope that Labour will change their minds before it’s too late.