LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump backtracked on comments that Britain’s public health service should be on the table in future post-Brexit trade talks between the two countries, after Prime Minister Theresa May said some areas might be off-limits.
The National Health Service (NHS) is a cherished institution for many Britons. Created after World War Two, it provides a wide range of services ranging from routine consultations to life-saving operations.
“I think everything with a trade deal is on the table,” Trump told reporters during a visit to London. “So NHS or anything else, or a lot more than that. But everything will be on the table, absolutely.”
Later, however, he said that while nothing would be off the table in talks, he did not see the NHS as falling under the realm of trade.
“I don’t see it being on the table. Somebody asked me a question today and I say everything is up for negotiation, because everything is,” Trump said in an interview broadcast on ITV News.
“That’s something that I would not consider part of trade. That’s not trade.”
May had earlier suggested that the health service might be off-limits.
“The point about making trade deals of course is that both sides negotiate and come to an agreement about what should or should not be in that trade deal for the future,” she said at the news conference
Britain’s health minister, Matt Hancock, also made clear that he would not countenance the NHS being part of trade talks.
“Dear Mr President. The NHS isn’t on the table in trade talks - and never will be. Not on my watch,” Hancock, who is a contender to replace May as prime minister, said on Twitter.
The opposition Labour Party has focussed on fears among voters that the NHS might be privatised as it tries to capitalise on the Brexit crisis within May’s Conservative Party.
“Theresa May stood next to @realDonaldTrump as he said the NHS will be ‘on the table’ in a US trade deal. And that’s what Tory leadership contenders and (Brexit Party leader Nigel) Farage are lining up for the No-Deal disaster capitalism plans they have,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Twitter.
“They all need to understand: our NHS is not for sale.”
Reporting by UK bureau; writing by William Schomberg and Alistair Smout; editing by Stephen Addison and Dan Grebler