by Annie Dieu-Le-Veut
He was going to be only the second British Prime Minister in a century to be defeated on a Queen’s Speech. But with a hop, skip and a jump of weasel worded legalese, David Cameron has avoided that embarrassment.
Eurosceptics from his own party were wanting the Queen’s Speech to offer some protection from the aim of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) to privatise the NHS, which was leaked a couple of weeks ago.
So Cameron has accepted an amendment to the wording of the Queen’s Speech. However, the amendment is so feebly worded that it has no legal weight and actually provides a loophole that you could drive a gravy train through, thus protecting any British government from ever having to do anything about TTIP and the NHS.
Fostering a parliamentary majority of just 17 seats and facing a potential rebellion from 25 Tory backbenchers, the government decided to accept the amendment in question which has also backed by Labour, Scottish Nationalist and Green Members of Parliament (MPs).
The amendment calls for the House of Commons to “respectfully regret that a Bill to protect the National Health Service from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership was not included in the Gracious Speech”.
One of the MPs tabling the amendment, Labour’s Paula Sherriff, described it as a “humiliating climbdown” by the PM.
“They will now be the first government in history to officially ‘regret’ their own programme within days of announcing it, just months after doing the same on their Budget,” she said.
Conservative MP and Leave campaigner Steve Baker MP said: “The government has today admitted that the EU is a threat to our NHS. The only way we can protect the NHS from TTIP is if we Vote Leave on 23 June.”
Sources at the Vote Leave campaign predicted the government had faced defeat unless it backed down.
Conservative former minister Peter Lilley, who supported the amendment, said that although he supports free trade, TTIP would introduce “special courts which are not necessary for free trade, will give American multinationals the right to sue our government (but not vice versa) and could put our NHS at risk”.
However, what accepting the amendment actually means in practice is not clear. As worded it does not actually force the Government to introduce any legislation protecting the NHS. The Independent reports that the Government could merely “regret” not including a TTIP Bill in the Queen’s Speech and then choose to do nothing about it.
Such a move would be seen as cynical manoeuvering, but the temporary embarrassment could be considered a price worth paying to deny the Tory rebels a victory. Whether those MPs would accept that is another question.
One of the Tory signatories on the amendment said that by accepting it the government has conceded that TTIP represents a threat to the NHS and that the only way to protect it is to vote Leave in June.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “As we’ve said all along, there is no threat to the NHS from TTIP. So if this amendment is selected, we’ll accept it.”
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Thanks to Sarkis Zeronian of Breitbart News for some of this article