Brexit 5: Manifesto mayhem continues amid NHS row

NHS: on or off the table?

The Labour Party are claiming that a 451-page document, leaked from the Department for International Trade, proves that the NHS would be at risk under a post-Brexit trade agreement with the United States. At a news conference in London, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn passionately announced that the contents of the document spell trouble for the National Health Service and confirm Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s intention to deliver it to private American companies.

It’s no secret that American companies want full market access for American drugs in a post-Brexit trade deal with the United Kingdom, and the document reiterates their position. It doesn’t suggest, however, that the British government is ready to grant such access. Neither does it suggest that there are far-reaching plans to privatise the NHS, or that Boris Johnson has hatched a secret plan to sell it off to American President Donald Trump and be done with it. The document was produced before he entered No. 10, after all.

The future of the NHS is nonetheless a strong issue for Labour. This week has revealed the extent to which Mr Corbyn is willing to go in order to influence the political conversation at a pivotal time during the election, and the issue looks set to roll on until polling day.

What we do know, is that drug pricing and patents are likely to become major areas of interest for the United States in any future post-Brexit trade negotiations. Whether the Health Service is on or off the table remains unclear.

Prime ditherer

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has confirmed that he would adopt a neutral stance in a future Brexit referendum if Labour win in the next General Election. Greeted by rapturous crowds in Sheffield last Friday, Mr Corbyn later told the BBC Question Time audience, gathered for the leaders’ special, that he would campaign for neither Leave nor Remain in order to “credibly carry out” what voters decide.

One of Mr Corbyn’s challenges during this election, as in the last, has been to simultaneously win back the working classes and woo young voters – two previously pro-Labour demographics which voted overwhelmingly differently during the 2016 EU referendum. But his effort to reconcile the two camps came under fire during one of the most eagerly anticipated head-to-heads of the election campaign, when Mr Corbyn faced a brutal grilling from veteran broadcaster Andrew Neil over his Brexit strategy.

Never wanting to miss out on an opportunity to plaster pro-Brexit propaganda onto the sides of vehicles, the Conservative Party have launched their “Prime Ditherer” attack advert, targeting the Labour leader’s Brexit position. Supporters have lauded Mr Corbyn’s decision as mature, principled, and a sensible solution to overcoming the societal divisions exposed by the referendum in 2016.

Tories launch “misleading” manifesto

And it seems “neutrality” has become the buzzword of week four of the election campaign. Speaking at the launch of the Conservative Party’s election manifesto in Telford on Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed that the UK would be “carbon neutral by 2050 and Corbyn neutral by Christmas.” Mr Johnson also pledged to “level up” across the country by improving hospitals, schools, and the police as well as to implement a points-based immigration system akin to Australia’s.

“Get Brexit Done” was – unsurprisingly – the title of the Tory manifesto, and Mr Johnson again reiterated his promise to leave the EU by January 2020. But the Prime Minister’s played-out campaign drumbeat has been lamented as hollow and deceptive, a dead ringer to its ill-fated “Take Back Control” and “Brexit means Brexit” siblings. Not unlike previous Tory slogans, “Get Brexit Done” is misleading, since the UK’s departure from the EU is only the first chapter in the Brexit saga.

Reconstructing nearly 47 years of trade, security, and other policy agreements will be testing for both sides. During phase two, as the UK loses its decision-making power and representation, the goals of the remaining members of the EU are likely to diverge in negotiations that will encompass far more than just trade. As they seek agreement on aviation, crime, data protection, fishing quotas, immigration, and more, the “experience gap” between the UK on the one hand, a country which hasn’t negotiated a trade deal in forty years, and the EU on the other, could pose a challenge to such negotiations.

Mr Johnson’s withdrawal deal might be more slow-cooked than first thought.

Sturgeon strong for Scotland

The leader of the third-biggest party in Westminster, Nicola Sturgeon, launched the Scottish National Party’s election manifesto in Glasgow on Wednesday, with the slogan “Stronger for Scotland.” Ms Sturgeon argued there’s “every chance” the SNP could hold the balance of power in Westminster following the election result, should neither the Conservatives nor Labour win a majority. The First Minister of Scotland went onto rule out propping up Boris Johnson’s Tories, instead offering SNP support to Mr Corbyn in the event of a Labour minority government.

During the launch, Ms Sturgeon promised to demand two referendums from Westminster next year – a second on EU membership and a second on Scottish independence. On Brexit, she came down firmly in favour of remaining in the EU or re-joining it if Scotland gains independence. She warned that Scotland will pay a heavy price for the Tories’ “Brexit obsession” and didn’t hold back from attacking Mr Corbyn’s “woeful lack of leadership,” after he stated he would adopt a position of neutrality in a future referendum.

But Ms Sturgeon’s own Brexit stance could pose something of a dilemma for Scotland at a later date. Stopping Brexit would at a stroke pull the SNP’s arguments in favour of Indyref2 to pieces: the UK would no longer drag the pro-Remain Scotland kicking and screaming out of the EU, all the while dashing hopes of a second independence referendum hitherto predicated on the realisation of Brexit. Put simply, Ms Sturgeon needs Brexit if she wants to galvanise support for an independent Scotland – and the harder the better.

Juncker bids adieu

Jean-Claude Juncker has beat the United Kingdom to leaving the European Union this week. The outgoing President of the European Commission, who has described himself as “Europe’s family therapist,” was until 2013 the prime minister of Luxembourg. He entered office rather reluctantly in 2014, having originally campaigned for the role of European Council president.

Mr Juncker has weathered his fair share of crises throughout his time in office. His early days were tarnished by the “Lux Leaks” financial scandal, which revealed how some of the world’s largest multinational corporations, including Disney, Skype, and GlaxoSmithKline, struck sweetheart tax deals with the EU’s second smallest country. When the Greek Crisis hit in 2015, Mr Juncker succeeded in keeping the Mediterranean nation in the Union. The 2015 migration crisis saw the EU sign a controversial deal with Turkey, and proved influential in the 2016 Brexit referendum, heralding the final crisis of Mr Juncker’s tumultuous reign.

There are few who can rival his longevity at the heart of European politics and Mr Juncker leaves behind an interesting legacy. Having devoted most of his political life to further EU integration, the Luxembourg native saw his last years stymied and tarnished by the Brexit saga – an issue that “breaks my heart,” he says. Bidding adieu in Politico’s Brussels Playbook, he insisted: “this will not be the last time you hear from me.”

The Whitehouse team are experts in the potential impact of Brexit, providing political consultancy and public affairs advice to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom, but also across the member states of the European Union. More information about our Brexit experience can be found here, or, if you have any questions, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at