Ministers have insisted the NHS will never be “up for sale” after President Donald Trump appeared to backtrack on an earlier demand that it would have to form part of any trade deal with the United States.
Downing Street was adamant the Government had no intention of allowing the service to be privatised, while Theresa May’s de facto deputy David Lidington said it would not be part of the trade talks with the US.
Standing in for Mrs May at Prime Minister’s questions, he told MPs: “The Prime Minister has been very clear and she spoke for everyone in the Government and on this side of the House – when it comes to trade negotiations, the NHS is not and will not be up for sale.”
A No 10 spokeswoman added: “The Government position is that the NHS will never be privatised, and that won’t change as part of any trade deal.”
Their intervention came after Mr Trump sparked a furious backlash when he said during a joint press conference with Mrs May on Tuesday the NHS would have to be “on the table” in talks on a post-Brexit trade deal.
However, in an ITV television interview recorded shortly afterwards, he appeared to row back on his earlier position.
“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,” he told Good Morning Britain’s Piers Morgan.
“But I don’t see that as being, that something that I would not consider part of trade. That’s not trade.”
Mr Trump also disclosed how he was pressed by the Prince of Wales on the issue of climate change during their meeting at Clarence House on the first day of his state visit on Monday.
The president, a noted climate change-sceptic who pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement, said he had been impressed by Charles’s “passion” during their 90-minute chat.
“He wants to make sure future generations have climate that is good climate, as opposed to a disaster, and I agree,” he said.
“What moved me was his passion for future generations, he’s really not doing this for him, he’s doing this for future generations.
“He’s Prince Charles, he doesn’t have to worry about future generations unless he’s a very good person who cares about people, and that’s what impressed me, maybe the most.”
Following Mr Trump’s earlier telephone call with Tory leadership hopeful Boris Johnson, sources close to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt disclosed that he had a one-to-one meeting with the president on Tuesday.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid, another contender for the Conservative crown, was also said to have had a “brush-by” with Mr Trump during the D-Day commemorations in Portsmouth on Wednesday.
However, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who had been hoping for a meeting of his own, admitted he had had to make do with “a few words” on the the night of the state banquet on Monday.