Thursday 29 October 2020 4:45 pm

Liz Truss: NHS ‘off the table’ in Brexit talks with US

International trade secretary Liz Truss has insisted the NHS remains “off the table” in post-Brexit trade talks with the US, as the government scrambles to shore up relations with presidential hopeful Joe Biden ahead of next week’s election.

In a Chatham House address this afternoon, Truss said the UK will seek a “values-driven free trade agenda” with America, and that the UK will learn from “the mistakes of the past” regarding trade.

Read more: Brexit: UK ‘will not back down’ on fisheries policy

“Our red lines remain at the heart of this values-driven approach. Namely, our NHS remains off the table,” she said.

Truss also insisted the UK would not compromise on food standards, after widespread outrage at reports that a post-Brexit relaxation on imports to the UK might see chlorinated chicken in British supermarkets.

The US last year said that any US-UK trade deal would need to remove what it considered protectionist EU rules on food standards.

“Our food standards must not be undermined and British farming must benefit. And any trade deal must level-up our country,” Truss said.

With less than a week to go before the US presidential election, Truss slammed the country’s “America First” approach, adding that the UK “will not be pulling up the drawbridge in an autarkic Britain First approach” at the end of the Brexit transition period.

It comes as the Cabinet scrambles to boost relations with presidential candidate Biden, after the Democrat tipped ahead of incumbent President Donald Trump in the polls earlier this month.

Ministers have been told to forge links with the White House frontrunner amid warnings that Trump is headed for a landslide defeat in next month’s election, the Times reported

Johnson has previously boasted of his “special relationship” with Trump, who in turn has said he “adores” Britain and is keen to secure a UK-US trade deal ahead of the transition period deadline. 

Biden, meanwhile, has publicly rebuked Johnson over Brexit, and joined speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi in lashing out at the PM’s plans to rewrite the Withdrawal Agreement.

Biden tweeted last month: “Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the [Good Friday] Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”

Truss’ comments come as Britain’s Brexit envoy David Frost met with EU counterpart Michel Barnier in Brussels today as the two sides attempt to hammer out a last-minute trade deal.

European Commission president Ursula Von Der Leyen today said that disagreements over fisheries and rules governing state subsidies remain the key stumbling blocks in negotiations.

Read more: Brexit: UK ‘will not back down’ on fisheries policy

“We are making good progress but the two critical issues, level playing field and fisheries, there we would like to see more progress,” Von der Leyen told a news conference.

“We are now deep into how we would construct a system that is fair for both sides … which is a sine qua non for the UK to have access to the single market that is tariff free and quota free,” she said.

In a thinly-veiled snub to the EU, Truss today branded the EU “innovation-phobic” with “its high tariff wall”.

She claimed Britain now has the chance to become the “ideas factory of the world” and remould legislation in areas such as digital and data, services and advanced manufacturing.

Read more: UK car production hits lowest level since 1995 as industry calls for ‘vital Brexit deal’

“I can tell you here today that Britain is learning from the twin errors of values-free globalisation and protectionism. And we are instead rooting our approach for global free trade in our values of sovereignty, democracy, the rule of law and a fierce commitment to high standards,” the trade secretary said.

“In opening ourselves up to embrace more fantastic opportunities, we need to maintain a sustainable approach which commands widespread support and democratic legitimacy.”

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