A document of discussions between UK and US governments for a post-Brexit trade deal was published by the Labour party today (November 27th). It showed clear willingness by the Tories to acquiesce to demands of predatory US businesses eyeing UK public services particularly the NHS.
Unsurprisingly, as a response to the documents’s contents, most of the media adopted a derisory perspective as a facet of damage limitation for the Tories. BBC’s veteran reporter Laura Kuenssberg’s analysis typified the majority media tack.
“Looks like Labour’s secret documents were actually uploaded online at the end of October. Which noone, including journalists (hands up) seemed to notice. There is a lot of interesting stuff in the documents which are mainly not about the health service. Documents show there has been a lot of work going on between US and UK officials about potential trade deal after Brexit and show how much the US side would push to gain that could be hugely controversial here; for example, weakening rules on food labeling and lengthening patents on medicines which could make drugs more expensive here. Interestingly, documents also suggest hopes on the US side of making quick progress with a deal partly for political advantage for Trump, even if the chances of getting a deal done by 2020 by end of his first term are low. But, important to note, the documents do not show final agreement on UK side, and don’t confirm Labour’s claim the government is trying to sell off the NHS – documents go up to July 19 covering Theresa May, not Boris Johnson’s time in office. But documents will be used, no doubt. as evidence that discussions have been had and US making demands will be used again and again by Labour in what’s left of the campaign as a bid to get onto safer political territory for them that’s trickier for the Tories. No government ministers appear to have been present apart from Liam Fox at the first meeting although officials, of course, are always very well aware of what ministers want and don’t want.” – Kuenssberg 27th Nov.
Her comments encapsulated every angle to be taken to downplay the significance of the document’s details and to protect the Tories from inquisition and criticism. Kuenssberg demonstrated her skill as an establishment public relations operative.
She began by dismissing the media’s wilful avoidance of the document (available for a month) as merely a small oversight. Her intent was to encourage inference that the document wasn’t considered important.
As a ruse to lessen concern, Kuenssberg mentioned that NHS discussion was a part of and not the whole document but that is neither surprising nor does it diminish the fact that NHS was discussed. Even one sentence about the NHS in transcripts of trade deal negotiations would be problematic.
Possible removal of food safety regulations and higher drug costs were described as “hugely controversial here [the UK].” Controversial was an odd word to use to describe a matter of life and death. In USA “controversial” food safety and drug pricing lead directly to deaths.
Kuenssberg observed keenly that the documents didn’t show any “final agreements” on trade deals. Well, of course they didn’t; they were discussions of desire and statements of intent. She knows the difference but pretended to not know in order to distract the reader. The intent of both the US and Tory governments is devastating for the NHS.
For some reason she made the point that discussions transcripted in the documents took place during Theresa May’s tenure as Prime Minister. Kuenssberg knows that Boris Johnson is even more likely than May to give the privateers what they want. Equally, she knows that the discussions were (as is normally the case) between ministers’ staff and so her point that Liam Fox was the only minister present was a superfluous point.
Her dismissal of Labour’s analysis of the document as “safer political territory for them that’s trickier for the Tories” showed the distance between the public and the media bubble. For Kuenssberg, NHS is just a talking point not people’s lives. She sees the election as a competition of presentation and not a choice between humanity and conservatism.
Kuenssberg and Jeremy Hunt