Three years ago, a historic milestone was reached in the United States. The healthcare sector became the country’s largest employer, surpassing the manufacturing and retail industries, the jobs powerhouses of the 20th Century. These companies are taking an active interest in the negotiations between the US and UK governments on a potential free trade agreement.

They regard that agreement as an opportunity to maximise their access to the UK health market, and their potential share of income when the NHS commissions medical services and procures equipment and drugs.

They would try to use the legal enforcement mechanisms of a deal to challenge any attempts to cap the prices they charge for their services and products, limit their ability to bid for NHS contracts, or dictate how they deliver services that they are contracted to provide.

We have been constantly (and rightly) warned about the influence of the US food and agriculture industry on these trade negotiations, but this sector is almost four times smaller than the US healthcare industry.

In Britain, our fundamental priority when it comes to health is patient care, not the profits of private companies. We never want to see the former sacrificed for the latter.

That is why, when the Government put the final version of its trade bill forward to provide the foundation of the UK’s post-Brexit trade deals, Labour argued that it should add a clause stating explicitly that the NHS would be exempt from the provisions of any future trade agreements. This was voted down.

There is now no safety net when it comes to future trade deals. Protections governing NHS and food and farming standards are not enshrined in law, so there is nothing to stop this Government, or a future Tory government, from allowing those protections to be undermined in a trade deal, whether deliberately or not.

And, thanks to the rejection of another proposed amendment, new clause 4, which would have prevented trade deals from being signed unless they were approved by Parliament, there is also nothing Parliament can do to prevent this from happening. Under the terms of the trade bill, an agreement can now be negotiated with the US government entirely in secret, laid before parliament, and can officially become law after 21 days without any vote or substantive debate by MPs.

Thanks to the Government’s decisions, the all-powerful US healthcare industry, with the full support of the Trump administration, is now free to pursue its goals for a UK-US trade deal.

Instead of the law and the will of Parliament, all that stands in their way are the promises of Boris Johnson and the negotiating skills of Liz Truss. This is our reality, not a scare story.

You may ask how Dean Russell, our Watford MP, voted in the trade bill. He voted with the Government, of course.

John Maguire

Rickmansworth Road, Watford