Politics

Trump visit: President sparks NHS row as he promises ‘phenomenal’ trade deal

Donald Trump has sparked a row after declaring the NHS must be “on the table” in talks on a post-Brexit trade deal between the US and UK – before later backtracking.

Speaking on the second day of his three-day state visit, the US president said a “phenomenal” agreement was possible, one which could triple the volume of trade between the two nations and offered “tremendous” potential.

But at the same time he made clear there could be no limit to the scope of the negotiations.

“I think everything with a trade deal is on the table,” he said at a news conference with Theresa May.

“When you’re dealing in trade, everything is on the table – so NHS or anything else, a lot more than that, but everything will be on the table, absolutely.”

The prime minister appeared to be taken aback by his comments, interjecting: “The point in making trade deals is of course that both sides negotiate and come to an agreement about what should or should not be in that trade deal for the future.”

But following a furious reaction, the president later appeared to backtrack on his comments.

He told Good Morning Britain that “I don’t see it being on the table” as the health service was “something that I would not consider part of trade”.

In an eventful news conference alongside the outgoing PM following talks in Downing Street, Mr Trump:

:: Said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had asked to meet with him, but he had refused
:: Rejected suggestions the US could impose limits on intelligence sharing if the UK used infrastructure from Chinese firm Huawei
:: Continued his war of words with London mayor Sadiq Khan, describing him as a “negative force”
:: Said Mrs May “deserves a lot of credit” when it comes to Brexit, having “teed up” a deal. He also claimed she is “probably a better negotiator than I am”
:: Dismissed the protests against his visit as “fake news”, despite thousands taking to the streets

But it was the president’s comments on the health service that provoked the most reaction.

Leadership contenders to succeed Mrs May rejected Mr Trump’s suggestion that the NHS would be up for discussion.

The current health secretary, Matt Hancock, tweeted: “Dear Mr President. The NHS isn’t on the table in trade talks – and never will be. Not on my watch.”

Dominic Raab said the NHS “is not for sale” and “never would be if I was prime minister”, Sam Gyimah said the health service should not be used as a “bargaining chip” and Rory Stewart declared he would not be “offering up” the NHS in any trade deal.

Mr Corbyn – who earlier addressed demonstrators in London – wrote on Twitter: “Theresa May stood next to @realDonaldTrump as he said the NHS will be ‘on the table’ in a US trade deal. And that’s what Tory leadership contenders and Farage are lining up for the No Deal disaster capitalism plans they have.

“They all need to understand: our NHS is not for sale.”

Lib Dem Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said Mr Trump’s remarks were a “disgrace” and would leave Britons “shocked and angry”.

In the days before his visit, the president has not been shy about voicing his opinion about the Tory leadership contest.

And it was no different at his news conference with Mrs May.

“I know Boris [Johnson]. I like him. I have liked him for a long time. I think he would do a very good job,” Mr Trump said.

“I know Jeremy [Hunt], I think he would do a very good job.

“I don’t know Michael [Gove]- would he do a good job Jeremy?”

This prompted laughter among the audience, which included Mr Hunt.

Sources close to Mr Johnson said he had a “friendly and productive” 20-minute phone call with the US president, but the pair were unable to find time for a face-to-face meeting.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove was due to meet Mr Trump on Tuesday, a government source told Sky News, but there has been no confirmation that any talks have taken place.

His Cabinet colleague Mr Hunt will sit down with the president on Wednesday, the final day of his trip.

After his news conference, a number of visitors were seen going in and out of Winfield House, the US ambassador’s residence in London.

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, ex-environment secretary Owen Paterson and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage were all spotted.

Mr Farage, who was the first British politician to meet with the US president after his 2016 election victory, said he had received a “private invitation” to see Mr Trump.

“He absolutely believes in Brexit, thinks it’s the right thing for the country to do,” Mr Farage told LBC.

“He’s obviously concerned it’s taking a very long time.”

After these meetings, Mr Trump and First Lady Melania Trump hosted the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall for dinner at Winfield House.

The president’s day began alongside Mrs May at a round-table business discussion at St James’s Palace.

After his breakfast meeting Mr Trump’s armoured car, nicknamed “The Beast”, whisked him off to Downing Street for talks with Mrs May.

In their joint news conference, both leaders paid tribute to the enduring strength of the “special relationship” between the US and UK, something which they said was based on “shared interests and values”.

Mrs May acknowledged their discussions had covered areas of disagreement between them – including Iran, China and climate change.

“I’ve always believed that co-operation and compromise are the basis of strong alliances and nowhere is this more true than in the special relationship,” she said.

Mrs May added: “As with our predecessors when we have faced threats to our security of our citizens and our allies we have stood together and acted together.”

Mr Trump’s day of politics and protests comes after he enjoyed the full pomp and pageantry of a UK state visit upon his arrival on Monday.

The president enjoyed a private lunch with the Queen and later sat down for a full state banquet at Buckingham Palace.

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