Trump invites British PM to White House amid concerns over NHS

By: Joseph Lyttleton

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It is being reported that US President Donald Trump has invited newly re-elected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to the White House. The purpose of this meeting would be to discuss a trade deal for a post-Brexit Great Britain, which could include the National Health Service (NHS).

No specific date has been set for the meeting as of yet, but Trump is apparently hoping to meet in January 2020. While the United States is a key trade partner for the United Kingdom, Johnson has been reluctant to fully embrace Trump, despite utilizing similar political tactics

The White House’s invitation to Johnson comes at a delicate time for the prime minister. Johnson is currently seeking to complete negotiations to officially lead his country out of the European Union. He recently won re-election with a promise to finalize Brexit. While his Conservative majority allowed him to pass his withdrawal agreement bill – an accomplishment that eluded his predecessor – the process for bringing about Brexit is far from complete.

With the United Kingdom set to leave the European Union, it now needs to negotiate deals with major trade partners, which include both the European Union and the United States.  

Negotiations for NHS

Leading up to the December 12 UK general election, one of the main concerns for voters was whether the nation’s NHS would be “on the table” in trade negotiations with the United States. This concern came at the same time as some were raising concerns that the nation’s Conservative Party was hoping to privatize the public healthcare system.

These fears were amplified by a press conference held by the opposition leader at the time, Jeremy Corbyn. On November 27, the leader of the Labour Party claimed he had a 451-page dossier indicating that Johnson was willing to provide “total market access” to the NHS for US businesses. Johnson was quick to respond that the NHS would be off the table in negotiations.

For his part, Trump reportedly sent mixed messages on the topic. In June 2019, in a joint press conference with Britain’s previous prime minister, Theresa May, Trump had said everything, including the NHS, had to be on the table in trade negotiations. However, in December, as the UK general election approached, Trump claimed he had no interest in the NHS.

NHS’s struggle

The NHS, which is the United Kingdom’s publicly funded healthcare system, has been struggling to keep up with an increased demand for health services from a growing and aging population. One of Johnson’s promises during the election was that his party would increase funding for the NHS.

Despite its struggles of late, a 2018 YouGov poll found that, after the nation’s fire brigade, the NHS is the national institution Britons are most proud of, with 87% expressing that they are either very or fairly proud of it. The possibility of moving to a private healthcare system akin to that of the United States is generally unpopular in Britain.


Johnson’s uncertain relationship with Trump

Both Johnson and Trump are the leaders of their countries’ respective conservative parties. Their seemingly similar campaigning styles and appearances have also led to some in the European media referring to Johnson as a “mini-Trump.” Despite these supposed similarities, Johnson has a history of disparagement of or distancing himself from the US president. In 2015, when Trump was campaigning for the presidency, Johnson reportedly said he thought “Donald Trump is clearly out of his mind” and “unfit” to be president.

At the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conference in early December this year, Johnson was reportedly caught on video in conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seemingly ridiculing Trump. Johnson later denied that he had been mocking Trump.

Trump’s unpopularity in the UK

President Trump has reportedly been largely unpopular in the United Kingdom and has faced multiple protests during his visits to the country. This includes a recent protest during the NATO conference held in London when NHS staff members protested his presence.

Trump’s first state visit to the United Kingdom had been postponed due to his unpopularity and was then later canceled for concerns over protests. When Trump did complete a visit in June 2019, he commented on Twitter that he was displeased to only be able to watch CNN as source of US news while there. Trump reportedly prefers Fox News, which has been called his favorite channel and on which he appears frequently. Fox News had been removed from the UK’s airwaves because according to its parent company, 21st Century Fox, it only used to average a few thousand viewers a day.

Historic US-UK relationship

The US and UK have been allies for many years and share what is often referred to as a historic “special relationship.” In recent history, this included the UK supporting the US in the ‘war on terror’ and invasion of Iraq.

However, the relationship has seemingly been strained in more recent years. Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, reportedly had a rocky relationship with then British Prime Minister David Cameron at times. As was reported in an interview with the Atlantic, Obama expressed his disappointment that Cameron was too “distracted” with other issues to provide sufficient support for the US’s efforts in Libya and the Middle East.