UK politicians hold breath as Trump arrives mid-campaign
LONDON – U.S. President Donald Trump says he doesn’t want to interfere in Britain’s election campaign. But his presence in London nine days before the Dec. 12 vote is a complication for Prime Minister Boris Johnson — and ammunition for Johnson’s opponents.
Trump, who is attending a meeting of NATO leaders, said Tuesday he’d “stay out of the election.”
“I don’t want to complicate it,” he said.
Too late. Britain’s opposition parties are relishing the visit by Trump, who is widely unpopular in the U.K., and whose statements of support for Johnson and Britain’s departure from the European Union are seen as more harmful than helpful.
Trump repeated his support for Brexit and for Johnson on Tuesday.
“I think Boris is very capable and I think he’ll do a good job,” he said.
The main opposition Labour Party seized on Trump’s two-day visit to renew allegations that a post-Brexit U.S.-U.K. trade deal could damage the U.K.’s state-funded National Health Service.
Labour is campaigning heavily on the claim that the overstretched but treasured NHS is not safe in Conservative hands.
Johnson has called that allegation “nonsense.”
“This is pure Loch Ness Monster, Bermuda Triangle stuff,” he said Tuesday.
But Labour says the U.S. could try to demand during trade talks that Britain pay American pharma firms more for drugs. It could also push for extended patents that would prevent Britons buying cheaper generic versions of U.S.-patented drugs — something that happened in talks on a U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal.
Documents from preliminary talks between U.S. and U.K. negotiators over two years from July 2017 — obtained and released by Labour last week — mention that “patent issues” around “NHS access to generic drugs will be a key consideration” in talks.
Trump said Tuesday that the United States had no interest in the NHS.
“We have absolutely nothing to do with it and we wouldn't want to. If you handed it to us on a silver platter, we want nothing to do with it,” he told reporters as he met with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Trump has sent mixed messages on the issue, however. In June, he said "everything" — including the NHS — would be "on the table" in future trade negotiations.
All 650 seats in the House of Commons are up for grabs in next week’s election. Johnson wants to secure a majority in the election so he can push through the Brexit divorce deal he negotiated with the EU.
Under the terms of that deal, the U.K. would leave the EU on Jan. 31 but remain part of the EU’s single market, and bound by the bloc’s rules, until the end of 2020.
Polls suggest Johnson’s Tories have a lead over the Labour opposition, and Corbyn is trying to close the gap by focusing on domestic issues such as education and health care, which have been stretched by years of public spending cuts by the Conservative government.
Johnson says Corbyn, a socialist who has often criticized NATO and Western military intervention, would endanger Britain’s national security if he became prime minister. He told The Sun newspaper that Britain’s allies “are very anxious” about the prospect of a Corbyn government.
Asked Tuesday about Corbyn, Trump said: “I know nothing about the gentleman.”
"I can work with anybody, I'm a very easy person to work with,” he added.
The Conservatives have sought to avoid any slip-ups that could cost the party its poll lead. Opponents have accused Johnson of running scared of scrutiny after he declined to take part in a televised debate on climate change with other party leaders last week and refused to commit to a one-on-one TV interview.
The Conservatives complained to Britain’s broadcasting regulator after Channel 4 put an Earth-shaped ice sculpture on a podium in Johnson’s place during the climate debate.
Regulator Ofcom rejected the complaint Tuesday, saying Conservative views had been adequately represented.
“This program, including the use of the ice sculpture, did not raise issues warranting further investigation under our due impartiality and elections rules,” it said.
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