The next leader of the Conservative Party has been warned not to do a trade deal with the US that opens up the NHS to American healthcare contractors and undercuts British farmers, as Donald Trump prepares to jet in to the UK for a state visit.
Ahead of three days of official ceremony, which will see the US President hosted by the Queen at a state banquet at Buckingham Palace tonight, the American ambassador said that “probably the entire economy” would be “on the table” in post-Brexit trade talks between London and Washington.
It promises to be one of the most controversial state visits in modern British history, with Mr Trump set to be greeted by mass protests in London.
The US President has already upended diplomatic precedent by endorsing Boris Johnson as his preferred choice to be the next Prime Minister, and suggesting Nigel Farage “has a lot to offer” as a member of the UK’s Brexit negotiating team.
He also supported a no-deal Brexit, saying: “If you don’t get the deal you want, if you don’t get a fair deal, then you walk away.”
With the Prime Minister set to leave office within weeks and Brexit still mired in uncertainty, talks between Mr Trump and Theresa May are expected to focus on security cooperation rather than trade.
But US Ambassador Woody Johnson used an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show to dismiss fears that a post-Brexit trade deal would flood supermarket shelves with produce that undercuts current EU standards, such as chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef, and undermines British producers.
Mr Johnson insisted US produce was “completely safe” and called warnings over food standards a “public relations campaign to ban American products”, adding: “If we can put that in reverse, we can all make a lot of money”.
He said: “We have five million Brits coming over to the US every year, and I’ve never heard a complaint, one complaint, about anything to do with chicken.”
The ambassador claimed that “with the President looking at it” a US-UK trade deal “be done as expeditiously as any agreement we’ve ever had”.
The UK would not have to lower its own food standards to trade with the US, Mr Johnson said, but added: “I think there’s going to have to be some deal where you give the British people a choice.
“American products would be allowed to come over - agriculture is extremely important to the President... because there’s agriculture in all 50 states, with 50 senators - so you give the British people a choice, and if they like it, they can buy it. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to buy it.”
The SNP’s Westminster rural affairs spokeswoman Deidre Brock called on the government to rule out any weakening of food standards in future trade talks.
“Scotland’s produce sector is a huge part of our successful economy; it’s time for the Tories to take the threat of chlorine-washed chicken and hormone injected beef off the table,” Ms Brock said.
“As the Brexit cliff edge gets closer, the Tories have offered neither clarity nor certainly for Scotland’s food producers.
“It’s shameful that our hard-working producers are kept in the dark - meanwhile, the UK government rolls out the red carpet for Donald Trump.”
Mr Johnson also said he expected a future trade deal to open up NHS contracts to US healthcare providers.
“I think probably the entire economy would be in a trade deal, all things that are traded would be on the table,” Mr Johnson said.
Labour shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth claimed the comments raised the “terrifying” prospect of the NHS being put “up for sale” after a no-deal Brexit.
“This absolutely should not be on the table,” Mr Ashworth said. “Nigel Farage and the Tories want to rip apart our publicly funded and provided NHS.”
Ahead of the President’s arrival today, the Prime Minister welcomed the opportunity to strengthen the US-UK ‘special relationship’.
“During his State Visit to the UK the President and I will be taking part in an historic commemoration of the D-Day landings and the sacrifice our armed forces made 75 years ago,” Mrs May said.
“And as we reflect on our shared history and honour those who fought so bravely on the beaches of Normandy, we also look to the future.
“Our relationship has underpinned our countries’ security and prosperity for many years – and will continue to do so for generations to come.”