Theresa May criticised after refusing to rule out American involvement in the NHS after Brexit
Theresa May has been criticised after she refused to rule out the possibility of American firms gaining access to the NHS as part of a post-Brexit trade deal.
The Prime Minister was asked by Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable to give "an absolute guarantee" that the health service would be removed from any trade negotiations with the United States.
He said Mrs May should tell Donald Trump that "the NHS is not for sale".
However, the Prime Minister would only confirm that discussions about how to increase trade with American after Britain leaves the EU had already started.
She said: "We are starting the discussions with the American administration - first of all looking at what we can do to increase trade between the US and the UK already, before the possibility of any free trade agreement.
"He doesn’t know what they are going to say in those free trade agreements and we are going to go into those negotiations to get the possible deal for the United Kingdom."
A spokesman for the Prime Minister also refused to rule out American companies playing a role in the delivery of NHS functions in the future.
He said: "As the Prime Minister said, we're at the outset of these discussions and we want a deal that works in the interests of the British people.
"We do not have an existing position on a trade deal that is yet to be negotiated."
But a spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn said: "It's clear that the failure to rule out the kind of predatory corporate access to our public service and the National Health Service means that is part of the deal that is being considered by this government and this Prime Minister and that cannot be accepted."
The row came just 48 hours after Donald Trump took to Twitter to claim that the NHS was "broke and not working".
Labour MP Peter Kyle, of the pro-EU Open Britain campaign group, said: "Theresa May just gave Donald Trump the green light to get his hands on our National Health Service.
"Just days after the US president took to Twitter to insult the NHS, the Prime Minister was given a clear opportunity to rule out opening up our health service to private competition from US companies. Her clear refusal to do so underlines her weakness in trade negotiations and should concern us all.
"Nobody voted in the referendum for Britain to go cap in hand to Trump for a trade deal, or for our NHS to be privatised. People have every right to ask whether this is too high a price to pay, and to keep an open mind about Brexit."