With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the agreement reached in Brussels last week, but first let me say a word about the migration crisis, which was also discussed at the European Council. We agreed we needed to press ahead with strengthening the EU’s external borders to ensure that non-refugees are returned promptly, and to back the new mission to disrupt the criminal gangs working between Greece and Turkey, who are putting so many people’s lives at risk. I made it clear that Britain will continue to contribute, and will step up our contribution, in all these areas.
Turning to Britain’s place in Europe, I have spent the past nine months setting out the four areas where we need reform, and meeting all the other 27 EU Heads of State and Government to reach an agreement that delivers concrete reforms in all four areas. Let me take each in turn.
First, British jobs and British business depend on being able to trade with Europe on a level playing field, so we wanted: new protections for our economy; to safeguard the pound; to promote our industries, including our financial services industries; to protect British taxpayers from the costs of problems in the eurozone; and to ensure that we have a full say over the rules of the single market while remaining outside the eurozone. We got all those things. We have not just permanently protected the pound and our right to keep it, but ensured that we cannot be discriminated against. Responsibility for supervising the financial stability of the UK will always remain in the hands of the Bank of England. We have ensured that British taxpayers will never be made to bail out countries in the eurozone. We have made sure that the eurozone cannot act as a bloc to undermine the integrity of the free trade single market and we have guaranteed British business will never face any discrimination for being outside the eurozone. So, for example, our financial services firms—our No. 1 services export, employing over a million people—can never be forced to relocate inside the eurozone if they want to undertake complex trades in euros, just because they are based in the UK.
These protections are not just set out in a legally binding agreement. All 28 member states were also clear that the treaties would be changed to incorporate the protections for the UK as an economy inside the EU but outside the eurozone. We also agreed a new mechanism to enable non-eurozone countries to raise issues of concern, and we won the battle to ensure that this could be triggered by one country alone. Of course, none of these protections would be available if we were to leave the EU.
Secondly, we wanted commitments to make Europe more competitive, creating jobs and making British families more financially secure. Again, we got them. Europe will complete the single market in key areas that will really help Britain: in services, making it easier for thousands of UK service-based companies, like IT firms, to trade in Europe; in capital, so UK start-ups can access more sources of finance for their businesses; and in energy, allowing new suppliers into our energy market, meaning lower energy bills for families across the country.
We have secured commitments to complete trade and investment agreements with the fastest growing and most dynamic economies around the world, including the USA, Japan and China, as well as our Commonwealth allies India, New Zealand and Australia. These deals could add billions of pounds and thousands of jobs to our economy every year. And, of course, they build on the deals we already have with 53 countries around the world through which Britain has benefited from the negotiating muscle that comes from being part of the world’s largest trading bloc.
Country after country has said to me that of course they could sign trade deals with Britain, but they also said that their priority would be trade deals with the EU. By their nature, these EU deals would be bigger and better, and a deal with Britain would not even be possible until we had settled our position outside the EU. So, for those Members who care about signing new trade deals outside the EU, we would be looking at years and years of delay.
Last but by no means least, on competitiveness one of the biggest frustrations for British business is the red tape and bureaucracy, so we agreed there will now be targets to cut the total burden of EU regulation on business. This builds on the progress we have already made, with the Commission already cutting the number of new initiatives by 80%. It means that the cost of EU red tape will be going down, not up.
Of course, if we were to leave the EU but ultimately achieve a deal with full access to the single market, like Norway, we would still be subject to all of the EU’s regulation when selling into Europe—but with no say over the rules. As the former Europe spokesman for the Norwegian Conservative party said:
“If you want to run Europe, you must be in Europe. If you want to be run by Europe, feel free to join Norway in the European Economic Area.”
Thirdly, we wanted to reduce the very high level of migration from within the EU by preventing the abuse of free movement and preventing our welfare system from acting as a magnet for people to come to our country. After the hard work of the Home Secretary, we have secured new powers against criminals from other countries, including powers to stop them coming here in the first place, and powers to deport them if they are already here. We agreed longer re-entry bans for fraudsters and people who collude in sham marriages, and an end to the frankly ridiculous situation where EU nationals can avoid British immigration rules when bringing their families from outside the EU.
This agreement broke new ground, with the European Council agreeing to reverse decisions from the European Court of Justice. We have also secured a breakthrough agreement for Britain to reduce the unnatural draw that our benefits system exerts across Europe. We have already made sure that EU migrants cannot claim the new unemployment benefit, universal credit, while looking for work. Those coming from the EU who have not found work within six months can now be required to leave. At this Council, we agreed that EU migrants working in Britain can be prevented from sending child benefit home at UK rates. This will apply first to new claimants, and then to existing claimants from the start of 2020.
We also established a new emergency brake so that EU migrants will have to wait four years until they have full access to our benefits. People said it was impossible to achieve real change in this area and that a four-year restriction on benefits was completely out of the question—yet that is what we have done. Once activated, the emergency brake will be in place for seven years. If it begins next year, it will still be operating in 2024 and there will be people who will not get full benefits until 2028. All along, we have said that people should not be able to come here and get access to our benefits system straight away—no more something for nothing, and that is what we have achieved.
I am sure that the discussion about welfare and immigration will be intense, but let me make this point. No country outside the EU has agreed full access to the single market without accepting paying into the EU and accepting free movement. In addition, our new safeguards lapse if we vote to leave the EU, so we might end up with free movement but without these new protections.
The fourth area in which we wanted to make significant changes was to protect our country from further European political integration and to increase powers for our national Parliament. Ever since we joined, Europe has been on the path to something called ever closer union. It means a political union. We have never liked it; we have never wanted it. Now Britain will be permanently and legally excluded from it. The text says that the treaties will be changed to make it clear that
“the Treaty references to ever closer union do not apply to the United Kingdom.”
So as a result of this negotiation, Britain can never be part of a European superstate.
The Council also agreed that ever closer union, which has been referred to in previous judgments of the European Court of Justice, does not offer a legal basis for extending the scope of any provisions of the treaties or EU secondary legislation. People used to talk about a multi-speed Europe; now we have a clear agreement that different countries are not only travelling at different speeds but ultimately heading to different destinations. I would argue that is a fundamental change in the way this organisation works.
We have also strengthened the role of this House and all national Parliaments. We have already passed a referendum Act—the European Union Referendum Act 2015—to make sure that no powers can be handed to Brussels without the explicit consent of the British people in a referendum. Now, if Brussels comes up with legislation that we do not want, we can get together with other Parliaments and block it with a red card. We have a new mechanism finally to enforce the principle that, as far as possible, powers should sit here in Westminster, not in Brussels, so now, every year, the European Union must go through the powers that it exercises and work out which are no longer needed and should be returned to nation states.
In recent years, we have seen attempts to bypass our opt-out on justice and home affairs by bringing forward legislation under a different label. For example, attempts to interfere with the way the UK authorities handle fraud were made under the guise of EU budget legislation. The agreement at last week’s Council ensures that that can never happen again.
The reforms that we have secured will be legally binding in international law, and will be deposited as a treaty at the United Nations. They cannot be unpicked without the agreement of Britain and every other EU country. As I have said, all 28 member states were also clear that the treaties would be changed to incorporate the protections for the UK as an economy outside the eurozone, and our permanent exclusion from ever closer union.
Our special status means that Britain can have the best of both worlds. We will be in the parts of Europe that work for us, influencing the decisions that affect us, in the driving seat of the world’s biggest single market, and with the ability to take action to keep our people safe; but we will be out of the parts of Europe that do not work for us. We will be out of the euro, out of the eurozone bailouts, out of the passport-free, no-borders Schengen area, and permanently and legally protected from ever being part of an ever closer union.
Of course, there is still more to do. I am the first to say that there are still many ways in which this organisation needs to improve, and the task of reforming Europe does not end with last week’s agreement. However, with the special status that this settlement gives us, I do believe the time has come to fulfil another vital commitment that the Government made, and hold a referendum. Today I am commencing the process set out under our European Union Referendum Act to propose that the British people decide our future in Europe through an in/out referendum on Thursday 23 June. The Foreign Secretary has laid in both Houses a report setting out the new settlement that the Government have negotiated. That fulfils the duty to publish information which is set out in section 6 of the European Union Referendum Act. As the Cabinet agreed on Saturday, the Government’s position will be to recommend that Britain remain in a reformed European Union.
This is a vital decision for the future of our country, and I believe we should also be clear that it is a final decision. An idea has been put forward that if the country voted to leave, we could have a second renegotiation and perhaps another referendum. I will not dwell on the irony that some people who want to vote to leave apparently want to use a “leave” vote to remain, but such an approach also ignores more profound points about democracy, diplomacy and legality. This is a straight democratic decision—staying in or leaving—and no Government can ignore that. Having a second renegotiation followed by a second referendum is not on the ballot paper. For a Prime Minister to ignore the express will of the British people to leave the EU would be not just wrong, but undemocratic.
On the diplomacy, the idea that other European countries would be ready to start a second negotiation is for the birds. Many are under pressure for what they have already agreed. Then there is the legality. I want to spell out this point carefully, because it is important. If the British people vote to leave, there is only one way to bring that about, namely to trigger article 50 of the treaties and begin the process of exit, and the British people would rightly expect that to start straight away. Let me be absolutely clear about how this works. It triggers a two-year time period to negotiate the arrangements for exit. At the end of this period, if no agreement is in place, then exit is automatic unless every one of the 27 other EU member states agrees to a delay.
And we should be clear that this process is not an invitation to re-join; it is a process for leaving. Sadly, I have known a number of couples who have begun divorce proceedings, but I do not know any who have begun divorce proceedings in order to renew their marriage vows.
I want to explain what happens with section 50. We should also be clear about what would happen if that deal to leave was not done within two years. Our current access to the single market would cease immediately after two years were up; our current trade agreements with 53 countries around the world would lapse. This cannot be described as anything other than risk, uncertainty and a leap in the dark that could hurt working people in our country for years to come. This is not some theoretical question; this is a real decision about people’s lives. When it comes to people’s jobs, it is simply not enough to say that it will be all right on the night and we will work it out, and I believe that in the weeks to come we need properly to face up to the economic consequences of a choice to leave.
I believe that Britain will be stronger, safer and better off by remaining in a reformed European Union: stronger because we can play a leading role in one of the world’s largest organisations from within, helping to make the big decisions on trade and security that determine our future; safer because we can work with our European partners to fight cross-border crime and terrorism; and better off because British business will have full access to the free trade single market, bringing jobs, investment and lower prices.
There will be much debate about sovereignty, and rightly so. To me, what matters most is the power to get things done for our people, for our country and for our future. Leaving the EU may briefly make us feel more sovereign, but would it actually give us more power, more influence and a greater ability to get things done? If we leave the EU, will we have the power to stop our businesses being discriminated against? No. Will we have the power to insist that European countries share with us their border information so we know what terrorists and criminals are doing in Europe? No, we won’t. Will we have more influence over the decisions that affect the prosperity and security of British families? No we won’t.
We are a great country, and whatever choice we make we will still be great. But I believe the choice is between being an even greater Britain inside a reformed EU and a great leap into the unknown. The challenges facing the west today are genuinely threatening: Putin’s aggression in the east; Islamist extremism to the south. In my view, this is no time to divide the west. When faced with challenges to our way of life, our values and our freedoms, this is a time for strength in numbers.
And let me end by saying this: I am not standing for re-election; I have no other agenda than what is best for our country. I am standing here today telling you what I think. My responsibility as Prime Minister is to speak plainly about what I believe is right for our country, and that is what I will do every day for the next four months. And I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance notice of this statement. It obviously took him a long time to write it, because I received it only at eight minutes past 3 this afternoon.
The people of Britain now face an historic choice on 23 June on whether to remain part of the European Union or to leave. We welcome the fact that it is now in the hands of the people of this country to decide that issue. The Labour party and the trade union movement are overwhelmingly for staying in because we believe that the European Union has brought investment, jobs and protection for workers, consumers and the environment, and we are convinced that a vote to remain is in the best interests of the people.
In the 21st century, as a country and as a continent—and, indeed, as a human race—we face some challenging issues: how to tackle climate change; how to address the power of global corporations; how to ensure that they pay fair taxes; how to tackle cybercrime and terrorism; how we trade fairly and protect jobs and pay in an era of globalisation; how we address the causes of the huge refugee movements across the world; and how we adapt to a world where people of all countries move more frequently to live, work and retire. All these issues are serious, pressing and self-evidently can be solved only by international co-operation.
The European Union will be a vital part of how we, as a country, meet those challenges, so it is therefore more than disappointing that the Prime Minister’s deal has failed to address a single one of those issues. Last week, like him, I was in Brussels meeting Heads of Government and leaders of European Socialist parties, one of whom said to me—[Hon. Members: “Who are you?”] [Laughter.] No. What they said—[Interruption.] The Conservative party might care to think for a moment about what is going on. One person said to me, and I thought it was quite profound, “We are discussing the future of a continent and one English Tory has reduced it to the issue of taking away benefits”—from workers and children. The reality is that this entire negotiation has not been about the challenges facing our continent or about the issues facing the people of Britain. Indeed, it has been a theatrical sideshow about trying to appease—or failing to appease—half of the Prime Minister’s own Conservative party.
That is not to say that there have not been some worthwhile changes. The red card system to strengthen the hands of national Parliaments is something that we on the Labour Benches have long backed. Indeed, it was in the Labour manifesto for the last general election; it was not in the Conservative manifesto, but we welcome a conversion when it takes place. We also welcome the symbolic amendment on ever-closer union. Britain’s long-standing decision not to join the euro or Schengen has been settled and accepted a long time ago. However, we see the influence of Tory party funders on the Prime Minister’s special status not for Britain but for City of London interests. It is the same incentive that caused his friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to rush to Europe with an army of lawyers to oppose any regulation of the grotesque level of bankers’ bonuses. It is necessary to protect the rights of non-eurozone states, but not to undermine EU-wide efforts to regulate the financial sector, including the boardroom pocket stuffing in the City of London.
Labour stands for a different approach. That is why our Members of the European Parliament are opposing the dangerous elements of the very secretive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which threatened to undermine national sovereignty, push the privatisation of public services, and drive down standards for workers, consumers, the environment and public health. Human rights ought to be part of that treaty. Indeed, I believe they should be a feature of all trade treaties.
Then there is the so-called emergency brake. We support the principle of fair contribution to social security, but, the evidence does not back up the claim that in-work benefits are a significant draw for workers who come to Britain from the European Union. The changes that the Prime Minister has secured do nothing to address the real challenges of low pay in Britain and the undercutting of local wage rates and industry-wide pay agreements. They will not put a penny in the pockets of workers in Britain, stop the grotesque exploitation of many migrant workers or reduce inward migration to Britain.
Will the Prime Minister tell us what discussions he had to get European rules in place to protect the going rate and to stop agencies bringing in cheap labour to undercut workers in Britain while exploiting the migrant force? Did he speak to other EU leaders about outlawing the so-called “Swedish derogation” from the agency workers directive, which threatens to undermine one of the key achievements of the last Labour Government by allowing unscrupulous employers to use temporary agency staff to undercut other workers? Those would have been positive and worthwhile discussions to tackle low pay, reduce in-work benefit costs and protect workers. We must, on all sides, be clear that Britain has benefited from migration—from EU workers coming to work in our industry and in our public services to fill gaps. For example, I think of the thousands of doctors and nurses who work in our NHS, saving lives every day they are at work.
The European Union has delivered protection for workers in Britain. It was Labour that made sure that Britain’s EU membership gave workers rights to minimum paid leave; protection on working time; rights for agency workers; paid maternity and paternity leave; equal pay; anti-discrimination laws; and protection for the workforce when companies change ownership. It was Labour, working in partnership with sister parties and unions across Europe, that made sure the Prime Minister’s attempt to diminish workers’ rights was kept off the agenda for these EU negotiations. Labour has supported moves to reduce child benefit to non-resident children as a reasonable amendment, but we also welcome the protection for existing migrants until 2020, so that families have stability of income.
The Prime Minister’s deal includes elements we welcome and others that concern us, but it is largely irrelevant to the choice facing the British people; not one single element has a significant impact on the case we will be making to stay in. We welcome the fact that this theatrical sideshow is over, so that we can now get on with making the real case, which will be put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), who will be leading our campaign. Labour believes the EU is a vital framework for European trade and co-operation in the 21st century. A vote to remain is in the interests of people, not only for what the EU delivers today, but as a framework through which we can achieve much more in the future. But to deliver these progressive reforms that I have referred to, we need to work with our partners in Europe, and therefore we must ensure that Britain remains a member. That is the case we are going to be making—it is for a Europe that is socially cohesive, and a Europe that shares the benefits of wealth and prosperity among all its citizens. That is the case we are making, as the Labour party, as the trade union movement in this country, and we look forward to that public debate.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his contribution. He and I disagree on many, many things—economic policy, social policy, welfare policy and even the approach we should take within Europe, as he has just demonstrated in his response—but we do agree about one thing: Britain should be in there, fighting for a good deal for our country. I worry a little for him because he is going to be accused of all sorts of things, some of them fair, some of them unfair. I fear that if he takes this course, he will be accused of being a member of the establishment, and that would be the unfairest attack of all.
On what the right hon. Gentleman said about the deal, I will make two points about why he should welcome it. The first is that, as far as I can see, it implements almost every pledge on Europe in the Labour manifesto—I am looking at the former Labour leader when I say that. Labour pledged to complete the single market. It pledged “tougher budget discipline”. It said
“we will ensure EU rules protect the interests of non-Euro members.”
That is absolutely right. The manifesto went on to say:
“People coming to Britain from the EU to look for work are expected to contribute to our economy, and to our society. So we will secure reforms to immigration and social security rules”.
I therefore hope Labour will welcome the things in this agreement. [Interruption.] I am just reminding my new friends what they said at the election. They said this:
“We will work to strengthen the influence national parliaments over European legislation, by arguing for a ‘red-card mechanism’ for member states”.
Excellent, that is another thing that has been achieved.
The right hon. Gentleman was unfair when he said that this deal was really all about Britain, and not about anyone else. The Slovakian Prime Minister said, good,
“the myth about ever-closer union has fallen.”
The Hungarian Prime Minister said:
“The UK managed to put an end to the practice of ‘creeping power withdrawal’ from national member states.”
Romano Prodi, the former President of the Commission, said this:
“The real consequence of the summit is extraordinarily important: Brussels has officially enshrined a multi-speed Europe.”
That is beneficial to Europe as well as to Britain.
Where I disagree profoundly with the right hon. Gentleman is that I think these trade deals are good for Britain and that the sooner we do the deal with America the better. He is wrong about financial services. There are more people working in financial services in our country outside the City of London than there are inside it. Crucially, what the single market means is that, with one establishment in Britain, we can trade throughout the European Union. If we lose that, we will see jobs going from Britain to other countries.
Let me end on a note of consensus. Labour Governments and Conservative Governments standing here have all had their difficulties with Europe. We have all wanted to get the budget down. We have all wanted to get powers returned. We have all found that, because of our love for this House of Commons and for British democracy, this process can sometimes be trying, but, at the end of the day, we have always known that, when it comes to our economy, prosperity and security, we are better off fighting from the inside.
Does the Prime Minister agree—I am sure that he will—in referring to the continental press, that he has demonstrated the influence of a British Prime Minister, as he has forced some concessions that will be quite difficult for fellow Presidents and Prime Ministers to sell to their own political establishments? Does he agree that future generations will benefit from some of those concessions, particularly those on enlarging the single market, guaranteeing our access to parts of it, deregulating, and engaging in major trade deals with outside? Does he also agree that it is not the politics of fear to point out that those who advocate a no vote do not seem to know what a no vote means? They continually imply that all the benefits that flow from Europe in terms of jobs, investment and security will somehow continue to come here when they have swept away the obligations that previous British Government have always accepted.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for what he has said. It has been interesting to see what some of the foreign newspapers have made of this. Let me give one example. A Spanish paper said:
“British exceptionality reached new heights yesterday. No other country accumulates so many exceptions in Europe.”
I am proud of the fact that we have a different status in Europe and that that status has become more special with the changes that we have made.
The point that my right hon. and learned Friend makes is absolutely right. I recognise that there are disadvantages to being in the European Union. I make no bones about that, but I can look the British people in the eye and say, “This is what it will be like if we stay in. It will be better because of the deal that we have done.” The people who are advising us to leave must spell out the consequences of leaving. The absolute lodestar is this: no country has been able to get full access to the single market without accepting either paying into the EU or accepting free movement. If people do not want to accept those two things, they have to start accepting that they will not get as good a trade and business position as we have today. People who want to leave must start making up their minds: do they want a Norway deal, a Switzerland deal or a Canada deal? Frankly, I do not mind which deal they go for, but they must start telling people because they deserve an answer.
May I begin by thanking the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement? The referendum choice before the electorate is a huge one and it will define our relationship with the rest of Europe and indeed among the nations of the United Kingdom. Scotland is a European nation and the Scottish National party is a pro-European party. We will campaign positively to remain within the EU. Hopefully, the Prime Minister can confirm today that he will reject the tactics of project fear and that he will make a positive case for remaining part of a reforming European Union.
It is hugely important to be part of the largest market in the world and be able to influence its rules and laws. It really matters that we can co-operate with our shared challenges, from the environment to crime and security to workers’ and citizens’ rights. We should also never forget the lessons of European history and not turn our backs on our European neighbours who need help at this time to deal with huge challenges, including that of migration.
Public opinion in Scotland, by a majority, supports membership of the European Union. Every single Scottish MP supports our remaining in the EU, as does almost every Member of the Scottish Parliament and all Scottish MEPs bar one. Does the Prime Minister have any idea what the consequences would be if Scotland were taken out of the EU against the wish of the Scottish electorate? I want Scotland and the rest of the UK to remain in the European Union. However, if we are forced out of the EU, I am certain that the public in Scotland will demand a referendum on Scottish independence, and we will protect our place in Europe.
First, I can confirm that I will make, as I have done today, a positive case based on Britain being stronger, Britain being safer, and Britain being better off, but this is a choice. It is important that we set out the choice and the alternative to the British people, because this is potentially the most important decision that people will make on a political issue in their lifetime. I do not want anyone to take a step into the dark without thinking the consequences through properly.
I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman about one thing. Although Brussels and the institutions can be frustrating, we should never forget what brought this institution into being in the first place. Even at the most frustrating times in talks, I look round the table and think of how these countries fought one another and killed one another’s people for so long, so the dialogue and action that we take together is positive. As for the vote in Scotland, this is one UK vote.
My right hon. Friend has spoken about national Parliaments, democracy and our sovereignty. In his Bloomberg speech, he made it clear that he regarded our national Parliament as the root of our democracy. Yesterday, he referred to the “illusion of sovereignty”. Will he explain and repudiate that statement, specifically in relation to the question now before us, our Parliament, our democracy and the making of our laws, which at this moment in time under the European Communities Act 1972, are made by a majority vote of other countries, are introduced by an unelected Commission, and are enforced by the European Court of Justice? Does he not accept that the only way of getting out of that and returning our democracy is to leave the European Union?
First, I have huge respect for my hon. Friend, who has campaigned on this issue for many years, and the one thing he will welcome is the fact that we are now allowing the British people a choice on whether to stay in or leave the European Union. Let me confirm that, yes, this Parliament is sovereign. We have chosen to join the European Union, and we can choose to leave it. Let me explain exactly what I meant when I said that there would in many cases be the “illusion of sovereignty” by taking one issue. We now have safeguards so that British banks and businesses cannot be discriminated against if we stay in the European Union because we are not in the euro. Were we to leave, we would not have that protection. They could discriminate against us. Frankly, I think they would discriminate against us, so we might feel more sovereign, but it would be an illusion of sovereignty because we would not have the power to protect the businesses that create jobs and livelihoods in our country.
Despite assurances, it is worth remembering that this referendum is about the future of our country, not the future of a divided Conservative party. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is not just about Britain’s place in the European Union but about Britain’s place in the world? President Obama has made it crystal clear that if Britain left the European Union that would weaken, not strengthen, the special relationship. The Indians and Chinese are mystified that we are even risking exit from the European Union. Does the Prime Minister agree that if in future Britain wants to stand tall in New Delhi, Beijing, Washington and other global capitals, it must continue to stand tall in our own European neighbourhood?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that we should make this decision ourselves as a sovereign nation and a sovereign people, but it is worth listening to our friends and listening to what they think is best for our country. Of all the leaders and politicians I have met around the world, I cannot think of any of our friends—not Australia, not New Zealand, not Canada, not America—who want us to leave the EU. The only person I can think of who might want us to leave the EU is Vladimir Putin. As for what the right hon. Gentleman, my former colleague, said about the need for this referendum, I make the slightly cheeky point that we are implementing the 2010 Lib Dem manifesto by holding it.
May I ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to explain to the House and the country in exactly what way this deal returns sovereignty over any field of lawmaking to these Houses of Parliament?
This deal brings back some welfare powers, it brings back some immigration powers, it brings back some bail-out powers, but more than that, because it carves us forever out of ever closer union, it means that the ratchet of the European Court taking power away from this country cannot happen in future. For those who worry—and people do worry—that somehow if we vote to remain in, the consequence could be more action in Brussels to try and change the arrangements we have, we have a lock in this House of Commons: no power can be passed from Britain to Brussels without a referendum of the British people. So we have a better deal, we have a special status, and we have a chance to make sure that we build on what we have, protect our people and enhance our prosperity, and that is the choice we should make.
Let me thank the Prime Minister for quoting and implementing parts of the 2015 Labour manifesto.
I want to go to the big picture question, which is about how we influence things in our national interest. Let me draw the Prime Minister out on the powerful end to his statement. Of course, by being a member of the European Union, we do not always get out own way, but given what he said to the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), on all the major issues, whether it is trade, climate change or terrorism and security—he can tell us, because he has been the Prime Minister—does he believe we have more influence in the European Union or outside? Surely the answer is that we have more influence inside the European Union, not outside. That is why I passionately believe we must remain in the European Union.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he says. I cannot promise to implement many other parts of the Labour manifesto, but I am glad to have been of assistance on this occasion. I absolutely agree with him. The big picture is this: when it comes to getting things done in the world that can help keep people safe in our country, or getting a bigger, better deal on climate change, do we get more because we are in the EU? Yes. Making sure we have sanctions against Iran that really work and get Iran to abandon its nuclear programme—do we do that through the EU and other bodies? Yes, absolutely. On making sure we stand up to Russian aggression in Ukraine, we have been the linchpin between the European Union and the United States of America in making those sanctions count. If we had been outside the European Union during that period, we would have been waiting at the end of the phone to find out what the decisions were going to be. Instead, we were making them, we were driving them, between Europe and America. That is how we get things done for our people.
According to the Guido Fawkes website today, there is a letter appearing in The Times tomorrow which has been written by a Chris Hopkins on behalf of organisations across the UK supposedly wishing us to remain. Chris Hopkins is apparently a civil servant. Can the Prime Minister tell us who Chris Hopkins is, which Department he works for, and what authority he has as a civil servant to campaign for the remain lobby?
I can answer very simply. He is a civil servant working in No. 10 and his authority comes from me. He is doing an excellent job. This is not a free-for-all. The Government have a clear view, which is that we should remain in a reformed European Union, and the civil service is able to support the Government in that role. Members of Parliament, Ministers and Cabinet Ministers are able to make their own decision, but the Government are not holding back or hanging back from this. We have a full-throated view that we should put forward in front of the British people so that they can make their choice.
I am tempted to ask whether the Prime Minister thinks blonds have more fun, but I will actually ask whether he remembers the analysis his Government did in 2014 of the European arrest warrant. It concluded that the European arrest warrant acts as a deterrent to offenders coming to this country. Will he point that out to his Work and Pensions Secretary, and will he ask the Home Secretary to brief the Work and Pensions Secretary on all the other reasons why Britain is safer and more secure in the European Union?
The European arrest warrant is a good case in point. All of us who have this concern about sovereignty and the rest of it had our concerns about the arrest warrant, but look at what has happened in practice. When, in 2005, terrorists tried to bomb our city for a second time, one of them escaped and was arrested and returned to Britain within weeks under a European arrest warrant. Before that, it could have taken years. So I think we can all see that the practical application of these changes definitely keeps us more safe.
When it comes to this question of fighting terrorism and cross-border crime, obviously people are going to have different opinions. I would urge people, though, to listen to the head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, to listen to the former director of MI5, to listen to the head of Europol. These are people who know what they speak of, and they are very, very clear: these measures help us to stay safe.
Having spent the best part of the recess in the Arctic circle with the Royal Marines, I am extremely conscious of the need to ensure that every one of our serving military personnel can cast their vote—to leave or to remain—in the forthcoming EU referendum, which the Prime Minister has worked so hard to get on to the statute books for us. Will he please confirm that every serving member of our armed forces, wherever they are in the world, will be entitled to vote? Will he guarantee that they will receive their ballot papers in good time, and will he confirm how we will ensure that everyone is counted?
My hon. Friend clearly had a more entertaining recess than I did—I am rather jealous. There were moments when I wished I was in the Arctic circle, I can tell you. I believe that the arrangements are absolutely the same as for a general election. We have now four months until the referendum, so there is plenty of time to put in place the arrangements that she seeks.
I pay credit to the Prime Minister for delivering a referendum to the British people. I well remember the time he came to this House and argued against a referendum, but I am glad he came round to supporting those of us who believed that holding one was the right thing to do. He will know that we on the Democratic Unionist party Benches are extremely disappointed that we do not have, as a result of his deal, control over our sovereignty, over our borders or over our finances.
The Prime Minister said in his statement that it is “simply not enough” for those on the leave side “to say that it will be all right on the night and we will work it out”—he wants definite facts. When, therefore, will migrants coming to the United Kingdom begin to be eligible for some benefits? He should not tell us he is going to work it out; he should tell us when they will first become eligible for any kind of benefit.
What we have is a phased approach, so that, over four years, they get access to benefits. There is no access to benefits to start with, and full access only after four years. That is a huge advance. Compare that with the lack of certainty that we are being offered from people who want to leave, who cannot tell us whether they favour a model like Norway or Switzerland, or whether they want a trade deal like Canada, or, as some do, just want to reclaim a purely World Trade Organisation position. We need to know the answer to that, because, frankly, it is only when we know that that people can make a proper judgment about the security of staying in and the dangers of getting out.
Last week’s decision requires treaty change to be both irreversible and legally binding. When will the ratification procedure begin?
I am afraid that my right hon. Friend is not right. It is already legally binding and irreversible, because this is a decision of 28 Governments to reach a legally binding decision that is then deposited as a legal document at the UN, so this could be reversed only if all 28 members, including the UK, were to come to a different decision. But the document sets out very clearly that two specific areas—the changes that we need to the treaty on ever closer union, and safeguards for businesses and countries outside the eurozone—will be put into the treaty as well.
The Mayor of London, who has been touted as the leader of the leave campaign, said yesterday that Britain would easily be able to
“negotiate a large number of trade deals at great speed”
“used to run the biggest empire”
the world has ever seen. Will the Prime Minister invite the Mayor to wake up to the 21st century, in which the European economy is six times larger than the British economy and in which it took seven years for Canada to get a trade deal? Does he agree that with so much uncertainty in the world economy, it would be deeply disruptive to increase the risks for British exporters, British manufacturers and British jobs?
Where I share the frustration of many of those who are questioning whether we should stay in is that Britain does need trade deals to be signed rapidly, and we do find it frustrating that Europe is not moving faster, because the Korean free trade agreement has been excellent, and we want to push ahead with Japan, with Canada, with America, and with China—and because of this document, all those things are more likely. Where I think the right hon. Lady has a good point is that you cannot sign trade deals with other countries until you have determined the nature of your relationship with the EU from the outside. That would take at least two years, and then you have to think, how long does it take to sign trade deals? The Canada deal is now, I think, in its seventh year and is still not put in place, so I worry that this is a recipe for uncertainty and risk. Businesses literally would not know what the arrangements were for year after year, and British business, British jobs and our country would suffer as a result.
My 1998 pamphlet calling for us to address the question of our role in the world via a referendum on our EU membership may have escaped the Prime Minister’s attention, but he will understand why I am absolutely delighted that he has now provided us with an opportunity to resolve this question for a generation. Does he agree that if the country votes to remain, we must positively commit to the institutions of the European Union to best ensure its success and to move on from the grudging tone that has so dominated our discourse, and that equally the establishment he leads must positively engage with a potential decision to leave and undertake reasonable contingency planning now?
Let me make a couple of points to my hon. Friend. First, one of the things this renegotiation does is to address some of the principal grudges that I think this country has rightly had: too much of a single currency club, too much political union, too much in terms of migration and lack of respect for welfare systems, not enough competitiveness and removing bureaucracy. Having dealt with some of these grudges, yes, it may be possible to make sure that we get more things done that suit us. I would also agree with something that the Mayor of London said, which is that we need to make sure that we have high-quality British officials in every part of the organisation so that we can help to drive its agenda. My hon. Friend is right that this should be done to settle the issue for a generation. He is also right that we will be publishing the alternatives to membership so that people can see what they are and that there are plans that could be made.
The Prime Minister said that great reform has been granted in the renegotiation. Why, then, did the French President say that the European Union has not granted the United Kingdom any special dispensations from its rules in the deal that has been struck, and go on to say that the Prime Minister had accepted that the City of London would not have special status compared with Europe’s other stock exchanges? Why is there such a difference between what the French President is saying and what the Prime Minister is saying?
The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said:
“The agreement with the British is a recognition that there is a differentiated Europe”.
I have already quoted the Slovakian and Hungarian Prime Ministers and the former Italian Commissioner, and François Hollande said:
“We have recognised Britain’s position—not in Schengen, not in the Euro Zone, she does not subscribe to the Charter of Fundamental Rights”.
They are recognising that Britain has a special status in Europe.
Although the referendum decision—in or out—is a matter for the British people, as the leader of an Atlanticist party, does the Prime Minister recognise and acknowledge the concerns of the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and international players that have already been mentioned that Britain and Europe need to stand together in an unsafe world?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I do not believe that the American view is based simply on, “Well, it’s easier to make one phone call rather than many.” I think it is based on the fact that they believe that Britain will be a stronger partner and more able to get things done and to bend the will of other countries in our and America’s direction when it comes to solving great crises. If we ask ourselves how we have managed to massively reduce pirate attacks off Somalia, and how we are going to try to fix the problem of Libya’s border, then we see that, yes, we can act unilaterally, and yes, there are valuable partnerships in NATO, but EU partnerships are worth a lot too.
Given that the pound has slid to its lowest level for seven years on the news that the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) has joined the leave campaign, are we not just getting a glimpse of the major economic upheaval that could follow if we leave the European Union? Is that not a timely reminder that the long-term best interests of our country should come ahead of party politicking and personal ambition?
It is important that we look in detail at the full economic impacts of either staying in or choosing to leave the EU. We will set out that approach in the weeks and months to come so that people can see what the dangers and risks are and what the case is.
Do not the common agricultural, fishing and energy policies do damage to domestic producers and add to the colossal deficit we always run with the rest of the EU while running a trade surplus with the rest of the world? What can we do about those unfairnesses if we stay in the European Union?
We have made a lot of progress in recent years. The wine lakes and butter mountains are a thing of the past. We have made big reforms to the common fisheries policy. I know that my right hon. Friend studies these things very closely, but although we have a deficit with the EU on goods, we have a substantial surplus when it comes to services. We have to think about the future and how we safeguard the services industries as well as making sure that our position in the single market is open.
Opening up EU markets in areas such as energy and digital services could create hundreds of thousands of jobs in future. Does the Prime Minister agree that remaining part of the EU would give the UK a strong voice in making sure that the completion of that single market happens, and would get the best deal for British business and jobs?
The hon. Lady makes an important point, which is that Britain has a strong voice in the EU to get these single markets completed. The declaration on competitiveness from the EU Commission is worth reading. She also points out that, if we were not there, not only would the EU continue to exist and have a very big impact on our lives, but it would probably head in a very different and more protectionist direction, and that would affect us, in many ways quite badly.
My right hon. Friend will no doubt have been deluged with advice on EU law during his negotiation, so on the subject of ever closer union, can he give us a concrete example of a single European Court of Justice case that would have had a different outcome if the measures he agreed last week had been in place at the time?
Ever closer union has been mentioned in a series of judgments by the European Court of Justice, and there are two things in what we have agreed that I think will have an impact. Obviously, the most eye-catching of those is in paragraph 1 on page 10, which states that the substance of the agreements
“will be incorporated into the Treaties at the time of their next revision”
“make it clear that the references to ever closer union do not apply to the United Kingdom.”
That is obviously a carve-out for us, but just as significant—and this is something that many other countries did not want—is the content of the next paragraph, which states:
“The references in the Treaties and their preambles…of creating an ever closer union…do not offer a legal basis for extending the scope of any provision of the Treaties or of EU secondary legislation.”
That redefinition of ever closer union is a fundamental change to the way in which the organisation has worked. One way to think of it is that there have been two threats to our sovereignty. The first came from treaty change passing powers from Britain to Brussels, but that cannot happen now because of our lock. The second is the use of terms such as “ever closer union” to make sure that the EU grows its powers, but that cannot be done now that we have that change. One of the reasons why the deal took 40 hours of all-night negotiations is that not everybody likes it. The deal is not meaningless words; it is words that mean something, that matter and that make a difference. That is why I was so determined to secure it.
The Prime Minister was elected on 37% of the vote. Even if half those people were to vote in, the referendum can be won only on the basis of people who voted Labour, Scottish National party, Liberal, Plaid Cymru and Green. Is it not a reasonable supposition to make that those people will be more interested in a positive articulation of the case for Europe than in the factional arguments of the Conservative party, entertaining though they are? When will the Prime Minister put forward that positive case for Europe?
I do not want to upset the right hon. Gentleman, because I am hoping that he will be supportive. In the speech that I made today, I set out a positive case. Yes, it is the case of someone who is Eurosceptical in the genuine sense: I am sceptical about all organisations and about all engagements. We should always question whether organisations work for us, and we should be doubtful about such things. That is what being sceptical means.
I come at this as someone who has their doubts about Brussels and doubts about the EU, but I have an absolutely clear eye about what is best for Britain. If others want to argue from a more positive stance about the nature of the EU, fine—go for it. It is up to everyone to make their own case, but I am going to make my case in a clear-eyed determination of what is in Britain’s interest, and I think I did that today.
The Prime Minister has centred much of the renegotiation on immigration, so can he tell the House, in his estimation, by how much the welfare changes will reduce immigration from the EU in the coming year?
Anyone who knows that, at the moment, someone can come from the EU and get up to £10,000 of in-work welfare benefits in the first year knows that that is a big incentive to come to Britain. Many people said that we would never be able to get changes to in-work benefits, but we have got those changes. If we pass this legislation we will see, in 2017, a seven-year period up to 2024 in which we will be restricting these welfare claims. That, plus all the changes that the Home Secretary helped to secure—in many cases reversing ECJ judgments—will actually restore to our country powers over welfare and powers over immigration that can make a real difference.
Plaid Cymru supports our membership of the EU. We also support further reform, and we will campaign accordingly. Were we to leave, what would happen to measures such as convergence funding, which has provided large amounts of money for the poorer areas of west Wales and the valleys?
The short answer is that if we were to leave the EU, we would not be able to get those funds, which have made a big difference in parts of Wales, in parts of England—for instance, in Cornwall—and in other parts of our country. I am someone who wants to keep the EU budget down, and we achieved the historic decision to cut it, but I think we should be frank that some of the work that the EU has done in poorer countries in other parts of the EU has helped those economies to grow. They are all customers of ours, so whether it is Bulgaria, Romania, Greece or wherever, their economic development is in our interests.
In January, I introduced a Bill to try to protect our children from flammable costumes—to protect children from going up in flames. I pulled the Bill this month after discussions with officials from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, who told me that the matter comes under harmonised legislation. Thousands of directives are spewed out from Brussels every year with which the Government have to comply. We cannot even protect our own children on something so fundamental, because we do not have control without the permission of Brussels.
I will look carefully at the case my hon. Friend has mentioned, because I know that such things can be frustrating. In the area of foam-filled furniture and foam-filled mattresses, we have taken steps over and above what other EU countries have done, and that has kept our own people safer. The other thing I would say is that a lot of different figures are bandied about on the matter, but if she looks in the House of Commons Library, she will see that far from the very high figures quoted by some, more like 13%, 14% or 15% of laws come to us from that direction.
May I commend the Prime Minister for his statement and congratulate him on successfully persuading his European counterparts to sign up to the renegotiation. He has of course been less successful in persuading half the Conservative party to support him. Will he accept that although his renegotiation may have been successful, it is not central to how most people will make up their minds? When we belong to a European single market that is worth £80 billion a year to this country, the real question is are we better off in or out? When we are facing huge insecurities and dangers in this world, are we better off alongside our friends and neighbours, or outside on our own? When we face huge international challenges, such as climate change and the refugee crisis, are we better off working with others, or isolated on our own? Will he join me in our shared ambition for a Britain in Europe, not the blond ambition behind him?
The renegotiation was aimed at dealing with some of the legitimate grievances that we have had in the UK for many years about the way in which the EU works. We felt it was too much of a single currency club and too much of a political union, and was not enough about competitiveness and had not enough protections in terms of welfare and immigration. I believe the renegotiation and agreement go a long way to dealing with each of those problems.
Now is the time, as the hon. Gentleman says, for the even bigger argument about the future of our country and about what sort of country we want to live in for ourselves, and our children and grandchildren. It is a huge issue, and on the points he makes about Britain being strong in the world and able to get things done, I would argue that our membership of NATO matters and our membership of the UN matters, but our membership of the EU also gives us force and power to get things done in the world.
On these Benches we are rightly proud of our record on the drop in unemployment, the record growth—best in the G7—and the reduction in our deficit. During my right hon. Friend’s many meetings, did he find anybody, even a single person, who suggested we might get better terms, on our exit, to achieve even better outside the European community?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. There is good will towards Britain because of the contribution we make to the EU. There is understanding of the problems and difficulties that we have had. Therefore, with a huge amount of diplomacy —travel and meetings and everything else—it has been possible to get, I think, a good agreement for Britain. As I said in my statement, if we were somehow to kick over the table and ask for a second one, I do not think that would be remotely feasible.
May I particularly welcome the equalisation of the spouse visa rules, which discriminated unfairly against British citizens? May I also ask the Prime Minister to recognise the work of the Minister for Europe? I managed only two years in the job; he has done six, and he has still retained his sanity—almost.
On the other big issue, the migration crisis, the British head of Europol said today that 5,000 jihadists are now within the European Union area. Many of them have come in through the external border of the EU. What additional help is being given to Greece and Italy, in particular, to try to deal with protecting the external border, with the support of Frontex?
First, let me thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the Europe Minister, who was with me in Brussels for this marathon negotiation —I thought his eyes were shutting for a minute there. He has been doing the job for six years, and has done it extremely well.
The point about spousal visas is important. For many years, we argued that this needed to be sorted out, and for many years the EU said back, “Well, if you want to equalise the rules, change your own rules.” Now, we have in effect managed to change its rules, so it is a real breakthrough.
In terms of the help that we are giving to Italy and Greece, the discussions in Brussels were very intense because the numbers really have to be reduced, and reduced radically. That is why I strongly support, and Britain will contribute to, the maritime operation—it will have strong NATO support, as well as EU support—to try to bring together Greece and Turkey, with a common information picture or common intelligence about what is happening, so we can stop so many of these criminal gangs operating in the area. Without that, there will not be the right chance of getting this situation under control.
For decades, British Ministers who have had involvement with Europe—I include myself in this—have been tempted to exaggerate the influence we bring to bear and conceal our inability to achieve British interests. Is that why it took a freedom of information request to establish that over the last two decades, Britain has voted against 72 measures in the European Council and been defeated 72 times, and that the pace of defeat is accelerating? If we make the mistake of taking the risk of remaining in the EU, how many defeats does the Prime Minister expect over the next two decades?
I do not for one minute underestimate the frustrations and challenges of being a member of this organisation. The research that I have seen—perhaps I will write to my right hon. Friend with a copy of it—states that deep analysis of whether a country achieves its position shows that Britain does so in 90% of cases, which even, I think, outranks the Germans. I have seen for myself that when we work hard and form alliances, we can get things done.
The other point I make to my right hon. Friend is that if we are outside the single market, the same countries will write the rules, but without us. We will have to comply with them when we sell into Europe, but will have absolutely no say over what they are. That, to me, is the illusion of sovereignty, rather than real sovereignty.
I accept the symbolism of removing the phrase “ever closer union”, but if we are to believe that it will have legal consequences, the Prime Minister owes it to the House to give at least one or two examples of where that was the sole legal basis for a decision.
I am happy to write to the right hon. Lady with the details because those words have been used in a whole series of cases. That is why the point was so hard-fought.
May I point out to my right hon. Friend that article 50 did not exist in the treaties until the Lisbon treaty, which he used to oppose and now agrees with? There are many ways of leaving the European Union that might not involve article 50. He does not want to bind himself into the article 50 framework. Will he give this some thought, rather than committing himself to a policy that he obviously does not support?
Whether we like it or not—frankly, I do not particularly like it—the treaty on European Union sets out the way in which a country leaves. It is called article 50 and I think people should read it. If you want to leave, leave. If you want to stay, stay. What I find slightly odd is the idea of voting to leave to try and half stay. I do not think the British public would understand it, I do not think our European partners would understand it and I am at a loss to understand it as well. I thought that we wanted to have a referendum and to make a choice.
Does the Prime Minister think President Putin would rather see a strong Britain staying in a strong Europe or Britain breaking away from the European Union and, potentially, Europe breaking apart?
It is certainly true that Vladimir Putin likes to see disunity in the west, whether it is over sanctions, Syria or Russian conduct in other issues. There is no doubt in my mind, having sat at the European Council table, that the alliance between the Baltic states and Poland—which see at first hand the problems being created by Putin—countries such as Britain, which should always stand up to aggression, and the French and Germans has made Europe’s position stronger. If we were not there, I do not think we could guarantee that that would be the case. I do not believe that that is an overstatement of the position.
In October, Lord Rose, the chairman of the pro-EU BSE campaign, said:
“Nothing is going to happen if we come out of Europe in the first five years, probably. There will be absolutely no change.”
I hope that my right hon. Friend finds it reassuring to hear that from the head of the campaign to stay in. Does he agree that it is inevitable that after the public vote to leave, there will be a period of informal discussions before the formal process is triggered?
I have great respect for my hon. Friend who is leading the campaign with great vim, vigour and passion, but surely if you want Britain to leave the EU you want things to change rather than not to change. The truth is that article 50 is the only way to leave. It says that you spend two years negotiating your status outside the EU and that if that cannot be agreed at the end of those two years then, unless all 27 other member states agree to extend the process, you leave. On leaving, if you have not got a deal, you do not know what your relationship is with the single market and you do not know what your relationship is with the 53 countries covered by the trading deals. You do not really know very much. My argument is: do not take that risk. Stay in a reformed European Union. What I think the leave campaign will have to do at some stage is explain what it is they want once we have left.
I thank the Prime Minister for his detailed statement. Does he accept that, with Ireland and Britain so closely connected economically and living, as it were, in each other’s shadow, a UK exit from the European Union would have particular implications for Ireland, north and south? Indications suggest there may be some initial financial savings for the UK, but that huge losses are likely to follow. We have seen today the impact on sterling. That financial impact would be negative and slow—we would not see the full impact today or tomorrow. Recent polls suggest that 75% of people in Northern Ireland want to stay in the EU. Does the Prime Minister agree that a UK exit from the EU would have a particularly detrimental impact on Northern Ireland’s economy, and on its hard-won peace process and stability?
First, let me pay tribute and thanks to the Taoiseach, the leader of the Republic, who was probably one of the strongest voices in support of Britain’s renegotiation and in making sure we achieved a good settlement. In terms of Northern Ireland, everyone in Northern Ireland will have a vote and every vote counts the same. I urge people to exercise their democratic right. I look forward to going to Northern Ireland, as part of the campaign, to talk directly to people about why I believe we should stay.
Acknowledging that some people believe that our European neighbours want to do us down at every turn, is it credible to suppose that if we were to leave, those self-same people could believe that our former partners would fall over themselves to give us free access to the single market, which is the vital foundation for our business and industry to trade across the world?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I feel that very deeply. Having tried to build up the good will for a special status for Britain within the EU, which is what we have achieved, I do not believe that that good will would in any way be there were we to decide to leave. My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. That is why the safe option, the certain option, the option without risk is to stay in the reformed EU, rather than to take this leap in the dark.
As the Prime Minister outlines the potentially grave consequences for the UK of leaving in terms of our economy and our security, we can perhaps all reflect on the wisdom of the leadership decisions that will lead to us perhaps facing those consequences in a few months’ time.
The side that wants to leave has put sovereignty and control at the heart of its argument. Does the Prime Minister agree that if we swap from a position where we are a decision-maker at the top table, we will be moving from a position of being a rule-maker to being a rule-taker, and that that is not sovereignty, it is not control and it is not the best future for the United Kingdom?
I do not agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said in the first part of his question. I think it is time for a referendum. Too many treaties have passed through this House with no referendum, whether Maastricht under the Conservatives or Lisbon under Labour. I think that sapped people’s faith in our democracy and in our accountability. I particularly remember the moment when Tony Blair stood here and said, “Let battle be joined” and all the rest of it. We really thought a referendum was coming and then it was taken away. It is right to have this referendum, and we should not be frightened of asking the people and trusting the people.
I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that if we want to ask the question of how we can have greater control and greater influence, the answer is to be in there helping to make the rules, rather than outside simply taking the rules.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on securing for Britain the special status he talked about earlier. Does he agree that the problem with the debate so far is that those who want to leave Europe are completely unable to agree on an alternative arrangement for Britain in the EU that would deliver the same sort of economic and security benefits that his renegotiation secures?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Today’s discussions have revealed a lack of agreement not only about what Britain’s future looks like outside the EU, but about whether we really should leave, as some people want to vote leave in the hope of a different deal. Then there is not really agreement about how we should leave, whether it be via article 50 or through some other process that can be followed. I am absolutely clear that the only way of leaving is through article 50. There is no second renegotiation; there is no second referendum. The choice is in or out. I think we now need to move on to debate what those things really mean.
Can the Prime Minister tell us, beyond the areas specifically addressed in the deal agreed last week, in which way his Government’s plans have been constrained by European legislation or regulation?
There is no doubt that we do face constraints, because the single market works through a common set of rules that have to be agreed. As has been said, we do not always get our way, although I would argue that we get our way far more often than we do not. There are occasions when we lose a vote and we are constrained by EU regulation or legislation. The question I think we now need to put in a very hard-headed “Realpolitik” sense is this: “If you are outside, does this give you the full control and sovereignty that you seek?” It does not, because we still have to trade with Europe and accept the rules. The only thing achieved is to have removed ourselves from the conversation and taken away our vote.
The Prime Minister has said that this will settle the issue for a generation. I am blessed with five grandchildren and I believe that it is in their best interests that I vote to remain within the European Union. There is another generation that is a matter of some concern. Thousands of people who have paid UK taxes and national insurance over the years are now living in other parts of Europe. My right hon. Friend knows that I have sought to represent the interests of those people. They are very frightened indeed. Can he tell them what will happen to them if we leave the European Union?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for deciding to support the case for remaining in the EU. He raises an important point. We often look at free movement in terms of people’s decision to come here, but we also need to think about the many British people who have chosen to work, live or retire in other parts of the EU. The short answer to my hon. Friend’s question is that I can tell those people what it will be like if we stay, but I cannot be absolutely certain about what would happen if we leave. It would depend on a complex and difficult negotiation, and I think there would be a lot of uncertainty. I would urge all those people, who have the right to vote, to make sure that they exercise it. We should perhaps think particularly about people in Gibraltar who are all able to vote in this referendum.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment in his statement today to speak plainly over the next four months about what he believes is right for our country. As he develops that argument, will he bear it in mind that 9 million people voted Labour at the last general election and that their sympathies and values do not naturally lie with his party so he needs to develop a conversation with them as well?
I certainly take on board the right hon. Gentleman’s point, but this is not a party political issue. This is an issue for all people and all voters to get involved in. They might vote Conservative at a general election but decide to vote either in or out in the referendum—and the same with Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green or whatever. This should be a giant democratic exercise in accountability. We are asking questions about sovereignty, but this is a huge sovereign decision by the British people. I know I can sometimes upset Labour voters, but I would say to them, “Put aside what you think about this Government or that rule or that law, and think about the future of your country. Think about the big picture and then make the choice.”
Be nice for a change.
I’m always nice.
The Prime Minister said that crime should be at the forefront of our thoughts when we are voting in the referendum. Can he therefore tell us how many crimes were committed in the UK by other EU nationals in the year before free movement of people came into effect, and how many were committed by other EU nationals last year? How many other EU nationals were in the UK prison system before free movement of people came into operation and how many are there now? I am sure that my right hon. Friend must have that information, given that crime is such a big thing for him. If he has not got it, perhaps he will write to me with that information.
I do not have all those figures to hand, but what I can say to my hon. Friend is that because of the very hard work done by the Home Secretary, we will be able to bar more criminals from coming to Britain, and we will have longer re-entry bans. We are solving problems that the European Court of Justice has put in our way. As for prisoners, the prisoner transfer agreement that we negotiated will mean that we can get foreign prisoners out of our prisons and into their jails. Outside the EU, that would be far more difficult—perhaps impossible—to achieve.
I think that I am the only Member who was elected to the European Parliament in 1979, at the same time as the father of the Mayor of London—who, I must say, talked a lot more sense than his son. We were then on opposite sides. I was against membership of the EU, while the Mayor’s father was in favour of it. However, I changed my mind. After two years in the European Parliament, I saw the benefits of working with people from other nations. [Interruption.] Cynics! We talked about acid rain, and about restructuring and its social effects on people who worked in the older industries. I gained enormously from working with people of other nationalities, and I hope that the Prime Minister will emphasise, again and again, the importance of internationalism.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her honesty in saying that she had changed her mind when she was sitting with Stanley Johnson: two blonde bombshells, if you like, in the same European Parliament. I remember campaigning with Stanley Johnson, and if the good people of Newton Abbot had decided to vote the right way in, I think, 2005—or perhaps it was 2010— he would be sitting here, and we would have been able to hear from him as well as from the Mayor of London.
With respect, why does the Prime Minister “bang on” so much about east European migration? After all, the Poles have a wonderful record in this country of coming here, not for benefits but to work hard and integrate. Is it not much more worrying that millions are pouring into Europe from north Africa and the middle east? Has the Prime Minister any idea of the proportion of those people who will exercise their right to come here once they have their German passports? If we remain in the EU, the channel will be about as useful in stopping them as a trifling Macedonian stream.
I promise to “bang on” for the next four months, but I hope to “bang on” considerably less about this subject after that.
My hon. Friend has made an important point. Obviously we have the advantage of being outside Schengen, so foreign nationals coming to other European countries do not have automatic access to the UK. We can stop them coming in, as indeed we can stop European citizens who we think may be a risk to our country. The factual answer to my hon. Friend’s question, however, is that, after 10 years, only about 2.2% of the refugees and others who have arrived in Germany have German citizenship, so the evidence to date is that there is not a huge risk of very early grants of citizenship to these people. Nevertheless, I agree that we need to act, and if we are involved, we are more likely to act to try and stem the flow of migrants in the first place. What is happening now in the NATO-led operation between Greece and Italy is happening partly because of a UK intervention in this debate, taken with the French, the Germans and the Italians. When we are around that table, we can get things done.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the claim that staying in the European Union would make an attack on our shores more likely is deeply irresponsible and factually wrong?
I am struggling to find the right page in my notes, on which there is a quotation. Ah, here we are.
I think that this is important, because we should be clear about the advantages and the disadvantages of the organisation. I have become convinced of this: when we are fighting terrorism and crime, we rely on the police, the security and intelligence services and the “Five Eyes” partnership, and I have seen at first hand that our partnership with America is incredibly powerful when it comes to keeping us safe, but I have also seen in recent years just how much this European co-operation matters. I am thinking of, for instance, the Schengen Information System and the European Criminal Records Information System, and the passage of information between our organisations. Hugh Orde, former president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, was very clear yesterday. He said that staying in Europe and co-operating with our European allies is essential to keeping British people safe:
“The European arrest warrant lets us deport terrorist suspects back to their country of origin, Europol helps our police co-operate with their European counterparts, and EU data-sharing measures allow our security services to access information on threats from anywhere in Europe within minutes.”
That is a very powerful statement from someone who clearly knows what they are talking about.
Of course, outside the EU we could try to negotiate bilateral agreements either with every country or with every system and every organisation, but I do think people will ask: “Why give up a system that is working to keep us safe when it could take so long to try and replicate it?” And then, even when we have replicated it, as Norway has tried to do with Europol, Europol is very clear: the Norwegians do not get the access or the personnel or the extra safety we get by being a full member.
Two hundred thousand of our UK firms trade with the EU and it accounts for just under half our total trade. Given that the EU is the only big world trading bloc in which we have a say in setting the rules, would it not be absurd to give away that say? Would it not betray those 200,000 firms and lead to fewer jobs, less growth and damage to our economy?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. While it would be good if the World Trade Organisation was signing more multilateral trade deals, there has not been a successful round for 22 years. So if we are interested in driving free trade and market access in the world today, we need to be part of a bloc that can sign good and effective deals. We have seen that with Korea and with Singapore, and we now need to see it with all the other countries that the EU is doing these deals with. As I have said, of course outside the EU we can sign deals, but the information I have from country after country is “Yes, we’d do a deal but only after we’ve fixed our deal with the EU,” and that is likely to be a bigger deal and a better deal. So I think the argument on this trade deal issue very much goes one way.
Britain has an enormous trade deficit with the rest of the EU, amounting to over £60 billion a year, equivalent to over 1 million jobs exported from Britain to the continent, half of them to Germany. Is it not obvious that the EU needs us much more than we need it and the last thing the EU is going to do is start a trade war with Britain?
The problem with the hon. Gentleman’s statistics is this: obviously, 50% of our trade is with the EU, but if we take the EU as a whole only about 7% of its trade is with us. So were we to leave the EU and then contemplate the negotiation that would follow, clearly we would not be in the stronger position. I think that is important. The second point I would make—I made this point earlier—is that, yes, we have a trade deficit in goods, but we have a massive trade surplus in services and it is in the single market in services where the prospects for progress are greatest today. So there would be a danger if we were to leave that maybe we would get that deal on goods relatively quickly because of our deficit, but if they held up the deal on services where would all our service companies be? Where would those jobs be? What would we say to those companies about how long it could take to get a deal to safeguard the incomes and prospects of families across our country?
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on spending 40 hours—apparently four clean shirts and a packet of Haribo—in implementing the Labour party manifesto in his conversations in Brussels? Does this not actually show the problem: that for so much labour he has achieved so little, and that the EU is a failing organisation—a failed common fisheries policy, a failed common agricultural policy, a single market that shackles us with regulation that makes us fundamentally uncompetitive, an immigration system that is betraying people who get to Europe, not to mention the eurozone which, thank heavens, we are not a member of? In this failed organisation, the Prime Minister has said in his statement that we are to make a final decision. It is the one sentence of his statement that I fundamentally agree with: a final decision to be made in June as to whether we stay with a failed body or whether we leave and make our own path. Is the Government’s policy basically,
“And always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse.”?
Obviously, my hon. Friend and I have a profound disagreement about this issue. I very much respect his views because he has held them in good faith for many years, and I have held my view that we need reform, but reform within the EU, for many years. I am sure that we can respect each other in the months of debate ahead.
I do want to take issue a little with my hon. Friend on manifesto delivery. I will not run through the whole thing, but we said that we would legislate for a referendum —we’ve delivered it. We said that we will protect our economy from further integration of the eurozone—that is covered in the settlement. We said that we want powers to flow away from Brussels—that is covered in the settlement. We want national Parliaments to be able to work together to block unwanted European legislation —covered in the settlement. We want an end to our commitment to ever closer union—covered in the settlement. We will ensure that defence policy and national security remain firmly under British national control—covered in the new settlement. We will insist that EU migrants who want to claim tax credits must live here and contribute to our country for four years—covered in the settlement. It is there time and again.
We all stood under this manifesto, and I am proud of it and of the team who put it together and are implementing it. While I say, “Yes, let’s have this vigorous argument”, let us not pretend that we have not delivered the manifesto on which we stood in front of the British people.
You will be aware, Mr Speaker, that in Slough I am proud to represent an area that has more international headquarters of multinational companies that are investing in Britain than any other place of a similar size. Those companies say to me that they have come here because of the English language, our good transport links, and because we are a gateway to the European market. The bosses of those companies are not saying that very publicly, and during this referendum campaign I invite the Prime Minister to encourage them to talk to those people whose jobs depend on that investment, and to say what would happen if we left Europe, because they tell me that they would leave Britain.
I am certainly having that conversation. My message to businesses is: if you have a view, make sure you tell people. Talk to your customers and your suppliers, and above all talk to your employees, your staff and your colleagues, because this issue is so important.
In truth, the business voice, large and small, is very much in favour of Britain staying. Many of them have said quite generous things about this renegotiation because they recognise the dangers, particularly in the area of safeguarding ourselves against discrimination because we are not in the euro. Given that, I hope that business and enterprise will speak clearly in the next four months.
Much of the protection of the euro-outs in this agreement rests on a safeguard mechanism that is set out in annex 2, but as far as I can tell, that requires nothing more than that a discussion be held about the UK’s concerns at ECOFIN—not even the European Council. That leaves eurozone members free to enforce their will by qualified majority voting. Will the Prime Minister explain what—beyond the discussion, which can be ignored—has been achieved by the safeguard mechanism?
I absolutely can answer that, and I think it is an important question. There are two things here. First, a set of principles is set out in section A on economic governance, and they are principles of non-discrimination, no cost, and no disadvantage. Crucially, paragraph 4—this was of real concern to the Bank of England and I know it will be of concern to my right hon. Friend’s Committee—makes it clear that the financial stability of member states whose currency is not the euro is a matter for their own authorities and own budgetary responsibility. Those principles are very important, and what is exciting about this is not only that they have been set out for the first time, and not only has Europe for the first time accepted that there are other currencies inside the European Union, but those changes will be incorporated into the treaties. The mechanism is something over and above a new way of ensuring that issues are raised, should we wish to raise them, at the level of the European Council. We do not have that protection today, but making the principles part of the treaty—already an international legally binding decision—is hugely important. If my right hon. Friend listens to people who speak on behalf of financial services, the Bank of England and others, he will recognise that this is really important progress for Britain.
There is still plenty that divides the Prime Minister and me politically, but on this and in the national interest I think he is right to be campaigning for Britain to remain in the European Union. Let me read a quote to him:
“leaving would cause at least some business uncertainty, while embroiling the Government for several years in a fiddly process of negotiating new arrangements, so diverting energy from the real problems of this country”.
That was on 7 February. The Mayor of London was right 15 days ago, wasn’t he?
What I would say to the hon. Gentleman—and to everyone—is that we must examine what the alternatives are, how much uncertainty there will be, and how long these processes will take. Therein lies the importance of this decision for businesses, families and people’s prospects up and down our country.
Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the key benefits of his agreement is to give legal clarity to Britain’s special status within the EU? He will be aware of the uncertainties there have been for those advising the Government on the law, which this resolves. Does he also agree that it is wrong to say that this is not legally binding when it is, and that it is irreversible unless we choose otherwise? For those who want to look at the legal niceties, I point to a very long opinion by Professor Sir Alan Dashwood, Queen’s Counsel, the leading EU constitutional lawyer in this country, which can be read on the Henderson chambers website.
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for what he has said, given that he was a senior Law Officer in the Government. I have also listened very carefully to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who could not have been clearer on this point. I have also read the judgment by Dashwood and seen the Government’s own legal advice, all of which says that this is legally binding and irreversible. People who question that should look at the Danish protocol, which has been in existence and worked very well for 23 years.
Does the Prime Minister share my concerns and worries that after 70 years of peace and prosperity any nation begins to take that for granted, as well as the institutions that created that peace and prosperity? I was born on the August weekend in London at the height of the battle of Britain—[Interruption.] Unimaginable. My generation and many people in this country with longer memories know that peace and prosperity are not guaranteed unless we work together across Europe to maintain them day after day, month after month and year after year.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is worth remembering why this came about in the first place, which was the appalling bloodshed on our continent. People of my generation, very much post-war children, should remember that and then look afresh at the institutions of the EU and try to ensure that this organisation works for this century rather than the last one. That is part of what this agreement is about. I absolutely agree, and I remember, for instance, a meeting of the European Council we once had at the Cloth Hall in Ypres: one cannot sit in that building without thinking of the slaughter that European countries have engaged in in the past.
I, too, salute my right hon. Friend for honouring his commitment to the British people to offer them a referendum and for his extraordinary stamina over the last week or so while we have been enjoying the recess, but I am afraid that for me this is not the fundamental reform that we were promised. My right hon. Friend has made much of security in his answers today and in the past few weeks, but does he not agree that the security of Europe is dependent on NATO and not on the EU, that it is NATO that is protecting us from further incursion by President Putin, and that we do NATO no good by suggesting that somehow the EU has some competence in this area?
I have huge respect for my hon. Friend, who served brilliantly in the last Government, helping to strengthen our defences. I have to say that perhaps 10 or 15 years ago, I might have said the same —that defence was really about NATO and our partnership with America and not about the EU. However, when we consider defence and security in the round today, and how we fight terrorism, yes, it depends on those other relationships, but it also depends on what we do through the EU. I see that every day through the exchange of information. For example, let us take the agreement we also reached at this Council to ensure a strong NATO mission to try to help the situation between Greece and Turkey. It is a NATO mission, which backs up my hon. Friend’s point, but where was some of the conversation about it going on? Where were the Germans, the British and the French sitting together to work out what assets we could supply and how we could get real power into it? It was done around the European Council table. The fact is that we need both. To keep safe in the modern world, to fight terrorism, to fight criminality and to stand up to evil around the world, we must use all the organisations, not just some of them.
The Prime Minister has played fast and loose with our cultural, social and economic future in Europe for a series of concessions that seem to do nothing to satisfy his Eurosceptic Front Benchers and Back Benchers. Will he now guarantee that his Government’s case for remaining in the EU will stop appeasing them, and instead focus on the many positives of the EU, counteract the leave campaign’s narrow, negative focus on immigration, and commit to ensuring that the public have sufficient information to make a positive, informed choice?
We will certainly be fighting a very positive campaign. That campaign will involve a series of documents, some of which were mandated by the other place when it amended the referendum Bill, so we need to set out the alternatives to membership, and the rights and obligations here—the things you get out of and the obligations you have in the EU. We will be talking about the economic case. We will address all those issues. I say to those who are interested in some of the cultural or educational arguments that they should come forward, too. We need a strong voice from universities, as they have a lot to say about this issue—they get a lot out of Europe—and cultural organisations should be speaking out, too.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that when this country, in our national interest, makes an international agreement of any kind, it may involve a loss of sovereignty? That may be the case through any trade deal, through trading under World Trade Organisation rules and on the single most important decision this House of Commons could take: whether or not to engage in military action. We are treaty-bound by NATO, under article 5, to go to the defence of a fellow member that is under armed attack—that obliges us. In that sense, we have lost sovereignty because we believe it is in the interests of the country to enter that agreement and that it has made us safer. If the claim of “sovereignty” and its loss were the trump card, would not all those international agreements have to be torn up?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point: if your only determination was never to cede any technical sovereignty, you would never join any of these organisations, you would not do a trade deal and you probably would not be a member of the UN, the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. Therefore, the question really is: what maximises our power, influence and ability to get things done? As the Transport Secretary put it so brilliantly at the Cabinet meeting, “I would love to live in utopia but I expect the EU would probably be there, too.” That is to say, you do not abolish the EU by leaving it; you simply cut yourself off from something and therefore possibly make yourself, in many ways, less powerful, rather than more powerful.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. May I gently remind the House that people who wish to take part in the exchanges should have been here at the start and remained throughout? People who have gone in and out of the Chamber, and may have come back in again, should not then be standing. That is very much in breach of the traditions of the House, and we need to be clear about that.
One of the bogeymen policies for me was closer political union. If this country votes to stay in the EU on 23 June, what guarantees has the Prime Minister got that these things will be put in statute or written into a treaty at that time?
First, this is already an agreement and it will shortly be deposited at the UN as an international law decision. Therefore, it will already by then be legally binding and irreversible. Getting out of ever closer union, and indeed redefining closer union, is so important that I think it needs to go in the treaties, and the agreement here is that when the treaties next change, that will be written into those treaties. We have a double lock on this, a vital point.
I suggest that this is tinkering; it is certainly not fundamental change. The red card is not a veto; it will not stop the majority of the EU forcing unwanted taxes and regulations on this country. May I put it to the Prime Minister that he should at least accept the possibility that the red card could be turned against us, in that UK-sponsored initiatives could be blocked by the majority of the EU—initiatives that could be in our best interests, such as access and further enhancement of the single market?
I do not overstate the red card. It is a new mechanism, not to delay but to properly block initiatives, that is available to national Parliaments should they want to avail themselves of it. To me, this is about another thing that makes this organisation more democratically accountable to national Parliaments. If my hon. Friend is saying that, on some occasions, that might work against us because other national Parliaments might want to stop something on which we were keen, I have to say that I suppose that that is accountability and democracy. The point is that, because of my decision, this organisation will be more democratic rather than less democratic.
As the Prime Minister seems to be getting “nul points” from his own side for these European renegotiations, may I commend him for coming round to Chancellor Merkel’s view on freedom of movement? On freedom of movement, will he assure the House that there will be absolutely no implications from this deal for the hundreds of thousands of UK citizens living in the EU?
Of course if we stay in the European Union, British people will continue to be able to work abroad, live abroad and retire abroad, as they do now. It is not for me to set out what would happen to them in different circumstances. I think the leave campaign will want to try to address that point, but people know with certainty what they will get if the remain side wins.
In his statement, the Prime Minister observed that leaving the EU might briefly make us feel more sovereign. Does he not accept that for many hon. Members, the issue of parliamentary sovereignty will be the central one of the debate in which we are about to engage—namely, that so long as we are subject to the fiat of the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, we will not be truly sovereign, and that very little changed last weekend in that respect?
What changed last weekend in that respect is that because we are getting out of ever closer union, we now know that we cannot be forced into further political union against our will; that is very important. On this issue of sovereignty, let me repeat that, if we leave the EU, we might feel more sovereign, because we could pass this law or that law, but if we still want to sell into Europe, we have to meet all the rules over which we will have no say. To me, that is a diminution of sovereignty rather than an increase of sovereignty.
On the issue of sovereignty, it has been reported by several news media organisations that the Prime Minister intends to unveil a British sovereignty Bill in the next few days. Will he confirm whether that is the case? If it is, will he tell us what provision he will make in that Bill to recognise that the principle of unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle that has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law?
What I have said we should do is to build on what we did in 2011 when we set out that Parliament is sovereign, and just as Parliament can choose to join the EU, it can also choose to leave the EU. That is good for the whole of the United Kingdom. We do have a sovereign Parliament. There are ways that we can add to that, as other countries have done, and I look forward to bringing forward some proposals in the coming days.
On Friday, 2,500 people packed the QEII Centre to see GO launch the national cross-party leave campaign. Among the speakers were two UK Independence party MEPs, a renowned economic commentator, a senior trade unionist, a much respected Labour MP, the co-chairman of Conservatives for Britain, four Conservative MPs, and the leader of Respect. In 2014, Ruth Davidson, our excellent Conservative leader in Scotland, linked arms with George Galloway in the national interest. Does the Prime Minister agree that Ruth Davidson was right and that sometimes we have to work with people we do not like?
Everyone will have to make the choice about what platform they appear on and whom they appear with. I think that the disadvantage of appearing on any platform with either Nigel Farage or George Galloway arises when considering who their friends are, whom they support and the overseas politicians whom they seem to support. Everyone will have to think carefully about whom they want to appear with.
There has been a lot of talk, quite rightly, about the City of London and big multinational companies working here and investing in this country, but the beating heart of our economy is the small and medium-sized enterprise sector. Some 39% of SMEs in this country export to EU countries, so does the Prime Minister agree that it would be madness to slam the door in their face?
I think the overwhelming majority of SMEs that export support the case that I am making. Many companies that are not exporters are involved in the supply chain with companies that do export. That is a point that many business service organisations, banks, accountants and lawyers are very well placed to make.
I, too, thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and all right hon. and hon. Members who voted to have a referendum on EU membership. Will the Prime Minister say whether the agreement that he has reached alters the Lisbon treaty?
Obviously, it does. When we change these treaties, this will be, as it were, one of the founding documents of the EU, so the international law agreement, and then in time the treaty changes, will sit alongside other treaties that have been produced in the past. Like my hon. Friend, I regret that so many treaties were made with so little democratic accountability, and I think we are putting that right in two ways: first, with things such as getting out of ever closer union—a distant dream for many of us who used to argue for that but never got it—and secondly, through the democratic accountability of holding a referendum.
The Prime Minister has stated explicitly that people who vote to leave the European Union do not love their country. I represent many veterans of the armed services whose patriotism cannot be questioned. Will the Prime Minister apologise to those people?
I absolutely did not say that. What I said was that I loved my country, and I think that our country—an amazing country—will be greater and more powerful if we remain in organisations through which we can project our power and influence, and do great things in the world. I do not question the patriotism of anyone in our country—we are all going to have to make a choice—but I believe that Britain’s greatness is not simply the parliamentary democracy that we enjoy and the rights that we have in this country. We are an outward-looking country, and I am proud of the fact that we help, whether with Syrian refugees, chasing down pirates off the Somali coast, or trying to stabilise countries from which many problems come. We can do that, yes, because we are strong; yes, because we have great defence; but also because we are members of NATO, we have a permanent seat at the UN, and we are part of the EU. I think it is technical jargon to call it a force multiplier, but that is what it is, and we should be proud of the role we play in the world.
My right hon. Friend always made it clear that if these negotiations did not succeed he would have no hesitation in recommending that we leave the European Union. Will he place in the Library the papers that cover the contingency plans that would have been used in that eventuality, and will he confirm that in that circumstance he would have had to make the very leap in the dark that he is now vilifying?
I have great respect for my hon. Friend, as he has held his views for many years, and believes that Britain would be better off outside the EU. I hope that he respects my views. I have always believed that if we can get reform we are better off in the EU, and that is what I said.
As for the documentation, we will publish something about the alternatives to demonstrate what we believe they are and to demonstrate that we are thinking about what would need to happen if that eventuality came about. As for what we achieved, I am happy to write to my hon. Friend with a list of the things that we said in our manifesto and that we achieved in the renegotiation. I quite accept that colleagues are going to say, “I am going to take a different path from you. I am going to make my own decision.” What I do not accept, however, is that somehow we have not delivered the overwhelming majority of what we promised to the British people at the election.
Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether he thinks rural communities in Britain would be better or worse off in the EU?
I represent a rural community—400 square miles of beautiful west Oxfordshire. There will be a range of views in my constituency, but I know when I talk to many of those who are responsible for producing food and for looking after our local environment that they see strong advantages from remaining in the European Union.
Does the Prime Minister agree that negotiating a special status deal, which he has done, is a demonstration of sovereignty at its best, because he is promoting this country’s interests in a rigorous way, ensuring that we are stronger, safer and more economically prosperous, and that that manifests itself in many aspects of the deal and in the way that we will behave as a nation state within the European Union in the future?
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend says. I think it demonstrates that although that organisation is imperfect and sometimes can be inflexible, it did show flexibility. One country came along with a manifesto pledge to renegotiate its position and a set of changes that it wanted to achieve, and by and large we have achieved them. That is a sign that the organisation can be flexible, which is incredibly important. If we had not been able to achieve any of this, I would have had deep questions about whether we could stay in such an organisation, but it has demonstrated flexibility and that is all to the good.
As many Members know, I am fiercely proud of Northern Ireland and its place in the world as a global trader, and I know we benefit a great deal from the EU. Will the Prime Minister make clear the benefits to us on our borders and for our farmers, our fishermen and all the people who rely on international trade?
I look forward to coming to Northern Ireland to make exactly those points. When we look at the special status that Northern Ireland has been given in terms of vital grants, the important co-operation as part of the common travel area with the Republic, and the way we have already reformed the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, it is clear that there is more to be done, but money goes into Northern Ireland through those programmes. I am happy to talk about all those things in the Province.
The Prime Minister referred to resolving the issue for a generation. Will a treaty change to incorporate our changes and perhaps to allow greater integration of the eurozone require a further referendum in the UK?
That is a very good question. It would depend on what was in that treaty. If the eurozone members were to bring forward treaty changes to change the nature of the eurozone, but without in any way affecting competencies here in Britain, I suspect we would be able to get our changes on ever closer union and on the governance surrounding the eurozone into that treaty. Whether or not such a treaty change requires a referendum simply depends on whether it passes competencies from Britain to Brussels. If the answer is yes, we have to have a referendum; if the answer is no, we do not.
In his statement the Prime Minister said, “Responsibility for supervising the financial stability of the UK will always remain in the hands of the Bank of England”, but we already share that responsibility with the European Banking Authority and we are already signed up to the single rulebook of that authority. How is the Prime Minister’s statement compatible with the view of Mr Andrea Enria, the head of the European Banking Authority, who says that that institution must be the dominant player in setting rules, particularly if Britain wishes to keep the pound and stay within a single European financial regulation?
The answer to that question required something like 35 hours of negotiation because it is so important. Let me try to précis it. Of course there are the banking union arrangements, and the eurozone countries need to have their banks properly scrutinised and regulated at a European level. We have our own currency and our own banking supervision arrangements. In trying to supervise a complex, large economy such as Britain, which has one of the largest financial centres anywhere in the world, not just banks but other financial institutions such as central counterparties are systemically important. That is so important because ultimately we need to make sure that whatever the eurozone does, we are protected by the Bank of England playing the role and being able to intervene to resolve and to supervise those systemically important institutions. That is what paragraph 4 is about.
Although that sounds very technical, at its heart is actually something fantastically important: if Britain—fifth largest economy in the world, important financial centre—cannot have fair rules in an organisation where the euro is obviously a very large currency, there really would be a case for saying, “Hold on a second. This is a single currency-only organisation. We’d better leave.” So it was absolutely crucial to get it settled—technical but, in the end, fundamentally important—whether we can get fair treatment inside this organisation, and the answer is yes we can.
This great exercise in democracy is not about what we say in this House, but about what our constituents decide, and my constituents, like many others, will be interested in the things that affect them: the economic protection and the jobs that the new reformed EU and the single trade zone can bring. They do not want the euro, they do not want the Euro superstate and they do not want something for nothing in welfare. Will the Prime Minister confirm for my constituents and for constituents across the country that that is what he has negotiated and that that is why it would be wrong to take a leap in the dark?
I am very happy to make that point. I do not know whether I will make it to Wimbledon, but I hope to make it to many parts of our country over the next four months to make exactly that point. We have not solved all of Britain’s problems with Europe—we have not solved all of Europe’s problems—but we have fundamentally addressed four major problems: too much of a single currency club, too much regulation, too much of a political union and not enough national determination over free-movement abuse and welfare. Those four things go to the heart of the problems we have had with this organisation.
As the Prime Minister knows very well, it is always worth while going to Wimbledon.
Will the Prime Minister welcome the support he has received today, surprisingly, from the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, who has joined his campaign and who supports it, or will he encourage the people of Northern Ireland to stay in tune with his Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who has indicated very strongly, in tune with them, that they should leave? If he is not going to support his Secretary of State, will he, then, follow the Deputy First Minister’s advice that she should resign? Will he now support his Secretary of State?
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland does an excellent job. She is exercising her ability to reach a personal decision and to campaign for Britain to leave the EU, and it is absolutely right she is able to do that. The key thing is that everyone in Northern Ireland should make up their own mind based on the evidence, and I look forward to coming to try to help persuade them to remain in a reformed EU.
Does the Prime Minister accept that the thousands of my constituents, the hundreds of thousands of constituents in London and the millions of constituents across the UK who work in financial services will be glad that he, at least, values their jobs, even if the Leader of the Opposition appears to dismiss them? Will he also recognise that the economic governance package is an important win for a strategic British interest and, therefore, that the pragmatic and businesslike thing is not to walk away from a market we are in, but to stay in it, improve it and make it work better?
I certainly agree with that. We should recognise that there are something like a million jobs in finance in Glasgow and Edinburgh—I think there are almost a million jobs in Manchester and Birmingham. The key point here is this: because we are in the single market, we have the right to passport—that is, to have a bank or a financial services company here in Britain that can trade throughout the EU. Leave the single market, and you lose that right. What would then have to happen is that companies based in the UK would have to move at least some of their jobs to another European country—that is why HSBC said the other day they would lose 1,000 jobs. So real jobs, real people’s salaries and real prosperity are under threat. We really need to explain this. It is complicated, but there is no doubt in my mind: leaving the single market for financial services would mean fewer jobs in Britain.
It was interesting to hear the Prime Minister use the word “divorce” in connection with some of the less than helpful comments from the Mayor of London. I think we are all now fully aware that hell hath no fury like a Bullingdon boy scorned. I will be voting to stay in the European Union, and I will help the Prime Minister to convince others. However, if he has had such a good deal, why is he struggling to convince so many in his own party?
Some people have very long-standing views about wanting to leave the EU. The point I was making about starting divorce proceedings on the basis of renewing the wedding vows is that that is what some people seem to be suggesting, not just the Mayor of London but others—that somehow starting the process of leaving will mean being offered a better deal to stay. I think that is just not the case. We could think about it like this: divorcing not just one person but 27 potentially unhappy partners. While I yield to no one in my belief that I can bring people back, I have seen multiple weddings take place but I have never seen multiple divorce negotiations resulting in a multiple wedding—that would be something!
May I join other Members in congratulating the Prime Minister and the Minister for Europe on their sterling work in Brussels last week? I agree that this reform produces a fundamental change in British-EU relations, at least in my living memory. Speaking as someone who started out on my career in 2008, at the beginning of the great recession, the possibility of entering into new turmoil within the economy fills an awful lot of young people with dread. That is why I will be joining the Prime Minister on the in campaign. Does he agree that it is absolutely vital for Britain’s economic security that we remain inside the European Union?
I very much hope that young people will have a very strong voice in this campaign, because, as my hon. Friend says, we have been through difficult economic times, and at a time of uncertainty, why add extra risk?
Does the Prime Minister agree with me and with London’s Mayor, who said two weeks ago that
“it is in Britain’s geo-strategic interests to be pretty intimately engaged in the doings of a continent that has a grim 20th-century history, and whose agonies have caused millions of Britons to lose their lives”,
and that the best way of staying “pretty intimately engaged” is to remain a member of the European Union?
I do agree with that. As I have said, if we leave the EU, it does not cease to exist, but it would continue to have an impact on our lives and on our world, so the best thing to do is to try to alter it from within.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I will try to accommodate remaining colleagues, but short questions are now required. We are having pithy answers but we need short questions.
As someone who has an open mind and can see competing arguments on both sides, may I ask that we ensure that the information used in the campaign is factually correct? A few weeks ago, a letter criticising the Prime Minister appeared in The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, apparently signed by a local Conservative activist from my constituency, linking the association to the letter, yet no one had ever heard of that person. May I ask that information put forward by both sides is fair, accurate and factually correct so that the British public can decide on the basis of fair evidence?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are producing a series of documents and we must make sure that the information is accurate.
Will the Prime Minister reiterate what is surely at the heart of this matter—that if the UK left the EU, we would almost certainly end up having to continue to implement the vast majority of EU rules and regulations if we wanted to access, on the same sort of terms, the single market, and the only difference would be that we would no longer get a say in those terms?
I think that is right. I have had a lot of conversations with the Norwegian Prime Minister about this. Of course, you do not have to opt for the Norwegian option, but if you do, you implement the directives but have no say over how they are put in place.
For the first time in my lifetime, people in Worcester will be able to have a genuine say on this issue. I thank the Prime Minister for that fact, and also for the huge effort that he has put into negotiating Britain’s corner in Europe. In the 2010 election manifesto on which he was made Prime Minister and I came to this House, we said that we would bring in a UK sovereignty Bill to assert the sovereignty of our country and make sure that this Parliament took final decisions. Does he agree that sovereignty can be asserted by this House and is not just something for us to argue over?
We introduced a sovereignty clause in the referendum provisions of the European Union Act 2011, and I am looking at enhancing that and adding it to the proposals that will come forward.
Given that so many of my constituents work in the City of London, I welcome what the Prime Minister has said about making sure that we have a strong global financial centre that enjoys all the benefits of access to the largest single market. Given that, may I offer the Prime Minister a once-in-a-Parliament opportunity to campaign in my constituency on this issue? Given that there are those in Frankfurt and Dublin who would love to get their hands on Britain’s financial services, and that the Mayor of London has given up his day job to think about his next job, may I also ask the Prime Minister to send a very clear message to my constituents and all Londoners that London is stronger in Europe?
I would be delighted to come to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and to case the joint for the future. He is right. It is interesting that Chris Cummings, the chief executive of TheCityUK, has said:
“The City is Europe’s financial centre and the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU) is of strategic importance to the financial and related professional services industry. Business opinion both within and beyond our industry is that continuing membership is important to Britain’s competitiveness”.
Business organisations covering finance, insurance, manufacturing and engineering are all making their views clear, and I think we should listen to them.
The Prime Minister will be aware that since 2010 unemployment has fallen by 50% in my constituency, that investment in the black country has gone up and that the west midlands economy is growing. Does he agree that full access to the single market, which focuses on jobs and growth, is critical for the security and jobs of people in my constituency and across the west midlands?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have seen an industrial renaissance in the west midlands, with more people in work and with growth, particularly in the automotive sector. Such sectors are a part of complex supply chains right across Europe and it would be a huge dislocation if we were to leave.
Access to labour and the protection of workers’ rights and of human rights are just some of the benefits of our membership of the EU; they are beneficial for our workers, businesses and citizens. It must perturb the Prime Minister, therefore, that his Justice Secretary, Work and Pensions Secretary and Minister for Employment are poster boys and girls for the out campaign. How will he ensure that those positive reasons for remaining are at the forefront of this campaign?
We are dealing with an issue that has caused divisions and differences within parties right across this House. Twenty-three of the people who sit around the Cabinet table are very much convinced that we should be better off in the EU, and six take a different view. I do not think we should be concerned about that. This is a referendum—it is the people’s choice, not the politicians’ choice.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that now is the time for realpolitik? We are no longer an imperial power able to demand what we want and get it. We live in a fragile and increasingly volatile world in all senses of those terms. Does not our membership of the EU, together with our seat on the Security Council of the United Nations, our membership of NATO and our position at the head of the Commonwealth, provide an ideal platform for us to promote Britain both here and abroad? That is why we should stay in.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Membership of those organisations helps us not only to get things done for our people and our country, but to make progress on the issues we care about around the world.
The Prime Minister deserves credit for the deal he has got; I will be able to campaign for it with confidence. He is right to say that the three different leave campaigns are unable to say what leave would really look like, but given that he will have to do the negotiations in the event of an out vote, it is also incumbent on him to tell us what leave would look like. When he sets out the alternatives, will he explain specifically what leave, as well as stay, would look like?
We will, as a Government, set out what we believe the alternatives are. There is the Swiss model, which took nine years to negotiate, and we have discussed the Norwegian model today. The World Trade Organisation option means that we could face tariffs every time we try to sell a car into the EU. The Canada free trade deal has not yet been agreed, but it does not cover all services so we could be seriously disadvantaged. We need to go into detail on each of those and put accurate information in place so that people can see what is on offer.
Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that critical to the success of his campaign will be his ability to convince people that, by giving up some sovereignty in Britain, we have gained sovereignty and authority in Europe?
Clearly, that is going to be the challenge of the coming months. As I have said, I have no selfish interest in this; I will just tell it as I see it. As I have learned over six years of being Prime Minister, this organisation is imperfect and can sometimes be frustrating, but we are better off in it. I profoundly believe that and I will take that message around the country.
People in Scotland are entitled to hear the clear and positive case for remaining in the EU, and to make their decisions on the basis of hearing all the arguments in full. The Prime Minister spoke today about the importance of taking account of the express will of the people. Will he undertake to take full account of the express view of the Scottish people and ensure that if we vote to remain, we are not removed from the EU against our will?
I very much look forward to taking this message to Scotland and campaigning in Scotland. I enjoyed doing that during the independence referendum, and I look forward to making the argument again that we are better off together. It is a one United Kingdom decision.
The out voices have been dominant for a long time. If my right hon. Friend had come back as emperor of Europe, they would have complained that it was an idea from Rome. The biggest questions that I have been asked by my constituents are: what are the positives, and what should we be voting on? I urge my right hon. Friend to speak in this campaign about the positives to the economy, to security and to the military, and to make the point that nothing can be more sovereign than 46 million people having their say.
Absolutely right. We should talk not only about the conceptual benefits of free trade and open markets, but about the simple and practical benefits. We are free to travel, work, live and retire anywhere in Europe. Because of open skies, the price of going on holiday and taking a flight anywhere in Europe has come down by something like 40%. When you travel, you will hopefully soon be able to access your digital content on your iPad, so that you can watch whatever you are watching wherever you are in Europe. [Interruption.] I think I have been doing this for too long, but you get the point.
Many of my constituents are somewhat nonplussed about the EU question, but they are hugely concerned about the future of the UK steel industry. Does the Prime Minister believe that the UK steel industry will have a brighter future if we remain in Europe or if we leave?
That is a very important point. There are huge challenges not just in our steel industry but right across Europe, and that is increasingly being talked about around the European Council table. However difficult it is—and it is difficult—I think we have a better chance of dealing with Chinese overcapacity, dumping and all the rest of it if we work as the biggest market in the world of 500 million people. Of course, we can get some things done as the fifth largest economy talking to China, but as part of 500 million, I think we can get more action.
The number of unemployed claimants in my constituency has fallen by 80% since 2010. Does the Prime Minister agree that to leave the EU now, at a time of economic global uncertainty, would risk a reversal of the progress that has been made?
I am delighted with the unemployment performance in my hon. Friend’s constituency. There is a simple point here: we live in uncertain times. We have made good progress on the economy. We should try to take the risks away from that economic performance, and clearly changing our status in such a radical way would be a risk.
We have been enriched by freedom of movement, we have been made safer by co-operation and we remain relevant in global terms because of our seat in the European Union. All of that and more is, unfortunately, now at risk. With that in mind, will the Prime Minister put some punch into a positive fight to remain in Europe? Would it not be ironic if this Conservative Prime Minister left it to the Scottish National party to save Britain from itself?
I hope I have demonstrated today that there is plenty of punch in this campaign, and it will be positive, too. I make no apology for saying that in making a positive campaign about jobs, about business and about competitiveness, we should also examine the alternatives. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing that.
As a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, I have seen NATO operations around the world, including Operation Ocean Shield against Somali pirates. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is the 28 member nations of NATO—including non-EU countries such as Norway, Turkey, Iceland, the United States and Canada—that are delivering our international security, not an EU army?
We do not want an EU army, and the document clearly says that our national security is a reserved matter for nation states. It puts that beyond doubt. When you look in detail at what, for instance, both NATO and the EU are doing off the coast of Somalia, or at what is happening in the Mediterranean with NATO in the east and the EU in the south, you see that we need to be in both organisations. You do not just talk about one organisation while you are in that organisation; you address NATO questions when you are sitting around the table with other EU leaders.
The UK’s membership of the EU has been a force for good for trade, jobs, investment and international co-operation. As the Prime Minister has recognised, the EU is a fundamental part of the architecture that has promoted prosperity and kept the peace in Europe after the ravages of two world wars. Does he agree that those who are campaigning so aggressively to reject his renegotiations and cut Britain loose in the modern world are on the wrong side not only of the big arguments but of history?
How best to engage in Europe has always been a challenge for our country. There is a strong case for saying that when we have tried to cut ourselves off, it has ended in disaster and the need to re-engage. We should always work to get our engagement right, which is what this deal is all about.
There is nobody in this House more Eurosceptic than myself, but I am standing at the side of the Prime Minister on this one, because the Prime Minister has always stood by me and my people in Morecambe. In my constituency, we have the port of Heysham, through which 10% of our GDP passes, most of it from Northern Ireland. We also have two EDF nuclear power stations, which are sponsored by the French Government. I do not want jobs to be lost in my constituency, especially as its unemployment rate is the lowest it has been for generations. Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree with me on that synopsis?
I certainly agree that this is about jobs and about livelihoods. My hon. Friend stands up very well for his constituents. I remember visiting not that long ago, when we looked at the Heysham link road. I even hammered a rivet into one vital bridge; I just hope it survives.
The Prime Minister indicated in the House on 3 February and today that a series of documents would be published in relation to the reform proposals. On 3 February, he referred to the impact of an exit on the free movement of people within Ireland—in particular, the removal of that free movement. Will he confirm when those documents will be made available to enable us, as people who want to remain in the EU, to have a full, robust and earnest discussion?
I do not have the dates for the hon. Lady of when those documents will be published, but I will try to make sure that when we look at alternatives and consequences, we address the question of the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, and the issue of movement of people that could be triggered by that.
One word that seemed to crop up around the reporting of the summit was “contagion”, as though other states following the Prime Minister’s lead would be a bad thing. Does the Prime Minister agree that contagion could be a good thing and that we should encourage it? The one-size-fits-all Europe of the 1970s and 1980s is a thing of the past, and the recognition of more than one currency is a good example of that. We have taken a lead that has set reform in train.
My hon. Friend is right. Europe will never work if we try to make everyone be one-size-fits-all. If a country such as Britain raises concerns, it is right that they are addressed, and I am glad that they have been.
Approximately 30,000 of the UK citizens living in the European Union whom my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) referred to—interestingly, we call them expats rather than economic migrants—claim benefits in the European Union countries in which they live. How will the package that the Prime Minister has negotiated affect them?
What we have negotiated is a welfare mechanism that the European Commission has said applies to Britain now, so we are able to pull this emergency brake and restrict benefits for seven years. It is for other countries to determine whether they qualify and whether they are able to do that, but I am in no doubt that it applies right away in the UK, which is what I was determined to secure.
The Prime Minister will be aware that we have trading partners and military allies outside the EU. Has he had any representations from those allies and trading partners about whether they see us as being better in the EU or outside?
I would say that in all the conversations I have had with our partners, our neighbours and countries around the world that look to us as friends, I have been quite surprised by just how unanimous and how passionate they have been. I would totally disabuse people of the idea that, for instance, there is any sense that some of the countries of the Commonwealth might want Britain to step back from Europe and form some sort of new relationship with them. The Prime Ministers of New Zealand, Canada and Australia, and the President of America, could not be clearer in thinking that Britain should stay in a reformed European Union, and in that way make sure that Europe is looking out to them and signing trade deals with them, which is exactly what we should do.
While the referendum campaign is in progress in the United Kingdom, Europe will continue to host and witness the worst humanitarian crisis we have seen in the past 70 years. Last summer, shameful attempts were made in the media and elsewhere to link that crisis to our membership of the European Union. Will the Prime Minister give us an assurance that whatever happens in the Mediterranean over the next three months, the United Kingdom’s response will be based solely on humanitarian necessity and will not be influenced by how it might impact on the referendum campaign?
Of course, we will do what is right. In the context of our membership, it is important to address the issue of migration. I would make a number of points. First, we are obviously outside Schengen and will remain outside Schengen, so people coming to the EU do not have an automatic right to come to Britain. Secondly, I would make the point that we are doing a very responsible thing in taking refugees directly from the region. Thirdly, we are working with our European partners to secure the external border. At the end of the day, whether we are in the EU or out of the EU, we are affected by this problem in Europe, so we should be working with our partners to make sure that they can better control, and in some cases stop, the flow of people to Europe.
Some argue that we will be able to forge better deals across the world by leaving the European Union, but in the three years that I have been a trade envoy I have not yet met a single representative of any of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that believes our trade and investment prospects would be better if we left the EU. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that the referendum is not about whether we should do business with Europe or with the rest of the world, but about the fact that we should and must do business with both, as we are, and that those with whom we most want a free trade agreement will always prioritise the EU?
My hon. Friend puts it in absolutely the right way. It is not an either/or. We are expanding our trade in south-east Asia—we have doubled our trade with China since I became Prime Minister—but I am struck, as he is, by the fact that countries are not saying, “Get out of the EU and sign a trade deal with us”. They are saying, “Stick in the EU and make sure it signs a trade deal, because it will be bigger and it will be better.”
The Prime Minister articulates the case in the national interest well. However, I have heard unconfirmed rumours that he has been exploiting the situation among Conservative Members for his own self-interest by opening a private book on his successor. Will the Prime Minister confirm that? Will he give us an inkling of where the money is flowing, and will he guarantee to extend the syndicate to the rest of us?
My father, whom I miss every day, was an inveterate gambler. I remember nothing so much as sitting with him on a Saturday and watching him bet on race after race. While I enjoyed all that, I have tried to stick away from it myself, so I am not running a book. All I know is that I will do the right thing for this country, and the right thing for this country is to remain in a reformed EU.
Moody’s has today warned that it could cut Britain’s credit rating in the event of Brexit. It justifies that thus:
“Unless the UK managed to negotiate a new trade arrangement with the EU that preserves at least some of the trade benefits of EU membership, the UK’s exports would suffer. It would likely lead to a prolonged period of uncertainty, which would negatively affect investment.”
Is that project fear or a warning from the real world?
There are important economic consequences that we need to lay out so that people can see the potential downsides of what I think is a leap in the dark. We have set out a lot this afternoon about how long it would take to put trade deals in place and about how damaging that could be. It would be irresponsible not to be put in front of the British people the consequences of the outcomes.
There is one deal the Prime Minister has always had control over, which is the disbursement of common agricultural policy payments to farmers. Will he pledge to pass on the €187 million convergence uplift that the EU has provided to the UK? It is actually based on the payments that Scottish farmers receive, which are the lowest in Europe. That would make it much easier to campaign in Scotland with farmers.
I will look carefully at what the hon. Gentleman says. My memory of the CAP deal—the finance deal and its consequences—is that we actually gave the devolved Administrations a huge amount of leeway to determine the right way to spend their money. I think farmers actually benefit from the way in which this is done, but I will look carefully at the point he makes.
May I thank the Prime Minister for all his work on behalf of our country over the past weeks, months and, indeed, years?
Exports to China from Germany, France and the UK have all shown significant increases. Does that not that show that the opportunities for trade outside the EU are not, as some would have it, constrained by membership of the EU?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. You do not expand your trade with China by doing less trade with the EU. We want to do both.
Last year, every colleague on the Government side of the House stood successfully under the leadership of my right hon. Friend and under the one nation Conservative team banner. Does the Prime Minister agree that whatever the views of Conservative Members—I am fully supportive of him—and whatever the outcome of the European Union referendum, we must unify once again as a party to ensure that whoever leads our party into the 2020 election does not accidentally allow Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour colleagues into government?
I agree. This is always going to be a difficult process. In the Labour party, as well as in the Conservative party, there are people on both sides of the debate. However, this is such a big question—one that will ultimately be answered by the people, rather than by politicians—that we should all be big enough to have an honest and open, but polite disagreement, and then come back together again afterwards.
May I take the Prime Minister back to another election commitment? In 2014, he and I, along with thousands of Conservative activists, campaigned on a promise, which was emblazoned across our leaflets, to restore control of our borders. The Prime Minister followed that up in the same year, saying that
“I will go to Brussels, I will not take no for an answer and when it comes to free movement: I will get what Britain needs.”
What changed last week?
What changed last week is that we are reforming free movement to make sure that we can keep out fraudsters, criminals and those peddling sham marriages, and to make sure that we can apply British rules to foreign nationals coming in as European citizens, just as we do to our own citizens. There are a whole set of changes. To be fair to the Home Secretary, she negotiated incredibly hard, knowing that this was the one moment in which we had the ability to make these changes—reversing European Court of Justice judgments—and to reform free movement, and that is exactly what we have done.
May I first thank my right hon. Friend for the referendum? He and I fundamentally disagree, as he knows. My concern is about immigration, which he said he would contain. We have net migration to this country of about 240,000 every year at the moment. In three years—I repeat, every three years— that is between 700,000 or 750,000, which is the size of the city of Leeds. Surely that is unsustainable. What he has negotiated will not prevent that from happening.
Where I agree with my hon. Friend is that we have got to do more to control immigration. Net migration to the UK is now made up roughly half and half of those from outside the EU—there is still more we need to do to shut down the bogus colleges and to make sure that people are not coming in unfairly—and those from within the EU, where one of the most important things we can do is to withdraw the artificial draw of additional welfare payments. The fact that people can get £10,000 in the first year they come to this country is surely an important determining factor. I am convinced that, with the correct measures, we can get immigration down while remaining a member of the European Union.
During the general election, it was reported that the Prime Minister had expressed some concern about the BBC’s coverage of the election and its impartiality. What assurances can he give me, so that I can relay them to my constituents, that the BBC will not abuse its position again?
Politicians complaining about the BBC is a pretty common activity. I remember the former First Minister of Scotland getting quite heated about this issue. Every media organisation is under an obligation—sorry, let me restate that, because it is certainly not true of the newspapers. Every regulated television business is under a duty of impartiality, and I am sure the BBC will carry that out.
I thank the Prime Minister, other colleagues and, indeed, all 103 Back Benchers who have taken part in this important exchange.