With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on my first European Council.
I went to the Council last week with a clear message for my 27 European counterparts. The UK is leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe, and we are not turning our backs on our friends and allies. For as long as we are members of the EU, we will continue to play a full and active role. After we leave, we will be a confident, outward-looking country, enthusiastic about trading freely with our European neighbours and co-operating on our shared security interests, including on law enforcement and counter-terrorism work. That is the right approach for Britain to take. It was in that spirit that we were able to make a significant contribution at this Council on ensuring a robust European stance in the face of Russian aggression, on addressing the root causes of mass migration, and on championing free trade around the world. Let me say a word about each.
Russia’s indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Aleppo and the atrocities that we have seen elsewhere in Syria are utterly horrific. It is vital that we keep up the pressure on Russia and the Syrian regime to stop the appalling actions and to create the space for a genuine political transition in Syria. It was the UK that put this issue on the agenda for the Council. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made the case for a robust response at the Foreign Affairs Council last Monday, and I spoke personally to Chancellor Merkel and President Tusk ahead of the Council last week. The Council strongly condemned the attacks, called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, and demanded that those responsible for breaches of international humanitarian law and human rights be held accountable—but we need to go further, which is why we agreed that, if current atrocities continue, the EU will consider “all available options”. We also agreed that everything should be done to bring in humanitarian aid to the civilian population.
On Friday in Geneva, the UK secured an extraordinary session of the UN Human Rights Council to press for a ceasefire to enable humanitarian access to Aleppo. There are millions of innocent civilians trapped there and in other besieged locations across Syria in desperate need of food, shelter and healthcare. The UK is already the second largest bilateral humanitarian donor to this crisis. If we can secure the access needed to Aleppo and other besieged areas, we stand ready to accelerate over £23 million of aid for the UN to distribute on the ground to help the most vulnerable in the hardest-to-reach parts of Syria.
Turning to the migration crisis, the Home Secretary will be giving a statement on Calais shortly. At the European Council, I confirmed that the UK will continue to provide practical support to our European partners, including through our naval presence in the Aegean and the Mediterranean. As part of that effort, HMS Echo will take over from HMS Enterprise in the central Mediterranean early next year. However, I also reiterated the case that I made last month at the United Nations for a new global approach to migration based on three fundamental principles: first, ensuring that refugees claim asylum in the first safe country they reach; secondly, improving the way we distinguish between refugees and economic migrants; and thirdly, developing a better overall approach to managing economic migration, which recognises that all countries have the right to control their borders and that all countries must commit to accepting the return of their own nationals when they have no right to remain elsewhere. This new approach includes working more closely with both source and transit countries, and the Council agreed to do more to help those countries prevent illegal migration and to return migrants who have no right to stay in EU countries.
On trade, I am determined that as we leave the EU, Britain will be the most passionate, the most consistent and the most convincing advocate of free trade anywhere in the world, so as we look beyond our continent, we will seize the opportunities of Brexit to forge an ambitious and optimistic new role for Britain in the world. As part of this, I have been clear that the UK is already discussing our future trading relationships with third countries. As I made clear to the other member states last week, this will not undermine the EU’s trade agenda. In fact, it is not even in competition with it, and for as long as we remain a member of the EU, we will continue to back the EU’s free trade negotiations.
I share everyone's disappointment over the stalled talks between the EU and Canada, and we will, of course, do anything we can to try to help get those discussions back on track. I remind those who suggest that these difficulties have a bearing on our own future negotiations that we are not seeking to replicate any existing model that any other country has for its trade with the European Union. We will be developing our own British model—a new relationship for the UK with the EU—for when we are outside the EU, a deal that is ambitious and bold for Britain.
I updated the European Council on our position on Brexit. I have said that we will invoke article 50 no later than the end of March next year, and that as part of the withdrawal process, we will put before Parliament a great repeal Bill which will remove from the statute book once and for all the European Communities Act. The legislation that gives direct effect to all EU law in Britain will no longer apply from the date upon which we formally leave the European Union, and the authority of EU law in Britain will end.
The Government will give Parliament the opportunity to discuss our approach to leaving the European Union. In addition to regular updates from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my own statements following Council meetings, and the deliberations of the new Committee on Exiting the European Union, the Government will make time available for a series of general debates on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. These will take place before and after the Christmas recess, and I expect will include debate on the high-level principles that the Government will pursue in the negotiations.
Members on all sides will recognise that the Government must not show their hand in detail as we enter these negotiations, but it is important that Members have this opportunity to speak on the issues that matter to their constituents as we make our preparations to leave the EU. Although we have not yet formally started the Brexit negotiations, I made it clear at last week’s European Council that my aim is to cement Britain as a close partner of the EU once we have left. I want the deal we negotiate to reflect the kind of mature, co-operative relationship that close friends and allies enjoy; a deal that will give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with, and operate within, the European market, and allow European businesses to do the same here; a deal that will deliver the deepest possible co-operation to ensure our national security and the security of our allies; a deal that is in Britain’s interests and the interests of all our European partners. But it will also be a deal that means we are a fully independent, sovereign nation, able to do what sovereign nations do, which means we will, for example, be free to decide for ourselves how we control immigration. It will mean our laws are made not in Brussels but here in this Parliament, and that the judges interpreting those laws will sit not in Luxembourg but in courts right here in Britain.
The negotiations will take time. There will be difficult moments ahead, and as I have said before, it will require patience and some give and take. But I firmly believe that if we approach this in a constructive spirit, we can ensure a smooth departure. We can build a powerful new relationship that works both for the UK and for the countries of the EU, and we can secure the deal that is right for the British people, whose instruction it is our duty to deliver. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of the statement she has just given us.
Funnily enough, I, too, was in Brussels last Thursday, meeting socialist leaders and their counterparts. [Interruption.] I have to say I was given a little longer to speak than the five minutes the Prime Minister had at the dinner that evening, and I had it at a more reasonable time of the day.
And listened to.
Indeed, I was listened to very carefully by all those around the table.
I made it clear to the other leaders that Britain should continue to be a full and active member of the European Union until negotiations on our exit are complete. I think the Prime Minister was trying to send the same message, but the manner in which she conveyed it was rather different, as she seemed not to be trying to build the consensus that is necessary or to shape a future relationship with the European Union that is beneficial to everybody. She had a very different approach.
The message that came to me loud and clear from European leaders last week was that the tone taken by this Tory Government since their Tory party conference earlier this month has damaged our global reputation and lost us a lot of good will, not just in Europe but around the world. Although the Prime Minister’s words may have appeased the hard-line voices behind her, the approach she and her party have taken has only spread anger and resentment all across Europe. I do not believe that we will get the best deal for this country by using threats, by hectoring or by lecturing the European Union. For these negotiations to succeed, the Government need to adopt a slightly more grown-up approach. For negotiations to succeed, Britain needs a plan. What is clear to everybody—European leaders, non-governmental organisations and business—is that, quite clearly, the Government do not have one.
Can the Prime Minister tell the House if any progress has been made since the Council meeting last week? Is she willing to tell us whether access to the single market is a red line for her Government or not? She has made it clear that she wants to end freedom of movement, but she has not been clear to business about what will be in its place, causing uncertainty for business and for the many EU nationals who reside in this country and make such a great contribution to our economy. Can she tell us if her Government are supporting moves by senior Conservatives to amend the great repeal Bill by adding a sunset clause, allowing Ministers to strip away EU laws on workers’ rights and environmental protection in the years that succeed the exit from the European Union? Can she also tell us how the Government plan to make up the shortfall in funding to the regions resulting from the loss of structural funding to vital capital programmes all over this country?
One week, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will say one thing; the next week, the Chancellor will say another. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister says very little, other than, “Brexit means Brexit” and “We will not provide a running commentary.” The rest of the world looks on and concludes that Britain has not got a clue. The truth is that this is not a soft Brexit, or even a hard Brexit; it is simply a chaotic Brexit.
With all that uncertainty and all those mixed messages, confidence in the economy falls day by day and the British people become more worried about their future. Two weeks ago, the Treasury said that leaving the single market would lead to a £66 billion loss to the economy. The trade deficit is widening and the value of the pound has already fallen by 18%, resulting in industries, including the auto industry, delaying vital investment decisions and the banking sector looking to relocate. That indecision and poor economic management is starting to hit our economy severely, weakening our hand as we walk into the most important negotiations for many generations.
We on the Labour Benches respect the referendum result and accept that Britain must leave the European Union. We also understand that this will be a monumental exercise, with the decisions made now affecting the lives of British people for years to come. The Prime Minister appeared to make some sort of concession about parliamentary scrutiny. In her reply, I would be grateful if she would explain the exact nature of the debates that will take place each side of the Christmas recess.
We as an Opposition will not just stand by and let this Government choose the terms of Brexit unopposed. It is our duty to scrutinise and to make sure that this Government have a Brexit plan for this country, not just for the Eurosceptics sitting behind the Prime Minister. We will continue to push for this Parliament to have a very full say in the matter, whatever happens in the debates around the time of the Christmas recess.
Today the French authorities begin the formal closure of the Calais camp, and I would like to take this opportunity to welcome those children who have already arrived in this country, as well as others who have family connections. The camp—I have seen it for myself—has become a hellish place where a few of the world’s most vulnerable people have come to try to survive and to call it their home. Yet it remains unclear what process and timetable the Government are working under to bring refugee children who are entitled, under international law and the Dubs II amendment, to refuge in the UK.
I reiterate the urgency in the letter that I sent last week to the Prime Minister, asking her to intervene personally on behalf of our country and to be open and accommodating to those children. I am grateful for the reply that I received an hour ago, but will the Prime Minister be more precise about the timetable for allowing children and others who have family connections to come to this country, and will she ensure that Britain does not evade its responsibility to help those who have suffered from the biggest global displacement since the end of world war two? The displacement is primarily caused by atrocities in Syria, and we utterly and totally condemn indiscriminate bombing. The only solution in Syria is a political one.
These issues are the ones that future generations will look back on when it comes to defining this political generation. If we continue to approach the challenges that we face in a divisive and aggressive manner, they will only grow larger. If, instead, we work together—in this House and with our European partners and the rest of the world—to help those desperate people all around the globe, we may quickly find that the large problems that we face today will appear smaller than we first thought.
The right hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his response to my statement that he had been over in Brussels last Thursday, meeting various socialist leaders who listened to him. I suppose that, from his point of view, it is good to know that somebody is listening to him.
May I address the last two issues to which the right hon. Gentleman referred? As I said in my statement, and as he knows, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will make a statement on Calais and our response to the issue of unaccompanied minors, bringing children to the United Kingdom and the details involved. All I will say now is that we have been working very carefully, for a considerable time, with the French Government, not only to improve matters in relation to Calais, but to ensure that we abide by our requirements, under the Dublin regulations, to bring to the UK children —unaccompanied minors—who have family links here. That process has speeded up. We have put in extra resources from the Home Office and we have seen more children brought here.We have also adopted a scheme to bring 3,000 vulnerable children from the region—the middle east and north Africa—to the United Kingdom, working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We are putting in place the Dubs amendment —the Immigration Act 2016 proposals—which require us first to negotiate and discuss with local authorities their ability to receive children in the United Kingdom. The overriding aim of everyone in the House should be to ensure that it is in the best interests of the children who are being looked at and dealt with. It is no help for those children if we cannot properly provide for them when they come to the United Kingdom.
The right hon. Gentleman did not discuss the wider migration crisis, other than to make a reference in which he said it was mainly due to Syrian refugees. What we have seen in the migration crisis is large numbers of people moving, not from Syria but mainly from parts of Africa, which is why the United Kingdom has consistently argued for more work upstream to stop the numbers of people coming through and to ensure that people have opportunities in source and transit countries, rather than requiring to come here to the United Kingdom.
The right hon. Gentleman made a reference to the indiscriminate bombing in Aleppo. I assume that he was referring to Russian action as well as to Syrian regime action. It was important that the UK put that matter on the table for the agenda of the European Council, which made the agreements that it did.
Coming on to Brexit arrangements, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the tone since the Conservative party conference. I have to tell him that when I was in the European Council last week a number of European leaders commended the speech that I gave at the conference, including one or two socialist leaders who may have talked to him.
The right hon. Gentleman says that we do not have a plan. We have a plan, which is not to set out at every stage of the negotiations the details of those negotiations, because that would be the best way to ensure that we did not get the best deal for the UK. He talked about free movement, and I notice that at the weekend the shadow Foreign Secretary once again refused to say what the Labour party’s position on free movement was and whether it would bring an end to it.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about indecision. I have to say to the Leader of the Opposition that he could not decide whether we should be in or out of the European Union, and he could not decide when we should invoke article 50. The only thing we know about his position is that he would have unfettered immigration into this country—the very thing that the British people have told us they do not want. Unlike him, the Conservative party is listening to the British people.
In congratulating my right hon. Friend on her principled stand in implementing the verdict of the British people, despite the doom and gloom that pours out from parts of the media, may I ask whether she is aware that last week the Chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgets stated that the EU was too intrusive, it broke its own rules, its members did not trust one another and that it needed, as he put it, an electric shock? Does she agree that the EU itself is in deep trouble? It knows it, and the British people got it right.
One of the challenges for the 27 remaining states of the European Union is to decide the shape and way in which the EU acts as it goes forward. They have seen the views of the British people, and that a number of elements led the British people to decide to leave the EU. It is for the remaining 27 to think carefully how they want to take the EU forward in future.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement. As she knows, 62% of voters in Scotland voted to remain in the European Union. Since then, we have heard regularly that apparently Scotland matters to the UK Government. Indeed, we hear that Scotland is an equal partner in the United Kingdom. Given that, I imagine that the Prime Minister must have raised it at the European Union Council meeting, but for some inexplicable reason she has not mentioned it in her statement today, so can she perhaps tell the House which specific issues raised by the Scottish Government she shared at the EU Council meeting?
Today, the Prime Minister held meetings in relation to the Council with the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They have reacted since with frustration. The Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, has said:
“If the UK government cannot negotiate an agreed position with the devolved administrations then it has little hope of negotiating a good Brexit deal with 27 EU countries.”
Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said that she had received
“no more information or detail”
about the UK’s negotiating position. The Institute for Government has warned that imposing a settlement on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may result in
“a serious breakdown in relations between the four governments and nations of the UK”.
The Prime Minister cannot pretend to take the interests and concerns of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and for that matter Gibraltar seriously. Either she will or she won’t and, if she won’t, Scotland is absolutely right to hold an independence referendum and we will protect our place in Europe.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me to take seriously the views of the Scottish Government and indeed of the other devolved Administrations. That was precisely why we were sitting round in the Joint Ministerial Council plenary session this morning. It is precisely why I have said to the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales and the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland that we will have more of those meetings, so that we have a greater level of communication with those Governments.
What I want is for us, in determining the UK’s position—because it will be the UK that will be negotiating with the EU our future relationship—to take into full account and understand properly the impacts and the particular issues that are of concern to the devolved Administrations. That is precisely what we discussed today. It is precisely what we are going to be discussing in detail with them over the coming weeks and months. Of course there are particular positions in Northern Ireland. The issue of the border with the Republic of Ireland is a specific concern that we are aware of and working on, and it is that understanding that we want for the future.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the possibility of yet another referendum in relation to Scottish independence. I suggest, if he wants to ensure the future prosperity of the Scottish economy, that he just look at the fact that, actually, Scotland has more imports and trade arrangements with the rest of the UK than it does with the EU. Her first and foremost desire should be to remain part of the UK.
I strongly welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. Will she confirm that this Parliament and the last Government gave the decision to the British people on EU membership, so surely it is now the duty of this Parliament smoothly to implement their wishes?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. This Parliament voted six to one for the British people to decide whether we should leave or remain in the EU. The British people gave their verdict. It is now our job to get on with it and to make a success of it.
In preparation for the Council meeting, did the Prime Minister commission any English regional impact assessments of Brexit? DB Cargo UK, whose headquarters are in Doncaster, last week announced 893 redundancies, stating, and I quote from a letter to the ASLEF trade union:
“The Brexit effect means investment decisions on major infrastructure projects...have been delayed or stopped altogether and customers have decreased or cancelled orders.”
Therefore, will the Prime Minister undertake to publish Brexit regional impact assessments? How will she ensure that the voice of the English regions is heard during Brexit negotiations?
The right hon. Lady makes an important point about the impact that Brexit will have on the economy generally as we go through this period of negotiations. Although people often talk about the impact on Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, there will of course be potential impacts on different parts of the United Kingdom. The Department for Exiting the European Union is talking to different industrial sectors and to agriculture throughout the UK precisely to understand what the priorities are and what the impact might be to ensure that when we negotiate the deal we negotiate the best possible deal—one that is right not just for the four nations but for the country and that works for everyone.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the very positive message she delivered in Brussels about future co-operation and about free trade, and, in particular, her desire to continue tariff-free trade between us and Europe. Did any of her European colleagues advocate to her the return of tariffs on trade between us and Europe?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. I know that he has long been an advocate not only of our leaving the European Union but of the trade possibilities that would be available to us thereafter. We did not have a detailed discussion about the matters to which he refers, precisely because we have not yet started the formal negotiations.
The Prime Minister is about to embark on a very complex set of negotiations with her European counterparts. Everybody recognises that she will not want to reveal the details of her negotiating hand, but that is very different from setting out her objectives, which I hope will contain a lot more detail than just high-level principles. May I ask the Prime Minister to give the House an undertaking that she will publish her negotiating objectives in time for the House and the new Select Committee to consider them before she presents them to the other member states?
I have set out the objectives that we wish to aim for in the negotiation that we will undertake. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having been elected as Chairman of the new Select Committee, and his Committee will of course be looking at a whole variety of issues to do with Brexit. There are in fact already more than 30 different reviews and investigations being undertaken by Parliament into various aspects of Brexit, so Parliament is going to have every opportunity to consider the various issues involved.
Rolls-Royce, a magnificent British company, employs a number of my constituents and offers many of them fantastic apprenticeships. I went to see them on Friday and they told me about their concerns, which are shared throughout the whole of the aerospace sector and other sectors, such as the automotive sector, about the consequences of our nation leaving—if it does—the single market and the customs union. Will the Prime Minister give an assurance to British businesses that she will listen to their needs and concerns as we now move to leave the European Union?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point about the quality of businesses that we have here in the United Kingdom. Rolls-Royce is one of those businesses that sets a fine example, including in the way it takes on apprentices. The way in which it has contributed to the growth of our economy is very important. I and all those involved in the negotiations will be listening to business. That work has already started and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has already been holding those discussions. I have held a number of roundtables with business to hear their concerns from them. The overwhelming view that has come to me is that, given that we have taken the decision to leave the European Union, business wants to work with us to make sure that we make every success of the opportunities to us outside the EU.
In her discussions with fellow European Council members, was the Prime Minister able to spell out that despite the complicated negotiations ahead it is quite clear that the British people expect the next general election in 2020 to represent the final vote and say on our immigration policy, the final vote and say on our trade policy and the final vote and say over UK laws?
I have said on a number of occasions that the vote to leave the European Union was a vote to ensure that we can have control over our budget, control over our laws and control over the rules on immigration that we set out.
Since it is clear from the Prime Minister’s welcome endorsement of free trade that she will seek the closest possible engagement for a sovereign country with the European single market, does she agree that this objective would be better served by lobbying our partners than by throwing dust in the eye of the commentariat in this country?
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that we recognise that the work that will be done will be done sitting around the table with our European partners and negotiating with them. There will obviously be comments made in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in public about what is happening, but what will matter is the discussions that will take place sitting around that table.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement. It is a sad day when a Government are willing to compromise the safety and security of their citizens to appease the dangerous and irrational ideology of a few, so will she confirm now that we will remain an active member of Europol and that we will urgently opt in to this critical aspect of European cross-border security and policing, for which the regulations were confirmed in May this year, to defend ourselves from terrorists and to combat organised crime, including drug trafficking, paedophilia and people trafficking?
The hon. Gentleman does not need to tell me about the importance of our security and law enforcement co-operation with our European partners. I simply refer him to my statement, where I said:
“After we leave, we will be a confident, outward-looking country, enthusiastic about trading freely with our European neighbours and co-operating on our shared security interests, including on law enforcement and counter-terrorism work.”
I wonder whether the Chair of the Select Committee does not have a point in arguing that we should quite soon publish our objective. Is not our objective that, having adopted every last EU law into our laws, on Brexit day we want to conclude a free trade agreement? That is overwhelmingly in the interests of the rest of Europe and, incidentally, it would do so much for the poorest nations of the world, as we lead the battle in the world for free trade and prosperous world.
Just to be crystal clear about the Prime Minister’s statement and her answers, is it her intention that the UK will be leaving the customs union?
I could give the hon. Gentleman a very lengthy answer about that—[Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the shadow Foreign Secretary talks about “the substance”. The important point about the customs union is that the way in which you deal with the customs union is not a binary choice. There are different aspects to the customs union, which is precisely why it is important to look at the detail and get the answer right, not simply make statements.
As we proceed with new bilaterals, surely none of us wants to see first-class European goods and services becoming uncompetitive. I understood from my right hon. Friend’s answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) that there is no proposition to put tariffs between us and our European partners. Will she confirm that she is willing to offer them a free trade deal bilaterally?
At the risk of repeating yet again what I have said previously in this House, we want to get the right deal. I want to get the best possible deal with the maximum possible opportunities for British businesses to be able to trade with Europe: to operate within the single market and to trade with it in both goods and services. That is our clear aim—we want to be able to have that good trading relationship with the European Union—but there are other things that we will be doing at the same time, such as ensuring we can control the movement of people from the European Union into the UK.
We welcome the Prime Minister’s meeting today with the First Ministers of the devolved Administrations, and we hope that that will continue to be a meaningful engagement. It is vital that we do everything we can to support industry. Would the Prime Minister care to comment on speculation that we are considering a cut in corporation tax? We would of course very much welcome that in Northern Ireland.
No, I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that he should not believe everything he reads in the newspapers.
On migration, on 14 September in a communiqué to the Council the Commission said that we should establish a European travel information and authorisation system by November of this year. Greece is now objecting to the common European asylum system. Where does that leave the proposed agency?
I am happy to say to my right hon. Friend that the European Union has been looking for some time at the proposal for something that it has described as a smart borders system, looking at the model of the system used in the United States. That concerns the security of the EU’s external border. There is a separate issue, namely the arrangements in Greece relating to the asylum system. The Greek Government have made some changes to how they deal with asylum claims in response to the requirements of the EU-Turkey deal.
The Prime Minister is being uncharacteristically coy about the terms of the negotiation to leave the European Union, yet we know that once the papers are given to the Commission they will be shared with the European Parliament. Will she not now undertake to share those papers with this Parliament—the sovereign Parliament—so that we can have a proper opportunity to look at the position that the Government are taking and comment upon it?
I assure the House, as I have before, that it will have a proper opportunity to look at these issues as we go through—and not just a one-off opportunity: as I have set out, there will be a number of debates that will enable Members of this House to give more detailed comments on various aspects of the impact of Brexit on different sectors of the economy, for example.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee is conducting an inquiry and drafting a report on inter-institutional relationships in the UK, so I very much welcome the meeting of the Joint Ministerial Council this morning. Will the Prime Minister say a bit more about that? Will she in future give oral statements to the House on meetings of that Joint Ministerial Council to emphasise the importance of those meetings? Did the other Administrations accept the principle that there should be a sub-committee looking at the particular issue of Brexit?
We discussed having more meetings of the plenary session, which is what I chaired this morning, and those further meetings will take place in due course. We agreed that a Joint Ministerial Council sub-committee will be set up to deal with the negotiations for leaving the European Union, looking at the issues around those negotiations. That was welcomed by all the devolved Administrations. I look forward to that being a constructive discussion around the table. As we put together the UK’s position on these matters, it is important that we fully understand the impacts on the various parts of the United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister spoke in her statement of negotiating to reflect the kind of mature, co-operative relationship that close friends and allies enjoy. With that in mind, if Northern Ireland can quite rightly get a special deal and the City of London is being considered for one, too, why is it so politically difficult for her even to comprehend a deal for Scotland, something supported by the voters, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament?
The deal we will negotiate will be the right deal for the United Kingdom. It will take account of the concerns and the implications for various parts of the United Kingdom—different sectors of our economy, for example. The position of Northern Ireland will be a particular one because it will be the one part of the UK with a land border with a country that will be remaining inside the European Union. Given that, there is good will and a good spirit from both this Government and that of the Republic of Ireland for ensuring that future arrangements do not entail a return to borders of the past.
The Prime Minister has a very difficult job on Brexit, but the Government’s policy of saying as little as possible will become increasingly unsustainable. The vacuum is already being filled by leaks not from the Commission but from her own Cabinet Brexit Committee colleagues. Does she accept that unless the Government can provide at least some clarity about their direction of travel soon, many financial and other businesses, which have been in touch with me about this, will respond to the uncertainty and plan for the worst, and that that will be at a considerable cost to the UK?
I am well aware of the impact uncertainty has on businesses making future decisions about investment here in the United Kingdom. It was in that light that I set out the framework of the timetable for invoking article 50. I have also given clarity to both employers and employees about the legislative position that will apply on day one when we leave the European Union: EU law will be brought into UK law, as part of the great repeal Bill, to ensure that there is no legal vacuum. The Government will continue to speak about these matters. I understand the point my right hon. Friend makes, but I think he knows full well that if the Government were to set out every jot and tittle of our negotiation position, that would be the best way to get the worst deal for the UK.
A few moments ago, the Prime Minister failed to adequately answer the important question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster Central (Dame Rosie Winterton). Has the Prime Minister carried out any detailed analysis of the impact the harder form of Brexit she seeks will have on the economy in the regions, in particular the north? If she has, will she publish it? If she has not, will she concede that her anti-EU rhetoric, and her talking up of a hard Brexit over the last month, has been deeply irresponsible?
First of all, as I said in response to the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Dame Rosie Winterton), we are looking at the impacts on different parts of the United Kingdom. The premise of the right hon. Gentleman’s question is a false one. He talks about the hard Brexit that the Government are going to take the country into. There is no suggestion of that whatsoever. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that all of these matters are binary decisions between either being able to control immigration or having some sort of decent trade arrangements. That is not the case. We are going to be ambitious for what we obtain for the United Kingdom. That means a good trade deal as well as control of immigration.
It seems to me that we are much more likely to achieve our foreign policy objectives working together, so I welcome the Prime Minister’s moves to put Russia’s behaviour on the Council’s agenda. She may have noticed the very robust statement at the weekend by the new shadow Secretary of State for Defence condemning Russia’s behaviour. When does she think the Leader of the Opposition will join the shadow Secretary of State in being able to criticise Russia for the indiscriminate bombing taking place in Syria and recognise its part in the Syrian refugee crisis that we are all trying to deal with?
My right hon. Friend makes a very valid and important point. I note that although the European Council discussed the role that Russia was taking in the indiscriminate bombing in Syria, the Leader of the Opposition failed to refer to Russia and its actions in Syria when he came to the Dispatch Box. I hope he will not be too slow in coming forward and making it clear that he condemns Russia’s activities; otherwise people will assume that he does not.
The European Investment Bank provides vital funds for affordable housing, hospitals, investment in new technologies and our utilities. We received £5.6 billion last year for projects up and down the country. Has the Prime Minister had any discussions about our stake in the European Investment Bank—we hold a sixth of the shares—and will she confirm that she will do nothing to put it at risk?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. I can inform her that the Treasury is in discussions with the European Investment Bank. We recognise the important role the bank plays and want to ensure that nobody loses out as a result of the decision taken by the British people. Those discussions are ongoing with the European Investment Bank.
Although a committed European, Tony Blair once said that he faced European summits with a sinking heart, so may I say how pleased I am that the Prime Minister enjoyed her first summit? Does the experience of the Wallonians dictating to Belgium and causing a walk-out by the Canadians not show that Brexit must not only be for England and Wales but for the whole United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The decision taken to leave the EU is a decision of the United Kingdom. It will be the United Kingdom that negotiates that deal, and it will be the right deal for the United Kingdom.
Our national health service, universities and businesses are already losing talent because of the uncertainty about the status of EU citizens here in the event of Brexit. It is an uncertainty the Prime Minister could end now. Why won’t she?
I expect to be able to guarantee the status of EU citizens here in the United Kingdom. I intend and want to do that. The only circumstances in which that would not be possible would be if the status of British citizens in the European Union member states was not guaranteed. This is an issue that, as I have said previously, I hope to be able to discuss at an early stage.
As someone who campaigned to leave the European Union, I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend’s incontrovertible commitment to honouring the will of the British people and forging a successful future for our country outside the EU. Does she agree that her starting position in the forthcoming negotiations is a strong one, and that we are beginning to see positive revisions of growth, steadily low unemployment and exports set to outpace imports—proving the scaremongerers who predicted dire recession absolutely wrong?
My hon. Friend has seen that some of the economic data since the referendum have been more positive than was predicted prior to the vote. I will not, however, pretend that it is going to be plain sailing in the future. There will be ups and downs, and there will be difficult moments in the negotiations, as I have said. What is clear is that we will maintain a clear focus on delivering what the British people want, which is to leave the European Union.
In her elliptical words on migration, is the Prime Minister alluding to the UK and EU’s interest in making President Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court, a partner in managing migration and countering terrorism? She needs to be more explicit about what she and her colleagues envisage from the Khartoum process, and what it means for the hordes of refugees from Sudan and through Sudan.
The European Union is looking initially at working with a small number of African countries to ensure that support is available to reduce the number of people who wish to move to Europe. The Khartoum process is an important element of the work that is being done. The UK has consistently said that we need to operate upstream. That is about working with source countries, working with the transit countries and dealing with the organised crime groups that are engaged in these horrific crimes of people smuggling and human trafficking which are leading to misery. As I say, the EU is looking at dealing initially with a small number of countries, but of course we recognise that it is difficult to return people to some countries. It is important to accept the principle and start to put into practice the process of working with people upstream.
Technically, it seems that the UK cannot enter into trade deals with third-party countries while we are still a member of the EU. It is also generally acknowledged that we will start to do this at some point before we leave. Is this an issue that my right hon. Friend has looked at? Is there some timetable to work to here? Was it mentioned at the summit?
As far as the summit is concerned, my point was that any discussions on trade deals with third countries are not in competition with what the EU is doing. We continue to press for the EU-Japan deal and we continue to press the benefits of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership around the European Union table. My hon. Friend is right that there is a limit to what we can do when it comes to entering into a trade arrangement before we have left the EU, but that does not mean that we cannot scope out negotiations and start to have those discussions, which indeed we are doing with a number of countries.
The Prime Minister made quite a revealing statement today when she said that she will not seek to replicate any parts of the Canadian-European Union trade deal. We know that that is stalling over guarantees for labour, environmental and consumer protection. So we know what the right hon. Lady is ruling out; will she now tell us what she is ruling in?
Nice try, but I did not say that I was ruling out bits of the Canadian deal. What I said was that we would not replicate the EU-Canada deal, just as we are not trying to replicate the Norway model or the Switzerland model. What we are trying to do, and what we will do, is to deliver the deal that is right for the UK.
I commend my right hon. Friend for her approach to her first EU summit. Some 61% of people in Kettering voted to leave the European Union and they voted to leave the whole thing, so that we get back control over our laws, our budget, our borders and our trade policy. While there might be 500 Members of this House who were remainers and are now remoaners, she is acting on behalf of the British people in trying to get the best deal for this country.
All I would say to my hon. Friend is that, regardless of which side of the debate Members were on before 23 June, we should all accept the voice of the British people and put that into practice.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on her handling of her first European Union summit. I will not ask her whether she enjoyed it, but does she accept that millions of people who voted to leave—including, let us not forget, millions of Labour voters—will only believe that we are really leaving when we invoke article 50? Will she assure the House that she will not be taken in by those who want to delay and delay and delay in the hope that somehow, somewhere, they will get another referendum?
I have made it very clear that there is no question of another referendum. While I felt that it was right for us to take some time to prepare before the start of the negotiations through the invoking of article 50, it is also true that, as the hon. Lady says, members of the public will want to see article 50 invoked so that they know that this is going to happen. That is why I think that the timetable for invoking it by the end of March 2017 is the right one.
The people of Somerset are rejoicing at the clarity of the Prime Minister’s approach to leaving the European Union. To encourage further rejoicing, will she confirm my understanding that once we have left the European Union, the European Court of Justice will have no jurisdiction of any kind whatsoever as the final arbiter of any UK law?
When we leave the European Union, UK laws will be determined here in the UK. It will be British judges sitting here in the UK who opine on the application of those laws, and it will be this House that determines the legislation that covers the British people.
Given that our European partners have not yet committed themselves to trade negotiations alongside negotiations on article 50, what assurances can the Prime Minister give British businesses that in March 2019, when we leave the European Union, they will not face World Trade Organisation rules and tariffs?
We are seeking not just to negotiate the exit from the European Union, but to be able with negotiate the new relationship with the European Union. As I have said, our ambition and intention in doing that are to ensure that we get the best possible deal in relation to trade with, and operation within, the European market. That is what the whole Government are working on.
The terrible migration problem that we are currently seeing is largely due to human trafficking gangs. One of the great legacies of the former Prime Minister, and indeed the former Home Secretary, is that we now lead the fight against human trafficking. Does the Prime Minister agree, however, that we must build relationships not just with the European Union but with all European countries if we are to deal with this evil trade?
My hon. Friend has taken a particular interest in the issue of human trafficking, and has done excellent work in encouraging activity that reduces and indeed stops it. He is right: there are countries such as Albania where it is important for us to operate, and, indeed, the Government have been working with them to try to reduce human trafficking. It is also important for us to work with countries such as Nigeria, which are often sources for the trafficking of young women, in particular, into sexual exploitation here in the UK, to reduce the number of opportunities for the criminal gangs to ply their horrific trade.
May I pursue the point made by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone)? The situation in Libya is becoming beyond a crisis: 150,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean, and 3,000 have died on the way. Was there any discussion about sending the High Representative, Federica Mogherini—herself an Italian—to Tripoli, perhaps with our Foreign Secretary, to try and work directly with the Libyan Government to deal with human traffickers, but also to prevent people from setting off in the first place?
The European High Representative has been making a number of visits to countries in north Africa that are either source countries or transit countries for the migration crisis that we have seen in Europe. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that many people are coming across from Libya into Italy. I am pleased that it was the United Kingdom that was instrumental in getting the United Nations Security Council resolution that has enabled action off the Libyan coast to be taken, as well as rescuing thousands of people. Sadly, people are still dying in the Mediterranean, but the Royal Navy has been involved in the breaking up of boats that have been used by the criminal gangs. This is an ongoing activity, however, and we need to take every step we can to stop this terrible trade in human beings that brings so much misery.
The University of Portsmouth in my constituency depends on an interchange of people and ideas with EU countries and other countries around the world. What action will the Government take to reassure students and academics that the UK universities sector will remain open and inclusive?
We want to ensure that Britain is open for business and that our universities sector is open for those sorts of exchanges. This is precisely what we have done in relation to people coming to the United Kingdom from outside the European Union. I hope that we have given some reassurance to the universities in relation to the arrangements that they put in place with other EU member states prior to our leaving. We have made it clear that when funding arrangements are put in place that meet our priorities and provide value for money, they will continue beyond the point at which we leave.
I suggest to the Prime Minister that people believe that she is going to lead this country out of Europe and that they certainly do not judge her on when she is going to activate article 50—if they know what the hell article 50 means. In those circumstances, and given that as time goes on we will realise the enormity of the task, may I suggest that she invokes article 50 by March next year only if it is truly in the interests of this country to do so?
I would simply say to the right hon. Gentleman, as I said in earlier response, that the British people want to see action being taken to ensure that we leave the European Union. We are doing the preparatory work, and although I have not set a specific date in the first quarter of next year, I believe that the decision to invoke article 50 by the end of March is the right one.
I too rejoice that my right hon. Friend’s iron resolve that “Brexit means Brexit” is sending a clear message to the British people. May I invite her to remind the country that, while it is necessary for us to discuss these issues with a number of interested parties, not least the devolved Assemblies, she speaks for 17 million people and that Nicola Sturgeon speaks for 1.7 million?
The important point is that over 17 million people voted to leave the European Union. It was a majority vote here in the United Kingdom to leave, and it is the United Kingdom that will be negotiating the relationship we have with the EU in future.
The City of London is determined to remain in the single market and it wants a bespoke arrangement to enable it to do so, at least so far as financial services are concerned. I understand that the Prime Minister has not ruled that out. Would she consider a similar bespoke arrangement for the financial sector in Edinburgh, which is the second largest in the UK and employs many thousands of my constituents?
As I have said, people talk about being members of the single market or having access to the single market, but what matters is the relationship we have with the European Union that will enable the maximum possibility to trade with and operate within that single European market. We will be negotiating on behalf of the financial sector across the whole of the United Kingdom.
Being in the European Union has been compared with being in the back of a crowded taxi that is heading in the wrong direction. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we remain in the single market when we leave the EU, we will no longer be in the taxi but tied up in the boot?
It is important that as we look to get the right deal for the UK, we recognise that what we are doing is negotiating a new relationship with the EU, and that is ensuring our businesses are able to operate and trade within the European market, but that we also put in place the other things I believe were a requirement of the British people in their vote, such as control of immigration.
Does not the decision in the referendum deserve similar respect to the public majority in favour of the name Boaty McBoatface? Does the Prime Minister notice there has been a strong movement in public opinion in Wales against Brexit because people realise the promises of the Brexiteers will not be honoured and they now see the effects on the Welsh economy? There is going to be an awful result in Ireland to fixed, hard borders that will not be enforceable and will be hugely expensive, and the Prime Minister is ignoring the views of the people of Scotland. Does she not think her little Englander myopia will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom?
The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, and this Government are putting that into practice. The hon. Gentleman and others can try all they like to reverse that decision and to delay the implications and the application of that decision—to find ways to weasel around the decision that was taken. The British people spoke. This Parliament said to the British people, “It is your choice.” They chose; we now will do it.
India invests more in the UK than the rest of the EU combined and has spent the last nine years trying to negotiate an EU deal. What plans does my right hon. Friend have to visit India to boost trading links between our two countries, noting that the Confederation of Indian Industry stated that an agreement between us
“would be almost made in heaven”?
My hon. Friend is very perceptive because in fact I will be visiting India in early November, and I am pleased to say I will be taking a trade delegation with me, but it will be focusing on small and medium-sized enterprises to try to ensure we boost the relationships between SMEs here in the UK with the important Indian market.
Russia’s behaviour in Syria has already been utterly despicable, but it was particularly worrying to see the Admiral Kuznetsov sailing through the English channel this weekend probably on its way to smash what is left of Aleppo into smithereens. I am delighted the Prime Minister wants to have a strong position with European colleagues in relation to Russia, but there is one thing we in this country can do ourselves, which the Americans have done as well: to say that anybody involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky or the corruption he unveiled is not welcome in this country and will not come to this country. [Interruption.] The Prime Minister is being advised by others and will end up going back to the old Cameron position, but may I suggest to her that this is something we could do and it would make a difference?
This is an issue the hon. Gentleman has campaigned long and hard on. He has asked this question of David Cameron in the past when he was Prime Minister and he has asked it of me as Home Secretary, and I am sure he has asked it of previous Foreign Secretaries. We have our own rules and regulations in terms of how we determine who is able to enter the UK. The hon. Gentleman talks about the old position; it was the position of the UK Government and it remains the position of the UK Government.
There is much to be said for a bit of repetition, which is not a novel phenomenon in the House of Commons.
The majority of voters in South Dorset are also congratulating the Prime Minister on her stance. Does she agree that voters of EU countries will scrutinise their politicians very carefully as we negotiate our exit and vote accordingly at the next opportunity they have if they perceive their leaders doing anything to endanger jobs and prosperity to maintain a flawed political project?
As I said in response to an earlier question, it is important that the leaders of the remaining 27 think about what the nature of the EU going forward should be. But I have also been clear with them that from the UK’s point of view the vote was not an attempt to break up the whole of the EU. We have an interest in seeing a strong EU and in working with it, with the UK continuing to be a strong and dependable partner. But I do think other leaders inside the EU should consider the message given by the British people when they voted on 23 June.
The head of the British Bankers Association, a former adviser to the current Foreign Secretary, has warned that many of Britain’s biggest banks are preparing to relocate in early 2017, putting at risk some 70,000 jobs, many of which are in my constituency. Will the Prime Minister tell us how the Government plan to ensure that the UK-based banking sector retains passporting rights to operate freely elsewhere within the European Union after Britain leaves?
I have been clear in a number of responses this afternoon about the importance we place on being able not just to trade with but to operate within the European market—for goods and for services. I say that precisely because I am aware of the importance of financial services to the United Kingdom, to our economy as a whole and, obviously, to particular constituencies regarding individuals and their employment. Being able to operate within the European Union is important to other parts of our professional services, such as legal services. We are in discussions with the financial sector on the issues that it believes are the priorities for the future so that we can ensure that we are able to get the best possible deal in the negotiations.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that in a free society there is never an obligation on anyone, certainly not Members of Parliament, to change their views just because a majority has voted a different way? However, there is an obligation on all of us, including those of us who voted to remain, to work in the national interest and not to undermine it by tying the hands of the Prime Minister and the Government in a way that would never happen in commerce or in private negotiations.
My hon. Friend speaks with the voice of experience on this matter. That is exactly the point. If we are to get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom, it is important that we are able to enter the negotiations not having set out a whole series of red lines and not having set out our negotiating position in detail. We need to be able to negotiate the best possible deal for the UK. Tying the Government’s hands would be the best way of getting the worst deal for the UK.
I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister met the leaders of the devolved Governments this morning, but uncertainty is what is giving everyone doubt about Brexit, particularly in Northern Ireland where one member of the Executive is for in and one for out—we do not know where we are going. Who do we have on the ground in Europe ensuring that we are gathering intelligence and advice and that we are ready to fight our corner and ensure that we get something in the best interests of the whole UK?
It is important that we understand the possibilities of our future relationship with the European Union. That is why I thought that was important in the negotiations, which will be lengthy. I recognise that there will of course be an element of uncertainty until we have agreed the deal, but that is why I set up an entirely new Government Department to do the work of understanding not just what is important for us here in the UK, but what is of importance for the 27 member states of the European Union. The deal will be not just about the UK, but something that works for both sides.
On Syria, paragraph 20 of the European Council conclusions talks about the
“resumption of a credible political process”.
Is that in line with Geneva I and Geneva II, the peace process and the transition to democracy? We must ensure that the opposition get the right assurances about a fair deal rather than their having to go to the talks and accept a diktat from the Russians because of their upper hand in the aggression and their killing of civilians on the ground.
As my hon. Friend knows, we want the ability to return to talks that can lead to a proper political transition in Syria. The United Kingdom has played an important role and will continue to play an important role in supporting the opposition. Only two or three weeks ago, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary hosted Syria opposition parties here in London, where they set out their future aims and vision for Syria. It was important for us to support them then and we will continue to do so.
The Prime Minister said that she wanted the UK to be the most passionate, consistent and committed advocate of free trade anywhere in the world. Would that not be best demonstrated by the UK remaining a member of the single European market of £9 trillion, protecting the jobs and incomes of my constituents? Does she also agree that following the same process as Canada—seven years to negotiate a trade deal only to see it fall at the eleventh hour because it was rejected by one of Belgium’s seven Parliaments—is not something that we should aspire to?
I understand that although the discussions on the Canadian deal have stalled, attempts are still being made to ensure that that deal can go ahead, and we would encourage it to go ahead. On the wider point the hon. Lady makes, I am sorry but I am going to repeat what I have said previously: people put this purely in terms of some variation of access to or membership of the single market, but what matters is what the trading relationship is. If we make ourselves hidebound, saying that it has to be in this particular form at this stage, it will not be open to us to negotiate the best possible deal. What matters is that we have the maximum possible ability to trade with and operate within the single European market, and to do that across both goods and services. That is what we are aiming for.
Does the Prime Minister agree that when negotiating for Brexit it is important not only to negotiate collectively with the member states, through the European Council, but, equally if not more importantly, to have conversations individually with each member state, as has been shown by the experience of negotiation on the Canadian trade deal?
My hon. and learned Friend makes a very important point. That is precisely why both I and other Ministers are not just interacting with the European Union in its various forms—the Council and so forth; I have made a number of trips to meet my opposite numbers in various members states of the European Union. We will continue those discussions with those countries bilaterally because we want a good, strong relationship with them bilaterally when we leave the European Union, as well as having a good relationship with the EU.
A recent report by Common Vision highlighted that young people are more internationalist in their outlook and, as such, voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. What discussions did the Prime Minister have with her European counterparts about protecting the opportunities that the EU provides for young people in my constituency, across Scotland and throughout the UK?
Of course the negotiations have not yet formally started with the European Union, but the sort of deal we are talking about, and the sort of deal we want to get that will enhance prosperity and ensure jobs for the future, will be good for all generations here in the UK.
Have our European partners realised that a new UK-EU free trade arrangement will be good as a positive-sum game for all concerned, given that 22 of 27 of them have a trade surplus with us? Is the Prime Minister detecting that common sense is finally starting to prevail?
I think that member states and the EU are increasingly looking at this in relation not just to what it means for the UK, but what it means for them as well. I have said consistently that this is not just about the UK, in some sense, being a supplicant to the remaining 27 of the EU; it is about us negotiating a relationship that works for both sides.
Article 50 puts any country seeking to leave the EU at a disadvantage, in that if you have not got the deal you want within two years, you could flip on to trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms, putting your companies and sectors at huge disadvantage. With that in mind, we need to create a certain amount of good will from our European partners, and making them think that their EU citizens living here are the cause of all our problems is not the way to build good will. I accept that the Prime Minister will want to find reforms to the way that immigration works, but will she guarantee that her Cabinet—I see the Home Secretary sitting next to her—will exercise more care in the language they use on these matters?
The Government, and all Ministers in the Government, exercise every care in the language they use in these matters. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the image he portrays of the impression we have given for EU citizens is quite the wrong one; I have been very clear about our expectations and intentions in relation to EU citizens living here in the United Kingdom. But he must accept, as must other Members of this House, that we also have a duty to British citizens who are living in EU member states, and that is why I want to ensure that the status of both is guaranteed.
I am very pleased that my right hon. Friend raised the matter of the crisis in Syria at the European Council, but I am wondering whether any spotlight was put on the crisis in Yemen. Approaching 7,000 people have been killed there, and when 7,000 people were killed in July 1995 at Srebrenica the international community moved into high gear to sort it out. Does the European Union have any plans to try to sort out the appalling crisis that is happening in Yemen?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the problems that are being experienced by many people in Yemen and to what is happening in Yemen. We want to see a political solution there, just as we do in relation to Syria. That is the only way to get long-lasting peace and stability for the country. I am pleased to say that there has been at least a temporary cessation of hostilities in Yemen. Over the weekend, I spoke to the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and among the issues that I raised in that conversation was the importance of trying for all involved to sustain that cessation of hostilities.
The Prime Minister has had a lot of questions about the customs union, because, for exporters into the EU, having to comply with the rules of origin from the outside would raise costs by 25%. She knows that Nissan is one of those exporters. It has an extremely important role in the north-east. When Nissan officials left the meeting with her, they seemed much happier and satisfied with what she had said. Will she share with the House what she said to them?
I am sure that the hon. Lady knows—I said this in answer to an earlier question from a Labour Member—that the customs union is a more complex issue than it at first seems when people describe it in public. We have been discussing this matter with a number of companies, and I am very clear that the intention of this Government is to ensure a competitive market and that people are able to prosper here in the United Kingdom and to add to our economic growth.
May I thank the Prime Minister for her statement and say that I entirely agree with her that, until we leave the European Union, we should continue to play our full part in its affairs, not least because I expect the EU will want us to keep paying our full contributions until we leave. Does she think that her fellow EU leaders understand that if we leave the European Union and have to fall back on WTO tariffs then, according to today’s Civitas report, EU exporters would be liable to pay £12.9 billion a year, which is more than twice the £5.2 billion a year that UK exporters would be liable to pay, and it is therefore very much in the interests of the rest of the EU to agree a tariff-free deal with us?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Of course this is not just about the United Kingdom, but about the future impact on the economies of the member states of the European Union. He is absolutely right that, as we go into the negotiations, it will be for member states to recognise that there are implications for them, and those implications could be negative for businesses and jobs in their countries. That is why it is in the interests of all of us to get the best possible deal in relation to trade.
The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, recently issued a statement in which he said that there will be no soft Brexit; there is either a hard Brexit or no Brexit at all. Given that the Prime Minister was just in Brussels, did she pick up on that hardening political mood music, which makes it absolutely clear that the idea of the unfettered access to the single market that we so desperately need is rapidly becoming a pipe dream?
I repeat what I said earlier, which is that we have not yet started the negotiations, but what I found when I talked to other leaders and colleagues in the European Council at the end of last week was a recognition that this is a complex matter that we have to negotiate, and an increasing recognition that we have to ensure that the deal that we get is positive for both the European Union and the United Kingdom. I got the impression from what was being said to me that we are going to be able to sit down around that table and get the best possible deal for both sides.
During a recent visit to Berlin with Members of the Bundestag, it was clear that there was genuine goodwill towards the United Kingdom, as well as an understanding that there are detailed negotiations ahead. There are clear shared economic interests with member states, but can my right hon. Friend confirm that there are also common security concerns relating to Russia as well as counter-terrorism issues that will help focus the minds of EU negotiators on arriving at a positive outcome in their deliberations?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Much of the discussion tends to focus on the trade relationship that we have, but there are many other areas in which we co-operate with other European Union member states, such as law enforcement, counter-terrorism and security, where we want to have a close and enduring partnership with them once we leave.
I am sure the Prime Minister understands the concerns of the British medical research sector about its continued access to vital European medical research networks post-Brexit. Without revealing her hand, can she give an assurance that she has a plan to protect access for this vital research?
There is an assumption behind the hon. Gentleman’s question that the only way to access such research networks is through being a member of the European Union. Of course, there are those here in the United Kingdom who are members of a number of research networks that operate as effectively but are nothing to do with the European Union. I can assure him that that is another aspect of the future implications that we are aware of and will be taking into consideration.
There is a dangerous political crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has seen 6 million people die in the past 20 years. There is a crisis, too, in Burundi with extra-judicial killings happening every week, and there is in effect a bloodbath in South Sudan. All these are of great interest and concern to the European Union and the United Kingdom. Were any of these subjects discussed at the summit?
No. The subjects on the summit’s agenda were Russian action in relation to Syria, migration and trade, so the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan were not discussed, but I am well aware of the concerns of my hon. Friend and others about what has been happening, particularly in South Sudan recently. This is a matter that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is looking at closely.
Earlier the Prime Minister assured us that she was looking to raise at an early stage the concerns of UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU and of EU citizens living in the United Kingdom. Can she tell us whether she raised those concerns at an early stage last week and if not, why not?
I have said on a number of occasions, including last week, that I hope to be able to address that issue at an early stage. I repeat my earlier comments in relation to our expectation for EU citizens, and I repeat once again that it is for this House not simply to ignore the interests of British citizens who are living in European Union member states. We must ensure that their rights are guaranteed, as the rights of EU citizens living here will be guaranteed.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s statement to the House. Last Friday evening I held a public meeting in my constituency for EU nationals concerned about the Brexit vote, and was heartened by a majority seeing the opportunities of the UK leaving the EU possibly leading to reform for their home countries in the future. Given Wallonia’s effective veto on the Canada-EU agreement, what discussion was there among other EU leaders about the need for EU reform?
It is up to the 27 member states to discuss among themselves the future shape that they wish the European Union to take once the United Kingdom leaves. I have raised with other leaders the importance of their paying attention to the message that was given by the UK vote to leave the European Union, but I leave it to them to discuss the future of the EU without the UK.
Last week the Treasury Committee heard from the Chancellor. We were told that the Treasury is modelling the range of options and scenarios available to the Government to look at the economic implications of those options. Today the Prime Minister confirmed that the Government are looking at the regional impacts of those options. Given the Prime Minister’s apparent commitment this afternoon to a series of debates in the House of Commons, she must surely agree that that debate will be better informed if we have the evidence before us, so will she give a commitment to publish the various options so that this House and the public may have an informed debate about the options ahead?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we want to ensure that debates that take place in this House are as informed as possible. There is, of course, a wide variety of pieces of work being undertaken, not just by Government, in relation to the implications of leaving the European Union in different sectors and different parts of the United Kingdom.
My right hon. Friend was absolutely right to stress that we are not leaving Europe. Indeed, would she confirm that when we leave the European Union, we will continue to play a full and active part in the Council of Europe, working together on the basis of friendship and co-operation, not political union?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The UK will be continuing to play its role in the Council of Europe. I want us to continue to have a good relationship with the member states in the EU and with the EU itself—I think that is in all our interests.
Did the Prime Minister find time in her busy weekend to emphasise to European colleagues how much we value things such as the prisoner transfer agreement, Europol and the European arrest warrant? Will she confirm that, whatever negotiating she does, nothing will lead to the watering down of those commitments?
The right hon. Gentleman will know my commitment to the relationship that we have with other member states of the European Union in relation to justice and home affairs matters. I have had a lot of questions this afternoon about the detail of the discussions that I had on Brexit at the European Council. Of course, the main topics that we discussed at the European Council were Russia, migration and trade. Negotiations and discussions on the detail of our negotiations will be for the future.
The people of Boston and Skegness voted more than any others to leave the European Union, and no constituency, I am sure, approves more of the Prime Minister’s approach, but does she agree that what they deserve is the speedy triggering of article 50, the speedy commencement of trade negotiations, a speedy approach to taking back control over immigration and, while we are at it, a speedy roll-out of the controlling migration fund?
I note what my hon. Friend slipped in at the end of his question. What I would say to him is that it is absolutely right and, as I said in response to a couple of questions from the Opposition earlier, important that people see that we are committed to invoking article 50, because there are those, I fear, who wish to delay the invocation of article 50 as a proxy for not leaving the European Union. It is important that we give people certainty, and that is why I have set out that we will invoke article 50 by the end of March next year.
The Prime Minister said that discussing trade at the European Council was a topic for the future. In relation to lesser duty tariffs, her chief of staff, Nick Timothy, seems to know the Government’s hand very well and has, indeed, declared it. He says:
“We do not have to accept ‘dumping’ by the Chinese steel industry”
“could impose retaliatory tariffs on Chinese steel”,
but it is the UK Government’s policy “to oppose these measures.” Do the Government not have their hands tied behind their back and, indeed, are they not tying the hands of British steelworkers as we speak?
No. The Government have, in a number of ways, been supporting steel production here in the United Kingdom, as the hon. Gentleman will know—both in compensation in relation to climate change and renewables costs, and by the ability to take social issues into consideration when deciding on the procurement of steel. There is a whole range of measures that we have taken. In relation to the action that is being taken by the European Union, we decided at the end of last week that we will modernise the trade defence instruments, but we will do that in a balanced way—balancing the interests of users, producers and consumers. As I am sure he will know, the application of the lesser duty relief has actually meant that, for certain parts of the steel industry, imports from China have dropped by 90%.
Of all the European laws and regulations that the Prime Minister wants to reincorporate democratically into UK law through the great repeal Bill, which does she want to abolish or amend first?
It will be for this Parliament to decide how we deal with the regulations and laws once they have been brought into UK law, but there are two points I would make to the hon. Gentleman. It is right to bring that EU law into UK law at the point at which we leave the European Union, to ensure that there is no legal gap and that everybody has certainty of the legislation that they will be operating under. The second important point is that, once that has happened, it will be for this Parliament to decide, and to be sovereign in determining, those laws.
Will the Prime Minister enlighten us on whether her discussions touched on the subject of higher education? Are there any clues about whether UK universities will retain access to EU research projects after we leave, and about the fees status of EU students in 2018 and beyond? On the first point, we have already heard anecdotal evidence that British researchers are being turned down for Horizon 2020 funds, and my written questions to the Government on both points remain unanswered.
The hon. Lady will, of course, get responses to her written questions in due course. A number of people have raised with me a concern that an approach is being taken, particularly in relation to the university sector, whereby, because we have decided to leave, we should be treated somewhat differently while we are still in the European Union. It is important that we emphasise and ensure that, while we are still members of the EU, we are still treated as full members and therefore have access to those sorts of projects.
I call Martin Docherty-Hughes.
And here was me wanting to save the best for last.
Recently the Secretary-General of NATO called the European Union
“an essential partner for NATO”,
and said that NATO has every opportunity to strengthen
“our unity and practical cooperation even further.”
Therefore, how can a newly confirmed Brexit Prime Minister deliver security without even closer military union with the European Union, as accepted by our NATO allies?
In the quote given by the hon. Gentleman, I think the Secretary-General was talking about NATO operating and working with any defence arrangements in the European Union; it was not about the UK being part of stronger defence within the European Union. We will continue to play a leading role in NATO, as we have done over the years. We will continue to have a close relationship with the European Union, and it will be in all our interests to ensure that we work together for the collective defence of member states and of Europe.
Why is the Prime Minister in a position seemingly to offer specific assurances to Nissan Motors on the outcome of article 50 negotiations, but not to the 3.3 million EU citizens who make such a vital contribution to our economy and our communities?
I will repeat this yet again, as the hon. Gentleman does not appear to have heard the answer when it was given previously: I expect, intend and want to be able to guarantee the status of EU citizens living in the United Kingdom, but the only circumstance in which that would not be possible is if the status of British citizens, including people from Scotland, who live in the European Union is not guaranteed in return. It is a very simple position. We cannot abandon British citizens.