With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on last week’s European Council.
Both the UK and the rest of the EU are preparing for the negotiations that will begin when we trigger article 50 before the end of March next year, but the main focus of this Council was, rightly, on how we can work together to address some of the most pressing challenges that we face. These include responding to the migration crisis, strengthening Europe’s security and helping to alleviate the suffering in Syria. As I have said, for as long as the UK is a member of the EU we will continue to play our full part, and that is what this Council showed, with the UK making a significant contribution on each of those issues.
On migration, from the outset the UK has pushed for a comprehensive approach that focuses on the root causes of migration as the best way to reduce the number of people coming to Europe. I have called for more action in source and transit countries to disrupt the smuggling networks, to improve local capacity to control borders, and to support sustainable livelihoods, both for people living there and for refugees. I have also said that we must better distinguish between economic migrants and refugees, swiftly returning those who have no right to remain and thereby sending out a deterrence message to others thinking of embarking on perilous journeys.
The Council agreed to action in all these areas, and the UK remains fully committed to playing our part. We have already provided training to the Libyan coastguard. The Royal Navy is providing practical support in the Mediterranean and Aegean. We will also deploy 40 additional specialist staff to the Greek islands to accelerate the processing of claims, particularly from Iraqi, Afghan and Eritrean nationals, and to help to return those who have no right to stay. Ultimately, we need a long-term, sustainable approach, for that is the best way to retain the consent of our people to provide support and sanctuary to those most in need.
I turn to security and defence. Whether it is deterring Russian aggression, countering terrorism or fighting organised crime, the UK remains firmly committed to the security of our European neighbours. That is true now, and it will remain true once we have left the EU. At this Council we welcomed the commitment from all member states to take greater responsibility for their security, to invest more resources and to develop more capabilities. That is the right approach, and, as the Council made clear, it should be done in a way that complements rather than duplicates NATO.
A stronger EU and a stronger NATO can be mutually reinforcing, and that should be our aim. We must never lose sight of the fact that NATO will always be the bedrock of our collective defence in Europe, and we must never allow anything to undermine it. We also agreed at the Council to renew tier 3 economic sanctions on Russia for another six months, maintaining the pressure on Russia to implement the Minsk agreements in full.
I turn to the appalling situation in Syria. We have all seen the devastating pictures on our TV screens and heard heartbreaking stories of families struggling to get to safety. At this Council we heard directly from the mayor of eastern Aleppo, a brave and courageous man who has already witnessed his city brought to rubble, his neighbours murdered and children’s lives destroyed. He had one simple plea for us: to get those who have survived through years of conflict, torture and fear to safety. Together with our European partners, we must do all we can to help.
The Council was unequivocal in its condemnation of President Assad and his backers, Russia and Iran, who must bear the responsibility for the tragedy in Aleppo. They must now allow the UN to safely evacuate the innocent people of Aleppo—Syrians whom President Assad claims to represent. We have seen some progress in recent days, but a few busloads is not enough when there are thousands more who must be rescued, and we cannot have those buses being attacked as they have been.
On Thursday afternoon my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary summoned the Russian and Iranian Ambassadors to make it clear that we expect them to help. Over the weekend, the UK has been working with our international partners to secure agreement on a UN Security Council resolution that would send in UN officials to monitor the evacuation of civilians and provide unfettered humanitarian access. That has been agreed unanimously this afternoon, and we now need it to be implemented in full. President Assad may be congratulating his regime forces on their actions in Aleppo, but we are in no doubt. This is no victory; it is a tragedy, and one we will not forget. Last week’s Council reiterated that those responsible must be held to account.
Alongside our diplomatic efforts, the UK is going to provide a further £20 million of practical support for those who are most vulnerable. That includes £10 million for trusted humanitarian partners working on the front line in some of the hardest-to-reach places in Syria to help them to deliver food parcels and medical supplies to those most in need, and an additional £10 million to UNICEF to help it to provide life-saving aid supplies for Syrian refugees now massing at the Jordanian border. As the mayor of Aleppo has said, it is, sadly, too late to save all those who have been lost, but it is not too late to save those who remain. That is what we must now do.
I turn to Brexit. I updated the Council on the UK’s plans for leaving the European Union. I explained that two weeks ago this House voted by a considerable majority—almost six to one—to support the Government by delivering the referendum result and invoking article 50 before the end of March. The UK’s Supreme Court is expected to rule next month on whether the Government require parliamentary legislation in order to do this. I am clear that the Government will respect the verdict of our independent judiciary, but I am equally clear that whichever way the judgment goes, we will meet the timetable I have set out.
At the Council, I also reaffirmed my commitment to a smooth and orderly exit. In this spirit, I made it clear to the other EU leaders that it remains my objective that we give reassurance early on in the negotiations to EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in EU countries that their right to stay where they have made their homes will be protected by our withdrawal. This is an issue that I would like to agree quickly, but that clearly requires the agreement of the rest of the EU.
Finally, I welcomed the subsequent short discussion between the 27 other leaders on their own plans for the UK’s withdrawal. It is right that the other leaders prepare for the negotiations, just as we are making our own preparations. That is in everyone’s best interests.
My aim is to cement the UK as a close partner of the EU once we have left. As I have said before, 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 our companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate in the European market and allow European businesses to do the same here, and a deal that will deliver the deepest possible co-operation to ensure our national security and the security of our allies, but a deal that will mean that when it comes to decisions about our national interest, such as how we control immigration, we can make these decisions for ourselves, and a deal that will mean our laws are once again made in Britain, not in Brussels. With a calm and measured approach, this Government will honour the will of the British people and secure the right deal that will make a success of Brexit for the UK, for the EU and for the world. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of her statement. As we approach the end of this year, I think we can all agree this has been a year of enormous change in this country and the rest of the world, but with that change comes a great deal of division. As we move swiftly towards the triggering of article 50, I want to appeal to the Prime Minister not only to work harder to heal those divisions in Britain, but to make sure that her new year’s resolutions include a commitment to build better relations with our European partners so that we get the best deal for the people of this country, not just a Brexit that benefits big business and bankers.
At the moment, it is clear that the Prime Minister and Britain are becoming increasingly isolated on the international stage. If we are to build a successful Britain after Brexit, it is more vital than ever that our relationship with our European partners remains strong, cordial and respectful. It is also clear from my own discussions with European leaders that they are becoming increasingly frustrated by her shambolic Government and the contradictory approach to Brexit negotiations. The mixed messages from her Front Bench only add to the confusion. This Government fail to speak for the whole country; instead, we hear a babble of voices speaking for themselves and their vested interests.
For instance, last week we were told by Britain’s permanent representative to the EU that a Brexit deal may take 10 years, contradicting what the Secretary of State for Brexit told a Select Committee that day, when he said a deal could be struck in 18 months. There is a bit of a difference there. We also heard from the Chancellor, who told us that Britain was looking for a transitional deal with the European Union, only for the Secretary of State for International Trade to warn against a transitional deal, saying any arrangements close to the status quo would go against the wishes of those who voted to leave. The people of Britain deserve better than this confusion at the heart of Government.
Confidence is being lost. The Office for Budget Responsibility made its own judgment on the Government’s Brexit plans in November, when it published new forecasts for 2017: growth was revised down, wages revised down and business investment revised down; the only thing the OBR raised was its forecast for inflation. The Government are risking even weaker growth than they have delivered so far and an exodus of financial services, and hitting manufacturing industry very hard.
I welcome the fact that the Government have now accepted Labour’s demands for a published Brexit plan, but it is still unclear how the plan will be presented and when we will receive it in Parliament. Can the Prime Minister today do what the Secretary of State for Brexit, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State for International Trade and the permanent representative to the EU all failed to do last week and give this country some real answers? Can she tell us when the House will receive the Government’s plan for article 50 and how long we will be given to scrutinise that plan? Can she also tell us how long the Government envisage the whole process taking? Can she tell us whether the Government will be looking for an interim transitional deal with the European Union? These are basic questions that have still not been answered, nearly six months after Britain voted to leave the European Union.
There were also reports last week that the UK will be asked to pay a €50 billion bill to honour commitments to the EU budget until 2020. Can the Prime Minister tell this House if that is the case? Can she update us all on the Government’s contingency plans for those projects and programmes in the UK that are currently reliant on EU funding after 2020? There is much concern in many parts of the country about those programmes.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s desire to bring forward and give greater clarity on the issue of rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom. However, if she is serious about this, why wait? Why will the Government not end the worry and uncertainty, as this House demanded in July, and give an unequivocal commitment to guarantee people’s rights before article 50 is triggered, as both the TUC and the British Chambers of Commerce called for this weekend? Not only is it the right thing to do; it would also send a clear signal to our colleagues and our European friends that Britain is committed to doing the right thing and committed to a friendly future relationship.
With that in mind, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Austrian President, Alexander Van der Bellen, on his election. I am sure we all agree that his victory in the presidential elections represents a victory for respect and kindness over hate and division, and is a signal against the dangerous rise of the far right across Europe.
I am also glad that the European Union Council leaders discussed the other pressing global issues last week, notably the terrible situation in Syria. I therefore want to use this opportunity to renew the calls I made in a letter to the Prime Minister last week for an urgent and concerted effort from the Government to press for an end to the violence and for a United Nations-led ceasefire, along with the creation of UN-brokered humanitarian corridors and the issuance of effective advance warnings of attack to the civilian population, as well as urgent talks through the UN to achieve a negotiated political settlement. It is clear that the rules of war are being broken on all sides. Labour has long condemned attacks on civilian targets on all sides, including those by Russian and pro-Syrian Government forces in Aleppo, for which there can be no excuse.
I also know that Cyprus and reunification were raised at the Council meeting. Will the Prime Minister give us an update on what was said on this issue? Britain is after all a guarantor of Cypriot independence under the 1960 treaty.
There is a lot to do in 2017, with a lot of important decisions to be made. I make a plea to the Prime Minister to represent all sides, whether they voted to leave or remain, and to make the right decisions that benefit not just her party but everyone in this country.
On the issue of Cyprus, President Anastasiades updated us on the talks that had taken place. These are important talks. I think we all accept that we have perhaps the best opportunity for a settlement in Cyprus that we have seen for many, many years. The talks have been taking place under UN auspices between the two leaders. They have been encouraged and generated by the two leaders on the island, and it is important that we recognise the leadership they have shown on this issue. The right hon. Gentleman is right. There are three guarantors: Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom. We stand ready to play our part, as required and when it is appropriate for us to do so. There is a meeting coming up in January, and there is a possibility that it will be attended by others such as the United Kingdom. In the EU Council’s conclusions, it said that it stood ready to participate if that were part of helping the deal to come through.
On Syria, the right hon. Gentleman wrote to me asking for us to take action through the United Nations. We have consistently taken action through the UN. We have been working over the weekend to ensure that there was a UN Security Council resolution today that was accepted. As all Members will know, Russia has vetoed a number of previous Security Council resolutions, and the most recent one before today was vetoed by both Russia and China. It is very clear that we now have a resolution that has been accepted by Russia and China, and accepted unanimously by the Security Council. It provides for humanitarian access and for UN monitoring of people leaving Aleppo, which is important.
The right hon. Gentleman spent most of his comments on Brexit. He started off by talking about our wanting a deal that benefits the United Kingdom. Yes, I have been saying that ever since I first came into this role. We want to ensure that we get the best possible deal, but I have to say to him that we do not get the possible deal in negotiations by laying out everything we want in advance. That is the whole point of negotiations.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about isolation. The point is that the UK is going to leave the European Union. We are leaving the group that is the European Union. In due course, they will meet only as 27 members, because we will no longer be a member. It is clear from what happened at the EU Council that, as long as we are a member, we will continue to play our full part with the European Union.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about EU funds, and funds that are currently intended to continue beyond the date at which we would leave the European Union. The Chancellor of the Exchequer set out the position very clearly some weeks ago. Those funds will continue to be met provided they give value for money and meet the UK Government’s objectives.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the length of the process. As he knows, once we trigger article 50, the treaty allows for a process that can take up to two years. Of course, how long it takes within that period depends on the progress of the negotiations that take place. He then spoke about uncertainty and the need for investment in the UK. He gave the impression of a bleak economic picture, but I remind him that ours is the fastest-growing economy this year in the G7. Let us look at the companies that have announced new additional investment since the Brexit referendum: Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan, Aldi, Associated British Ports, CAF, Facebook, Google, GlaxoSmithKline, Sitel and Statoil. The list will continue because this is still a good place to invest and a good place to grow businesses.
The right hon. Gentleman then talked about confusion on the Front Bench. Well, he has obviously been looking at his own Front Bench. Let us take one very simple issue: immigration. The shadow Home Secretary suggests that freedom of movement should be maintained; the shadow Chancellor said that we should have a fair deal on freedom of movement; and the shadow Brexit Secretary says we should have immigration controls. They cannot even agree on one aspect of leaving the European Union. With the Leader of the Opposition’s negotiation technique, if he were in office, we would as sure as goodness be getting the worst possible deal we could get for the United Kingdom.
When my right hon. Friend was at the Council and reminded the Council leaders of her generous offer to allow EU citizens here in the UK to remain, and for UK citizens to receive the same privilege, did she manage to take Donald Tusk to one side and ask him simply why, when his own Government was keen to agree to that, he turned round and vetoed it?
My right hon. Friend is right that I made it clear once again that I hope the issue of EU citizens living here and UK citizens living in EU member states can be dealt with at an early stage of the negotiations. The other member states and the Council have been clear that they are not prepared to enter into negotiations before article 50 is triggered, but I will continue to remind them of our hope, for a very good reason: we want to give certainty and reassurance to people that this issue can be dealt with at a very early stage and then the people concerned can get on with their lives.
May I begin by thanking the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement and, as it is the last opportunity to do so, wish colleagues a very merry Christmas, happy Hogmanay and a fantastic 2017?
It is now more than six months since the Brexit referendum, when more than 62% of voters in Scotland voted to remain in the European Union. Tomorrow the Scottish Government will become the first Administration in the UK to publish their plans in detail. The Prime Minister has said that she will seriously engage with the Scottish Government, which is to be welcomed, and that she has a respect agenda. Will she therefore commit to meeting the First Minister to incorporate priorities of the Scottish Government in the UK negotiating position?
On security, the Prime Minister’s statement welcomed commitments on capability, including on cyber threats. Without going into details, for obvious reasons, is she confident that enough safeguards are in place regarding democratic institutions in the UK, including political parties?
The violence in the middle east was discussed in the Council, and across the House we welcome any initiatives that make a difference in Syria, but there was no mention in the Prime Minister’s statement of Yemen. Is it true that senior Ministers have known for some time that UK cluster munitions have been used in the current conflict in Yemen? When was she told about that, and when will the UK join our European partners in starting to have a more ethical foreign policy on both Saudi Arabia and Yemen?
The right hon. Gentleman will have seen that the Defence Secretary will make a statement on Yemen later this afternoon. The issue was not discussed at the European Council. We focused on the issues I mentioned in my statement.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about cyber-security and political parties. Maintaining their cyber-security is a matter for individual political parties. It is up to them to look at how they undertake that.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the document that the Scottish Government will publish tomorrow. I took a call from the First Minister this morning, in which I assured her that we will look very seriously at the proposals that the Scottish Government are bringing forward. I welcome the fact that they have been looking at their priorities. We have been encouraging all the devolved Administrations to do so, so that those priorities can be taken into account in the UK negotiations on leaving the European Union.
There is already a structure in place that enables us to discuss those priorities with the devolved Administrations. The Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations will meet in early January. It has been meeting regularly with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. There will be a further session of the JMC plenary in January. That normally meets only once a year, if that, but we are increasing the number of its meetings precisely so that we can engage with the devolved Administrations on these issues.
Does the Prime Minister agree that people in the Opposition and in business who say that we should make compromises by offering money or some control over our laws or borders to get a deal are bidding against our country, making it more difficult to achieve a good deal and misunderstanding what the majority voted for?
I agree with my right hon. Friend that the public want us to get on and get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom. They want us to leave the European Union and deliver success in doing that. It is absolutely right that we do not give out every detail of our negotiating strategy because, as I say, that would be the way to get the worst possible deal.
On Friday, along with other hon. Members from Wolverhampton, I met UTC Aerospace, which employs 1,600 people in high-value manufacturing jobs in Wolverhampton. That company raised with us membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency. When the Prime Minister says that Brexit means Brexit, does she mean that we will no longer participate in the European Aviation Safety Agency and many other such agencies, including for example the European Medical Agency?
It is precisely because we need to look with great care and consideration at the wide range of our relationships with Europe that we have taken time before we trigger article 50. This is exactly the sort of work the Department for Exiting the European Union is doing: looking at the range of organisations, some of which are linked to membership of the European Union and some of which will not be so linked to membership of the European Union, and making a decision; and, crucially, talking to each sector about what is important for them, so we understand what really matters to business.
While welcoming my right hon. Friend’s calm, considered and thorough preparations before triggering article 50, does she agree that a speedy conclusion of the subsequent negotiations will be in this country’s interests, both to put an end to damaging uncertainty and because, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, every week’s additional delay in leaving the EU costs this country £250 million net per week?
As I said in an earlier response to the Leader of the Opposition, the treaty sets out a potential two-year process of negotiations. For how long, over those two years, it is necessary for the negotiations to take is a matter for the progress of those discussions and talks. My right hon. Friend makes a very valid point that the sooner certainty can come the better that will be for business, but we need to make sure we are getting the right deal for the United Kingdom.
Perhaps the Prime Minister could then tell us with some certainty when her plan for exiting the European Union, which she has agreed to present to this House, will be ready. Presumably, it will be some time before she triggers article 50.
In their joint statement of 15 December, the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, and the Heads of State of all 27 member states, unanimously insisted that
“access to the Single Market requires acceptance of all four freedoms”
including freedom of movement and the European Court of Justice. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such an ultimatum is unacceptable and that it will not be accepted by the British people?
I have said all along that I believe that underlying part of the vote to leave the European Union was the desire of the British people to have control over immigration, and for decisions on immigration to be made by the Government here in the United Kingdom. We should deliver on that. I look at these issues in terms of the deal we want to negotiate and the outcome we want, which is the best possible deal for trading with, and operating within, the single European market, but that should be commensurate with the other requirements we have: British laws made here in Britain and control on immigration.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement and for advance sight of it. Following the European Council, it appears that the Prime Minister is leading our country not just out of the European Union but out of the single market and the customs union, neither of which were on the ballot paper last June. If instead remain had won by a whisker last June, would the Government have had a mandate, I wonder, for a hard remain? Would Mr Cameron have been stood there bouncing us into the euro and Schengen? Does the Prime Minister agree that, ludicrous as that sounds, it is no more ludicrous than the extreme rewriting of the referendum result that she now seeks to impose on the British people?
The majority vote in the referendum was for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. That is what we will be delivering. Once again, the hon. Gentleman raises questions about means rather than ends. What we want is the best possible outcome in the trading relationship between the UK and the European Union, and for operating within the European Union. That is where our focus should be—not on particular processes to get there.
The Council conclusions stressed the Union’s continued resolve to deepen and strengthen its relationship with Ukraine in the face of current challenges. How strongly does the Prime Minister expect her Government to support Ukraine after we have left the European Union?
It is absolutely right that the European Council was concerned and wanted to ensure that we have that continuing relationship with Ukraine. The UK is already supporting Ukraine in a number of ways. When we leave the European Union, we will look at our continuing bilateral relationships with countries across the European continent. We are already providing money to establish the national anti-corruption bureau in Ukraine and we are supporting energy reform to reduce the country’s dependence on Russian gas. We are offering defensive training to Ukrainian armed forces and supporting internal reform with the Ukrainian ministry of defence. We already have a number of areas in which we are supporting Ukraine. I expect that we would continue to want a good bilateral relationship with Ukraine once we have left the European Union.
We support the continuing EU-Turkey deal. It has had an impact on the migratory movements across the Aegean, but there are of course elements to the EU-Turkey deal, particularly visa liberalisation, with which the UK is not involved because we are not one of the Schengen member states. That matter of visa liberalisation is still being discussed by members of the Schengen border zone. As I say, the UK is not part of that, but we should recognise that the arrangements in place so far have had an impact on movements into Greece from Turkey. Crucially, we need to ensure that the process of returning people who have no right to be in Greece is operating as smoothly as possible. That is one reason why we are offering extra staff to Greece, so that the process of dealing with those claims can be carried out more smoothly.
The whole House will welcome the focus on Syria and Aleppo that my right hon. Friend has reported from the meeting. Most welcome is the additional British humanitarian support, including for UNICEF, that the Prime Minister has announced, and the part played by British diplomats and the Government over the weekend in securing the successful UN resolution along the lines of the debate here last week. Will she ensure that over the Christmas and new year holiday, the full span of Government attention will continue on securing unfettered access for humanitarian workers, medical supplies and food, bearing in mind that there are still more than 50,000 people out in the open in Aleppo who are very frightened and living in temperatures well below freezing?
With his experience, my right hon. Friend recognises that it is about not just agreeing a resolution, but ensuring that it is then implemented, so that making humanitarian aid available to people and enabling them to leave safely can be put into practice. I assure my right hon. Friend that we recognise the importance of getting momentum going on this. It will be important to do that over the coming days and weeks. Our focus on it will continue.
May I ask the Prime Minister about the risks of the cliff-edge in April 2019, which is already prompting some of our key financial institutions, such as Lloyd’s of London, to think about moving some of their business out of Britain? Does she agree with the Chancellor, who said that it would be helpful if we started to discuss a transitional arrangement going beyond that particular deadline, and started discussing it now?
The Chancellor reflected the comments I made when I spoke to the CBI, recognising the desire for business to have some certainty beyond that point of leaving the European Union. That is one of the reasons why we have already announced that we are going to bring EU law into domestic law in the UK at that point, so that people can have some certainty about the point of movement from membership of the European Union to being outside it.
At the end of November, Ilse Aigner, the Christian Social Union economy Minister of Bavaria, gave a clear warning to her coalition partners in Berlin that uncertainty could damage the Bavarian economy, as the UK is one of its most important trading partners. Does the Prime Minister appreciate that there will be significant forces in Europe supporting her timetable to trigger article 50 at the end of March in order to bring to a conclusion the arrangements for free trade that exist between us and Bavaria?
My right hon. Friend raises an important point, specifically about Bavaria, but the overall point is a very simple one. This is not just about what is in the interests of the United Kingdom; it is also about what is in the interests of the remaining 27 members of the European Union. As we negotiate that deal, I expect us to negotiate one that will be right for the UK but that will retain a strong European Union, with which we will be trading and working together on matters of mutual interest.
I welcome the extension of sanctions against Russia for a further six months, but there has been very little visible progress on the Minsk accord in recent months. What does the Prime Minister think the extension will achieve, and how can we move the process forward?
The Council was updated by Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande, who have obviously been leading in relation to discussions on the Minsk agreement. Everyone is concerned about the fact that the agreement still has not been put in place. I believe that we needed to roll over the sanctions in order to show our continuing rigour, and our continuing expectation that Russia will abide by the requirements.
We see EU countries dangerously duplicating NATO’s structures, but without American participation. Would it not do much more for the defence of Europe if France and Germany, and other EU states that are members of NATO, spent a minimum of 2% of their GDP on defence?
It is clear that there are many differences among Conservative Members over freedom of movement, but is it not also clear that if the free movement of labour continued, it would make a mockery of a majority decision made by the British people in a referendum?
As I said earlier, I think one of the things that underlay the vote was people’s desire to see the British Government control immigration from the European Union. If the hon. Gentleman does not think freedom of movement should continue, I suggest that he talk to his own Front Benchers about it.
As my right hon. Friend knows, more than 10,000 Ukrainian servicemen have been killed since the beginning of the Russian-backed conflict, and progress on Minsk appears to have stalled. Does she agree that, as signatories to the Budapest memorandum, we have a special responsibility? Will she look into what further pressure we can put on Russia, and also what additional assistance we can give the people of Ukraine?
We do consider what more we can do. My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary announced recently that we would undertake an extension of the training of Ukrainian forces, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is looking into whether there are other ways in which we can ensure that the Minsk agreement is implemented in full. However, I think it important for us also to work through the European Union, and to put the pressure of the EU behind the process.
Did the Prime Minister discuss with fellow leaders interference by Russia in the political processes of western democracies, including our own, through the use of propaganda and cyber? What action is she taking to investigate what may already have happened in this country, and what is she doing to prevent it from happening in future?
I think that everyone is aware of the way in which Russia is currently operating, and of the more aggressive stance that it is taking in a number of respects. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not expect me to go into detail about how we look at these matters, particularly cyber-related matters—which were mentioned earlier by the right hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson)—but I assure him that we take the issue of state-sponsored intervention and cyber attacks very seriously indeed.
The Prime Minister’s steadfast commitment to reassuring 2.8 million EU citizens about their position in the United Kingdom is highly welcome, but will she look at the cross-party “British Future” report, on which I worked along with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green)? It includes suggestions on how to regularise the immigration status of the 1.8 million EU citizens who are on track to gain permanent residence, but who we suggest should be granted a bespoke indefinite leave to remain.
May I press the Prime Minister on the reply she gave to the parliamentary leader of the Scottish National party, the right hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), on Yemen? I appreciate she was the only leader of a foreign country to address the Gulf Cooperation Council recently and the Foreign Secretary has spoken courageously about the situation in Yemen. While we celebrate Christmas on Sunday, the people of Hudaydah will be eating grass and drinking sea water in order to survive. What does it say about politics in 2016 that the richest club in the world is unable to find time to discuss one of the poorest countries?
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we take the situation in Yemen very seriously indeed. There are a number of ways in which we are acting in relation to that, not least in the provision of humanitarian aid. The Foreign Office Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), was in Riyadh yesterday, and one of the issues he was discussing was the possibility of the opening of the port so that supplies can be got through to Yemen.
My reading of the Council conclusions both on migration and on defence and security co-operation demonstrate the strength of British influence, rather than the weakness, which was the Leader of the Opposition’s conclusion. Given that we do spend 2% of our GDP on defence and that we spend 0.7% on aid, addressing both sides of that argument, are we in a good position to make this case, and does it not show that when we have left the EU our European partners will still want that close relationship with us, which is why we will get a good deal?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We should be proud of the fact that in this country we spend 2% on defence and 0.7% on international aid. That is recognised not just across the EU, but internationally, and it often enables us as the United Kingdom to take the lead on a number of these issues. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: from everything we saw—from the position and role the UK has played in European Council discussions—it is clear people will want to continue to have a good relationship with the UK, and that puts us in a good place for getting the right deal.
I congratulate the French and British diplomats in New York who got the Security Council resolution today, but is the Prime Minister aware that the Assad regime’s representative immediately denounced it? It is quite clear that the Syrian Government are not going to be happy about this. Will she take practical steps to ensure the resolution is actually implemented, and particularly to protect those people who are witnesses to crime and those who, like the White Helmets, have been so brave in east Aleppo but now could be at risk from Hezbollah, Iranian militias or the Assad regime?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to congratulate UK and French diplomats, who worked very hard to make sure this resolution would be accepted by the Security Council. We now have to ensure it is put into practice. He refers to the evidence of crime, and we have been taking action to make sure people are equipped and trained to gather evidence of crimes that have taken place, so that they can be properly investigated.
Earlier the Prime Minister said she wants that
“when it comes to decisions about our national interest, such as how we control immigration, we can make these decisions for ourselves”.
I commend that statement. When she finally presents her plan to Parliament, will she keep it brief, focus on outcomes not means, and simply say we are leaving the EU, we are leaving the internal market, and we are going to reclaim control of our borders and our laws, but that nothing in that militates against concluding a free trade deal which is overwhelmingly in the interests of our European friends and allies?
My hon. Friend is right that we need to ensure that we get the best possible deal, and he is also right to focus on the outcome of the deal that we want rather than the particular means to achieve that outcome. It is absolutely clear that it is possible for us to get a deal that will be a very good trade deal for the UK, but which will also be in the interests of the EU.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that I have stood at this Dispatch Box on previous occasions and argued that we should indeed remain within those aspects. The whole question of security and co-operation on crime will of course be part of the negotiations, but this is not just a question of what is in the UK’s interests. When we work with partners in the European Union, it is in their interests too.
What are the chances that the proposed European defence fund will add new money to collective European defence and security, and what is the Prime Minister’s attitude to the linked matter of the revision of the Athena mechanism that is due next year?
The European defence fund is referred to in the Council’s conclusions. The matter of how it will operate in the future has yet to be fully fleshed out. One issue that was discussed by European Council members was a concern to ensure better procurement of defence equipment across the European Union, and it is in that context that these issues are being considered.
May I push the Prime Minister on the matter of security? Viewed from Moscow, Europe must look so much more disunited and weak since June. The fact is that we have 100,000 men and women in our armed forces—you could fit them all inside Wembley stadium. What would happen if tanks did roll across borders in this unstable period of European history? What would we do?
The Secretary of State for Defence has told me that the figure is 200,000 rather than 100,000, but let us look seriously at the hon. Gentleman’s question. I spoke in my statement of the importance of NATO as the bedrock of our security and that of our allies. That organisation is important in ensuring our defence. What are this Government doing in relation to defence? We are spending 2% of our GDP on defence and committing more than £170 billion over a number of years to investment in defence equipment, ensuring that we have the defence that we need—the forces and the equipment—to keep us safe.
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. As we focus on the specific question of Aleppo, it is easy to forget the significant contribution that the UK is making, through its aid budget, to the humanitarian effort to help the refugees from Syria. Of course, much of that is going to refugees in the countries around Syria—Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. We are the second biggest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees and we have now committed £2.3 billion. That means that medical supplies, food and water are getting through to people who would not otherwise have them. It also means that children are being educated as a result of the money that is being spent by the United Kingdom, and it is absolutely right that we should do that.
I commend the Prime Minister for her solid and strong stance on Brexit. However, 27 EU members met without her being in attendance. Is this the beginning of a cloak and dagger approach by the EU? What steps are being taken to ensure that we are not kept in the dark, that everything is open and transparent and that the British viewpoint as expressed at the ballot box is sacrosanct and remains a priority?
The 27 members of the European Union met for, I think, 25 minutes to discuss aspects of the process of the UK leaving the EU. It is absolutely right that they should meet together as the 27 because, when we trigger article 50, we want to ensure that the process is as smooth and orderly as possible. That is in our interests and in the interests of our economy. It is also in their interests and the interests of their economies. So I welcome the fact that they are meeting as the 27 to discuss the process and to make preparations, just as we are doing, for what will happen when we trigger article 50.
It is certainly absolutely right that we maintain good relationships with the 27 member states of the European Union, but what steps is the Prime Minister taking to ensure that we talk to European countries that are not in the EU to gain insight into their experiences of being in that position and the plan for the future?
My hon. Friend raises an important point that is about our relationship not just with the EU as a whole, but with individual countries that are members of the EU and those that are not members. We do hold such discussions. I have had bilateral talks, and I reassure those to whom I speak that a United Kingdom that is outside the EU will not be leaving Europe. We want to continue to have good relations with our friends and allies across Europe. We want good bilateral relationships that enable us also to trade well with those nations.
One of the key aspects of security co-operation across Europe is the ability to impose sanctions through the EU sanctions regime. What discussions has the Prime Minister had with her EU counterparts about the UK’s involvement in that regime after we leave the EU?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that our focus is on ensuring that the UK’s voice is heard when we put forward our opinion on matters such as the sanctions against Russia and the importance of maintaining those sanctions until the Minsk agreement is implemented.
Something on which both sides of the EU referendum campaign can agree is that one of the big issues during the campaign was the amount of money that we give to the EU each year. Will the Prime Minister therefore pledge that when we leave the EU we will not be paying any money towards the EU budget? Even contemplating that would surely be to contemplate betraying what people voted for in the referendum.
Obviously, while we remain members of the EU, we will continue to have obligations as members of EU. What is important is that when we leave the EU, people want us to ensure that it is the British Government that decide how taxpayers’ money is spent.
The European Council stressed that those responsible for breaches of international law in Syria must be held accountable and that the EU is considering all available options. No one would disagree with that sentiment, but will the Prime Minister set out what it means in practice?
Where people have breached international humanitarian law, the UK Government’s position is that that should be investigated and properly dealt with and that people should be brought to justice as a result. As for the available options, some further sanctions have been considered. This is an issue that the UK has raised in the past and one that we continue to look at.
Does the Prime Minister agree that her first duty is to defend the rights of British subjects? It would therefore be a foolish negotiating strategy to guarantee the rights of EU nationals here unilaterally—much as we would like to—until we have achieved reciprocity for UK nationals residing in other states.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is fairly obvious that the UK Prime Minister should have concern for UK citizens. We do not want UK citizens who live in other EU member states to be left high and dry, which is why our position has always been that we will guarantee the status of EU citizens living here provided that UK citizens living in EU member states have their rights guaranteed as well.
Will Brexit deliver what the Prime Minister’s three Brexiteer Ministers promised in the referendum and what the majority of voters supported—namely a £350 million a week payment to the national health service? Or will we get a bill of £50 billion for which nobody voted?
When we leave the EU, we will be delivering on what my colleagues who campaigned to leave the European Union campaigned for and what the people voted for: the UK no longer being a member of the EU and therefore being able to take control of how taxpayers’ money is spent, how our laws are made and our immigration.
In the Prime Minister’s conversations with our EU partners, will she make it clear that, whatever deal we strike with the European Union, we will be offering free trade? Will she ask them why anybody is considering a reversion to protectionism and tariffs, particularly in view of the fact that paragraph 5 of article 3 of the treaty on European Union enjoins the EU to contribute to “free and fair trade”?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point: this is about getting a good trade relationship with the European Union, which is in their interests as well as in ours. Lots of reference is made to the process in relation to trade, but actually what we want to focus on is the outcome: the best possible deal in terms of trading with and operating within the European Union.
Under this Prime Minister’s leadership, Britain has opposed strengthening trade defence measures and has watered down action on the lesser duty rule, which has crippled the UK steel industry. Will people not be right to think that when this Prime Minister takes control of future British trade deals, both British workers and British industry will be more exposed than ever before?
Actually, the trade defence arrangements that have been in place have had a significant impact on the dumping of steel. Of course everybody recognises the importance and impact of the overcapacity of steel in China, and the Government have taken a number of steps to reduce the costs in relation to climate change and energy for the steel industry—more than £100 million has now been made available to the steel industry as a result of that. We have ensured that other factors can be taken into account when people are looking at procurement of steel—social and economic factors can be taken into account. On the trade defence arrangements that take place in Europe, we think, yes, we should ensure that we are looking at the impact on producers, but we also need to look at the impact on consumers. What we call for is a balance in dealing with these issues.
As the Prime Minister reaches her first Christmas in her role, may I commend her for the sureness of touch she has demonstrated as Prime Minister, commend her for setting up a fresh new Department so that we can leave the European Union, and remind her that in Kettering 61% of people voted to leave and want her to get on with it as soon as possible?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. I assure him that I am focused, as is the Department for Exiting the European Union and everybody across government, on delivering what overall the British people wanted, which is leaving the European Union.
This is a matter that we and others in the international community will be looking at. Of course, at the moment President Assad is still there in Syria. We have said from the beginning that we want to see a political transition away from President Assad, but we are very clear that we need to look carefully at all the actions that have been taken in relation to the conflict in Syria and ensure that people are held to account for those actions, including, obviously, the ones that break international humanitarian law.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on, and thank her for, the robust stance she took in representing the United Kingdom at the recent EU Council meeting. Will she say whether any of the leaders of the 27 expressed a wish not to want to trade with the UK in goods and services?
What has happened in Aleppo has not just been a tragedy—it has also been a series of acts of deliberate brutality by Putin and his regime. The Prime Minister is absolutely right to say that those responsible must be held to account, but there is something she could do immediately: she could sign up to the amendment to the Criminal Finances Bill tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) and the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), which would take the assets of those who have been involved in human rights abuses and in these war crimes off them.
Assuming that a humanitarian corridor to Aleppo, supported by a clear United Nations mandate, is a possibility, would Her Majesty’s Government be prepared to consider using our military forces, perhaps in small teams, to monitor such an arrangement—something in which we have considerable expertise and to date have had considerable success?
I must apologise to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant); I was thinking of the Magnitsky law, which he frequently raises in connection with Russia. I apologise for that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), of course, has personal experience of providing support in circumstances where we need to provide humanitarian aid and support to people. The matter will be taken up by the United Nations, of course; the role that the United Kingdom can play will be a matter for consideration and discussion under the UN’s auspices.
Towards the end of the Prime Minister’s remarks, she talked in quite broad terms about the kind of mature, co-operative relationship that she wants for Britain outside the European Union. Which of the deals for European countries that are not in the European Union does the deal that she wants for Britain most closely resemble?
I have said consistently that we are not looking to try to duplicate or replicate a model that is there for some other country within Europe. What we will be doing is negotiating the deal that is right for the UK, and we will be ambitious in doing so.
While strongly commending the pivotal role that Britain is playing in Lebanon, Jordan and other neighbouring states in coping with the miserable outflow from Syria, may I urge my right hon. Friend that a high priority in our dealings with the incoming Administration in Washington must be tackling the growing military hegemony of Russia and its ally Iran in that region?
It is important that we look very seriously at the actions of Russia. As I indicated earlier in response to the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), it is important that we look at the actions of Russia across a whole range of activities that it is now involved in. One of the significant elements of the conclusions of the European Council was that it now also identified Iran as backing the Assad regime. That is a very important step forward and we should continue to make the point that it is not just Russia; it is Iran as well.
It is very welcome that the UN Security Council has unanimously voted to approve UN personnel in eastern Aleppo to monitor the evacuations and access to humanitarian aid. However, I am concerned that a requirement to co-ordinate with involved parties, such as the Syrian regime, Russia and Iran, could see the monitors denied access. What diplomatic role does the Prime Minister think Europe could play in ensuring that access is not restricted in that manner?
It is for all of us in the international arena to ensure that we provide the maximum support to the United Nations in being able to do what has been set out in the Security Council resolution. It is significant that the resolution has been accepted unanimously by the Security Council—it has not been vetoed by Russia, unlike previous resolutions that have been in place. The European Union, through its high representative Federica Mogherini, has already been involved in the international arena, as has, of course, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, in urging all parties to ensure that this humanitarian aid can get through and that people who wish to leave can be evacuated safely.
My right hon. Friend is clearly right to report back from the Council that Iran is the other major actor in Syria. What steps will the Council be taking to have discussions with Iran so that the atrocities committed in Aleppo are not merely committed again in other towns and cities in Syria?
My understanding is that the European Union High Representative has already been having discussions with Iran, particularly about the humanitarian aid, which it is necessary to get through. But as I have just indicated in response to a previous question, it is absolutely right, as my hon. Friend says, that we have identified Iran as a backer of the Assad regime. We should continue to do so and we should continue to press Iran and Russia on the fact that we now have a Security Council resolution in relation to the evacuation and humanitarian aid for Aleppo. However, there is a lot more to be done if we are going to get a stable and peaceful Syria for its people in the future.
I am very glad to hear about the additional aid being granted to Syrian refugees massing at the Jordanian border, but what pressure or assistance are European leaders agreeing to use to help Jordan to process the hundreds of thousands of refugees trapped in the no man’s land—the Berm—between Syria and Jordan?
Obviously, part of the work that we are doing as the United Kingdom, and that other individual member states are doing, is putting aid into countries like Jordan to help them in dealing with those refugees—particularly those refugees who are already in Jordan. As I indicated, some of the money that we will be making available will be specifically for those who are now massing on the Jordanian border.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her thoughtful statement. Does she agree that “Brexit means Brexit” means that we leave the EU and all the EU regulations? Does she agree that that is the certainty that this country is looking for?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for repeating that Brexit means Brexit—it does indeed. On the EU regulations, it is important that, at the point at which we leave the EU, EU regulations are brought into UK domestic law. It will then, of course, be open to this Parliament to decide which of those regulations it wishes to continue with and which it wishes to change.
On the citizens who have come to live in the UK, does the Prime Minister agree that the principle of protecting those who make a positive contribution to our communities should be a core responsibility of her Government?
I recognise the positive contribution that is made by EU citizens living here in the United Kingdom. I have said on many occasions that I expect to be able to, and wish to be able to, guarantee their status here in the UK, but we do need reciprocity—we need to have care and concern for UK citizens who are living in the European Union.
Did the Prime Minister have any discussions with her counterparts on how quickly the EU can make progress on tackling multinational tax avoidance and particularly on when the EU will go ahead with country-by-country reporting, which we took the powers for in this year’s Finance Bill?
I have to disappoint my hon. Friend; this matter was not discussed at the European Council. However, as my hon. Friend indicated, the whole question of tax avoidance is one that the UK has led on with the measures we have taken, and it is an issue that I raised at the G20 earlier this year.
It is characteristically modest of the Prime Minister to mention only an extra £20 million of practical support. As it is the festive season, perhaps she could talk a little more about all the other things that we are funding in that region.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to do so. I will not list everything that we are funding. As I have said, we are making a contribution that has now committed £2.3 billion to help Syrian refugees. That is about medical supplies, it is about water, and it is about the opportunity for young people to be educated. Some £10 million of the £20 million that I indicated earlier will be for those who are now massing on the Jordanian border—so very specifically for those who are vulnerable as a result of the most recent actions that have been taken. It is right that we are putting this support in, and the House should be proud of the efforts that this country has undertaken to support Syrian refugees.
A major poll last week in Wales noted that the overwhelming Brexit priority of the people of my country was to put continued single market membership over controls on immigration. If the Prime Minister intends to abandon the single market, will she support sub-state membership status for Wales to ensure that the Welsh economy is not shackled to a sinking UK ship?
It is the United Kingdom that will be leaving the EU, and it is the United Kingdom that will be negotiating the deal that we have for leaving the European Union, but we will be working with the devolved Administrations and taking into account the particular priorities that they have. But I repeat what I said earlier: the hon. Gentleman makes a reference to what is essentially a means or a process in relation to trading; what we want to focus on is the outcome we want, which is the best possible deal for trading with, and operating within, the single European market.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on her determination to raise the issue of reciprocal rights despite the fact that it was not formally on the agenda? She is right: this is an issue of serious concern for EU citizens living here and our citizens living in Europe. May I also congratulate her on raising this with individual member states as well? May I urge her to continue with these talks and ensure that we put people first, before process?
The negotiations of immediate concern to many of my constituents relate to the unification of Cyprus. Can the Prime Minister confirm whether the European Union will be present at the multi-party talks on 12 January? When she, or the Foreign Secretary, attends those talks, will she ensure that the UK finally fulfils its historical legal duty to guarantee the independence of Cyprus?
We recognise the importance of the talks that are taking place. The UK’s position is very simple. As a guarantor, we stand ready to do what is necessary to play our part, but it is important that that is primarily led by the two leaders, who have pushed these discussions in Cyprus under the auspices of the United Nations. We do therefore stand ready to attend the talks on 12 January. The European Union, which currently has observer status in these matters, has also indicated its readiness to be present. We are all saying that we will be present if that is going to aid coming to a settlement. We must focus not on whether we want to be there but on the result that we are going to get. The aim must be to see a settlement and reunification.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
It is accepted that business wishes to see the maximum possible certainty in which to make its investment decisions. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that certainty is not achieved by equivocation or obfuscation about our intention to trigger article 50, but is better served by triggering it promptly and then being flexible and business-focused in the terms of our negotiation and the implementation of the final deal?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. That is precisely why I indicated in October that we would trigger article 50 by the end of March to give people some certainty about the timetable. He is also absolutely right that we need the maximum flexibility thereafter in order to ensure that we can meet business needs and the needs of the UK generally.
The Prime Minister’s approach is absolutely right, especially for constituents whose jobs depend on trade and investment, and students or residents from the European Union, who want us to focus on the key ingredients of success. Does she agree that her pragmatic focus on outcomes is much more likely to unify the country than some political parties’ determination to define Brexit as a boiled egg, whether soft or hard?
I would not expect the Prime Minister to comment on today’s events, but was there a discussion at the European Council on how the European Union will work to maintain the stability of Turkey, not just as a key NATO ally but as an applicant country?
There was some discussion, notably in the context of the migration deal with Turkey, about the relationship with Turkey. As I indicated in response to an earlier question, that relationship is important. The EU-Turkey deal on migration has led to a significant reduction in the number of people crossing from Turkey into Greece. However, we need to ensure that the deal is being properly undertaken. That is why we are giving some extra support to Greece. Other aspects of the deal, such as visa liberalisation, are for the Schengen member states to consider, not for the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, we are all very clear about the significance of Turkey and its relationship with the EU.
I very much welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. Paragraph 26 of the communiqué talks about “condemning” the actions of the Assad regime, Russia, and Iran. Apart from condemning, was there a strategy to look at countering the Iranian aggression in Syria and destabilising activity in the wider region?
First, it was very important that the conclusions that came out of the Council identified Iran, as well as Russia, as being one of the backers of the Syrian regime. It was in the context of condemning what had taken place in Aleppo that that was specifically raised.
As regards Iran more generally and, indeed, what is happening in Syria more generally, of course we continue as a European Union and as a United Kingdom to look for ways to put pressure on those who are backing President Assad, to ensure that we can do what I think everybody in the EU wants, which is to move to a peaceful and stable Syria with a political transition and a proper political process for doing that. That means continued pressure on Russia and Iran.
May I also congratulate the Prime Minister on her calm and measured approach to EU-UK relations since taking office? Given that the UK Government dedicated resources to understanding the UK-US position with regard to both the Trump and the Clinton campaigns, will she confirm that we will dedicate resources to understanding not just governing parties, but potential governing parties in the EU, in order to help our renegotiation process?
Of course, we are in discussions with a number of people to ensure that we understand the approach that is being taken in other member states by various parties. This is not just about political parties, though; it is also about understanding business and other interests in the member states with which we are negotiating. That will make us better able to come to a deal that is good not only for the United Kingdom, which, as I have said, is the deal that we want, but is good for the EU, because I think that a deal that is good for the UK will be good for the EU as well.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government’s priorities in Syria must extend beyond vital humanitarian aid, to preparing a post-conflict political settlement and a reconstruction plan that will benefit the citizens of Syria and help bring stability to the middle east?
Obviously, bringing peace and stability to Syria and, therefore, helping that part of the process of bringing stability to the middle east is important. I apologise to my hon. Friend, because I was just looking at what I believe is breaking news that the Russian ambassador to Turkey has been shot. That has yet to be confirmed, but it is a matter of concern.
Inevitably, in the months ahead there will be a great deal of speculation about the precise nature of the deal that will be made when we leave the European Union, but will my right hon. Friend confirm that when we leave, the European Court of Justice will no longer have any jurisdiction over this country?
This is an issue on which my hon. Friend has campaigned for a considerable time. Part of the vote that people took was about this Parliament determining laws here in the United Kingdom, and that means not being under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
A diplomat friend of mine from Sweden told me last week that it is not just the budget that they will miss after Brexit. They will also miss the English nationals—the British nationals—who work for the European Union, who he says are organised, systematic and imaginative, and provide quite a contrast to many of the others who work for the secretariat. Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing them well for the future and, I guess, a happy Christmas?
I am happy to do so. There are many excellent British officials working inside the European Union, including, of course, our commissioner, Sir Julian King, who has a very important portfolio on security matters. I certainly wish them all well for the future, and I wish them and the whole House a very happy Christmas.
Of course, we have the commitment to spending 2% of GDP on defence, and that is an important commitment that we have given. I understand that the support will be there for the carriers. I think it is right that we encourage others within the European Union and within NATO to increase their spending to the same sort of level.
Shortly before the Council met, the 15th round of the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks ended, predictably enough, once again in stalemate. At the same time, the prospects for a bilateral UK-US deal appear to be on the rise—a deal that would not compromise sovereignty between our two nations and that would not require a new supranational body to organise disputes, because we respect each other’s legal systems. Will my right hon. Friend make such a deal the heart of our relationship with the incoming Administration?
First, for as long as we continue to be a member of the European Union, we will continue to press the advantages of the TTIP deal and encourage discussions on TTIP. But, yes, I am looking forward to discussions with the United States of America about the possibilities of a trade deal that we will be able to have with them in due course.
In Libya there seems to be instability in Tripoli, but there seems to be stability in Benghazi. Were there any discussions at the European Council towards helping to stabilise the situation, so that there is no migration of people from Libya?
There was some discussion of Libya, because of the recognition that it plays an important role in relation to the migration of people from the rest of Africa across the Mediterranean into Italy. Of course, Royal Naval vessels have been in the Mediterranean saving people’s lives, and they continue to be there. They are also, as I indicated in my statement, training the Libyan coastguard, which is an important part of the process of preventing that migration from taking place. It is important that we have the Government of National Accord in Libya and that we are able to interact with that Government. We would encourage, and we wish to see, stability across Libya so that we can further ensure that we are dealing with this issue of migration.