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Informal European Council

Volume 621: debated on Monday 6 February 2017

Before I turn to the European Council, I am sure the whole House will want to join me in sending our congratulations to Her Majesty the Queen as she marks her sapphire jubilee today. It is testimony to Her Majesty’s selfless devotion to the nation that she is marking becoming our first monarch to reign for sixty-five years not with any special celebration, but instead by getting on with the job to which she has dedicated her life. On behalf of the whole country, I am proud to offer Her Majesty our humble thanks for a lifetime of extraordinary service. Long may she continue to reign over us all.

Turning to last week’s informal European Council in Malta, Britain is leaving the European Union but we are not leaving Europe, and a global Britain that stands tall in the world will be a Britain that remains a good friend and ally to all our European partners. So at this summit we showed how Britain will continue to play a leading role in Europe long after we have left the EU, in particular through our contribution to the challenge of managing mass migration; through our special relationship with America; and through the new and equal partnership that we want to build between the EU and an independent, self-governing, global Britain. Let me take each point in turn.

First, on migration, the discussion focused on the route from Libya across the central Mediterranean. As I have argued, we need a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach, and that is exactly what the Council agreed. That includes working hard in support of an inclusive political settlement to stabilise Libya, which will help not only to tackle migration flows, but to counter terrorism. It means working to reduce the pull factors that encourage people to risk their lives and building the capacity of the Libyans to return migrants to their own shores, treat them with dignity and help them return home. It means looking beyond Libya and moving further upstream, including by urgently implementing the EU’s external investment plan to help create more opportunities in migrants’ home countries and by helping genuine refugees to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. It also means better distinguishing 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 action in all those areas.

Britain is already playing a leading role in the region and at the summit I announced further steps, including additional support for the Libyan coastguard and more than £30 million of new aid for the most vulnerable refugees across Greece, the Balkans, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan and Libya. Britain is also setting up an £8 million special protection fund to keep men, women and children in the Mediterranean region safe from trafficking, sexual violence and labour exploitation as part of our commitment to tackle modern slavery. The Council agreed with my call that we should do everything possible to deter this horrific crime, including by introducing tough penalties for those who trade in human misery and by working together to secure the necessary evidence for prosecutions that can put these criminals behind bars, where they belong.

Turning to America, I opened a discussion on engaging the new Administration, and I was able to relay the conversation I had with President Trump at the White House about the important history of co-operation between the United States and the countries of Europe. In particular, I confirmed that the President had declared his 100% commitment to NATO as the cornerstone of our security in the west. I also made it clear, however, that every country needed to share the burden and play its full part, meeting the NATO target of spending 2% on defence. It is only by investing properly in our defence that we can ensure we are properly equipped to keep our people safe.

I was also able to relay my discussions with President Trump on the importance of maintaining the sanctions regime on Russia in response to its actions in Ukraine, and I very much welcome the strong words last week from the new US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, in confirming America’s continued support for these sanctions.

Of course, there are some areas where we disagree with the approach of the new Administration, and we should be clear about those disagreements and about the values that underpin our response to the global challenges we face. I also argued at the Council, however, that we should engage patiently and constructively with America as a friend and ally—an ally that has helped to guarantee the longest period of peace that Europe has ever known. For we should be clear that the alternative of division and confrontation would only embolden those who would do us harm, wherever they may be.

Finally turning to Brexit, European leaders welcomed the clarity of the objectives we set out for the negotiation ahead. They warmly welcomed our ambition to build a new partnership between Britain and the EU that is in the interests of both sides. They also welcomed the recognition that we in Britain want to see a strong and successful EU, because that is in our interests and the interests of the whole world.

On the issue of acquired rights, the general view was that we should reach an agreement that applied equally to the other 27 member states and the UK, which is why we think a unilateral decision from the UK is not the right way forward. As I have said before, however, EU citizens living in the UK make a vital contribution to our economy and our society, and without them we would be poorer and our public services weaker. We will therefore make securing a reciprocal agreement that will guarantee their status a priority as soon as the negotiations begin, and I want to see this agreed as soon as possible, because that is in everyone’s interests.

Our European partners now want to get on with the negotiations. So do I, and so does this House, which last week voted by a majority of 384 in support of the Government triggering article 50. There are, of course, further stages for the Bill in Committee and in the other place, and it is right that this process should be completed properly, but the message is clear to all: this House has spoken, and now is not the time to obstruct the democratically expressed wishes of the British people. It is time to get on with leaving the EU and building an independent, self-governing, global Britain. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Prime Minister for her statement and for advance sight of it, and I echo her sentiments towards Her Majesty. I wish her Majesty well at this auspicious time in her life and thank her for her service.

The Prime Minister has used this curiously named “informal” EU summit to press the EU’s NATO members to fulfil their defence expenditure requirements. The last Labour Government consistently spent over 2% on defence. The Tory Government’s cuts since 2010 have demoralised our armed forces, cut spending by 11% in the last Parliament and reduced the size of the Army from 82,000 to 77,000. As well as making these cuts, they have changed the way the 2% spending is calculated. Given that she is lecturing other countries, will she tell the House why her Government changed the accounting rules to include aspects of expenditure not previously included? The Defence Committee in 2015 noted that the Government were only meeting the 2% figure by including areas, such as pensions, not previously included. It went on to say that

“this ‘redefinition’ of defence expenditure undermines, to some extent, the credibility of the Government’s assertion that the 2% figure represents a…increase”.

To add to the disarray, this weekend, The Sunday Times uncovered a series of equipment failures and bungled procurement deals, including apparently ordering light tanks that are too big to fit in the aircraft that are supposed to be transporting them. This really does cast some doubt on the Government’s competence in this area, so perhaps it is not such a good idea to go lecturing other countries on defence spending and procurement.

Labour has long been concerned about poor planning and short-sightedness by the Ministry of Defence and long delays in delivering projects. The extent to which the MOD appears to have lost control of some of its biggest equipment projects is worrying, and it would be nice to know what action the Prime Minister is taking on this matter.

Earlier today, the Prime Minister had a meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Did she make it clear to him that, as is often mentioned in this House and by the Prime Minister herself, there is continued opposition by the British Government to the illegal settlements being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territories?

Labour has been unequivocal about the fact that it is within this Government’s gift to guarantee the rights of EU citizens to remain in this country. There is no need to wait for negotiations to begin; the Government could do it now. This is not a question about Brexit; it is a question about human rights, democracy and decency towards people who have lived and worked in this country. Many families have had children born here, and I think we must guarantee their rights. Many of those people have been left in limbo, and are very deeply concerned and stressed. Did the Prime Minister discuss this issue with her European counterparts, and will she today provide those people with the clarity and assurances that they both need and, I believe, deserve?

We are clear that we accept the mandate of the British people to leave the European Union, but we will not accept this Government turning this country into a bargain basement tax haven on the shores of Europe.

Finally, we welcome the additional £30 million that the Government have committed to the refugee crisis across Europe. Last week at Prime Minister’s Question Time, the Prime Minister said that the UK had resettled 10,000 refugees from Syria. According to the House of Commons Library, we have resettled less than half that figure—4,414. There is an ongoing and grave human tragedy that has resulted in more than 5,000 people drowning in the Mediterranean last year and 254 already this year, and we are only at the beginning of February.

I believe that we should also note the phenomenal commitment of the Government and people of Greece to the huge number of refugees in their country, and the difficulties they are having in supporting them. What conversations did she have with her Greek counterpart on this important matter? I also say to the Prime Minister that, even post-Brexit, this is an issue that will affect every country in Europe. It is the biggest humanitarian crisis that we have ever faced in the world, and we will need to co-ordinate as a continent to address this issue with all the humanity and resources that our collective values determine should be deployed towards it.

The right hon. Gentleman opened his remarks by referring to what I think he called the “curiously named” informal Council. It is the convention that at every new presidency—there are two new presidencies each year—the presidency holds an informal Council in which people are able to talk about a number of issues looking ahead to the formalities of the Council. There we are; that is what happens; and that is what we were doing in Valletta.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to my meeting earlier today with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I have to say that this was not a subject for discussion at the European Union Council last week. However, I have made the UK Government’s position on settlements clear, and I continued to do that today.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of UK nationals. As he said, it is absolutely right that we value the contribution that EU citizens are making here in the United Kingdom—their contribution to our communities, our economy, our society, and, as I have said, to our public services—but I think it is also right that we ensure that the rights of UK citizens living in other European states are maintained. It is clear from the conversations that I have had with a number of European leaders about this issue that they think that it should be dealt with in the round as a matter of reciprocity, but, as was made plain by, for example, the conversations that I had with Prime Minister Rajoy of Spain, we are all very clear about the fact that we want to give reassurance to people as early as possible in the negotiations.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about the issue of refugees, and about people drowning in the Mediterranean. Of course the loss of life that we have seen has been terrible, as is the continuing loss of life that we are seeing despite the best efforts of the United Kingdom: the Royal Navy and Border Force have been there, acting with others to protect and rescue people. That is why it is so important that we stop people making that perilous journey in the first place and risking their lives, and that is why the work that we discussed at the EU Council in Valletta on Friday is so important.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about our relationship with Greece. We continue to support Greece: we have a number of experts providing support on the ground, giving the Greeks real help with the task of dealing with the refugees. I made a commitment that we would want to continue to co-operate with our European partners on this issue after leaving the European Union, because it is indeed not confined to the European Union; it affects us as a whole, throughout Europe.

The right hon. Gentleman made a number of comments about defence. Indeed, he devoted a fair amount of his response to the whole question of defence. At one point, he said that the fact that we were spending 2% on defence cast doubt on the competence of the UK Government in matters relating to it. I think this is the same right hon. Gentleman who said that he wanted to send out our nuclear submarines without any missiles on them. You couldn’t make it up.

I think that, for most states, the main business of the Council was yet another attempt to tackle the problem of mass migration from the middle east and north Africa, which is destabilising the politics of every European country. Will my right hon. Friend confirm—in fact, I think she just has—that, as Prime Minister, she will play as active a part as she did when she was Home Secretary in working with the other European Union countries to tackle the problem? Otherwise we shall have a continuing problem of attempts to come to this country.

If we are going to start returning refugees to the coast of north Africa, may I ask whether any progress is being made in the efforts that my right hon. Friend was making when she was Home Secretary to find somewhere on the other side of the Mediterranean where Europeans can finance and organise reception centres and refugees and applicants can be processed in a civilised way, and where it can be ensured that only genuine asylum seekers are let into this country?

I can give my right hon. and learned Friend those reassurances. As he has said, this issue will continue to affect us, and to affect us all. It is not confined to the borders of the European Union. We will continue to co-operate with our European partners on this important matter while we remain in the EU and beyond.

Of course, as my right hon. and learned Friend indicated, one of the concerns about returning people to north Africa has related to the conditions to which they would be returned. That is why the EU has made efforts in Niger to establish some centres to try to ensure that people do not progress through to Libya and attempt to cross the Mediterranean, and it is also why we referred in the Council conclusions to our support for the Italian initiative. The Italians have worked with the Government of National Accord in Libya to secure an agreement that they will do some work there, in particular to ensure that people can be returned to suitable conditions, and we will support that.

May I begin by joining the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Labour party in extending to the Queen the best wishes of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the occasion of her sapphire jubilee? We wish her a very pleasant day with her family, and many further jubilees to come.

I thank the Prime Minister for giving me advance sight of her short statement about what was the first European Union informal summit since she published her White Paper on Brexit. It was also the first meeting since she met colleagues in the Joint Ministerial Committee of the British-Irish Council, and, of course, the first since her visit to Dublin.

As we have already established, the Prime Minister wants no hard borders on these islands; she wants the free movement of peoples on these islands and the safeguarding and boosting of trade on these islands, and we on these Benches wholeheartedly support these aims. But given the great importance that the Prime Minister gives in the White Paper to the Union of the United Kingdom and what we are told is a partnership of equals, she will surely have briefed her European colleagues while she was in Malta about the progress of negotiations with the other Governments on these islands. So did she confirm that she will work with the Scottish Government to secure continuing membership of the European single market? Did she tell her European colleagues that we value EU citizens living in our country, that their presence will be guaranteed, and that she is prepared to learn the lessons from Canada, from Australia and from Switzerland, where it is perfectly possible to have different immigration priorities and policies within a unitary state? Did the Prime Minister remind European colleagues that in Scotland we voted by 62% to remain in the European Union and that only one Member of Parliament representing a Scottish constituency voted for her Brexit legislation?

We are getting to a stage where warm words from the Government are not enough. It is the member state that is supposed to negotiate on all of our behalves within the European Union. Scotland did not warrant a single mention in the Prime Minister’s statement. She now has the opportunity to tell us: what Scottish priorities did she raise at the European summit? Did she raise any at all?

The right hon. Gentleman is right that I have confirmed our commitment to the common travel area; I have been discussing that with the Taoiseach, and officials continued those discussions. The right hon. Gentleman referenced EU citizens; as I said in my statement and in response to the Leader of the Opposition, in the United Kingdom we all value the contribution that EU citizens have made to the United Kingdom—to our society, to our economy, to our public services. We want to be able to give them the reassurance at as early a stage as possible of their continuation. As the UK Government, of course we have a duty to consider UK citizens living in other EU states as well and, as I have said, it has been clear that there is good will on all sides in relation to this matter, but there is an expectation that this will be considered in the round and that we can look at EU citizens here and UK citizens in other member states.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked a number of questions about what I was putting forward to the European leaders of the 27. Of course, what I was putting forward was the views of the United Kingdom. It is the UK that will be negotiating; we listen, we take account of, and we incorporate views of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, but when I am sitting there around the EU Council, I am doing so as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Did my right hon. Friend observe that after she had spoken to the 27 they were far more realistic, particularly with respect to the question of defence and NATO, than they had been beforehand, and in particular than in respect of Donald Tusk’s letter to the 27, which he sent them on 31 January?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; there is a growing recognition among the member states of the European Union that within NATO it is important to meet the 2% commitment for expenditure on defence. I am pleased to say that a small number of other European member states have already reached that 2% level, but others are actively moving towards that 2%—most notably, perhaps, some of the Baltic states.

Last spring, in pointing out that we export more to Ireland than to China and almost twice as much to Belgium as to India, the Prime Minister said:

“It is not realistic to think we could just replace European trade with these new markets.”

Can she therefore give the House an assurance that in the negotiations she will seek to safeguard tariff and barrier-free access to European markets for British businesses, if necessary by remaining in the customs union if that is the only way to ensure this?

Nobody is talking about replacing European Union trade with trade around the rest of the world. What we are talking about is expanding our trade across the world so that we have a good trading relationship with the European Union but are also able to sign up to new trade agreements with other parts of the world. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, a number of countries are already talking to us about such potential trade agreements, and we will do what is necessary to ensure that we can expand trade around the world, including with the European Union.

Is the Prime Minister as shocked as I am that the EU, which is bound by treaty to the rule of law and human decency, is unable to offer a simple reassurance to all British citizens living on the continent that they will not face eviction?

I think that I am more hopeful than my right hon. Friend, in that I have every confidence that we will be able to address this issue as an early discussion within the negotiations. I would have liked to be able to address it outside the negotiations but, sadly, some member states did not wish to do that. However, I think that the goodwill is there to give that reassurance to EU citizens here and to UK citizens in Europe.

On the customs union, the Prime Minister has said that she insists on being outside the common external tariff. If the UK, France and Ireland all have different tariffs on goods coming in from outside, how will she guarantee to have barrier-free goods passing between those different countries? A lot of people cannot see how we can be outside the common external tariff and have barrier-free trade. If it comes to that crunch, will she agree to go back into the customs union and be part of the common external tariff in order to have barrier-free trade?

The right hon. Lady is approaching this, as a number of others have done, as a binary issue between customs union membership and having a good trade agreement with the European Union. I do not see it as such. We want to be able to negotiate free trade agreements with other countries around the world, but our membership of parts of the customs union—this is not just a single in or out question—currently prevents us from doing those free trade agreements. I am confident that we can achieve the sort of free trade agreement with the European Union that is in our interest and that of the European Union and that gives us the ability to trade across borders that we want in the future.

In her statement, my right hon. Friend talked about the new and equal partnership that we wish to build between the EU and an independent, self-governing, global Britain. She also pointed out the importance of co-operation on issues such as migration from Libya. Were there any discussions on, and what contemplation is she giving to, Britain’s continuing de facto involvement in the common foreign and security policy and the common security and defence policy after Brexit?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that this is one of the issues we are looking at in relation to the negotiations that are coming up. In the speech that I made at Lancaster House two and a half weeks ago, I was very clear that we recognised the importance of the security and defence co-operation that we have with our European partners and that we wanted to continue that co-operation.

I thank the Prime Minister for giving me advance sight of her statement. I should also like to associate myself and my colleagues with her congratulations to Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of her sapphire jubilee. During the Prime Minister’s brief walkabout with Angela Merkel—during which I assume she offered her a state visit—did she raise the issue of unaccompanied child refugees? Will she now confirm that the Government will not break the promise, made by the House nine months ago under the terms of the Dubs amendment, of a safe future for those children, and that the scheme will remain open and in use for the rest of this Parliament in order to offer safe haven to at least 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees?

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are indeed putting into practice our commitment to give support to child refugees who have already made it across into Europe and to bring them to the UK. Many child refugees have already been brought to the UK under that scheme.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Given that there can be no security for Europe without the intimate involvement of the United States of America, will my right hon. Friend please redouble her efforts to persuade our continental friends—and, indeed, our friends on the Opposition Benches—that, whatever they feel about an individual President’s personal qualities, the way to proceed has to be to reach out to him, to respect his office and to keep strengthening the alliance?

My right hon. Friend is right. One of the themes at the informal Council was the recognition of the role that America has played in supporting Europe’s defence and security and of the need to engage fully with the American Administration. That is what we are doing and what I encourage others to do.

I welcome what the Prime Minister said about the importance of maintaining the sanctions regime on Russia in response to its actions in Ukraine. Will she reassure the House that we will, where necessary, continue to agree such sanctions with our European partners once we leave the European Union?

I reassure the hon. Lady that as long we are members of the European Union we will continue to encourage other member states to maintain the sanctions. There are several foreign policy areas, such as on the security of Europe, on which we will want to co-operate in future with our European Union partners. Once we are outside the EU, we will not have a vote around the table on the sanctions regime, but we will continue to make our views clear.

Contrary to the rather negative comments from the Labour party, was my right hon. Friend yet again heartened by Germany? Over the weekend, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said in Der Tagesspiegel that there is no question of the United Kingdom being punished for leaving the European Union and that London remains the heart of the global finance industry. What influence does my right hon. Friend think Germany will have over the negotiations?

I was aware of Wolfgang Schäuble’s comments—although I cannot claim to have read that particular publication—and it was an important point. As we move forward towards the triggering of the negotiations, we are now seeing a genuine willingness on both sides to discuss the future EU-UK relationship—the new partnership that we want—and a recognition of the role that the UK plays in Europe. Of course, Germany will be one of the remaining 27 member states, but I look forward to having further conversations with our German counterparts on the importance that they place on the City of London and the UK’s trading relationship with Europe.

The Prime Minister has guaranteed Parliament a vote on the final deal between the UK and the EU. Will she confirm that that commitment applies both to the article 50 divorce negotiations and to the free trade agreement that she hopes to negotiate? What happens if Parliament says no to the terms of either deal?

We see the negotiations not as being separate but as going together. The arrangement that we aim to negotiate is a deal that will cover both the exit arrangements and the future free trade agreement that we will have the European Union. I have every confidence that we will be able to get a good deal agreed with the EU in relation to both those matters, including our future co-operation not just on trade but on other matters, and will be able to bring a good deal here for Parliament to vote on.

I must confess that I am still reeling from the novelty of the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) advocating increased defence expenditure. I warmly welcome him to the clan—we will not tell the Stop the War coalition about his newfound enthusiasm.

The sooner we can give EU residents here the reassurance that they seek, the better. Will the Prime Minister tell us which of our EU partners are so reluctant to offer reciprocal rights to Her Majesty’s subjects who reside in their countries?

I think the whole House was somewhat surprised by the Leader of the Opposition’s contribution in relation to defence spending, but we will wait to see whether that is followed up by commitments in other debates.

On the question of EU nationals, I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that we give that reassurance as early as possible. It is not a question of not offering reciprocal rights; it is that some member states did not want to negotiate part of what they saw as the fuller negotiations until article 50 has been triggered. It is article 50 that will trigger our ability to discuss the matter.

May I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the Prime Minister’s warm words of congratulation to Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of her sapphire jubilee?

Given this country’s enormous contribution to the defence of Europe and, indeed, the west generally, and given that we are one of the world’s biggest contributors to humanitarian and international aid, may I urge the Prime Minister to use every opportunity in discussions with our European friends and partners to reiterate the need for them also to step up to the plate on both those vital issues, which are just as important as some of the other issues that we are discussing?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I give the commitment that I will continue to express to my European colleagues the importance of their actually stepping up to the plate and spending the requisite amount of money on defence. It is important that Europe shows that commitment.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement on the informal Council. In particular, I welcome the £30 million-worth of new aid for refugees. With recent reports of children, in particular, returning to the Jungle camp area in Calais, did she have an opportunity to discuss it with her French counterpart? What more can be done to prevent children from returning to that area in the false hope of expecting to come to the UK?

My right hon. Friend raises an important issue, and today I asked the Home Office to look at the particular concern that people, including children, are now returning to the camps at Calais. Obviously, the action that will be taken within France is a matter for the French Government, who share the concern about the possibility of migrants returning to the camps at Calais. Obviously, the French Government have already acted in relation to that matter. We will continue to operate the schemes that we have been operating, working with the French Government, to ensure that those who have a right to be in the United Kingdom are able to come here.

What discussions did the Prime Minister have in Malta on trade deals? She will of course be aware that all Members of the European Parliament will be able to vote on the EU-Canada trade deal, but her Government have gone back on their promise to hold a debate on the Floor of the House. Given the prominence given to the comprehensive economic and trade agreement in her very brief Brexit White Paper as an example of what we can expect from future trade deals, why are the Government running so scared of parliamentary scrutiny? This Government are not about taking back control for the people of the whole country; they are about taking back control for themselves.

The CETA deal, as I understand it, will be discussed today in European Committee B, of which the hon. Lady is a member. She will therefore be able to contribute to that debate.

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) on the issue of acquired rights, which countries are standing out against an immediate deal based on reciprocity before the start of Brexit negotiations? Do those countries include Germany?

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth), the issue is whether that should be part of the formal negotiations. It has been made clear that there are those who believe it should be part of the negotiations, and therefore we will be able to consider this issue with our European colleagues once article 50 has been triggered.

What did the Prime Minister say to her fellow European leaders about her assessment of the Trump-Putin relationship, and specifically about Russian interference in western democracies, including our own?

Concern has been expressed both at this Council meeting and at others about the role that Russia is playing, in a number of ways, with its interference.

Yes, Lady Nugee, by me. It is a matter of continuing concern and will remain a subject of discussion.

Does my right hon. Friend think that, in her discussions with our 27 EU partners, we will be able to negotiate a reciprocal right for EU citizens living here and for British citizens living abroad sooner than the two-year limit set by article 50?

What I want to see is an agreement about the position of EU citizens and UK citizens at an early part of the negotiations, so that we can give them that reassurance up front and so that it will not be necessary to keep that agreement with the other 27 member states as part of the final deal. We need to have that up front at an early stage, so that we can give people the reassurance that they not only need but deserve.

On 15 July last year, the Prime Minister pledged that she would not trigger article 50 until she had an agreed “UK approach” backed by the devolved Administrations. Does she intend to keep her word?

I have been very clear: we are having a number of engagements with the various devolved Administrations, taking their issues into account. We are currently, as we agreed at the last Joint Ministerial Committee plenary session, intensifying the discussions with the Scottish Government on the issues raised in the Scottish White Paper. The decision to trigger article 50 is one that this House has been very clear should be taken. This House voted overwhelmingly on Second Reading that that should be the step we take, and we will be doing so on behalf of the UK.

I call Sir Desmond Swayne. [Interruption.] He is a very good-natured fellow but he was chuntering at me at precisely the wrong moment. We will forgive him. I thought he was standing—

The right hon. Gentleman now has the opportunity of an appointment with the House. I would be astonished if he has no view to express—it would be a first!

Unsought though it is, I am delighted to have the opportunity to ask: has there been any discussion hitherto about the assets of the European Union to which we might have some claim after 40 years of being a major contributor?

I can assure my right hon. Friend that in looking at the future negotiations, we will be looking at every angle of the relationship with the European Union.

May I welcome the €200 million that has been pledged for the Mediterranean crisis? As the right hon. Lady knows, 3,800 people have travelled from Libya to Italy since 1 January. I ask her to be very careful with regard to the Libyan coastguard, because there is strong evidence that it is working with people smugglers to allow these boats to leave Libyan waters. How much of that money will actually be used to counter the work of the criminal gangs?

The work we are doing with the Libyan coastguard is of course about training its people to be able to do the job that we all expect them to do and that many of them want to be able to do. Separately from that, we will be working to enhance our ability to work across borders and through international agreements, using things such as joint investigation teams, to ensure that we are catching these criminal gangs. We have put some extra effort into this. I think we have to put even more effort into it in the future.

I welcome this statement and, in particular, my right hon. Friend’s comments about refugees. Does she agree that the work we are doing, both through our development budget and through our armed forces, to underpin the fragile states of Lebanon and Jordan is absolutely pivotal and is vastly more than is being done by the rest of Europe?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point about the support we have given. We took a very simple view that we can support more people who have fled from Syria by giving them humanitarian aid and support in the region than we can by bringing them to the UK. We will be bringing, and are bringing, vulnerable people—in particular, vulnerable Syrian refugees—here to the UK, but we continue to believe, as the second biggest bilateral donor to the region, that this is important as well. I continue to commend the work of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan in the support that they are giving to the significant number of refugees they are supporting.

Given President Trump’s talk about renegotiating the Iran nuclear deal, did the Prime Minister have any opportunity to discuss, particularly with her French and German counterparts, how we would respond should the President pursue this rather foolish route?

We continue to believe that the Iran nuclear deal was an important step forward and an important contribution to stability in the region. We continue to support it.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. Mr Speaker, you will know that the status of EU nationals affects not only some of my constituents but my family and friends personally. The Prime Minister has given me, this House and the country her personal guarantee that she will seek an early agreement on this issue. I am putting my entire trust in the Prime Minister to honour that promise. Getting an early agreement will, in my opinion, be a decisive mark of her negotiating skills and leadership qualities as our Prime Minister.

I thank my hon. Friend for the trust he is placing in me. I reassure him not only of my good intentions in this matter but of the number of my European colleagues to whom I have spoken about this issue who also recognise its importance, not only for UK citizens living in their countries but for their citizens living here in the United Kingdom. We all want to be able to give that reassurance to people at an early stage.

On Russia, the Prime Minister made a big point about the fact that she was communicating with our European counterparts about President Trump’s intentions on sanctions. Over the weekend, though, President Trump made a series of bizarre statements about relations with Russia, leading one Republican senator to say:

“I don’t understand what the President’s position is on Russia”.

Does the Prime Minister understand what it is, and has she communicated that to our European partners?

From the discussions I have had so far, I think all the indications are that President Trump feels the need and wants to engage more with Russia than has happened in the past. When I spoke to the Republican party in Philadelphia, the message I gave was that I think it is right to engage, but my message in relation to Russia is to engage, but beware.

I very much welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. Paragraph 4 of the conclusions talks about tackling radicalisation, extremism and terrorism in Libya. Recent reports from the United States say that there are 6,000 Daesh militants in Libya; is that figure correct? How effectively are the Government of National Accord, which is the organisation we support, and the organisation led by General Haftar working to defeat Daesh?

Obviously we are doing all we can and working with all parties that we can in relation to the defeat of Daesh. My hon. Friend understands the issue very well. He will know that while steps are being taken in other places—for example, in Iraq—to take military action against Daesh and to have an impact on it there, it is important that we do not see it able to regroup and come forward in other parts of the world where perhaps there is a vacuum that would enable it to do that. As he mentioned, underlying it all is the fact that we need to deal with the ideology. It is not just about the people at the moment; it is about dealing with the ideology. That is where the work to deal with radicalisation is so important.

Will the Prime Minister answer part of the question on which my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) pressed her? Will she confirm that Parliament must give its consent in advance to whatever the new proposed relationship will be, deal or no deal?

I have been very clear that Parliament will have a vote on the deal. This is a matter that is going to be discussed in some detail tomorrow, when the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will be able to set out in more detail than in response to a single question what the situation will be.

Further to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), I am sure the Prime Minister shares my concern about Iran’s ballistic and cruise missile tests on 29 January. What discussions did she have with European partners about how we can work with the Trump Administration to preserve and, if anything, strengthen the Iranian nuclear deal?

My hon. Friend is right to raise concerns about the ballistic missile tests that took place. The overwhelming message that we took from the informal Council in relation to working with America on a number of issues, including not only Russia and Ukraine but Iran, was that it is important for us to engage directly with the American Administration on these matters and, obviously, make clear the positions that we hold in Europe.

According to press reports, the Prime Minister’s master plan of being a post-Brexit bridge between Europe and the US was not well received. Does she really think it is in the interests of the British state to be increasingly isolated from Europe and in the hands of a President who is taking the United States on a very dangerous journey?

I have made it clear in a number of my responses today that it is important that the United States and Europe work together and co-operate on the many challenges that we share.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that, while it is welcome that the Calais Jungle was dismantled last autumn and that this country did the right thing by vulnerable children, it is very important that we work with the French to prevent the exploitation of children, target the traffickers, and, in order to ensure that the Jungle does not reappear this spring, take full action before the first tent is pitched?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. With his particular constituency interest, he is very aware of the issues around migrants being in the camp at Calais and the pressure that that puts on Dover, particularly when people are trying to get through to the United Kingdom. We will make every effort to work with the French Government to ensure that we do not see a return to the sort of camps that we saw last year in Calais before they were cleared.

Is the Prime Minister disappointed that the mantra of nothing will be agreed until everything is agreed has been adopted as far as EU citizens in all our countries are concerned? Is it not possible for her to have an informal letter with the Prime Ministers of Spain and France to agree informally, as soon as it is technically possible after the start of article 50 negotiations, to bring in that reciprocality?

It is not the case that people are saying that, in this particular issue, it can only be agreed at the end of the deal when everything else is agreed. What they have said is that they do not believe that negotiations and discussions on it should not start until article 50 has triggered the formal negotiations. I have every expectation, from the good will that I have seen from others, that it will be possible to get an early agreement on this matter to give people the reassurance that they need.

May I thank the Prime Minister on behalf of my constituents for raising the 2% defence spending issue, because it makes them safer? If the Greeks can do it, why can’t the rest?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The four member states who do it are the United Kingdom, Greece, Poland and Estonia. I am pleased to say that some of the rest are making every effort to do it as well, and are progressing well towards the 2% target.

Order. I remember as a Back Bencher in Department of Trade and Industry questions that the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) had No. 1, and I rather irreverently called out, “Get in there, Gapes.” Now is his opportunity. I call Mr Mike Gapes.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister has referred to her meeting with President Trump, but she has not mentioned her meeting with President Erdogan. Did she take the opportunity to inform other European Union leaders about those discussions, the 3 million Syrian refugees that Turkey is having to take and the support, or lack of it, that President Erdogan feels has come from the EU so far? Did she also discuss with them the customs union, of which Turkey is a member?

As we were discussing the issue of migration, I was able to make reference to the EU-Turkey deal—indeed, a number of references were made to it—which has seen the number of migrants moving from Turkey to Greece being reduced significantly. When I was in Turkey, I commended the Turkish Government for the support that they have given to the 3 million refugees who are in Turkey.

I warmly welcome this Government’s commitment regularly to come before this House to update Members on the progress of EU-UK negotiations. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the European Council statements are a perfect opportunity to update the House on the Prime Minister’s negotiations with EU national leaders after we trigger article 50?

The EU Council statements are given in response to business that is done at the EU Council. I can assure my hon. Friend that there will be every opportunity for Parliament to be kept informed as we go through this process. There have already been 70 debates or statements on this issue in Parliament and 30 reviews by different parliamentary Committees on different aspects of Brexit. I think I can say that not a day has gone by since the referendum that this issue has not been discussed in this House in some shape or form.

Annette Street Primary School in my constituency is wonderfully diverse, as many new Scots have made Glasgow their home. Saqib from Annette Street says:

“There are lots of children from Annette Street that are from Europe. We want to know if they will have to leave or not.”

Saying “as soon as possible” is not a good enough answer for Saqib, Prime Minister. When we will actually know whether these children will get to stay in Scotland?

I repeat the answer that I have given to others: I expect to be able to deal with this issue in relation to those who are from the European Union and living here in the United Kingdom at an early stage in the negotiations. There is good will on all sides to be able to address the issue when the negotiations have been triggered because everybody understands the concern that people have about their future.

It is not a question of which are more important. We recognise that there are people from European Union member states who have made their lives—for some, over a significant period of time—here in the United Kingdom. I also recognise that there are UK citizens who have made their lives in other European Union member states. I want all those people to be able to carry on living where they choose to live in the security of knowing that their future is determined and that the choice is up to them. I want to ensure that that opportunity and reassurance are given to all those people, and I hope and expect that we will be able do that at an early stage of the negotiations.

The Prime Minister said that the other European Union member states welcomed the clarity of her objectives. Did she have any discussion with them about the realism of completing the substantive negotiations within 18 months?

I have every expectation—indeed, a number of comments have been made by others around Europe about the importance of ensuring this—that we can do this deal and complete these negotiations within the timescale set.

I can see that the Prime Minister is genuinely and sincerely disappointed not to have been able to reassure EU citizens ahead of the formal negotiations. In the light of the rapidly shifting landscape—for example, Trump’s divisive immigration policies and how that situation is making people in this country feel—if the deal with fellow nations is not done as early in the negotiation period as the Prime Minister would like, will she review it again and look at a unilateral agreement for those EU citizens?

I recognise the concern that my hon. Friend has shown for some considerable time on the position of EU citizens living here in the United Kingdom. I have every expectation, given the responses that I have had so far from other member states, that we will indeed be able to get that reassurance at an early stage. I want and intend to be able to reassure people from other EU member states who are living here in the United Kingdom, and I have every expectation that we will be able to get that reassurance at an early stage of the negotiations.

In the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech, she put on her wish list an entirely new form of membership of the customs union: an associate membership. Did she raise the idea with the other members of the European Council this weekend, and quite what did they make of it?

What I actually did in my Lancaster House speech was to say that I had not come to a firm decision as to whether the future relationship should be an associate membership or some other sort of relationship with the customs union. I was clear that we need to be able to negotiate trade deals with other countries around the world.

My constituency contains proportionately more EU nationals than any other, and they say two things to me—that they deeply want their rights in this country to be reassured, and that they understand that it is vital that this country is the kind of country that also stands up for the interests of its citizens abroad. Does the Prime Minister agree that this is a test of national character and that although the politics may be hard, it is the only option we can reasonably pursue?

My hon. Friend is right. We should be clear that we have a duty to consider UK citizens who have chosen to make their life outside the UK and live in other European Union member states, as well as having a duty to consider EU citizens living here in the United Kingdom. That is why I expect that we will, at an early stage, be able to give reassurance to both.

With how many EU leaders at this Council or earlier Councils since 23 June did the Prime Minister discuss the UK staying in the single market post-Brexit?

What I have been clear about with all the European leaders I have spoken to is that what we want when we leave the European Union is a good free trade arrangement with the member states of the European Union, in the form of the European Union. That is what we want, and that is what we will be working for.

The summit began with the German Chancellor admonishing the Prime Minister for the threat to undercut our European neighbours—the alternative economic model the Prime Minister talked about at Lancaster House. Could she confirm that she is still threatening to cut corporation tax in a race to the bottom, and could she tell us whether she is worried that the manner of the negotiations is damaging our reputation abroad?

What I set out in the Lancaster House speech were my 12 objectives for the negotiations. Within that was a new free trade agreement with the European Union and a belief that we have every opportunity and every possibility of getting the arrangement that we want for the future strength of the UK economy. What I also said very clearly was that we would not be wanting to sign up to a bad deal for the UK. I think the UK public want to hear from their Prime Minister that we are not willing to sign up to a bad deal, and will make every effort and expect to get the best deal possible for the United Kingdom.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Would my right hon. Friend confirm that the UK is absolutely at the heart of Europe in defence terms? Did she get agreement from partners at the European Council that our alliance with countries such as Denmark and Estonia very much demonstrates that we are far more influential in some of the other areas of European policy than is often recognised?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Of course, the role that the UK plays in the defence of Europe as a whole is recognised widely across Europe, and I have been very clear that we want to continue to co-operate on matters such as defence with our European allies once we have left the EU.

The Prime Minister indicated that she speaks on behalf of the whole United Kingdom, which she will know is a differentiated Union, with Scotland having its own legal and education system. What issues, therefore, did she specifically raise in relation to Scotland’s requirements?

I hate to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but the answer I will give him is the same answer that I gave earlier: when I go into the European Council, and when we go into these negotiations, the European Union will be negotiating with the UK, and the Government will be negotiating on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister rightly mentioned people trafficking and sexual exploitation in her statement. Did she give any reassurances, or did she get any reassurances from her European partners, on the UK’s continued membership of the means of exchanging information, such as Europol?

As I think the right hon. Gentleman knows, that will be a matter, of course, for the negotiations, but as I said in my Lancaster House speech, one of the objectives that we will set is our continuing co-operation on justice and security matters.

It has been reported that, at the EU Council meeting on Friday, Angela Merkel, among other leaders, was less than impressed with the Prime Minister’s threat to turn the UK into a tax haven. Can the Prime Minister outline exactly what her EU counterparts said to her regarding that and whether she intends to take that threat off the table?

As I said in response to an earlier question on this matter, what I have done is very clearly to set out—I think it is absolutely right, and this clarity has been welcomed by other European leaders—that we expect to get a good deal in our negotiations with the European Union, and that includes a good deal on a free trade agreement, and we will not be prepared to sign up to a bad deal.

My constituents Mr and Mrs Regan came to see me on Saturday about their son, who has a Greek wife and who lives and works in the middle east. After Brexit, they plan to come and live in the UK. Will their daughter-in-law have to apply for a settlement visa? I said I could not answer that question and that I would ask someone who could, so could the Prime Minister answer it for me?

I take it from the hon. Gentleman’s question that he is talking about somebody who is currently living outside the United Kingdom. The arrangements in relation to the movement of EU citizens into the UK from elsewhere after Brexit are, of course, matters that the Home Office is currently looking at, and they will be subject to discussion by Parliament.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement on the importance of EU nationals, but does she understand the damage that is caused when we continue to use EU nationals, including those working in highly skilled areas and STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—businesses, as bargaining chips in our negotiations?

We want to be able to provide reassurance to people who are EU citizens living here in the UK, and to provide that reassurance also to EU citizens living elsewhere in Europe. I remind the hon. Lady that during the Scottish independence referendum the First Minister told EU nationals that they would lose the right to stay here if the—[Interruption.]

Order. All this finger-wagging at the Prime Minister is rather unseemly. It does not constitute statesmanship of the highest order. The question has been asked, the Prime Minister is going to answer, and that answer must be heard with courtesy.

The First Minister said that they would lose the right to stay here if the EU did not allow an independent Scotland to rejoin, and of course the EU made it very clear that Scotland could not consider that it was going to get automatic membership of the European Union.

Were there any discussions at the Council about reports of the likely appointment by President Trump of Mr Ted Malloch as his ambassador to the European Union? Would such an appointment cause concern to the Prime Minister, since Mr Malloch has reportedly likened the European Union to the Soviet Union?

I have been very clear that it is in the interests of the UK to have a continuing strong European Union, and that is a point that I have made to the American Administration.

My wife is an EU national, and unlike the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa), neither she nor I have any faith in this Government doing the right thing unless we see actions on the rights of EU nationals rather than so-called warm words. If the Prime Minister sees herself as a leader, why does she not confirm the rights of EU nationals? That would also send a positive message to UK citizens living in other EU countries rather than their having to be a bargaining chip.

I have been very clear about my intentions in relation to EU nationals living here in the United Kingdom, but it is only right and proper that the United Kingdom Government should also have a care for the UK citizens living in the European Union.

At the summit the Prime Minister announced support to allow up to 22,000 people to reunite with family members they have become separated from during their journey. Can she say a little more about what this means in practice and, in particular, whether it includes extra efforts towards reuniting refugees with family members in the United Kingdom?

For those who are in member states of the European Union, the Dublin regulations obviously allow for reuniting families under certain circumstances. That is something we have been actively working on. Over the past year or so, we have actively worked with the French Government to increase the speed at which we are able to reunite children with families here in the United Kingdom, and we continue to do so.

We are constantly told by Ministers at the Dispatch Box that they are maintaining close relationships with countries that have dubious human rights records, allowing us to speak to those regimes as only friends can. Can the Prime Minister therefore tell us, given our extra-special, super-duper relationship with the US, what particular home truths on Trump’s outrageous plans she delivered on our behalf?

I was very clear about the UK’s position on a whole range of issues that we wish to discuss with the United States Administration. It was the special relationship that enabled us very quickly to ensure that UK citizens were not covered by the ban and the Executive order that President Trump brought into place in relation to the movement of people from seven countries into the United States.

May I entirely concur with my right hon. Friend’s comments so far as the Queen is concerned, and add my congratulations to Her Majesty? I wonder whether any EU leader said to my right hon. Friend during her meeting how envious they are of having such a wonderful Head of State.

I seriously say to my hon. Friend that I regularly hear comments from other leaders, not just in Europe but in other parts of the world, about how impressive Her Majesty the Queen is, about her dedication to this country, and about how lucky we are to have her as our Head of State.