Today, the Government act on the democratic will of the British people, and they act, too, on the clear and convincing position of this House. A few minutes ago in Brussels, the United Kingdom’s permanent representative to the EU handed a letter to the President of the European Council on my behalf confirming the Government’s decision to invoke article 50 of the treaty on European Union. The article 50 process is now under way and, in accordance with the wishes of the British people, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back. Britain is leaving the European Union. We will make our own decisions and our own laws, take control of the things that matter most to us, and take the opportunity to build a stronger, fairer Britain— a country that our children and grandchildren are proud to call home. That is our ambition and our opportunity, and it is what this Government are determined to do.
At moments such as these—great turning points in our national story—the choices that we make define the character of our nation. We can choose to say that the task ahead is too great. We can choose to turn our face to the past and believe that it cannot be done. Or we can look forward with optimism and hope, and believe in the enduring power of the British spirit. I choose to believe in Britain and that our best days lie ahead. I do so because I am confident that we have the vision and the plan to use this moment to build a better Britain.
Leaving the European Union presents us with a unique opportunity. It is this generation’s chance to shape a brighter future for our country—a chance to step back and ask ourselves what kind of country we want to be. My answer is clear: I want the United Kingdom to emerge from this period of change stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking than ever before. I want us to be a secure, prosperous, tolerant country, a magnet for international talent and a home to the pioneers and innovators who will shape the world ahead. I want us to be a truly global Britain: the best friend and neighbour to our European partners, but a country that reaches beyond the borders of Europe, too—[Interruption.]
Order. I apologise for having to interrupt the Prime Minister. Mr Boswell, calm yourself. You must try to learn to behave in a statesmanlike fashion. That is your long-term goal—it may be very long-term, but it should be a goal. I say this to the House: you can study the record; I will want all colleagues to have the chance to question the Prime Minister. This is a very important statement, but it is reasonable to expect that she gets a courteous hearing, and that every other colleague then gets a courteous hearing.
I want us to be a truly global Britain: the best friend and neighbour to our European partners, but a country that reaches beyond the borders of Europe, too—a country that goes out into the world to build relationships with old friends and new allies alike. That is why I have set out a clear and ambitious plan for the negotiations ahead. It is a plan for a new deep and special partnership between Britain and the European Union—a partnership of values; a partnership of interests; a partnership based on co-operation in areas such as security and economic affairs; and a partnership that works in the best interests of the United Kingdom, the European Union and the wider world. Perhaps now, more than ever, the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe—[Laughter.]
Perhaps now, more than ever, the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe—values that the United Kingdom shares. That is why, although we are leaving the institutions of the European Union, we are not leaving Europe. We will remain a close friend and ally. We will be a committed partner. We will play our part to ensure that Europe is able to project its values and defend itself from security threats, and we will do all that we can to help the European Union to prosper and succeed.
In the letter that has been delivered to President Tusk today, copies of which I have placed in the Library of the House, I have been clear that the deep and special partnership that we seek is in the best interests of the United Kingdom and of the European Union, too. I have been clear that we will work constructively in a spirit of sincere co-operation to bring this partnership into being, and I have been clear that we should seek to agree the terms of this future partnership, alongside those of our withdrawal, within the next two years.
I am ambitious for Britain, and the objectives I have set out for these negotiations remain. We will deliver certainty wherever possible so that business, the public sector and everybody else has as much clarity as we can provide as we move through the process. That is why tomorrow we will publish a White Paper confirming our plans to convert the acquis into British law so that everyone will know where they stand, and it is why I have been clear that the Government will put the final deal agreed between the UK and the EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament before it comes into force.
We will take control of our own laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain. Leaving the European Union will mean that our laws will be made in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, and those laws will be interpreted not by judges in Luxembourg, but in courts across this country.
We will strengthen the Union of the four nations that comprise our United Kingdom. We will negotiate as one United Kingdom, taking account of the specific interests of every nation and region of the UK. When it comes to the powers that we will take back from Europe, we will consult fully on which should reside in Westminster and which should be passed on to the devolved Administrations. But no decisions currently taken by the devolved Administrations will be removed from them. It is the expectation of the Government that the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will see a significant increase in their decision-making power as a result of this process.
We want to maintain the common travel area with the Republic of Ireland. There should be no return to the borders of the past. We will control immigration so that we continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain, but manage the process properly so that our immigration system serves the national interest. We will seek to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain, and the rights of British nationals in other member states, as early as we can. This is set out very clearly in the letter as an early priority for the talks ahead.
We will ensure that workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained. Indeed, under my leadership, the Government will not only protect the rights of workers but build on them. We will pursue a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union that allows for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU’s member states, that gives British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets, and that lets European businesses do the same in Britain. European leaders have said many times that we cannot cherry-pick and remain members of the single market without accepting the four freedoms that are indivisible. We respect that position and, as accepting those freedoms is incompatible with the democratically expressed will of the British people, we will no longer be members of the single market.
We are going to make sure that we can strike trade agreements with countries from outside the European Union, too, because important though our trade with the EU is and will remain, it is clear that the UK needs to increase significantly its trade with the fastest growing export markets in the world. We hope to continue to collaborate with our European partners in the areas of science, education, research and technology so that the UK is one of the best places for science and innovation. We seek continued co-operation with our European partners in important areas such as crime, terrorism and foreign affairs. And it is our aim to deliver a smooth and orderly Brexit, reaching an agreement about our future partnership by the time the two-year article 50 process has concluded, and then moving into a phased process of implementation in which Britain, the EU institutions and member states prepare for the new arrangements that will exist between us.
We understand that there will be consequences for the UK of leaving the EU. We know that we will lose influence over the rules that affect the European economy. We know that UK companies that trade with the EU will have to align with rules agreed by institutions of which we are no longer a part, just as we do in other overseas markets—we accept that. However, we approach these talks constructively, respectfully and in a spirit of sincere co-operation, for it is in the interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union that we should use this process to deliver our objectives in a fair and orderly manner. It is in the interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union that there should be as little disruption as possible. And it is in the interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union that Europe should remain strong, prosperous and capable of projecting its values in the world.
At a time when the growth of global trade is slowing and there are signs that protectionist instincts are on the rise in many parts of the world, Europe has a responsibility to stand up for free trade in the interests of all our citizens. With Europe’s security more fragile today than at any time since the end of the cold war, weakening our co-operation and failing to stand up for European values would be a costly mistake. Our vote to leave the EU was no rejection of the values that we share as fellow Europeans. As a European country, we will continue to play our part in promoting and supporting those values during the negotiations and once they are done.
We will continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends. We want to continue to buy goods and services from the EU, and sell it ours. We want to trade with the EU as freely as possible, and work with one another to make sure we are all safer, more secure and more prosperous through continued friendship. Indeed, in an increasingly unstable world, we must continue to forge the closest possible security co-operation to keep our people safe. We face the same global threats from terrorism and extremism. That message was only reinforced by the abhorrent attack on Westminster bridge and this place last week, so there should be no reason why we should not agree a new deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU that works for us all.
I know that this is a day of celebration for some and disappointment for others. The referendum last June was divisive at times. Not everyone shared the same point of view or voted the same way. The arguments on both sides were passionate. But when I sit around the negotiating table in the months ahead, I will represent every person in the United Kingdom: young and old; rich and poor; city, town, country, and all the villages and hamlets in between; and, yes, those EU nationals who have made this country their home. It is my fierce determination to get the right deal for every single person in this country for, as we face the opportunities ahead of us on this momentous journey, our shared values, interests and ambitions can—and must—bring us together.
We all want to see a Britain that is stronger than it is today. We all want a country that is fairer so that everyone has the chance to succeed. We all want a nation that is safe and secure for our children and grandchildren. We all want to live in a truly global Britain that gets out and builds relationships with old friends and new allies around the world. These are the ambitions of this Government’s plan for Britain—ambitions that unite us, so that we are no longer defined by the vote we cast, but by our determination to make a success of the result.
We are one great Union of people and nations with a proud history and a bright future. Now that the decision to leave has been made and the process is under way, it is time to come together, for this great national moment needs a great national effort—an effort to shape a stronger future for Britain. So let us do so together. Let us come together and work together. Let us together choose to believe in Britain with optimism and hope, for if we do, we can make the most of the opportunities ahead. We can together make a success of this moment, and we can together build a stronger, fairer, better Britain—a Britain our children and grandchildren are proud to call home. I commend this statement to the House.
I would like to thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of her statement.
Today, we embark on the country’s most important negotiations in modern times. The British people made the decision to leave the European Union and Labour respects that decision. The next steps along this journey are the most crucial. If the Prime Minister is to unite the country, as she says she aims to do, the Government need to listen, consult and represent the whole country, not just the hard-line Tory ideologues on her own Benches.
Britain is going to change as a result of leaving the European Union; the question is how. There are Conservatives who want to use Brexit to turn this country into a low-wage tax haven. Labour is determined to invest in a high-skill, high-tech, high-wage future, and to rebuild and transform Britain so that no one and no community is left behind. The direction the Prime Minister is threatening to take this country in is both reckless and damaging, and Labour will not give this Government a free hand to use Brexit to attack rights and protections and to cut services, or to create a tax dodger’s paradise.
Let me be clear: the Prime Minister says that no deal is better than a bad deal, but the reality is that no deal is a bad deal. Less than a year ago, the Treasury estimated that leaving the European Union on World Trade Organisation terms would lead to a 7.5% fall in our GDP and a £45 billion loss in tax receipts. Has the Treasury updated those figures or do they still stand? If they have been updated, can they be published? If not, what deal could be worse than those consequences of no deal? It would be a national failure of historic proportions if the Prime Minister came back from Brussels without having secured protection for jobs and living standards, so we will use every parliamentary opportunity to ensure the Government are held to account at every stage of the negotiations.
We all have an interest in ensuring the Prime Minister gets the best deal for this country. To safeguard jobs and living standards, we do need full access to the single market. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union seems to agree on this. He stated in this House on 24 January that the Government’s plan is:
“a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have”.—[Official Report, 24 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 169.]
That was what was pledged, so will the Prime Minister confirm today that she intends to deliver a trade and customs agreement with “the exact same benefits”? The same goes for protecting workers’ rights and environmental standards, protecting Britain’s nations and regions, protecting Britain’s financial sector and services, and making sure there is no return to a hard border in Northern Ireland.
When does the Prime Minister expect to be able to guarantee the rights of all those EU nationals who live and work in this country, and make such a massive and welcome contribution to it, and of those British nationals who live in all parts of the European Union, including by guaranteeing that their UK pensions will not be frozen post-Brexit?
Brexit would be a huge task for any Government, yet so far this Government seem utterly complacent about the scale of the task ahead. Government Ministers cannot make up their minds about the real objective. The Foreign Secretary—he is in the Chamber today—said in October:
“Our policy is having our cake and eating it.”
How apposite from the Foreign Secretary. Today, on BBC Radio 4, the Chancellor said:
“we can’t have our cake and eat it”.
Maybe they should get together and talk about that.
At one level, those might seem like flippant exchanges from Ministers, but they do reflect serious differences about Britain’s negotiating aims. The Government must speak with a united voice. However, the Foreign Secretary is the same man who promised our national health service £350 million a week once we left the EU. Now he believes that leaving the EU without a deal would be “perfectly okay”. It would not be perfectly okay—it would damage our economy and people’s living standards. Will the Prime Minister confirm that she rejects such complacency?
Labour has set out our tests for the Government’s Brexit negotiations, and we will use all means possible to make sure we hold them to their word on full access to the single market, on protecting Britain from being dragged into a race to the bottom, and on ensuring that our future relationship with the European Union is strong and co-operative—a relationship in which we can work together to bring prosperity and peace to our continent. If the Prime Minister can deliver a deal that meets our tests, that will be fine—we will back her. More than ever, Britain needs a Government that will deliver for the whole country, not just the few, and that is the ultimate test of the Brexit deal that the Prime Minister must now secure.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for saying that the Labour party respects the outcome of the referendum and the process that is now under way. He said that the next steps are the most crucial—the most important—and, of course, we now enter that formal process of negotiation.
It does seem, however, that the message that the right hon. Gentleman has sent today has not got through to all his Front Benchers. I understand that as the Cabinet met this morning to approve our course, his shadow International Trade Secretary tweeted a photo of me signing the A50 letter, claiming I was “signing away” our country’s future. I am afraid that that is what we see all too often from Labour: talking down Britain; desperate for the negotiations to fail; and out of touch with ordinary working people.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the tests—I will come on to those—and asked me specifically about EU nationals. I expressly referred to that in the letter to President Tusk and made it clear that I would hope that we could deal with this issue of EU nationals here and UK nationals in other member states at as early a stage as possible in the negotiations. As I have said in this House before, I believe that there is good will on both sides to do that.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the tests that the Labour party has set out for the negotiations. I have been looking at those tests because, actually, there are principles that the Government have, time and time again, said we are determined to meet. He asks if the final deal will ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU. Yes, and in my letter to President Tusk, that is exactly what I set out our intentions to be. Will the deal deliver the same benefits we currently have as a member of the single market and the customs union? We have been clear that we want to get the best possible deal, and free and frictionless trade. Will the deal protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime? Yes. Will the deal deliver for all regions and nations of the UK? We have been very clear that we are taking all nations and regions into account, as I say in the letter to President Tusk. As I said during Prime Minister’s questions, we expect that, as powers are repatriated, the devolved Administrations will see a significant increase in their decision making.
The right hon. Gentleman’s fifth test is: will the deal defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom? We have been very clear that workers’ rights will be protected—they are not up for negotiation under this Government. Perhaps he should listen to his own Mayor of London, who has said:
“to give credit to the government, I don’t think they want to weaken workers’ rights…there’s been some anxiety…I’ve seen no evidence from the conversations I’ve had with senior members of the government that that’s their aspiration or their intention or something they want to do.”
But the Labour party has set out a sixth test that I do not think the right hon. Gentleman mentioned specifically, and perhaps that is because of the confusion in the Labour party. The sixth test is, “Will the deal ensure fair management of migration?” What we see on that is a confused picture from the Labour party. The shadow Home Secretary says that freedom of movement is a worker’s right, and the right hon. Gentleman himself said:
“Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle, but I don’t want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out.”
Little wonder that nobody has any idea of the Labour party’s position on that issue.
As I said earlier, on today of all days we should be coming together. We should be accepting the ambition for our country for the future. We should not be talking down the negotiations as the right hon. Gentleman does. We should set our ambition, our optimism and our determination to get the best possible deal for everybody in the United Kingdom.
The Leader of the Opposition’s remarks were breathtaking. For decades, from Maastricht onwards, he voted with us over and over and over again.
Today is an historic day indeed. Can my right hon. Friend reaffirm that at the very heart of this letter lies the democratic decision of the referendum of UK voters, given to them by a sovereign Act of Parliament by six to one in this House, enabling the British people to regain their birthright to govern themselves for which people fought and died over generations? The referendum was followed by a massive majority of 372 in this House of Commons on the Third Reading of the withdrawal Bill itself. Trade and co-operation, yes; European government, no.
I think I can give my hon. Friend the reassurance that he seeks if I quote from the opening paragraph of my letter to President Tusk. The very first line reaffirms:
“On 23 June last year, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.”
But I go on to say that we want
“the European Union to succeed and prosper.”
The vote was not a
“rejection of the values we share as fellow Europeans…Instead, the referendum was a vote to restore, as we see it, our national self-determination.”
It is important for everybody to remember on this day that in the referendum on the European Union, the people of Scotland voted by 62% to remain in the European Union. Every single local government area in the country voted to remain in the European Union. This happened two years after Scottish voters were told that they had to vote no to Scottish independence to remain in the EU. Yet ironically, this is exactly what will happen now because of the will of the majority elsewhere in the United Kingdom being imposed on the people of Scotland.
Last year, as I have raised repeatedly in this Chamber, the Prime Minister made a commitment to a UK-wide approach—an agreement with the Governments of Scotland, of Wales, and of Northern Ireland. Since then, the Scottish Government have published a compromise suggestion, at its heart a differentiated plan that could satisfy people in Scotland and the rest of the UK. The Prime Minister could have said that she would try to seek an agreement with European partners on the plan which could have protected Scotland’s place in the single European market—but she did not. The Prime Minister could have taken the views of the Scottish, the Welsh and the Northern Irish Governments seriously and reached an agreement before triggering article 50, as she promised. She did not, and she does not have—[Interruption.]
Order. I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman, but we cannot have side exchanges taking place while he should have the Floor. [Interruption.] Yes, I am perfectly capable of seeing from whence the disruption hailed, and I hope it will not persist. The hon. Gentleman concerned has important responsibilities in the Government Whips Office and is normally the embodiment of courtesy, to which I know he will now return.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
We on the SNP Benches have become accustomed to Conservative Members being incapable of understanding that the people of Scotland voted to remain in the European Union. The Prime Minister promised—[Interruption.] Do hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies on the Conservative Benches understand that we have televisions in Scotland and that viewers in Scotland can see the discourtesy from hon. Members on those Benches? They do not like to hear it but listen they must.
The Prime Minister promised an agreement. There is no agreement. She has broken her word. As Scotland’s Members of Parliament, we have been sent here with a mandate to stand up for the people of Scotland. It is a mandate that the Prime Minister does not enjoy. Fifty-eight out of 59 MPs from Scotland voted against triggering article 50. The Scottish Parliament voted against the triggering of article 50. The Scottish Government were against the triggering of article 50 before an agreement. Yet what have this Government done? They have carried on blithely ignoring the views of people in Scotland and their democratically elected representatives. Europe is watching the way that this Government treat parts of the United Kingdom that voted to remain with Europe.
The UK Government had a mandate to hold a Brexit referendum. We accept that, and we accept the leave result in the rest of the United Kingdom. In that context—[Interruption.] Again, Conservative Members do not seem to understand that the United Kingdom is a multinational state with four nations, two of which voted to stay and two of which voted to leave. All the rhetoric from the Government Benches does not paper over the gaping chasm showing that there is not unity in this so-called United Kingdom on this issue.
As democrats, we should all accept that the Scottish Government have a mandate, given by the people of Scotland in an election, whereby we should have a choice after the negotiations have concluded, and this should not be kicked into the long grass with that democratic choice denied. Yesterday the Scottish Parliament voted by 69 to 59 that people in Scotland should have that choice. Will the Prime Minister confirm that she will recognise the democratic right of the people to make their own choice after negotiations have concluded?
The Prime Minister says that she thinks that Brexit will bring unity to the United Kingdom. It will not. On this issue, it is not a United Kingdom, and the Prime Minster needs to respect—respect—the differences across the nations of the United Kingdom. If she does not—if she remains intransigent and if she denies Scotland a choice on our future—she will make Scottish independence inevitable. [Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The right hon. Gentleman has said this afternoon on a number of occasions, as he has on many occasions in this House before, that Scotland voted to remain in the European Union and should therefore be treated differently. My constituency voted to remain in the European Union. [Interruption.] The point is that we are one United Kingdom, and it was a vote of the whole of the United Kingdom. What I hear from people outside this Chamber—by the way, the right hon. Gentleman seems to forget the something like 400,000 SNP supporters who voted to leave the European Union—from individuals and businesses alike, whether they voted to remain or to leave, is that the vote having been taken, the decision having been given to people of the United Kingdom, we should now respect that vote and get on with the job of delivering for everybody across the whole of the United Kingdom.
The right hon. Gentleman refers to the issue of Scottish independence and its impact on membership of the European Union. It is the case, and the European Union has reinforced the Barroso doctrine, that if Scotland were to—[Interruption.] SNP Members seem to find it amusing but, just to remind everybody, the Barroso doctrine is that if Scotland were to become independent from the United Kingdom—if it had voted for independence in 2014—it would cease to be a member of the European Union. We will be ensuring that the substance of the deal that we achieve—I am interested in the outcomes of this deal—will be the best possible for the people of the whole United Kingdom.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about democratic representation and democratic responsibility. Perhaps the Scottish Government might like to consider why they have not passed a single piece of legislation in Holyrood for the past year.
I welcome warmly the Prime Minister’s words in her letter and her statement, and I especially welcome the suggestion that we want a special relationship with the EU based on friendship, trade and many other collaborations once we are an independent country again. Would my right hon. Friend confirm that the UK Government are offering tariff-free trade, with no new barriers, to all our partners in Europe, which must make enormous sense for them?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want to see that tariff-free trade, on a reciprocal basis, with the other countries in the European Union. I think that that makes sense. We already operate on the same basis because we operate under the same rules and regulations, and I think we should look to have the maximum free trade between the two of us.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement and for advance sight of it. Today the Prime Minister is not enacting the will of the people; she is at best interpreting that will, and choosing a hard Brexit outside the single market that was never on the ballot paper. This day of all days, the Liberal Democrats will not roll over, as the official Opposition have done.
Our children and grandchildren will judge all of us for our actions during these times. I am determined to be able to look my children in the eye and say that I did everything to prevent this calamity that the Prime Minister has today chosen. We now face an unknown deal that will shape our country for generations. The deal will be signed off by someone, and the only question is: who? Will it be the politicians, or should it be the people? Surely the Prime Minister will agree with me that the people should have the final say.
The hon. Gentleman talks about us enacting the decision of the referendum. Of course we are enacting the decision that was taken by the people of the United Kingdom in the referendum, but I might remind him that it was not that long ago that the Liberal Democrat party wanted a referendum on the European Union. We gave it to them, and we are abiding by it.
The Prime Minister has made it very clear that immigration is her No. 1 priority, and that as a result we cannot accept the free movement of people and therefore we cannot remain a member of the single market. But that may change in the next two years. Who knows what might happen? The EU may move away from that principle of the free movement of people. In view of that, could the Prime Minister give an assurance that she has not turned her back on membership of the single market? It is what British business wants, it would see off Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP’s outrageous demands for a second referendum—[Interruption.] Wheesht awhile! These are serious matters that this United Kingdom faces, and that would provide the solution to Northern Ireland as we now leave the European Union.
My right hon. Friend started her question by saying that immigration was the No. 1 priority. What we have done is to say that we want a comprehensive package that, yes, does enable us to control immigration and set our own rules on immigration, but also has exactly the sort of free access to the single market that I think she is talking about and that businesses want to see. I believe that we can achieve that agreement. I believe we should be optimistic and ambitious in achieving that agreement.
There are other freedoms that the European leaders will cite in relation to full membership of the single market, such as the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and I think that people here voted to stop the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice last year. But what matters to me is the outcome—not the structure by which we achieve that outcome, but whether we have that free, frictionless, tariff-free access to the single market. That is what we want to achieve and what we will be working for.
May I thank the Prime Minister for her statement, congratulate her and her Government on actually delivering on the will of the people of the United Kingdom as a whole instead of seeking to undermine it, and wish her and her Government well in the negotiations that lie ahead? We on this Bench are convinced that she is the right leader of our country for these challenging times. Is not the fundamental point that this United Kingdom—this Union—is far more important for the political and economic prosperity of all our people than the European Union? May I also commend her for No. 5 of the principles set out in her letter, Northern Ireland and the relationship with the Irish Republic? I commend her for the way in which that has been put forward, and she will have our support in the coming months and years in this House to make that a reality.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. We have, as he said, recognised the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland—and its relationship, because of the land border, with the Republic of Ireland—in the letter to President Tusk. I also agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he says that the most important Union for the United Kingdom, economically and in other ways, is the United Kingdom. For its individual constituent parts, trading within the single market of the United Kingdom is far more important than trading with the European Union.
I commend my right hon. Friend for the constructive, positive and realistic tone she has set today with her statement and the letter to Donald Tusk. I also congratulate her and her Government on the use of the last nine months to prepare us for this point, making up for the lack of preparation for this moment by the last Administration. May I urge on her the preparation that is implicit in this letter, to ensure that if it is impossible to get a deal home—although that will be coped with by the United Kingdom and the European Union, as it must be—we are in a position to cope with that?
I thank my hon. Friend. We are trying to approach this in a realistic and pragmatic way, as he says. Of course, the Government will be working across all Departments to ensure that we have preparations in place, whatever the outcome will be. As I made clear in my letter to President Tusk, while both the European Union and the UK could cope if there was no agreement, that would not be the ideal situation. It is not what we will be working for, and we should be actively working to get the right and proper deal for both sides.
The Prime Minister is right to say in her statement that the eventual deal must work for the 48% as well as the 52%, because whether we were remainers or leavers, we will live in the same country together after Brexit. May I emphasise to her that national unity must be earned and not just asserted, and it must be shown in deeds and not just in words? We are a long, long way away from it, as I think she will agree. As she reflects on the last eight months, can she say what she thinks she needs to do differently in the next 24 months to achieve that national unity, which, frankly, eludes us at the moment?
There are two things that we will be doing over the next 24 months, as a Government. One is putting in place our plan for Britain, which is about ensuring that we see a United Kingdom where the economy works for everyone, where we have a much fairer society and where success is based on merit, not privilege. That is what is driving this Government, and that is what we will be putting into place domestically. For the unity of the UK, the most important element in the negotiations with Europe is to get the best possible deal in terms of co-operation on security, but also on the free trade arrangements that will bring prosperity to our economy.
May I thank my right hon. Friend for and congratulate her on resolutely sticking to her promise to the British people to trigger article 50 before the end of March? There will be celebrations all around the country, nowhere more so than in our remote coastal communities, where the health and wealth of our fishing grounds has been trashed by the common fisheries policy. To re-establish fully our national control of the full exclusive economic zone, we will have to abrogate our membership of the 1964 London convention on fisheries, which requires two years’ notice. Does my right hon. Friend intend to trigger that soon?
I know that my right hon. Friend has always had a particular interest in the impact of the common fisheries policy, and he has looked at that issue very carefully. We are looking very carefully at the London fisheries convention and at what action needs to be taken. He is right that this would require two years, but we of course expect to conclude the deal with the European Union within two years and there will then, as I have indicated, be an implementation period beyond that particular time. We hope to be able to say something about the London fisheries convention soon.
There are many across this House who will be very aware of the sheer scale and complexity of the negotiations that will face our team, and very conscious of the importance of getting those right. It has never been more true that the devil will be in the detail. As the detail emerges, will the Prime Minister ensure that everyone in her team stops the practice that has been so prevalent of claiming that every awkward question is evidence of a desire to overturn the will of the British people, because nothing will more surely destroy the unity of purpose that she seeks?
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right that these will be very complex negotiations. It was right to wait the nine months we did before invoking article 50, so we have been able to do a considerable amount of preparation. As we move forward, some very technical discussions will of course need to take place, as well as the higher level discussions that will be required. I assure the right hon. Lady that we consistently ask ourselves difficult questions to ensure that we are testing every approach that we put forward, so that we can get the best possible deal.
First, may I reassure my right hon. Friend that Donald Tusk has indeed received the letter? He tweeted about it one minute early—at 12.29 pm our time—which shows the keenness of our team. May I also tell the Prime Minister that Donald Tusk has said he is missing us already, but that he recognises it is in the European Union’s interest, as well as that of the United Kingdom, that we achieve an agreement that will benefit both sides in this negotiation?
This is absolutely right, and I am pleased to hear that President Tusk has taken that view. This is not just about the United Kingdom for the future, but about the European Union for the future and the relationship we will have with it. As I have said in the letter, we want a “deep and special partnership” to continue in the future. We are still part of Europe, although we will be leaving the EU institutions.
The Prime Minister has the good will of the country as she seeks a new relationship with our European allies. Will she confirm that in transposing EU directives and regulations into UK law, we do not transpose all the rulings of the ECJ? Will she ensure that, for example, the EU charter of fundamental rights is not imposed, given that we have long-standing assurances that it will not have legal force in this country?
I say to the hon. Gentleman that we will be publishing a White Paper on the great repeal Bill tomorrow, which will make it clearer how we are going to transpose not just the acquis, but relevant judgments of the European Court of Justice. I am very well aware of this and this Government have taken the very clear position that we do not think the European charter of fundamental human rights is applicable.
In her letter to President Tusk, the Prime Minister, as she did in January, said:
“We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe”.
She will know that 16.1 million people voted to do neither last June, but the result is as it is and needs to be honoured. Will my right hon. Friend say how she will keep this Parliament fully engaged throughout the process, and will she do her utmost to secure a trade deal that we can all support rather than listening to the siren voices that seem to think no deal is a good option?
I am very happy to give my right hon. Friend that assurance. I want to secure a really good trade deal with the European Union for the United Kingdom. I also want us to be able to secure trade deals with countries around the rest of the world, but we want to ensure—we start off from a good position, because we are of course operating under the same rules and regulations as the European Union—that we get a really good trade deal with the EU.
There will be significant opportunities for this House and this Parliament to consider the issues as we go through the next two years. Of course, the great repeal Bill itself will be a matter for debate and consideration in this House. There will also be some subsequent pieces of legislation that are required as a result of the decision to leave the European Union which will come before this House. We will make every effort to keep this House informed as we go through that. I have always said that we will be clear and will provide clarity where we are able to do so.
The Prime Minister will no doubt recall the referendum speech she made last April, in which she said that
“the big question is whether, in the event of Brexit, we would be able to negotiate a new free trade agreement with the EU and on what terms.”
Given that the European Union appears to want to start the negotiations by talking only about money and that there are about 18 months to go, how will the Prime Minister ensure there is sufficient time to reach the agreement to provide tariff and barrier-free trade and access to the European market for our services that she has promised Britain’s businesses she will bring back from the negotiations?
As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, we do not yet know how the European Council will choose to frame the negotiations; it will meet on 29 April to determine that. There will be two parts, if you like, to the work going forward: one is the process of withdrawal and the terms of withdrawal; and the other is what the future relationship will be. It is clear in article 50 that the former should be done in the context of the latter, so it is not just reasonable but entirely right and proper that we look at those two issues alongside each other.
As I have said in answer to other questions, the point about a comprehensive free trade agreement is that we will not be operating as a third party, such as Canada, for example, when it started its negotiations with the European Union. We are already operating on the same basis—we already have free trade between the European Union and the United Kingdom—and I believe that sets us on a better basis on which to start the negotiations, and that it will be possible to get a comprehensive free trade agreement.
I commend the Prime Minister for her handling of triggering article 50, and indeed for respecting the wishes of the British electorate in the referendum. May I suggest that there is another reason to make sure that guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals—both those living here and those on the continent—should be a very high priority? Not only is it the right thing to do and will establish good intent, but should there be no agreement, it would be clear to the world that that was not actually our fault and that we were not using EU nationals as bargaining chips.
I am very clear in the letter that I have sent to President Tusk that we intend the work on the rights of EU nationals and UK nationals living in the EU to be undertaken as part of the negotiations at an early stage. As I have said before, I genuinely believe there is good will to do that, and I hope we will be able to achieve that at an early stage of the negotiations and give EU citizens living here and UK citizens living in the European Union reassurance about their future.
The last Prime Minister did not want this day to come, although it followed from many of the decisions he took over many years, and he will be remembered as the Prime Minister who unintentionally led Britain out of Europe. I know this Prime Minister does not want to see the break-up of the United Kingdom, but she will also know that holding us together requires more than just the rhetoric of unity. Will she therefore say what she will do in both the content and the style of her negotiations not to fuel further division and not to play into the hands of others, but to ensure voices from all over the country are genuinely heard in this debate so that she does not become the Prime Minister who unintentionally leads the break-up of Britain?
First, I say to the right hon. Lady that she referred to the decision on the referendum as one of leaving Europe, but it is about leaving the European Union, not leaving Europe. We want a deep and special partnership with the European Union. We will obviously continue to be part of Europe, and we will want to continue to work with our friends and allies in Europe.
As we go ahead, we will continue to undertake discussions not just with the devolved Administrations in the United Kingdom, but with businesses and other organisations across the United Kingdom—Government Departments are speaking with their interlocutors in a whole range of sectors—to ensure that all views and all considerations are taken into account as we go forward in the negotiations. We want to make sure that we fully understand the concerns and interests that people have, and that is why we have already started talking widely with not just the devolved Administrations, but others across the United Kingdom to ensure that we collect those views and take them into account.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her resolve in carrying forward the democratic outcome of the referendum? No matter what the differences are across this House, I can assure her that every single Member of this House wishes her well for the negotiations ahead. Can she confirm that, no matter how those negotiations progress over the coming months and years, the United Kingdom will continue to prioritise co-operation and the exchange of information with the other European countries, to ensure that our internal and external security is not compromised in any way whatsoever?
I am happy to give my right hon. Friend that assurance. Our co-operation on security and justice and home affairs matters is very important to us and to the member states of the European Union. Obviously, it is something that I worked closely on when I was Home Secretary. I assure her that we will be looking to ensure that that co-operation can continue. As we look at the challenges that we face across the globe, now is not the time for less co-operation; now is the time to ensure that we continue to co-operate and, indeed, build on that.
May I remind the Prime Minister that Northern Ireland voted 56% remain? Indeed, my own constituency voted almost 70% to remain. With respect, may I warn her about the Trojan horse being pushed out to her in the form of honey words from Members on the Bench behind me? The Prime Minister says that the interests of all nations and regions of the UK will be taken into account in the negotiations. What measures has she been able to, or does she intend to, put in place to ensure that Northern Ireland’s views, needs and special circumstances are taken into account in the negotiations?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The point he made about the vote in Northern Ireland is one that I attempted to show earlier, which is that different parts of the United Kingdom voted in different ways: some voted to leave, some voted to remain. The overall result of the referendum of the United Kingdom was that we should leave the European Union, and that is what we will be doing. Obviously, we maintained contact with the Northern Ireland Executive up to the point at which they ceased to exist when the election was taking place. We have continued, however, to talk about the issue to political parties in Northern Ireland. The best result to ensure that the voice of the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland can be heard in these negotiations is for the parties to come together and for us to see that strong and devolved Government, who will provide us with that interlocutor.
Since the vote, the economic news has confounded expectations. Economists for Free Trade have told us how WTO rules with the right policies can cut consumer prices and raise GDP, and the Legatum Institute special trade commissioners have given us every reason to believe that we will not only secure the right trade deal for us, but liberate trade right around the world. Does the Prime Minister agree that the time for “Project Fear” is over?
My hon. Friend is right. Obviously, there were predictions about what would happen to the economy if the United Kingdom voted to leave. Those predictions have not proved to be correct and we see a strong economy. Of course, as we go forward we want to build on that. We want to ensure that we get those comprehensive trade agreements. I believe that a comprehensive free trade agreement with the European Union should be our aim. That is what we will be working for, but we will also be looking to promote trade around the rest of the world. As my hon. Friend has said, it is in the interests of everybody—not just the UK or the EU, but countries around the world—that we stand up for the benefits of free trade and promote free trade around the world.
As has been said, the Prime Minister referred in her statement to “taking account of the specific interests of every nation and region of the UK”, but leading councils in Yorkshire have had no contact whatsoever from the Government. Will she please now work with local government and local enterprise boards in all English regions to analyse the effect of Brexit on jobs, trade and investment, so that negotiations can achieve, as was promised by the Secretary of State for Brexit, not just an aspiration, but the “exact same benefits” as we have from membership of the single market and the customs union? The Prime Minister sidestepped the question from the Leader of the Opposition, so may I ask it again? Does she believe that the English regions can get the exact same benefits as before?
The right hon. Lady has asked a number of questions. I am very clear that we want to ensure that we get that comprehensive free trade agreement that gives our businesses the benefits that they have had as members of the European Union. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union is talking to local mayors and local authorities. The right hon. Lady mentioned local enterprise partnerships. As it happens, I had a roundtable with representative chairmen of LEPs on Tuesday in Birmingham and talked to them about the future, so we are listening to those voices from across the regions.
Like millions of others in the United Kingdom, I am proud of the European Union and the contribution that the UK has made to it during my political lifetime, and I am a little sad about today. However, I stand unequivocally with the Prime Minister as she calls for a united approach to a new future. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that in order to make that national endeavour meaningful, her door and those of her Ministers should always be open to all parties in the House, from all sides of the discussion, because a new script for the relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom should be written as much by those who value the EU as by those who campaigned to leave it?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. As I said in my statement, there will be those in this House who are celebrating and those who are sad and disappointed at the decision that has been taken. I reassure him that as we move forward and ensure that we get the best possible arrangements for the future, I want to listen, and Ministers want to listen, to all voices in this House, including those who were ardent on both sides of the campaign. As I have just indicated, we are also, of course, listening to all parts of the United Kingdom.
Today is the day that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead has become the first Prime Minister in recent history to have to be reminded that Scotland is a country, not a constituency of England. She refused to reply to the question of whether there had been an economic assessment of the impact of leaving the EU with no deal. Has there been such an assessment? Will she publish it? And if there has not been an assessment, how does the Foreign Secretary know that it is “perfectly okay”?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I am well aware that Scotland is a constituent nation of the United Kingdom. The point is a very simple one and it was made from the Bench behind him earlier: different parts of the United Kingdom voted in different ways. Different constituencies voted in different ways. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland voted in different ways—Wales voted to leave; Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain—but the overall response of the United Kingdom was a vote to leave the European Union, and that is what we are putting into place. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we are looking at the arrangements that need to be put in place, whatever the impact—whatever the decision that is taken at the end. But crucially, what I am very clear about—I was clear in my letter to President Tusk—is that we should work to get that comprehensive free trade agreement, so that we are not in the position of having no deal but we have a deal that is to the benefit of everybody in the UK, including the people of Scotland.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on the cool, constructive clarity and conviction that she has brought to this momentous period in British politics, and on her commitment today to negotiate on behalf of everyone in this country—the 48% as well as the 52%? Does she agree that we must also redouble our commitment to domestic reform—that compassionate Conservative programme—which is so key to industry and to skills and infrastructure, both for our post-Brexit economic prosperity and for the unity we will need to succeed? She wrote in her excellent letter to Mr Tusk:
“The task before us is momentous but it should not be beyond us.”
Does she agree that that applies to Members of this House as well, and that we should reject the shrill voices of Scottish and English nationalism so that we pull together, not pull apart?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The question people responded to in the referendum was about leaving the European Union, but I believe the vote to leave was also a vote for wider change in this country. That is why it is so important that we put forward and deliver our plan for Britain, for a stronger, fairer society for all—a country that really does work for everyone. It is important that right now we pull together and recognise that the task ahead is to ensure we get the right result for the whole of the United Kingdom.
Regardless of how people voted in the referendum, I suspect there is an even bigger majority today for all of us to get on with trying to get the best deal we possibly can. Many businesses are worried. With the triggering of article 50, they feel the clock is ticking and that everything might need to be resolved within two years. Can the Prime Minister reassure businesses? At the end of the two years, what we have will be pretty much the headlines. There will have to be transitional arrangements to ensure that we explore the devil in the detail. This House must be able to discuss it, but more importantly we must get it right for businesses and the rest of Britain.
The right hon. Lady is right. Businesses want the certainty of knowing where they will stand so that they can plan for the future. Two things are important. It is important that we bring the acquis into UK law through the great repeal Bill, so that on the day we leave everybody knows those rules still apply and everybody knows where they stand. It is also right that it is a tight timetable to get agreement on our future relationship. There will need to be an implementation period to ensure that that is put into practice in a way that makes practical sense for businesses and Governments.
Will the Prime Minister reaffirm that the defence of Europe depends not on the EU but on the deterrent effect of article 5 of the NATO treaty, which means that an attack on any European NATO member will involve the United States in its defence from the first hour of the first day? In the spirit of unity, will she join me in congratulating two statesmen on opposite sides of the Brexit debate, Sir John Major and Lord Tebbit of Chingford? They may not share the same views on Europe, but they do share the same birthday today.
I am very happy to wish a happy birthday to members of the Conservative party.
My right hon. Friend raises the important issue of NATO. As I indicated earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), NATO is the bedrock of our security and our defence. Article 5 lies at the heart of that security and defence. We will continue to contribute to NATO in the way we have in the past, and we will continue to encourage others to ensure that NATO is able to provide that security in the future, as it has in the past.
I remind the Prime Minister that defence is about more than weapons; it is about values and collective solidarity.
There are two kinds of future stemming from the process triggered today. The first is that we spend two years desperately trying to secure, in the Secretary of State’s words,
“the exact same benefits as we have”—[Official Report, 24 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 169.]—
while gaining control of immigration, which, as Ministers have suggested, may make little difference to the numbers. In which case, people will ask, “What is the point?” Or there is another future where we crash without an agreement, defaulting to WTO rules with all that that would mean for industry, agriculture and services. In which case, people will ask, “What is the price?” So which future does she think is the more likely: “what is the point” or “what is the price”?
I have to say that I think the right hon. Gentleman is framing the question in the wrong way. People voted to leave the European Union, but I believe that we as a country still want to have a good trading relationship with it. People overwhelmingly voted to know that the UK Government are in control of key decisions previously taken by the EU institutions: immigration rules, spending our budget and the relationship of the UK courts to decisions taken here in this Parliament. Underlying the vote was our ability to set our own laws and for those laws to be determined by our courts. This was not just a question of money. It was about values. It was about the value of that self-determination.
May I join others in commending the Prime Minister for a clear, concise and very generous approach to the negotiations, both in her statement today and in her letter to President Tusk?
The Prime Minister will know that the reason we currently have a strong economy is partly due to the decisions taken by the previous Government and partly because nothing has actually changed economically, other than the sharp depreciation in our currency. As we go into a period of enhanced risk and uncertainty for our country and businesses, a process I think she will lead us through admirably, does she not agree that it is time to start talking facts and sense to the British people, rather than rhetoric and ideology, and in particular reject the idea that no deal and a reliance on WTO rules would somehow be okay? I am sure she will have seen recent research from the National Institute Of Economic and Social Research, which suggests that a WTO deal, despite all the trade deals we want to sign with China, Brazil, India and America, would represent a loss of trade of a quarter—a quarter—to the British economy. We cannot do that to this country. I hope she will tell us that we are not going to do that to our country. Can we start talking in facts and perhaps trust experts a little bit more?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Conservative-led Government’s long-term economic plan, on which we all stood at the last election, has enabled our economy to have the necessary strength. We are pleased that we are able to maintain and build on that strength in our economy. She talks about the WTO arrangements. What I say in the letter to President Tusk is very clear:
“If…we leave the European Union without an agreement the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms.”
In that kind of scenario, both the UK and the EU would of course cope with the change, but it is not the outcome that either side should seek. We must therefore work hard to avoid that outcome. I am clear that we want a comprehensive free trade agreement with the European Union, and that is what we will be working for.
On what is a genuinely historic day for our country, may I pay tribute to the Prime Minister and to the Brexit Ministers for their determination and dedication in getting to this stage today to implement the will of the British people? Does she agree that one area on which we should be able to move forward very quickly in negotiations is getting back control of our fishing grounds?
My right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, mentioned the London fisheries convention. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is looking at this issue and we hope to be able to say something soon. As we look at the whole raft of negotiations, we will be looking at policies that affect not just trade in goods and services, but agriculture and fisheries here in the United Kingdom, and security and crime. We will be looking particularly at the London fisheries convention in due course.
The Prime Minister’s letter to President Tusk is not one I ever hoped to read, but having done so I welcome the eight principles. Does the Prime Minister agree that to bring them to fruition it would be very helpful to include all of us in this process, because even the most ardent pro-European is also incredibly ambitious for this country?
I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. What I hope we will see, and what I think he has indicated we will see, is people on both sides of the argument coming together with that ambition for the future. It is important that we take all views into account as we develop that.
In her letter and again in her statement today, the Prime Minister has made it clear that she believes it will be necessary to agree the terms of the divorce alongside the details of our future relationship with the European Union. If the other 27 come back in their reply and say that they want to agree the terms of the divorce first, including the issues of citizenship rights, our liabilities and borders, particularly with Northern Ireland, how will she respond?
We will go into a negotiation with the European Union about the best way to take these issues forward. I have been putting forward the case, as have other Ministers, that it makes sense from a pragmatic point of view to ensure that at the end of the two years, we have both of these decisions concluded, namely the withdrawal process and the future relationship. That is because I do not think it is in anybody’s interest for the UK to agree withdrawal, withdraw and go on to one set of arrangements, subsequently having to negotiate another set of arrangements that come into place at a later date. It makes much better sense—for individuals, for businesses and indeed for Governments—to conclude those two parts of the negotiation at the same time.
Some Government Members and some Opposition Members have worked throughout their political career to extract the United Kingdom from the European superstate. Sometimes we were isolated, sometimes we were ignored, and sometimes we were insulted, but thanks to the British people, today we are leaving the European Union. In the past, when there has been a major change in our relationship with Europe, it has happened through conflict, bloodshed and turmoil. Does the Prime Minister agree that the whole country can celebrate the fact that this change is happening peacefully and democratically?
I am happy to endorse that, because it is a tribute to the way in which we in the UK have approached the issue and indeed to the way in which our European partners have been willing to approach it. I think we will be willing to approach it in that way in the future. The eyes of the world will be on us as we go through this negotiation to see precisely how we conduct it. I want it to be conducted positively, constructively and respectfully.
After the Brexit deal has been negotiated, the European Parliament and every other member state in the European Union will have a say on whether to accept that deal. Can the Prime Minister not see that to deny the people of Scotland a say at the same time would show utter contempt for democracy in Scotland?
We have been very clear that there will be a vote in this Parliament when we come back with a deal from the European Union. It will take place in both Houses and it will happen before the deal comes into force. We expect that to be undertaken before the European Parliament has had an opportunity to debate and vote on this issue. Within this House, of course, there are representatives from all parts of the United Kingdom.
Does my right hon. Friend recall the words of Francis Drake:
“There must be a begynnyng of any great matter, but the contenewing unto the end untyll it be thoroughly ffynyshed yeldes the trew glory”?
I wish my right hon. Friend good luck and good fortune in her negotiations until she comes to true glory and is welcomed back to this House as a 21st century Gloriana.
Will the Prime Minister clear up some confusion on her own side about immigration policy? The Times reports that the International Trade Secretary is now arguing for more immigration from countries that are outside the EU in return for striking new trade deals. Does the Prime Minister agree?
The Government have a clear position on our work to reduce net migration into this country. Leaving the European Union will enable us to introduce rules in respect of those who are moving from the EU member states into the United Kingdom, but we continue to ensure that we are bearing down on abuse in our immigration system and that we have the rules that we believe are right so that we can continue to bring the brightest and the best here to the UK.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement and for being very clear that we are not leaving Europe and that we seek to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in our country. When she says “as early as we can”, does she agree with me as a fellow European that “as early as we can” means today?
In the negotiations, I want reciprocal rights for EU citizens and UK citizens. It is not just about what time we say should be allotted for that discussion; it will be for the remaining 27 member states of the EU to negotiate with us on that. We need reciprocity, but I believe that there is good will, so I am hopeful that we will be able to start this discussion at an early stage of negotiations.
Given the reference of some Members to the British people, is it not important to recognise that a large majority of this country’s people are not fanatically for or against the UK being in the European Union? If we want to bring the people together, as the Prime Minister says she does, that should very much be borne in mind. If, during the negotiations undertaken by her predecessor, we had seen some flexibility from the European Union over the free movement of labour, is it not quite likely that we would not be debating this issue now?
David Cameron put an enormous effort, as did others across Government, into the negotiations leading to the deal that he brought to the British people. The hon. Gentleman’s assumption is that the only issue on which people voted was free movement, but I do not think that is right. I think that wanting control over our borders was one key issue, but it was also about more than that, including control of our laws, control of our money and self-determination. That was what was driving the decision.
Many vegetable growers in South Ribble rely on migrant labour and easy access to European markets for their exports. Can my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents that British farming will be a priority in her and her team’s negotiations?
I can assure my hon. Friend that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is working very closely with farming communities across the whole United Kingdom in looking at their interests for the future and the arrangements that will be put in place once we leave the common agricultural policy.
I welcome the triggering of article 50, because it will make possible the democratic socialist future that I and many others have struggled for all their lives. The Prime Minister will be aware that we have a trade deficit with the EU of over £60 billion a year and another deficit of about £20 billion a year on investments, income and remittances, and that we are paying more than £10 billion a year in our contribution to the EU budget. That is total of £90 billion—a huge sum that amounts roughly to about £6,000 a year for a family of four. Does that not put Britain in a very strong position in the negotiations, specifically about trade?
I think we are in a good position on the trade negotiations, because companies in other EU member states can see the benefits of trade with the United Kingdom. I believe that there will be real benefit to both sides as we negotiate a good trade deal for both of us.
I wholeheartedly welcome the Prime Minister’s message of looking forward with optimism and hope. Without that sort of viewpoint, I for one would never have made it to this place. Today, my heart is tinged with a little sadness, but we must always aim for better, which is why I wholeheartedly welcome the tone and spirit of the Prime Minister’s words. With that in mind, does she agree that it is crucial for all sectors to be treated fairly in the future negotiations and that in the south-west, our biggest sector of food, farming and agriculture must not be sold or traded at the expense of other sectors?
As I have said, we are working hard in all Departments to ensure that the interests of different parts of the United Kingdom are taken into account. We recognise that the value of certain sectors and jobs varies, and that there are parts of the United Kingdom—for instance, as my hon. Friend says, the south-west—where food and farming are a particularly important element. I can assure my hon. Friend that we will be seeking a comprehensive package that will provide a good deal for everyone in the United Kingdom.
In her letter to Donald Tusk, the Prime Minister says:
“If…we leave the European Union without an agreement…we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms. In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.”
Is she really saying that the security of our country will be traded like a bargaining chip in these negotiations?
We will not be trading the security of our country, but we have a relationship with the European Union. There are certain elements of the European Union, in justice and home affairs, of which we are currently members and of which, on leaving the European Union, we would not be members. We need to negotiate what our future relationship will be. It is very simple and very pragmatic: the aim will be to ensure co-operation on these matters.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s repeated use of the word “pragmatic” in her responses. Many of us believe that this country is at its very best when we are pragmatic, rather than ideological. The Prime Minister mentioned the importance of co-operation on justice and home affairs. Does she accept that co-operation on other aspects of judicial and legal services will also be crucial in underpinning her prioritisation of our financial services sector, which is so critical to any negotiation?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The strength of our legal services, and the co-operation that we have on justice and legal matters, are also an important part of the relationship that we have. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor has been working with the judiciary to examine exactly those issues and consider how we can proceed with them to ensure the right level of co-operation in the future.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving me advance sight of her statement. She referred to “the British spirit” and to a “fairer”, “united” Britain, but fairness is a proper respect for all views from all parts of the islands, not just, as she put it, “taking account of the specific interests” of nations and regions beforehand, and not just consulting about which repatriated powers should stay in Westminster and which should be dribbled down while she drives through her extreme version of Brexit. As we leave the European Union, there must be a better way than just her way.
The hon. Gentleman referred to my vision for Brexit. As I have made very clear, in the House this afternoon and elsewhere, we want that comprehensive free trade agreement, we want good security co-operation, and we want good security on justice and home affairs matters. That is what is in the letter to President Tusk. I do not consider it to be an extreme view of Brexit; I consider it to be a good deal for the United Kingdom.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the very reasonable underlying tone of her letter to President Tusk. As she will know, this is a day for which I have campaigned for some 26 years. Does she agree that the dividends of the restoration of democracy to our institutions, the ending of huge fiscal transfers to the European Union and the potential for international new trade deals are prizes from which everyone in our country will benefit in years to come?
As I said earlier, I know that there are Members on both sides of the House who have campaigned for this for a very long time. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think that what underlay the vote for people was that sense of the need for the United Kingdom to be able to have control of its budget, control of its laws and control of its immigration rules, and not simply be subject to decisions made in Brussels.
I am proud to have been a Member of the European Parliament—I was one of the first to be elected, in 1979, along with Boris’s father, who I do not think shares Boris’s views any longer. The Prime Minister has reflected today on the role of the European Parliament. I am sure she will agree that while it is one of three important institutions with which negotiations will take place, at the end of the day it has the power of veto, and that is a very important power. If the European Parliament were to invite her—as it does invite Heads of State and Prime Ministers—to appear before it, give her views and answer some questions, would she agree to do so?
The right hon. Lady is right to say that the European Parliament will play an important role in the process. Obviously, the structure of the negotiations that has been established means that the key negotiator will be the European Commission, operating under the mandate of the European Council, but arrangements are made for interaction with the European Parliament as part of that as well. I know that Heads of Government are, from time to time, invited to address the European Parliament, and were I to receive such an invitation, I would of course consider it very seriously.
This is indeed a momentous day. On behalf of the whole House, may I pass on our congratulations to our hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) on the birth of a baby boy this morning, Clifford George?
The Prime Minister has spoken of more decision-making powers for the devolved Assemblies. With that in mind, does she agree that now is the time to turbo-charge devolved powers to Yorkshire and the north, and to give real backing to the northern powerhouse?
Order. In congratulating the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) on the excellent news to which the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) has just referred, I think it right also to congratulate the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), who I think had some hand in the matter as well. [Laughter.] Well, he had a role, anyway.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am glad that I did not have to give clarification of your statement. I congratulate both my hon. Friends on the birth of Clifford George this morning, and I am sure that the whole House will send its best wishes to mother and father, and to their baby son.
As others have said in the House, it is important for us to take into account the views of the various parts and regions of the United Kingdom. We have some very important deals, including a number of city deals, around the country, and the devolution deals. The directly elected Mayors will be in place on 4 May. We will also, of course, look into how we can further boost the economies throughout the United Kingdom, including the northern powerhouse and the midlands engine. I was in Birmingham yesterday to discuss exactly that issue.
Having recently come from a Public Accounts Committee sitting on care for people with learning disabilities, may I ask whether the Prime Minister can tell us when the national health service will start receiving its extra £350 million a week?
I am pleased to say that we are putting record levels of funding into the national health service, and—as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in his Budget statement—putting extra funding into social care. Decisions on how we spend our budget in the future, once we have completed the negotiations and left the European Union, will be decisions to be made here in the United Kingdom.
In less than half an hour, the Italian Foreign Secretary will visit Parliament to sign the book of condolence and lay some flowers on behalf of the Republic of Italy. May I warmly commend some words in the Prime Minister’s statement? It was the first time that she had said this to the House: “I will represent every person in the United Kingdom…and, yes, those EU nationals who have made this country their home.” That includes my parents, my sister, some of my constituents, and 3 million other European Union nationals. I thank the Prime Minister for using those warm words. Today marks a coming of age for her: she is showing the House and the country that she is the right leader at this momentous time for the country.
I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. He has, of course, taken a particular interest in the position of EU citizens living here in the United Kingdom. I am pleased to confirm that, as I negotiate, I will be negotiating for everyone in the United Kingdom, including those EU citizens. As I have repeated in the letter to President Tusk, I hope and expect that we shall be able to look at the issue of the rights of EU citizens living here—and UK citizens living in the EU—at an early stage of the negotiations.
May I remind the Prime Minister that, at one stage, both she and I were remainers? I remain very much a remainer; I am a passionate European, and I believe that she should take careful note of the fact that a large number of people in this country value European citizenship because it has delivered over many years peace, prosperity and security. Will she assure this House that those priorities will be maintained in all the negotiations going forward?
I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that it is, of course, possible to be a passionate European without believing that the UK should be a member of the European Union. This is a difference in terms of the values that we share. Working together co-operatively, across Europe, on the issues that he raises is important. Of course, I do believe, as those on the Conservative Benches do, that the key determinant of security and defence across Europe has been NATO. We continue to play our part in NATO, but I recognise that there are those on the continent of Europe who very much feel that for them the EU has been part of that process of delivering security and peace into the future. I want to ensure that we can continue to work together, so that we continue to see peace and security across our European continent.
Although the Prime Minister did indeed support the remain side during the referendum campaign last year, she has demonstrated outstanding leadership of our country in implementing the will of the British people. So on this historic day, and recalling, of course, Sir Edward Elgar, and having campaigned myself in 1975 to leave the Common Market, may I salute the Prime Minister for her determination to unite the country in securing the very best deal not only for the United Kingdom, but for our European partners as well?
I also want to put on record how proud I am of what we have achieved as members of the EU, not just for our security and the economy, but also as regards peace between our nations, which twice in the last century have been at war. We know that there is more than one way to Brexit, and over the next two years there will clearly be a big debate about the trade-offs we will need to make. We also know that the Prime Minister wishes to ensure the future prosperity of Britain. So far, however, there has been no economic assessment of the Government’s plans. Will the Prime Minister confirm that an economic assessment will be published with the final deal, and that it will compare the expected outcome both to what we have now, and to the prospect if there is no deal?
The hon. Lady asked me to make a comparison with what we have now. Of course, we have decided to leave the EU and therefore to change our relationship with it, but we will make sure that Members have the necessary information when we come to the vote in Parliament on the deal we are putting forward.
This is a day that neither I nor the vast majority of my constituents wanted to see. However, may I commend the Prime Minister on her statement and her tone in the letter to President Tusk? I fully support the Prime Minister’s objective of delivering a comprehensive free trade deal with the EU on goods and services—and let us be clear that no deal would be a bad deal—but what more can this House do to help her to deliver her aims, in the interests of both Britain and the EU?
The task that this House will have of putting through the great repeal Bill and other necessary legislation will, of course, be an important part of the process of delivering on the deal that we need at the end of this negotiation that we are entering into. I have every confidence that Members on both sides of the House, of all views and from all sides of the argument in the past, will come together and ensure that we work together to get the best possible deal.
With us having a maximum of 72 weeks in which to negotiate a UK-EU trade deal, the future for Scotland is very clear: independence in Europe, or go it alone with Westminster. Have the Government thought of rejoining the European Free Trade Association, or will the Prime Minister totally go it alone and be in absolutely no regional trade agreement at all—a situation shared only by East Timor, Somalia, South Sudan, Mauritania and São Tomé and Príncipe in the gulf of Guinea—because that is where she is taking the United Kingdom?
I have said right from the beginning that, given the position of the United Kingdom, we want to negotiate a deal that is right for the United Kingdom. That means not taking off the shelf an arrangement that other countries have, but asking what works for the UK and the EU, given the relationship we have had, given that we have been members of the EU, given the size of our economy, and given the benefits to us and the EU of getting such a comprehensive free trade deal.
I warmly welcome the tone of the Prime Minister’s letter to President Tusk, and wish her every success in achieving free and frictionless trade, but when it comes to returning sovereignty to this Parliament, will she undertake that she will limit any Henry VIII powers and allow MPs to vote on legislation that will affect the future of their constituents?
We will try to ensure that we have the best possible way of putting legislation through this House to enable necessary debate and discussion to take place. Obviously, as we come to the debates on the great repeal Bill, that will be part of the discussions, but I also ask hon. Members to recognise the very many changes that will need to take place that are very technical, and that are not about policy but are necessary, because of the intertwining of our legislation over the years, if we are to ensure that when we reach the point of leaving, we can have that clean break and have dealt with all the legislative consequences.
I am sure that when the Prime Minister went to the polling station on 23 June last year and cast her vote for remain, at the forefront of her mind was stability for British industry, and in the recent by-election in my constituency, the Prime Minister wrote to thousands of my constituents highlighting the plan she said her party would have for the ceramic industry. The ceramic manufacturers of Stoke-on-Trent make the best pottery in the world, but what they now need is stability and confidence, so that they can reach their growth targets and create jobs. Can the Prime Minister confirm, here and now, that our future relationship with the single market and the customs union will deliver exactly the same benefits as it currently does, so that when I return to Stoke-on-Trent this weekend I can give my major employers the confidence they need?
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the answer I give him will be the answer I have given throughout this statement, and indeed have given in the past: we will be working for that comprehensive free trade agreement that will enable businesses to trade freely with the European Union single market, and to trade in both goods and services with the European single market. That is what we want to achieve. I recognise the need for business to have as much certainty as possible as soon as possible. One of the things in the letter that I know business has been asking for is the concept of the implementation period, so that there is not a cliff edge when we leave, and so that they are able to put any new arrangements in place and have notification of that. That is exactly what I have suggested to President Tusk we should, at an early stage, agree will be a principle that we will abide by.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. In strongly welcoming my right hon. Friend’s statement, may I particularly welcome what she said about remaining good Europeans, and does she agree that the fact that we are committed to NATO and its 2% undertaking, have troops deploying to eastern European neighbours who are embattled, and have troops fighting Daesh, which has brought horror to European cities, shows just what a good European country we are?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point: it is not just about what we stand up and say; it is about what we actually do. As he says, what we are doing in NATO, the commitments we have given to our eastern European allies, and the work we are doing to counter Daesh—not just the military work we are doing, but also the co-operation between our intelligence services across Europe—are all important symbols of our commitment to ensuring that we play our part in maintaining security in Europe.
The Prime Minister has stated that she will not provide a running commentary on negotiations. Earlier this week in the Financial Times, Michel Barnier stated:
“The unity of the 27 will be stronger when based on full transparency and public debate.”
I ask the Prime Minister: what exactly does it say about this so-called team approach if Members of this Parliament, and indeed devolved Governments across these islands, are set to hear more about the outcome of these vital talks from those on the other side of the negotiating table than from this Tory Government?
No, I have said clearly that when we are able to provide clarity, as we have done up until now and look to do in the future, we will do so. However, it is absolutely the case that if we are to get the best deal for the United Kingdom, we should not reveal every detail of our hand at every stage in the negotiations. We will be looking to ensure that clarity and information are available where that is appropriate.
While seeking to protect and enhance workers’ rights, will the Prime Minister also seize the opportunity afforded by leaving the European Union for greater sectoral deregulation so that businesses are able to create wealth and prosperity, which we all need and upon which our public services ultimately rely?
At the point at which we leave the European Union, the acquis will be brought into UK law, which will provide businesses with certainty. It will then be up to the UK Government and the UK Parliament to determine what regulations remain in place in the future and what deregulation should take place.
In her letter to Donald Tusk, the Prime Minister refers to the treaty on European Union and the treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community. She makes no reference, however, to the European economic area agreement, which underpins our membership of the single market. When and how does the Prime Minister intend to withdraw us from the EEA?
I warmly thank my right hon. Friend for, and congratulate her on, carrying out the wishes of the majority of my constituents in Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington by triggering article 50 today. After 40 years of membership, the negotiations ahead could be long and difficult, but does she agree that what matters is the big picture? We are taking back control for this Parliament. We are taking back control of our borders. We are taking back control of our contributions.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The negotiations will be detailed, but we must always keep in our vision the big picture, as he describes it, that this is about control of our laws, control of our borders and control of our budgets. That was what people voted for when they voted to leave.
Michel Barnier, who will be directly involved in the negotiations, has put Northern Ireland at the top of his agenda because he was directly involved in the negotiations to establish the Special EU Programmes Body. Will the Prime Minister outline how she will ensure the protection of our fragile economy in Northern Ireland, and ensure tariff-free and continued access to the single European market, which is vital to the growing economy of the island of Ireland?
In overall terms, negotiating a comprehensive free trade agreement with what we want to achieve, which is tariff-free trade with the European single market, will cover the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. However, due to the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, we are conscious of the need for us to look carefully at the customs arrangements that will be put in place. We want to be able to have trade agreements with other countries around the world, and that has implications for the current rules in relation to membership of the customs union, but we are working actively with the Government of the Republic of Ireland to ensure that arrangements can be put in place that maintain the economy in Northern Ireland. As we have consistently said, and as the Taoiseach and others have said, we do not see a return to the borders of the past.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s comments about the need for us all to work together to secure the best possible deal for our country at this momentous time in our history. She will be aware of the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision that matters relating to relations with the European Union are to be dealt with exclusively by the UK Government and the UK Parliament, and are not for the devolved institutions. Given that this country regularly speaks to the rest of the world about the need to respect the rule of law, does she agree that it is important that politicians from all four nations of our country respect the rule of law themselves?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he says, it is the case that the Supreme Court found that there will be no veto for the devolved Administrations, but it is interesting that the SNP argues that a decision to remain in the European Union by Scottish voters should somehow be dealt with differently from the overall result of the referendum. When we had the referendum in Scotland in 2014 on membership of the United Kingdom, I note that the SNP argued the exact opposite. It argued that the result as a whole was the only one that counted and that if parts of Scotland such as Orkney and Shetland voted differently, that should not be taken into account.
Of course we want to give certainty to businesses and others as soon as possible about the arrangements that will be put in place, but this will be a negotiation and there will be a degree of uncertainty. We cannot completely take away that uncertainty, but we can give clarity when we are able to do so, as we have been doing in the past few months.
I welcome the approach that my right hon. Friend is taking to secure a positive outcome in the negotiations ahead. Does she agree that Brexit is now a spur to action to tackle the long-standing economic challenges of productivity, skills and export performance? Will the Government’s modern industrial strategy help in achieving those important objectives?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I have said before, the vote was not just about leaving the EU; it was about changing how the country works—and changing that forever—and about getting a stronger economy that works for everyone in which everybody plays by the same rules. We want growth and prosperity in every part of the United Kingdom, which is an important part of the future and of our plan for Britain. Our industrial strategy is absolutely right at the heart of delivering that.
We are absolutely steadfast in our support of Gibraltar, its people and its economy. Our position has not changed. We have been firm in our commitment never to enter arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their wishes, nor to enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content. The letter is a notification in relation to our withdrawing from the European Union. Gibraltar is not a separate member of the EU, nor is it a part of the UK for the purposes of EU law, but we are clear that it is covered by our exit negotiations. We have committed to involving Gibraltar fully in the work that we are doing. We have been having regular discussions with the Government of Gibraltar, and we will continue to work with them in the future.
As the representative of a constituency that voted overwhelmingly to leave, as I did, I congratulate the Prime Minister on her leadership on this historic day. Much of my beautiful constituency is rural farmland, and local farmers would like reassurance that their livelihoods will be protected as we leave the EU. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that she will do all that she can to support British farming during the negotiations?
Yes. We have already been able to give some reassurance to farmers with our commitment on funding through to 2020 but, of course, we will then need to look at the arrangements that are put in place after the UK leaves the European Union. I assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is working with farmers in all parts of the United Kingdom to look at what are the best arrangements for the way ahead.
There is a very big economic challenge ahead. Does the Prime Minister recognise that securing anything like the barrier-free access to the single market that she has rightly set as her goal will require some compromise—some middle ground—to be found on the question of free movement of people?
The decision that was taken on 23 June in relation to free movement was that it should be the UK Government who determine the immigration rules for people coming to the United Kingdom from the European Union. We will be putting forward proposals to the House in due course on what those future arrangements should be. We will not be stopping immigration from the European Union—we will not stop people coming into the United Kingdom—and we recognise that people will still move from the EU into the United Kingdom, but the important point is that the rules governing that movement will be determined by the UK Government.
The Prime Minister is right that the UK is leaving the institutions of the European Union, not Europe itself. She is also right to talk of this country as “global Britain”. This nation is one of the world’s leading aviation powers and is an island trading nation. May I seek an assurance that, as we increasingly become a conduit between the rest of the world and Europe, the importance of aviation will be paramount?
Obviously a key element of the negotiations will be ensuring that we see no disruption to aviation arrangements so that people are able to continue flying between the UK and other parts of the European Union and elsewhere in the world. We recognise the importance of our aviation industry in terms of not just the work of the airlines themselves and our airports, but aviation manufacturing, which is also important to us.
This is truly a red, white and blue letter day—[Interruption.] Shut up. The letter represents all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, and sending it ambassador class was a nice touch.
In her letter, the Prime Minister talked about the Brexpats—EU citizens living in the UK, and British citizens, including Scots, who live and work in other parts of the European Union. I know that she has said that she will not give a running commentary on the negotiations, but will she give us an assurance that, once a deal is reached on the Brexpats, she will inform them in order to ease the anxiety that they are currently feeling?
On days such as this, the Prime Minister should speak for the whole country, but she has chosen to speak for little more than half. Beyond empty rhetoric, what reassurances can she give to the 70% of my constituents who voted to remain, and to the one in six who are citizens of other EU countries and have real fears for their livelihoods, businesses and security?
As I indicated in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), the question of the status of EU citizens living here, and of UK citizens living in EU member states, is one that we hope to be able to address at an early stage of the negotiations so that we can give people security and an assurance for the future. Of course I recognise that there will be a degree of uncertainty for businesses until the future arrangements have been concluded and they know what they will be. I hope that we will be able to give businesses the certainty of implementation periods so that there will not be a cliff edge for them, but they can be assured that we will try to ensure that we get the most comprehensive free trade deal that is possible.
Many people voted to leave the EU because they felt disengaged with politics and that the institutions did not work for them. Over the next 18 months, will the Prime Minister therefore not only work to ensure that we retain a place in the world, but deliver on our domestic agenda to ensure that people feel our Government are working for them?
My hon. and learned Friend makes the important point that although there will be complex negotiations in relation to Brexit, it is important that the Government continue to put in place our plan for Britain and our domestic agenda for a stronger economy, a fairer society and a global outlook for the United Kingdom. Our work on trade with other nations around the world will be an important part of that.
The Prime Minister told us that Brexit meant Brexit. Now that the Scottish Parliament has voted for a second Scottish independence referendum, will she realise and acknowledge that Scotref means Scotref, and agree to any section 30 application?
I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, her tone in embracing the whole United Kingdom and her emphasis on pursuing a Brexit that works for everyone. Will she reassure me that agriculture and the environment, which are closely linked, will not become a sacrificial lamb in any future trade negotiations?
In our trade negotiations with the European Union and others around the world, we will be very conscious of the need to ensure that we respect the requirements for our environment, and for our agriculture, food and farming industry here in the United Kingdom. I assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to maintain our commitment to both those issues.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on her stamina, as she has been at the Dispatch Box for two and a half hours and we are only halfway through. At the Home Affairs Committee, we at least gave her a chair to sit on throughout our sessions.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on her appointment of Mark Sedwill as the new national security adviser. He will be a loss to the Home Office, but an asset to her. May I press her on policing and security? We have seen the headlines in the letter to Donald Tusk, but will we remain a full member of Europol throughout the negotiations? Will we have full access to the criminal databases of the EU, and is one of her ambitions that we retain that access when we leave the EU?
While we remain a member of the European Union, we will continue to have the access and membership arrangements on those various issues that we currently have. It is certainly my expectation that we will look to negotiate continued access to the various ways in which we share information with EU member states today. That is in not just our interest, but the interest of the EU.
This is a great day for our country as we take back full control of our national destiny. Historically, we have been a free trading nation that has been outward looking with a global perspective. Does the Prime Minister agree that that which is historically in our national DNA will stand us in good stead as we go through these critical negotiations?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend, which is why I am optimistic and ambitious for the United Kingdom. That spirit of trading around the world—that outward-looking spirit we have always had in the UK—will indeed stand us in good stead in the future.
Will the Prime Minister confirm her understanding of what will need to happen on the European side to ratify the new deal with the UK, which we all want to see? Will this be a decision, as part of the exit negotiations, by the Council of Ministers and by the Commission, or will this require ratification by every remaining EU member state national Parliament and, in some cases, regional Parliament? Clearly, it could cause a lot of uncertainty if just one member state opposes the terms we have negotiated for our exit.
The extent to which any part of the deal requires full ratification by every individual member state and every constituent part of the European Union will vary according to the nature of the aspect of the deal, but overall it will be necessary for the European Parliament and for the nation states to ratify.
For those of us who campaigned and voted for Brexit not just last year, but in 1975, this is a great day and one for celebration. Some 70% of my Cleethorpes constituents and of those in neighbouring Grimsby voted for Brexit last June, partly as a result of continuing anger and resentment at the sell-out of the fishing industry in the original negotiations. The Prime Minister has already reassured me that the fishing industry will be looked after, but the associated seafood industry is very much dependent on the fishing industry. I have already met industry leaders in my constituency who see both opportunities and concerns, so will she reassure me that the seafood processing industry will be a key part of the negotiations?
I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that we want to ensure not only that we get a good future for our fishing industry, but that those parts of industry that rely on fishing will also have a good future here in the UK. We will be taking that into account.
Thousands of EU nationals who are doing essential and useful jobs in our agriculture and fisheries sector, and in our public sector, still do not know what their status is going to be two years from now. Is the UK Government’s position so weak that they need to use these people as bargaining fodder in their negotiations? Why will the Prime Minister not make a good-will gesture and guarantee their rights?
As the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and as the Parliament of the United Kingdom, I think we should all have care not just for EU citizens living here, but for United Kingdom citizens living in the European Union. We want to ensure reciprocal arrangements guaranteeing the rights on both sides.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s clear commitment to a positive, constructive and respectful approach to the negotiations that lie ahead. May I press her further on behalf of the fishing community in my constituency and around the United Kingdom? She will know that in the past these people have been badly let down during negotiations, so will she give an equally clear commitment that the fishing community will receive a sufficiently high priority during the negotiations ahead?
I can confirm to my hon. Friend that we are very conscious of the needs of the fishing industry. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been talking to the fishing industry. The Secretary of State and others have been looking carefully at the arrangements that will need to be put in place in the interests of the fishing industry, and that will be an important part of our considerations in future.
Young people are very distressed and sad that we are leaving the European Union. Many of them did not vote for it and many did not even get a say in this decision, but they are the generation most greatly affected by it. What will the Prime Minister do to ensure that she listens to and engages with the next generation?
The hon. Lady makes an important point, because decisions we take now about how we leave the European Union, what our arrangements are in future and what we do here in the United Kingdom in things such as technical education and our industrial strategy are about the next generation. I want to ensure that we are ambitious for the whole of this country and ambitious to ensure a bright future for the next generation, and that is what this Government will be working for.
May I thank my right hon. Friend for the resolute way in which she has pushed through the will of the British people? Does she agree that the logical conclusion to invoking article 50 will be regaining control of our destiny? That means that all the rules and regulations that govern our lives will be made in this place or in these islands, and not by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs has spoken clearly in saying:
“We have also taken note of the fact that UK citizens voted differently in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and also in Gibraltar, making it clear that the majority of them would wish to remain in the Union. It is difficult to imagine that those differences could be ignored and discarded in the process of Brexit.”
How is it that our friends and partners in Europe are so clear about making our voices heard, yet the right hon. Lady completely ignores and discards them?
The Government are not completely ignoring and discarding voices. What we are doing is focusing on the best possible outcome for the whole of the United Kingdom. I look at that best possible outcome very simply in terms of: what ends do we want to achieve? We want that free trade agreement—we want that free trade arrangement. I understood that a comprehensive free trade agreement was actually what the Scottish Government wanted to see, and we will be working for it.
The food and drinks manufacturing sector is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK; it is innovative, it is a significant exporter and it employs a lot of people up and down the country. It is also an area significantly affected by EU law, so during the forthcoming negotiations will the Prime Minister be sensitive to the needs of this important sector and ensure that it is able to compete on a level playing field?
I assure my hon. Friend that we are listening to the voices of various industrial and other sectors around the country to ensure that we take account of the particular concerns they have as we look ahead to leaving the European Union, because we want to ensure that we are able to build on the success we already have. He talks about innovation and success, and we want to be able to build on that for the future, so we will be taking those interests very firmly into account.
The Prime Minister’s letter to President Tusk states:
“In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.”
Given that, will she clarify whether she is still threatening to walk away with no deal if she does not get the economic deal she wants?
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement. Will she confirm that during the Brexit negotiations she will pay close attention to the concerns of people in Gibraltar, that we will maintain the effective working of the border with Spain and their market access to the UK, and that these negotiations will not be used as a back door to questions about their sovereignty, given that Gibraltarians, unlike some separatist movements, want to respect the result of once-in-a-generation referendums?
I can give reassurance to my hon. Friend; we have set up a Joint Ministerial Council with the Government of Gibraltar to discuss the particular issues they have and to make sure that their concerns are taken into account as we enter these negotiations. We are committed to continuing to engage with Gibraltar as we leave the EU.
Even an ardent remainer like me recognises that we now have a golden opportunity to reshape immigration policy. The Prime Minister spoke in her statement of “a truly global Britain”, so will she apply that principle and, at the earliest opportunity in the next two years, remove international students from net migration targets? That would send out the message that we are a welcoming nation and stem the plummeting tide of EU applications to our universities.
Whether or not international students are included in the net migration target is not a message about our country and how we welcome people. We welcome students coming to this country—we are very clear about that—but in the statistics we abide by the international definition used by countries around the world. We want to ensure that the brightest and the best are indeed able to come to the United Kingdom and get the value of a UK education.
I welcome the seven principles in the Prime Minister’s letter, particularly the first, on constructive and respectful engagement, and the fifth, about the importance of the
“UK’s unique relationship with the Republic of Ireland”,
the Belfast agreement and the peace process. Does she agree that to achieve the best possible outcome for all our constituents, there should on both sides be the minimum of red lines and the maximum flexibility?
I do not know whether the Prime Minister is yet aware of reports about the draft European Parliament resolution that will be discussed this afternoon, but it includes the recognition that
“a large number of United Kingdom citizens, including a majority in Northern Ireland and Scotland, voted to remain in the EU”.
It does not mention Maidenhead, perhaps because the people of Maidenhead, unlike the people of Scotland, did not have an independence referendum in which they were told that voting to remain in the United Kingdom also meant voting to remain in the European Union.
I very much welcome the way the Prime Minister has taken forward the will of the British people, including the majority of my constituents. On security and on fighting terrorism and extremism, in 2014 there were 20 Daesh-inspired or enabled terrorist acts around the world, and in 2015 there were 60 such events. The United Kingdom has always had intelligence-sharing arrangements with our partners around the world, wherever they might be. Does the Prime Minister agree that there is a moral obligation on every international partner, whenever they have information that could prevent a terrorist act, to provide it to their international partners? We are all in it together to fight the evil of terrorism.
There are powers that are devolved to the devolved Administrations on the basis that they are subject to decisions taken at European Union level. Once we leave the European Union, those decisions will of course come to the United Kingdom. We want an open discussion with all the devolved Administrations about what is right to ensure that we keep a single market operating in the United Kingdom. As I said in my letter to President Tusk and repeated in my statement, it is our expectation that we will see significantly increased decision-making powers moving to the devolved Administrations when we leave.
Today, we are embarking on a journey that is undoubtedly motivated in part by a desire to control immigration, but is not the reality that as we sit here, the public services and economy in entire swathes of our country are dependent on very hard-working EU migrants just to function? Does the Prime Minister agree that in seeking to control immigration, many people in this country want to see it at significantly lower levels? Does she also agree that in practice that will not be possible until such time as we reform our welfare state and education system so that we can replace our reliance on foreign labour with more use of local talent?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We do need to ensure that people here in the United Kingdom have the skills and incentives to be able to take up the jobs that are available so that businesses here do not find it so necessary to rely on bringing in labour from abroad. Of course we recognise the valuable contribution that EU citizens are making to our economy and our society, and we will want to ensure that we take the interests of businesses and others into account as we shape our future immigration rules.
The Prime Minister’s letter refers to doing nothing to jeopardise the peace process, and to the need to uphold the Belfast agreement. Does she recognise that the Belfast agreement exists in several strands, including strand two, which provides a framework for all-island co-operation and north-south joint implementation