House of Commons
Wednesday 29 March 2017
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I have a short statement to make about the follow-up to last Wednesday’s events. As would be normal after such events, we are seeking to make sure that any lessons are learned through two reviews. The Lord Speaker and I are commissioning an external independent review of how the perimeter of the parliamentary estate, including outbuildings, is secured and protected to produce a preliminary report by the end of April. The two Clerks are commissioning an externally led lessons learned review of the operation last week of Parliament’s incident management framework to report by the end of June. You will all shortly receive a letter inviting you and your staff to contribute your views and experiences to these reviews, and identifying a dedicated email inbox for your comments.
Members will also be aware that 2.40 pm today marks a week on from the shocking events of last week, and our thoughts will be, in particular, with the Metropolitan police as they mourn their colleague, PC Keith Palmer.
Business Before Questions
Standing Orders (Private Business)
That the Amendments to Standing Orders relating to Private Business set out in the Schedule be made.—(The Chairman of Ways and Means.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Developing Countries (Extreme Poverty)
The UK’s investment in cutting-edge research on new technology to tackle extreme poverty is more important than ever before. DFID spends 3% of its budget on supporting research and development, and we are demonstrating leadership on this issue.
Evenproducts is a small and innovative company based in my constituency that makes water tanks and sanitation equipment used throughout the developing world. It is also part of DFID’s rapid response group. What is the Department doing to encourage even more small businesses and charities to engage with this work?
Thank you for your very kind birthday wishes, Mr Speaker.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about small businesses in his constituency and, indeed, in all our constituencies. I congratulate the company he mentioned on the outstanding work that it does in development. I am leading a review of our suppliers in DFID right now. We are changing the way in which we procure. We will ensure that more UK firms, in particular, have the opportunity to support UK aid around the world and deliver on our development objectives.
I pay tribute to the work that the Secretary of State is doing in this area. Does she agree that in much of sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, many charities are doing a lot of work on clean water to try to tackle drought, as well as work on economic development? We can do much more to support these much-needed charities in those countries.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The challenge that we have across sub-Saharan Africa is drought and the provision of water, and all the essentials that many of us take for granted. He is right that small charities play a crucial role in delivering that. That was why last week I announced the new small charities challenge fund, which will give small charities across the United Kingdom more of an opportunity to access DFID funds and support to go out there and deliver life-saving aid around the world.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Today being a very significant day, he is right to raise this issue. We know through all our work that to move countries from aid dependency we have to give them economic empowerment and prosperity. Free trade is one aspect of that, along with the other work that we do on bringing commerce and new trading opportunities, but education as well, to countries around the world.
The hon. Lady is right to raise the £357 million that is associated with the Ross Fund, and I thank her for doing so. We spend that on top of the 3% commitment of DFID’s money and budget that we already give through the research review that I launched last year. This speaks to our leadership in the world in tackling health epidemics through the work that we led on Ebola and on Zika, and also on TB. Last Friday was World TB Day. Our investment in universities across the United Kingdom in terms of scientific research and development has shown UK leadership in how we can tackle some of these awful diseases and epidemics and get better prevention of them.
Somalia (Food Security)
The UK is at the forefront of international efforts to avert a famine in Somalia. Our additional £110 million of aid will provide food, water and emergency services for more than 1 million people. I think all Members of this House will recognise that we are witnessing Somalia experience an absolutely devastating famine right now, but UK aid is making an enormous difference.
I thank the Secretary of State very much for her comments. Up to 3 million people are at risk of starvation in Somalia. It is important not only to get the food in, but to make sure it goes to the people who really need it. I would just like to press her a little bit more on how we can physically get the food to those who most need it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. First and foremost, I would like to commend all the partners and agencies working in Somalia in quite terrible, difficult and harrowing conditions. We work with a range of trusted and experienced partners in a country that is very difficult; there is no doubt about that. I have met many of them, as have my DFID teams and officials in country. Our priority, as I have said, is to get emergency food and water to the people who need it, and we are working with a range of agencies to do exactly that.
The scale of the humanitarian crisis in Somalia, the rest of east Africa and Yemen is truly appalling. I welcome what the Secretary of State has said about the UK donation, but what are we doing to ensure that other wealthy countries rise to the challenge as well?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that remark. He will know that thanks to the generosity of UK taxpayers, the east Africa Disasters Emergency Committee appeal has reached £40 million. UK aid has contributed to that, and rightly so, through our match funding. Others need to do more; I have been unequivocal about the fact that I think that other countries need to pull their finger out. We have led the way in terms of lobbying and making calls. All Ministers across DFID and across Government, including Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers, have been doing exactly that—pressing the wealthier countries to contribute more to tackling these famines and to step up their own responses.
May I ask the Secretary of State what work her Department is doing with the international community to help to ensure that it is better able to provide a more urgent early response to food crises, to avoid mass loss of life?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that point. What we are seeing is totally unprecedented. To witness the prospect of four famines in 2017 is simply horrific for all of us. There is more that can be done, and the UK is working with others to try to build greater capacity and resilience in those countries so that we do not reach crisis points, as we have done this year, where international appeals have to come together and plead with people to give money. The long-term strategy has to be to build greater resilience. That has worked in countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya in the past.
On 21 March, the United Nations agricultural agency further scaled up its activities in drought-ridden regions in Somalia. I thank the agency for the $22 million that was loaned, but I have had concerned constituents asking who will be paying back that loan. Will it be the United Nations or will it be the Somalians?
The hon. Lady raises an important point about funding and resourcing for such crisis appeals. As I have said, the UK has stepped up and led the way. On my visit to Somalia six weeks ago, we managed to convene more funds—yes, from the UK, but we are getting others to do likewise. We cannot continue to put the debt burden on countries that are struggling, or on a Government who are so new that we have to continue to support them. Of course, we have the Somalia conference coming up very soon.
East Africa (Food Security)
The humanitarian crises facing the world in 2017 are unprecedented. The UK is leading the response and stepping up life-saving support across east Africa.
On a recent visit to Kenya and Uganda with the Select Committee on International Development, I met children who had walked up to 10 km just to get to school and 10 km to get back, many of whom were lucky if they had one meal a day. While we were at the school, we discussed associated educational and developmental issues. What consideration has my right hon. Friend given to supporting food programmes aimed at school-age children?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight that, and I am glad that the Select Committee saw the strong work DFID is doing, in partnership, on education in both Kenya and Uganda. We of course provide a range of support, and in our education support and our programme work we look at all aspects of water, food and provision of healthcare, and at how we can support vulnerable households.
I pay tribute to the many people across Cardiff, including local football teams, who have been raising funds for drought-affected areas, in Somaliland in particular. I have heard worrying concerns from the Government of Somaliland and others that some of the aid pledged to the region is not getting through. Will the Secretary of State investigate this and do what she can to provide support?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. We must always challenge the system, but also challenge Governments and authorities. As he will know, there are issues in Somaliland specifically, because it is very challenging and difficult terrain. I will always press, be vocal about and call out those who are preventing aid access, so I will absolutely look into the point he has made.
Yesterday, I met the Ethiopian ambassador, who made the point that money is needed desperately, but at the same time let us not stereotype east Africa. It is a place of prosperity, where Louis Vuitton handbags and some of the finest gloves are made, as well as a place that requires help in the north.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I saw that for myself when I went to Ethiopia; I went to one of the industrial parks. I think—this comes back to the point about economic development—that Ethiopia is now a great success story in moving from famine and poverty to prosperity and the development agenda. In effect, we want to see more of that.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. He will not be surprised to hear me say that we have been calling the South Sudanese Government out on that. Their behaviour and conduct in putting up their fees and blocking aid access have been absolutely appalling. We will continue to apply all pressure we can to make sure we tackle these issues directly.
I am sure the Secretary of State will commend Comic Relief for raising £73 million this year, but is she as concerned as I am that it showed a baby dying at 8.30 pm, before the watershed, and another baby dying at 9.10 pm, meaning that the overall portrayal of Africa is very narrow? It needs to review the formula, because this is affecting primary school children’s understanding of a very complicated continent with 52 countries.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the great work of Comic Relief and how it raises so much money for all the domestic and international causes. I did not see the footage to which he refers, but as we have touched on already in these exchanges, Africa has a bright future—there is no doubt about that—in terms of its population, economic development and prosperity, and we must focus on those things.
We join in passing on birthday wishes to the Secretary of State. Will she explain how DFID is helping local partners to deliver humanitarian aid in response to the east African crisis, and how is that helping the Department to make progress towards the target, agreed at last year’s world humanitarian summit, that 25% of humanitarian aid should be delivered through local partners by 2020?
The hon. Gentleman asks a very important question. Following the world humanitarian summit, we have been leading the charge—working with others in the system, including the head of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien—on how to get better efficiencies and improve ways of working, which are crucial. The east African crisis has shown how we can deliver aid more effectively through our partnership working, but also how we can reform our ways of working, which we need to improve continually.
Britain has a proven track record of supporting Afghanistan and a long-term commitment to the country’s future. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on Monday, we will continue to support Afghanistan’s security and development because that is in Afghanistan’s interests, but also in our national interest.
Although huge progress has been made in Afghanistan on the education of women and girls, does the Secretary of State agree that long-term stability and prosperity in Afghanistan depend on women and girls being able to make a full contribution to business, political and civic life?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I saw that myself when I visited Afghanistan recently. Women and girls are key to delivering real and long-lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan. Its Government are fully committed to that and we will continue to work with and support them to achieve it.
The hon. Gentleman raises a really important point, particularly in light of the many sacrifices that were made in Helmand province. We work across Government on the issue, including with the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. We are working at every level to strengthen capacity and resilience in the country.
DFID funding has enabled significant progress in maternal healthcare, as well as in educating girls, in the federally administered tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Would the Secretary of State be willing to meet representatives of the local charity, the Community Motivation and Development Organisation, which is a recipient, on their next visit to London?
United Nations (Aid Programmes)
Discussions with the United Nations are central to the Department’s work. The Secretary of State speaks regularly to the Secretary-General, and I am lucky enough to be able to speak regularly to the heads of UN agencies such as UNICEF and the World Food Programme, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Our focus is not just on funding, but on reform, in particular making sure that we have better co-ordination in humanitarian crises.
UN aid programmes are an investment on behalf of all citizens, so, given their importance, I was surprised to read some of the sweeping statements in the multilateral review. Does the Secretary of State accept that if institutions are to be reformed, perhaps that should be done with the co-operation of all member states, not at the unilateral discretion of her Department?
We believe very strongly that reform should be done with other member states and as part of a coalition. As the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, the multilateral development review has pointed to issues where we think further reform is needed, but the United Nations is central to Britain’s response around the world. In fact, we are contributing £1.6 billion this year in our work with the United Nations, addressing some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.
Clearly, Gulf states, which are increasingly large parts of the economy of the world, are central to humanitarian response. There have been significant contributions from the Gulf—from Saudi, UAE and Qatar—and the Secretary of State continues to encourage those contributions, particularly those that address the famines in the horn of Africa.
As President Trump slashes aid spending, it is more important than ever that global, outward-looking nations live up to their responsibilities, not shirk them, to fill the aid funding gaps. Will the Minister commit to working with our partners on increasing their aid spending, to show that despite Brexit the UK can still be a global leader embracing its global responsibilities?
We agree absolutely with that. It is central that other countries meet their targets. We are very proud to be able to stand tall in the world, particularly at a time when children are starving to death. That is why the Secretary of State is leading international coalitions to increase the international commitment to these desperate issues.
Britain’s small charities do amazing and often highly innovative work in some of the poorest places in the world. Small charities are being given a boost by the financial fund that I have mentioned. I urge all colleagues on both sides of the House to encourage small charities in their constituencies to come forward when the funds are opened this summer.
The Secretary of State has already acknowledged that last Friday was World TB Day. I hope that she is aware that there is an emerging threat of the disease becoming drug-resistant, so what steps are the Government taking to eradicate the TB epidemic and provide treatment for drug-resistant strains?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. TB is a deadly disease that affects so much of the world. We are demonstrating great leadership in this country on how we can tackle and invest in addressing TB as well as antimicrobial resistance, which is a big agenda that the UK has led on. We are funding more work, not only through the Ross Fund, as I said earlier, but through our research reviews.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the important issue of mental health in relation to the global goals and the international disability framework. DFID works across the world, through agencies as well as in countries such as Ghana, to integrate our research to see how we can do more with their health systems to deliver the right kind of support.
My hon. Friend has raised this issue with me previously. On support for family planning around the world in light of America’s policies, I am delighted to confirm that we are hosting a conference in July this year, working alongside Bill Gates, the private sector and others, to continue to demonstrate UK leadership on this issue while challenging others to step up.
The hon. Gentleman raises a really important point about the summit, HIV/AIDS and representation from civil society. I can give him a complete assurance that we are not only engaging but working with civil society organisations. Their voices will be at the heart of our further policy work and development.
My constituents want value for money and transparency in the international aid system. What more can the Secretary of State do to ensure that that happens?
My hon. Friend is right to raise the important issue of delivering value for money in how we deliver UK aid. I can give him and the whole House a complete assurance that, through the reforms we are undertaking, every pound of UK aid—taxpayers’ money—will be spent on delivering for the world’s poorest.
As I said earlier, the UK leads on prosperity and economic development. My hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that we do not tie in aid and trade, but there is a role for governance and building the prosperity agenda. That is effectively what we are doing through DFID’s economic development strategy.
There seems to be wide agreement across the House that foreign aid is a good thing and an investment, yet the public debate, driven by populism, is incredibly toxic. What are the Government doing to detoxify the public debate surrounding foreign aid?
At a time when there is great need in the world, we have seen enormous generosity from UK taxpayers for the Disasters Emergency Committee east Africa appeal. We have seen the country, as well as the international community, come together to give support and aid to the people who need it the most. We are proud of that, and we stand tall in the world when we stand up for our obligations to the poorest in the world. That is, in effect, what we are doing.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I would like to update the House on last week’s terrorist attack. Since my statement on Thursday, the names of those who died have been released. They were Aysha Frade, Kurt Cochran, Leslie Rhodes and, of course, PC Keith Palmer. I am sure that Members of all parties will join me in offering our deepest condolences to their friends and families. The police and security services’ investigation continues; two people have been arrested and remain in custody.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I echo those sentiments and congratulate the Prime Minister on all the good work done last week and since that time.
I also congratulate the Prime Minister and the Government on triggering article 50 today. I know that this is a momentous action for the whole United Kingdom. Although I, in common with the right hon. Lady, campaigned to stay in, we recognise that the people have spoken, and we offer the Ulster Unionist party’s full support in ensuring that the negotiations deliver the best for the whole of the United Kingdom, and particularly for Northern Ireland.
I ask the Prime Minister to confirm that, in the extremely improbable event that a border poll should take place regarding the future of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom during her premiership, her Government would fully support any official remain campaign, just as the Government have done in regard of the EU and indeed Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that today we give effect to the democratic decision of the people of the United Kingdom, who voted for us to leave the European Union. It was a call to make the United Kingdom a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. We are, of course, fully committed within that to ensuring that the unique interests of Northern Ireland are protected and advanced as we establish our negotiating position. Our position has always been clear—that we strongly support the Belfast agreement, including the principle of consent that Northern Ireland’s constitutional position is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland to determine. As our manifesto made clear, we have a preference for Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom, and we will never be neutral in expressing our support for that, because I believe fundamentally in the strength of our Union.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I believe that schools should be free to be run as best suits them. We are putting autonomy and freedom in the hands of strong leaders and outstanding teachers so that they can deliver an excellent education. We want to get out of the way of outstanding education providers so that they can set up the types of schools that parents want. That is why we have set out our new plans to remove the ban on new grammar schools and restrictions on new faith schools. It is a complex area, but we expect to announce the detail of the next wave of free school applications following the publication of our schools White Paper.
I want to begin by paying tribute, as the Prime Minister did, to the emergency services across the country, and especially to all those who responded to the Westminster attack last Wednesday and those who turned out to help the victims of the New Ferry explosion last Saturday. Our thoughts remain with the injured and those who have lost loved ones, and we especially thank the police for their ongoing investigations. Will the Prime Minister assure us that the police will be given all the necessary support and resources to take them through this very difficult period of investigating what happened last Wednesday?
I join the right hon. Gentleman in praising the work of our emergency services, who, as he has pointed out, have to deal with a wide range of incidents. Our focus in the House has most recently been on the attack that took place last Wednesday, but we should never forget that, day in and day out, our emergency services are working on our behalf and often putting themselves in danger as a result of the work that they do.
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have, of course, been keeping in touch with both the security services and the Metropolitan police—as has my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—about the current investigation of the attack last week, and about future security arrangements. I can also assure him that they have the resources that they need in order to carry out their vital work.
Of course we all pay tribute to the police for the work that they do, but there are some problems. Between 2015 and 2018 there will be a real-terms cut of £330 million in central Government funding for police forces. Can the Prime Minister assure the House that police forces all over the country have the necessary resources with which to do the job?
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that we have protected the police budget in the comprehensive spending review. I also remind him that the former shadow Home Secretary, his colleague the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), said during the 2015 Labour party conference that
“savings can be found. The Police say 5% to 10% over the Parliament is just about do-able.”
We did not accept that. We have actually protected the police budget. I have been speaking to police forces, as has my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and they are very clear about the fact that they have the resources that they need for the work that they are doing.
A survey undertaken recently by the Police Federation reveals that 55% of serving police officers say that their morale is low because of how their funding has been treated. Frontline policing is vital to tackling crime and terrorism, but there are 20,000 fewer police officers and 12,000 fewer officers on the frontline than there were in 2010. I ask the Prime Minister again: will she think again about the cuts in policing, and will she guarantee that policing on the frontline will be protected so that every community can be assured that it has the police officers it needs?
As I said to the right hon. Gentleman, we have protected police budgets, including the precept that the police are able to raise locally. But let us just think about what has happened since 2010. Since then, crimes that are traditionally measured by the independent crime survey have fallen by a third, to a record low. That is due to the work of hard-working police officers up and down the country, and they have been backed by this Government. Yes, we have made them more accountable through directly elected police and crime commissioners, and yes, there has been reform of policing—including reform of the Police Federation, which was very necessary—but we have ensured that they have the resources to do their job, and we now see crime at a record low.
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the men and women of our armed forces. They are the best in the world. They work tirelessly to keep us safe, and we owe them every gratitude for doing so. I can also assure her that our commitment to collective defence and security through NATO is as strong as ever. We will meet our NATO pledge to spend 2% of GDP on defence in every year of this decade, and we plan to spend £178 billion on the equipment plan to 2025.
My hon. Friend referred to the work being done by the Royal Air Force in relation to Romania. With NATO, we are deploying a battalion to Estonia and a reconnaissance squadron to Poland, and I think that shows our very clear commitment to our collective security and defence.
We associate ourselves with the condolences given by the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party and their praise for the emergency and security services during and in the wake of the appalling terrorist atrocity last week.
Last year, the Prime Minister promised that before she triggered article 50 on leaving the European Union she would secure a UK-wide approach—an agreement—with the Governments of—[Interruption.] Last year, the Prime Minister did make that promise: she promised that there would be an agreement with the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland before she triggered article 50. The Prime Minister has now triggered article 50, and she has done so without an agreement; there is no agreement. Why has she broken her promise and broken her word?
I have been very clear throughout, since the first visit that I made as Prime Minister to Edinburgh last July, that we were going to work with the devolved Administrations and that we would develop a UK-wide approach, but that it would be a UK approach that was taken into the negotiations and that it would be the United Kingdom Government who took forward that position—and I would simply remind the right hon. Gentleman that Scotland is part of the United Kingdom.
People viewing will note that the Prime Minister did not deny that she said she would seek a UK-wide approach and agreement with the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and there is no agreement.
The Scottish Government were elected with a higher percentage of the vote—a bigger electoral mandate—than the UK Government. Yesterday the Scottish Parliament voted by 69 to 59 that people in Scotland should have a choice about their future. After the negotiations on the European Union are concluded, there will be a period for democratic approval of the outcome. That choice will be exercised in this Parliament, in the European Parliament and in 27 member states of the European Union. Given that everybody else will have a choice at that time, will the people of Scotland have a choice about their future?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we are taking forward the views of the United Kingdom into the negotiations with the European Union on the United Kingdom exiting the European Union. The Scottish nationalist party consistently talks—[Hon. Members: “National.”]
The SNP consistently talks about independence as the only subject it wishes to talk about. What I say to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues is this: now is not the time to be talking about a second independence referendum. On today of all days we should be coming together as a United Kingdom to get the best deal for Britain.
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. It is essential for young people that we give vocational and technical education the right esteem and focus, because that is essential in addressing our productivity gap. We want to deliver a world-leading technical education system and create two genuine options for young people that are equal in esteem. At the Budget my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced a significant package of investment to implement the most ambitious post-16 reforms since the introduction of A-levels 70 years ago. We are going to be investing an extra half a billion pounds a year in England’s technical education system and introducing maintenance loans to support those studying high-level technical qualifications at prestigious institutes of technology and national colleges.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should have listened to the announcement that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made in the Budget, when he indicated that he would delay the introduction of the change for a year for the smallest businesses below the VAT threshold. It is right that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs tries to move to a greater digitisation of how it operates, enabling it to provide a better service to those who are completing their forms. We should always remember that aspect of what is being proposed.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s welcome for the extra money—the £2 billion that was announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the Budget—that is going into social care. That shows that we have recognised the pressures and demands on social care, but it is also important that we ensure that best practice is delivered across the whole country. It is not just about money, so we are also trying to find a long-term, sustainable solution that will help local authorities to learn from each other to raise standards across the whole system. We will bring forward proposals in a Green Paper later this year to put the state-funded system on a more secure and sustainable footing.
Today, the Public Accounts Committee says of the Department for Education:
“The Department does not seem to understand the pressures that schools are already under.”
It goes on to say that
“Funding per pupil is reducing in real terms”,
and that school budgets will be cut by £3 billion—equivalent to 8%—by 2020. Is the Public Accounts Committee wrong?
What we will see over the course of this Parliament is £230 billion going into our schools, but what matters is the quality of education in schools. An additional 1.8 million children are in good or outstanding schools, and this Government’s policy is to ensure that every child gets a good school place.
The daily experience of many parents who have children in school is that they receive letters asking for money. One parent, Elizabeth, wrote to me to say that she has received a letter from her daughter’s school asking for a monthly donation to top up the reduced funds that it is receiving. This Government’s cuts to schools are betraying a generation of our children. If the Prime Minister is right, the parents are wrong, the teachers are wrong, the Institute for Fiscal Studies is wrong, the National Audit Office is wrong, and the Education Policy Institute is wrong. Now the Public Accounts Committee, which includes eight Conservative Members, is also wrong. Which organisation does back the Prime Minister’s view on education spending in our schools?
As I have just said to the right hon. Gentleman, we said that we would protect school funding, and we have; there is a real-terms protection for the schools budget. We said that we would protect the money following children into schools, and we have; the schools budget reaches £42 billion, as pupil numbers rise, in 2019-20. But I also have to say to him that it is about the quality of education that children are receiving, with 1.8 million more children in good or outstanding schools than there were under the Labour Government.
Time and again, the right hon. Gentleman stands up at Prime Minister’s questions and asks questions that would lead to more spending. Let us look at what he has said recently: on 11 January, more spending; on 8 February, more spending; on 22 February, more spending; on 1 and 8 March, more spending; and on 15 and 22 March, more spending. Barely a PMQs goes by that he does not call for more public spending. When it comes to spending money that it does not have, Labour simply cannot help itself. It is the same old Labour: spend today and give somebody else the bill tomorrow. Well, we will not do that to the next generation.
Munitions Workers (Award)
I am sure everyone in the House will want to join me in paying tribute to the thousands who worked in munitions factories in both world wars, often in very dangerous conditions. They produced vital equipment for the armed forces that helped us to victory. I am sure my hon. Friend will recognise that, for practical reasons, it is not possible to pursue individual awards, but the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy would be happy to work with him to look at further ways of recognising the collective effort of former munitions workers.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. These ladies found that the chemicals in the shells turned their skin yellow, and they were nicknamed canary girls. I know my right hon. Friend is exceptionally busy at the moment, but could she find just a few moments in her diary to meet me and some of these canary girls to recognise their service?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who has campaigned tirelessly on this issue. Obviously, she is not just a passionate campaigner, but has on many occasions spoken movingly in this House about her own experience, which she is bringing to bear on this issue. I welcome the decision that has been taken by the Co-op to waive funeral fees, and I recognise the actions of the Welsh Government. Of course there is some financial support available, but we are looking at the issue and the problems faced by parents. We are looking at what more can be done through cross-Government work, and I will ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who is leading on that work, to meet her to talk about the idea.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As he says, at the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced a £200 million boost for the Welsh Government’s budget. They will be able to use that money to support their own priorities, but the people of Wales will be able to send a very clear signal about those priorities by voting for Conservative councillors, like Peter Fox, on 4 May. It is the UK Government’s actions to support ordinary working families throughout the country that will ensure that Wales benefits from an economy that works for everyone.
As my hon. Friend is saying, we are aiming to end the postcode lottery of schools funding, and as I said, schools funding is now at a record high. On the minimum funding level, as I have said before, the Department for Education has heard representations on the issue on this national funding formula and will, of course, be considering those. This was a consultation, and there have been a lot of responses to it, but it is an historic and complex reform. There has been general agreement for many years that reform is needed. We want to get this right, which is why we are carefully considering the representations.
What the UK Government are doing in invoking article 50 is putting into practice the democratic vote of the British people on 23 June last year in a referendum. There was a referendum in 2014 in Scotland, when the Scottish people voted to remain part of the United Kingdom. I suggest the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues put that into practice.
Three quarters of my constituents voted to leave the European Union. Does the Prime Minister agree that triggering article 50 marks a watershed moment, not only in this country’s control of immigration and our sovereignty, but in listening to the views of people who were forgotten for far too long?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend; in invoking article 50, we are not just putting into practice the views of the British people as set out in that referendum on 23 June last year. Crucially, that was not just a vote about leaving the EU; it was a vote about changing this country for the future. This Government have a clear plan for Britain that will change this country, and that will see us with a more global outlook, a stronger economy, a fairer society and a more united nation.
What I say is that as we face this historic moment of invoking article 50 and setting in process the negotiations for the future of this country and its relationship with the European Union, now is the time to pull together and not try to hang apart.
On Friday, thousands of people up and down this country will be raising funds for and awareness of brain tumour research. Many of them will know someone, or have had a family member, who has had a brain tumour or is suffering from one, yet brain tumour research receives only about 1% of all cancer research funding, despite this being the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40. Will the Prime Minister join me in commending all these people raising awareness and funds, and see what more we can do to increase funding for brain tumour research?
This is a very important area, and the UK has a good record of research on brain tumours. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the people who are raising funds for this important cause should be commended. As he said, many of them will have had personal experience of brain tumours, in one way or another. It is important that we recognise that there are many killers out there that often do not receive the publicity and support that other causes get. We should recognise their importance and commend those who are raising funds.
We have, as a Government, been encouraging the procurement of British goods and services. The right hon. Gentleman asks what we can do for local authorities; if people around the country want local authorities that take their best interests to heart, they should vote Conservative.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on invoking article 50 today. Does she agree that this needs to be the end of the phoney war—the end of the posturing we have heard from Members on the Opposition Benches—and that we must now focus on the detail for every industry, sector and community, so that we get a bespoke deal that we can all get behind?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Now is the time for us to come together, and to be united across the House and across the country to ensure that we work for the best possible deal for the United Kingdom, and the best possible future for us all.
The Prime Minister has rightly emphasised her determination to deliver for all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom on this historic day. While others are content to moan and whine, we want to see that delivery, and we are confident that she will make it happen. In Northern Ireland, some have walked away from their responsibilities with regard to devolution, but we want to see devolution up and running, and to have a functioning Northern Ireland Government, and we have set no preconditions in the way of that. If others continue to stay away from devolution and walk away, will the Prime Minister pledge to work ever more closely with those of us in this House to defend and protect the interests of Northern Ireland?
We all want to work together to ensure that we protect the best interests of Northern Ireland. As the right hon. Gentleman just said, ensuring that we have strong devolved government in Northern Ireland is important for the future. It is important, so that we can build on the significant progress that has been made in recent years for the people of Northern Ireland. I urge all parties to come to the talks with a view to finding a way through, so that Northern Ireland can once again be restored to devolved government.
Does the Prime Minister agree that social media companies need to take action now to remove extremist and hate materials from their platforms proactively, and to foot the bill for the police, who are currently doing those companies’ dirty work at the taxpayer’s expense?
The whole question of working with the companies to ensure that extremist material is removed as quickly as possible is not new; that work has been going on for a number of years. Through the counter terrorism internet referral unit, we have a process that enables the police to take material down. Some 250,000 pieces of material have been taken down from the internet since February 2010, and there has been a significant increase in that activity in the past couple of years or so. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will meet the companies later this week to talk to them about this important issue. We do not want to see extremist material on the internet, and we want to see companies taking action to remove material that encourages hate and division.
Late on Saturday night, a massive explosion devastated New Ferry in my constituency. We are thinking of all those who are hurt. It is a miracle that more people were not injured. The community now faces significant dereliction. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking all those who looked after my community over the weekend and in recent days? Will she arrange for me a meeting with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, so that we can discuss how the Government can help us to rebuild New Ferry?
I am very happy to do both of those things. First, I commend and thank all those in the emergency services and others who worked so hard to support the hon. Lady’s local community when the devastating explosion took place. That work will continue; it did not happen just over the weekend. Support will be given to the community into the future. I am very happy to ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to meet her and discuss how that community can be rebuilt and can overcome the impact of this explosion.
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?