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Commons Chamber

Volume 637: debated on Monday 5 March 2018

House of Commons

Monday 5 March 2018

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Cyber-attack Protection

1. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department’s policies on protecting the UK from cyber-attack. (904151)

We take the cyber-threat very seriously. We are strengthening our defences against increasingly sophisticated attacks. Our approach to cyber-defence includes a wide range of technical, operational and administrative measures, as well as close co-operation with the National Cyber Security Centre. Indeed, this week we are opening a dedicated state-of-the-art cyber-defence school at the Defence Academy in Shrivenham to enhance the cyber- skills of our defence personnel.

With the National Cyber Security Centre recording 34 C2 attacks and 762 slightly less serious C3 attacks, will the Secretary of State outline the steps his Department is taking to shore up our defences as best as humanly possible against an attack that some watchdogs have described as “imminent” in the light of rising Russian aggression?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight this increasing threat, which is why we have set out plans to spend £1.9 billion over a five-year period on making sure that our cyber-defence is right and that we develop the capabilities not just to defend against attacks but to be able to operationalise this ourselves.

Britain’s forces are a major part of the enhanced forward presence in the Baltic states. At a recent meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, we heard of some of the malign attacks on those forces, particularly on the German deployment in Lithuania. I am not asking my right hon. Friend to give me any great detail, because that is necessarily secret, but can he assure the House that we are learning from every attack and that we are training people, down to quite a low level, to make sure that our forces are best equipped to deal with this?

That is a very important point, because it is not just about the work that we do centrally; it is about training our forces to best understand the threats to which they will potentially be exposed as they operate in sometimes increasingly hostile fields. We have done that for all troops engaged in NATO operations, and more globally.

Local authorities can be vulnerable to cyber-attacks. One in four councils, including East Dunbartonshire, have experienced cyber-security incidents, yet many do not even provide mandatory training in cyber-security. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and indeed with the devolved Administrations, to make sure our local authorities do not become a soft target for cyber-attack?

Part of the reason why we set up the National Cyber Security Centre was to make sure that all elements of government are working together to tackle this issue. I will take up the hon. Lady’s point with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to highlight the threats and challenges that local government faces.

Young men and women traditionally joined Her Majesty’s armed forces, in large part, because of the physical challenge and the desire for combat experience. Should we not increasingly be recruiting young men and women because of their digital and IT proficiency, so that we can develop an elite cadre of cyber-specialists?

As we face new challenges, we have to be realistic that we need a whole different range of skills—not just the traditional skills that have been the backbone of our armed forces, but new skills—and we are looking at how we can best recruit those skills into our armed forces, and not just into the regulars but also into the reserves to boot.

Surely the Secretary of State knows that what Mr Putin announced a few days ago is basically a new cold war, and it is not just cyber-warfare but every kind of warfare. At a time when Europe seems to be fragmenting, our commitment to NATO is deeply hurt by Donald Trump moving into a new phase of withdrawal. What are we going to do about all this?

Putin has made it quite clear that he has hostile intent towards this country, and we have been seeing the build-up of his forces across the eastern front. Given what they have been doing over many years, we have to wake up to that threat and respond to it. Not just through nuclear weapons—although our continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent is absolutely integral to maintaining the peace—but through conventional armed forces, we have to match what Putin is doing with his Russian forces. We have to be aware of the challenges we face, which is very much why we are engaging in the modernising defence programme to ensure that we can match the Russians.

Defence Co-operation

2. What recent discussions he has had with his counterpart in the US Administration on strengthening defence co-operation. (904152)

7. What recent discussions he has had with his counterpart in the US Administration on strengthening defence co-operation; and if he will make a statement. (904157)

The US and UK enjoy a strategic global partnership, which was forged through shared values and the belief in freedom and the rule of law and order, and reinforced by mutual history, partnership and military co-operation. UK-US defence co-operation is today the broadest, deepest and most advanced of any two countries. Our collaboration extends across the full spectrum of defence, including operations and flagship capability programmes. Our troops have fought alongside each other for more than 100 years, and 2018 will be another busy year.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Currently, the UK’s defence trade partnership with the US is worth more than $3 billion and includes collaboration on projects such as the F-35 programme, as well as a common compartment for UK-US ballistic missile submarines. Does he agree that with the UK regaining its ability to strike free trade deals across the globe post Brexit, we have the opportunity to deepen the bonds of our special relationship with the US when it comes to our national defence interests?

We are already one of the world-leading countries in defence exports, and we have to seize the opportunity that exiting the European Union provides to expand our ability to export right around the world, making sure it is absolutely clear that Britain is a world leader in technology and science. So much of what we have historically done with the US we can do more and more right around the globe.

May I implore my right hon. Friend not to listen to the Trump-bashing from Opposition Members? There is absolutely no indication that President Trump is attenuating his commitment to NATO. Furthermore, NATO, not the European Union, is the backbone of this nation’s defence, and my right hon. Friend should be—I know that he is—going out there to Washington and speaking to his counterparts. Will he talk about precisely what he has achieved? [Interruption.] Sorry about that.

I thought my hon. Friend was incredibly eloquent.

Let us be clear that there is one reason why we have had peace right across the continent of Europe since the second world war: NATO, and the fact that it has acted as a deterrent to those who wish to prosecute aggressive campaigns against the west. I am very proud of the work that has been done, and will be done in the future, with our allies.

Will the Secretary of State tell me what the pound-dollar rate was at the time of the commissioning of the F-35 programme, what it is now and how much extra taxpayers’ money is being paid as a result?

I am afraid I not have details of the exchange rates with me, but I will write to the right hon. Gentleman with them. I can tell him that exchange rate changes over the past few years have cost us about a quarter of a billion pounds extra for the defence budget, as a result of the movement of the pound.

The US nuclear posture review was met with an equal level of posturing by President Putin during his state of the nation speech last Thursday. What is the British Government’s policy response to these worrying developments, as the world slides needlessly into a second cold war? Does the Secretary of State believe the British Government have a role to play in trying to de-escalate the situation?

Let us be really clear: President Putin has been developing a much more hostile and aggressive posture towards the UK, the US and our allies for an awful lot longer than the past 12 months. Russia wants to assert its rights. We have seen increased Russian activity in the north Atlantic—a tenfold increase over the past few years. Do we sit submissively by and just accept that President Putin can do whatever he wishes to do? Or do we have to look at how we respond, making it clear that we are willing to stand up to bullying and the fact that nations are being subjected to attacks by Russia? We need to deal with that, and that is what we will do. That is why I am proud that we have the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent.

Will my right hon. Friend inform the House about what discussions he has with his US counterpart, so that we can work together to ensure that our other NATO allies pay the 2% of GDP that they should be paying towards our collective defence?

In this country, I am very proud that we are able to say that we spend 2% of GDP on defence. But we cannot outsource Europe’s defence to the United States: every European country has to play its part in defending Europe. That means spending the money required to defend the borders of western Europe.

I begin by paying tribute to the members of the armed forces who helped their country get moving, inasmuch as it could, over the past week.

How confident can the Secretary of State, his US counterpart or indeed any NATO counterpart be that we can bring to the table what we say we can bring, given that there is a £20 billion funding gap in his Department’s equipment plan?

We are looking at exactly what resources and everything else we need going forward. We carry considerable contingencies in our equipment plan, and we are very confident that we will be able to deliver everything we need for our armed forces.

I am afraid that that is a bit of a “head still in the sand” answer. The National Audit Office said that projects will have to be delayed, scaled back or cancelled. Will the Secretary of State ensure that no project in Scotland will be delayed, scaled back or cancelled?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that we are doing the modernising defence programme. He will also be pleased to hear that we will open up our public consultation as part of that programme. We are going to be looking at all we do—how best we can use our armed forces to deliver for the whole United Kingdom, and how to make sure that we are best protected against the threats from abroad. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman’s contribution to that.

Royal Navy: Fleet Size

The Royal Navy is growing for the first time in a generation, with the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers and new submarines, frigates, patrol vessels and aircraft. The Royal Navy continues to meet the demands we place on it and maintains its operational edge.

With the sale of HMS Ocean, Devonport and the nation have lost a third of our Royal Navy amphibious assault ships. In more and more uncertain times, can the Minister reassure people in Plymouth that Devonport will not see any more cuts to frigates, amphibious assault ships and survey ships such as HMS Scott in the upcoming review?

I certainly take this opportunity to underline our thanks to the people of Plymouth for their age-old commitment to and support for the Royal Navy. I absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that Devonport will continue to be one of the cornerstone bases of the Royal Navy in future. As he will be aware, we only recently allocated the location of the Type 23 frigates. We are doing more work on the location of the Type 26 frigates, and we hope to be able to announce that shortly.

I must declare an interest, Mr Speaker: my grandfather and father both served in the Royal Navy, and both would be turning in their graves at the size of the Royal Navy. Although I quite accept the financial difficulty that the Minister has, does he accept from me that the threats from around the world—not least from China, which is talked about too seldom—are growing? We are sending one ship, I think, across the waters to the south of China. I ask the Minister, please, for an assurance that the Royal Navy’s size and capability will be increased.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the recent deployment of HMS Sutherland, and there will be further such deployments in future to that part of the world.

For the first time in a generation, the Royal Navy is actually growing. It grew in manpower last year and will continue to grow over the next couple of years, and not just in manpower—the size of its surface fleet is also growing. The latest of the offshore patrol vessels arrived in Portsmouth only this weekend.

Given everything that the Minister’s boss has just said about the importance of NATO, the deterrent and the threat from Russia, it would be absolutely unthinkable, would it not, not to order the full quota of seven Astute class submarines?

The hon. Gentleman is a champion of his constituency and repeatedly comes to the House to support the work that his constituents have done for generations in building our submarines. I am very confident that shortly he will have the news that he wishes for.

When HMS Queen Elizabeth puts to sea, it will need a fleet of frigates and destroyers to escort and protect it. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that the Royal Navy has sufficient vessels to perform that vital task while protecting our shores at home?

Yes, indeed, I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Royal Navy continues to meet all its operational requirements. As I said a few moments ago, the size of our fleet will increase in the years to come.

The Minister will be aware that the National Audit Office has produced a scathing report on the Ministry of Defence’s equipment plan for 2017 to 2027. It says that there is a £20.8 billion gaping black hole in the MOD’s budget. Can the Minister tell me why the Type 31e frigate is not even referred to in the equipment plan?

It is a little bit rich when the hon. Gentleman comes to the Dispatch Box to criticise this Government over supposed black holes in defence spending, given the previous Labour Government’s record in this area, but I am sure the Defence Procurement Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), will write to him to explain why that is the case.

Defence Suppliers: Innovation

With an equipment plan worth £180 billion over 10 years, a rising defence budget and an £800 million innovation fund, there are great opportunities for innovative suppliers to work with the Ministry of Defence. The Department recently took part in a Pitch@Palace event, reaching out to defence sector entrepreneurs, and the open call for innovation has been changed to increase opportunities to work with the Government.

Baltex, which is based in my constituency, is a leading supplier of high-performance fabrics, meshes and nets that are designed to keep our service personnel safe and well-protected in the field. What is my hon. Friend doing to support businesses in the defence supply chain that manufacture technical textiles, and will he and the Secretary of State consider visiting Baltex to see the innovative work that is being carried out in Erewash in support of our armed forces?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. Indeed, I would like to take her up on her kind offer of a visit to Baltex, which is an important provider of services to the Ministry of Defence. It is a classic example of a company that is generating key supplies for the Ministry of Defence and for our armed services, and it is being innovative in the way that it does that. Indeed, we see that innovation across the board with Ministry of Defence contractors—they are innovative for the UK economy in addition to supplying our armed forces.

Does the Minister agree that the launch of the RAF’s first satellite, Carbonite-2, using British technology, is to be welcomed, and can he update the House on whether space technology will be part of the combat air strategy?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I am very disappointed not to have been able to visit Surrey Satellite Technology, which developed that facility. Unfortunately, my visit did not take place last Thursday owing to the weather.

This is a significant development. From my perspective, it is an example of innovative thinking being developed by the MOD and the Air Force. Even more importantly, it was a concept only 10 months ago and it has now been procured. Obviously, as part of our combat air strategy, the way in which we interlink with satellite technology will be a key consideration for the Ministry of Defence.

The Minister’s predecessor recently paid a very welcome visit to BAE in Chelmsford, which has played a critical role in developing Britain’s radar capacity through the generations. Does the Minister agree that, when it comes to the next generation of ballistic missile defence radar, it is vital to maintain British capacity and make sure that these skills stay in Britain?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question and pay tribute to BAE for the work that is being done in her constituency. She is absolutely right to highlight the importance of keeping skills in the United Kingdom. Members from all parts of the House should be proud that the Ministry of Defence is responsible for more than 20,000 apprenticeship opportunities throughout the United Kingdom, as it highlights again that Ministry of Defence procurement leads to high-quality, skilled jobs in all parts of the UK, including Chelmsford.

What impact does the Minister see coming from his attempts to increase innovation in defence suppliers if the UK withdraws from REACH, the European regulation on the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals, and if the free movement of scientists and engineers is not part of the Brexit agreement? Certainly, defence companies have expressed grave concerns to me about that.

This Government want to continue the free movement of people with relevant skills. The MOD is already engaging with the REACH issue. As it happens, I will be meeting relevant companies tomorrow to discuss the matter. I fully understand the hon. Lady’s concerns, but the MOD is on top of the issue and is looking at it closely. I am confident that we will have an agreement that will benefit both the United Kingdom and our European Union partners.

BCB International is a fantastic and innovative defence company, also supplying the civilian and humanitarian sectors, based in my constituency and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith). Indeed, I have eaten ration packs cooked on its fantastic FireDragon fuel. The company needs support from all Departments to be able to export effectively. Will the Minister commit to speaking with his colleagues at the Department for Transport, and perhaps to meeting me, to ensure that it gets support from the whole Government to be able to export to other markets, including the United States?

I would be more than delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the issue in more detail. I was very pleased to visit the company in question in my previous position as a Wales Office Minister, and it is difficult not to be impressed by what it provides for our armed services. I am more than happy to take any opportunity to support the company and Welsh businesses.

The portfolio management agreement that the Ministry of Defence struck with MBDA offers the framework through which we can achieve innovation with defence suppliers. Is the Minister considering agreeing more portfolio agreements, and does he envisage that that will be any time soon?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. One of the first meetings that I had in my new position was with MBDA. Indeed, I also met its chief executive in Paris recently. The agreement is an example of what can be done to embed innovation in the way in which we do procurement. It shows support for UK-based companies and a degree of partnership between the MOD and the companies in question.

May I also welcome the combat air strategy? Will the Minister please give a commitment that the review will look not only to ensure that the RAF has the aircraft that it needs to fight the conflicts of the future, but at how British industry will deliver them?

My hon. Friend is a great champion for the RAF and for his constituency. I believe that he called for the combat air strategy before the announcement was made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. This is indeed about capability, but it is also about embedding the ability of UK industry to respond to the needs of the 21st century, and the combat air strategy will do just that.

There is crippling uncertainty about the customs arrangements that our defence suppliers will face after Brexit. This is threatening their ability to innovate and invest. Just today, Airbus, the RAF’s biggest supplier of large aircraft, has warned that trade barriers will seriously impede its ability to move parts across borders. It is clear that only a comprehensive customs union with the EU can guarantee frictionless trade, so will the Minister explain why the Government have ruled out this option?

The Government have been very clear that we want the most comprehensive free trade agreements possible with the European Union. A free trade agreement of that nature will respond to the concerns of industry, especially the industry supplying the defence sector.

The fact of the matter is that ADS, the trade body, has said that the Government’s preferred options are either incomplete or so complex that they simply will not be viable. Why will this Government not listen to the voices of industry such as ADS and the CBI? Why are they ignoring those voices and their support for a customs union? Is it not the case that the Government are putting ideology above the interests of defence suppliers and pursuing an extreme Brexit that will damage jobs, our sovereign capability and, ultimately, our national security?

I find it interesting that only a few weeks ago the hon. Lady was voting against a proposition from her own Back Benchers for the United Kingdom to stay within the customs union. It is also the case that the announcement made by the Leader of the Opposition was about staying within a customs union, not the customs union; in terms of listening to the voice of industry, there is not much in common between what was said by the Leader of the Opposition and the CBI.

Strategic Threats

Q5. What recent assessment he has made of the preparedness of the armed forces to adapt to new and changing strategic threats. (904155)

Our armed forces are among the very best in the world. Through the modernising defence programme, we will assess the ever-changing threats that this country faces and understand what we can do to make them ever more effective at keeping us safe today and into the future.

The Defence Secretary will recognise, given his earlier answers, that the threats that we face—both conventional and from new forms of technology—are massive and varied, and come not simply from Russia, but from many different sources. In that context, he talks about a fiscally non-neutral defence review. Will he tell us whether the Chancellor has agreed to sign up to that process?

When the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and I met and agreed the terms of reference of the modernising defence programme, we were absolutely clear that it was not to be fiscally neutral. We were to understand what the threats were and understand the capabilities that were needed, and make sure that the Ministry of Defence leads a study to ensure that we are best equipped to deal with those threats.

Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what progress has been made on the modernising defence review, so that we can implement what is needed to ensure the defence of the realm?

I assure my hon. Friend that we are making good progress. As I said earlier, we are opening this up to public consultation. We are very eager to report back to the House as quickly as possible, and we hope that that can be done by June or July, before the NATO summit.

We have seen in this past week how our armed forces rise to the challenge in any weather, but despite our increased commitment to the Baltic states, cuts to training have left the Royal Marines with fewer opportunities to develop their cold weather warfare skills. In January, the Minister for the Armed Forces said of cuts to training exercises in Norway:

“I am confident that that was a one-off in-year saving.”

Can the Secretary of State confirm that training will return to normal levels this year?

We have already had 500 Royal Marines training out in Norway this year, and we look forward to continuing that collaboration going forward. It is absolutely right to say that our armed forces are always ready to serve, and when things are difficult, it is our armed forces who always step up to the plate.

Defence Co-operation

6. What recent discussions he has had with his European and US counterparts on maintaining defence co-operation between the EU and NATO. (904156)

I was trying to offload various questions on to my ministerial colleagues, Mr Speaker. Sadly, they were not willing to take them. [Interruption.] God loves a trier.

I have regular conversations with my European and US counterparts on maintaining defence co-operation between the European Union and NATO. EU-NATO co-operation is key to combating the breadth of challenges we face, and the institutions must work together in a way that is complementary and prevents duplication. The UK will continue to support better working between the EU and NATO while we remain in the EU and after we leave.

I thank the Secretary of State for taking my question. Following the recent signing of the permanent structured co-operation pact between 25 EU nations, what role does he envisage for the UK after Brexit in ensuring that the EU’s future defence co-operation plans enhance NATO rather than detract from it?

There have always been traditional tensions within the European Union as to which way it would like to take its role in defence. We want to work with our European Union partners. We must not forget, however, that 80% of NATO’s defence is provided by countries outside the European Union. We should not see leaving the European Union as a step towards making the continent of Europe less safe. Indeed, it is fair to say that in the decades before the European Union was invented, NATO was already keeping the continent safe, incredibly successfully. We want to have the opportunity to work closely with our European Union partners, but equally we want to make sure that that does not detract from the amazing work that NATO does.

The European Defence Agency does not envisage third-party countries joining, so is that one of the agencies that the Government will be seeking an administrative arrangement with?

We are very happy to discuss how best we can work with our European partners, but we do not want to do anything that diminishes what we agreed to on 23 June 2016, which is exiting the European Union. If we can work in a pragmatic way with European partners, that is good, but let us not forget that most of what we do in, say, equipment programmes is done through bilateral relationships, not through the European Union.

Armed Forces Covenant

8. What steps he is taking to encourage more organisations to participate in the armed forces covenant. (904159)

The armed forces covenant annual report was published in December 2017. I am pleased to say that more than 2,000 organisations and companies are now signed up. The new cross-Whitehall body, the veterans board, chaired by the Defence Secretary, is used to ensure that all Departments meet their covenant commitments.

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. What conversations has he had with colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government about ensuring that there is better understanding in local government of their duties and obligations and what they need to be doing under the covenant?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. It is important that each Department understands its commitments. That is why I stressed the importance of the veterans board, on which the Secretaries of State of all the Departments are represented. We now have proper assessment techniques to make sure that Departments’ commitments—in that case, to do with housing—are met.

Members across the House and people across the country were horrified to read last week that the Ministry of Defence had taken money raised from the LIBOR funds that was supposed to benefit forces charities and support the delivery of the armed forces covenant, and instead spent it on projects—although worthy ones—that should be part of routine departmental spending. We know that things are bad in the MOD, but it can hardly consider itself a charity. Can the Minister tell the House how that was allowed to happen? More importantly, will the Ministry be paying the money back?

I also saw those comments in the press. It is important to understand that LIBOR grants are there for additional facilities. The MOD has a responsibility to provide core activities. Obviously, there is a grey area between a core activity and an additional facility. I am more than happy to look at the details of what the hon. Gentleman raises, and I will write to him.

Conditions of Service

9. What plans he has to introduce greater flexibility in the conditions of service for the armed forces. (904160)

17. What plans he has to introduce greater flexibility in the conditions of service for the armed forces. (904168)

Members will recall that the Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill passed its Third Reading on 29 January 2018 and has now received Royal Assent. It will allow Regular armed forces personnel to work part time for a temporary period, subject to the operational capability of the applicant’s unit.

I thank the Minister for his reply. To recruit and retain people in the armed services these days, it is important to have more flexible terms and conditions. How rapidly does he think that will happen? Will it be implemented now or in two or three months?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. It is important to recognise that we need to reflect the needs and aspirations of civilian society. Flexible capability has already been introduced, and the process is ongoing. The Bill has received Royal Assent, as I mentioned, and will come into force in April 2019.

It is extremely important that we continue to make careers in the armed forces desirable through measures such as flexible working. However, in Scotland, due to the SNP Government, personnel will be paying higher taxes than their colleagues south of the border. Will my right hon. Friend do all he can to clear up the ill-thought-out mess that the SNP has created?

On the conditions of service, it is also right that servicemen and women who become unfit for duty should have a system that supports them that is fit for purpose. We know that currently, it is not. The Minister said that his Department would publish a response to the February 2017 review of the armed forces compensation scheme a year after publication. Where is it?

I will certainly write to the hon. Lady with the details of that. She is absolutely right; we want to see people recuperate, recover and get back on to the frontline. One of the big changes last year was our mental health and wellbeing strategy, which does exactly that—it removes the stigma that sometimes is attached to people coming forward, to make it clear when there is an issue that needs to be dealt with, so that they can get back on to the frontline. I will write to her.

Many constituents who have given outstanding service to our country have come to me with mental health problems. How can we ensure that the conditions of service also include post-service follow-up, to give these people the care they need?

That leads on nicely from the answer that I just gave. The mental health strategy was brought in. This was not working well before, and people were reluctant to come forward. We now have 11 major departments across Britain established in the main hubs of where our armed forces are based that are designed to assist people in stepping forward and dealing with mental health issues. We should also recognise that the armed forces 24/7 military mental health helpline, which allows direct access to support 24/7, was launched last week.

NATO Modernisation

10. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on NATO modernisation. (904161)

At last month’s NATO defence ministerial, we discussed NATO modernisation. This is a UK priority, and my ambition is for a modern NATO, fit to face the new global challenges and delivering against its commitments. We will take further decisions to modernise the alliance when Defence Ministers next meet in June and at the next NATO summit in Brussels in July.

UK defence equipment manufacturers can bolt on to EU defence programmes. For example, with its unmanned systems project with the MOD, Leonardo in Yeovil is well placed to help Leonardo in Italy with its recently awarded EU defence project in multinational unmanned systems integration. Can my right hon. Friend assure us that such co-operation will happen without the UK submitting to EU defence operational and equipment investment governance that may risk undermining NATO?

Pay and Retention

12. What assessment he has made of the effect of the delayed pay increase on retention in the armed forces. (904163)

Pay rates are recommended by the independent Armed Forces Pay Review Body. We look forward to receiving its next set of recommendations later in the spring. We have made clear to all personnel that any award, once announced, will be backdated to 1 April 2018.

Is the Minister actually saying that the pay increase for the armed forces has been delayed, and if so, when does he intend to implement it?

As I say, we are waiting for the report to come through. It is unfortunate that we have had to introduce this pay restraint, but we should not lose sight of why pay restraint was introduced in the first place. It was because the previous Government were living beyond their means. [Interruption.] Only with the return to a strong economy can we responsibly increase public sector pay.

Last week, we saw how our armed forces stepped up to help with the chaos caused by the very challenging weather conditions. Does the Minister not agree that these brave men and women therefore deserve more than a 1% pay rise—it is, in fact, a real-terms pay cut—and will he make that clear to the pay review body?

It actually works the other way around, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman in that I would like to see an increase of more than 1%. However, I go back to the rather delicate point, which was received with a bit of hostility by Opposition Members, that we cannot lose sight of the fact that they must have a sense of responsibility in making sure we have a strong economy, so that we can increase public sector pay across the board.

If I may, I will just underline the wider point I made last week that without strong defence in this fast-changing and, indeed, dangerous world, a strong economy cannot in fact be guaranteed. That is why I said that 2% of GDP on defence is not enough. Thanks to the efforts of this Defence Secretary, we now have an opportunity to make the case and to put the argument through the defence modernisation programme for the more robust defence posture that will ensure we retain access to the very vital international markets that will help our economy.

NATO Operations: Estonia and Poland

The UK has a key role in NATO’s enhanced forward presence by leading a battlegroup in Estonia and contributing to a US-led battlegroup in Poland. We have deployed about 800 personnel to Estonia and about 150 to Poland. These deployments are but part of our broader commitment to NATO and its assurance measures on the alliance’s eastern flank.

I thank the Minister for that response. Does he agree with me that both our security and our economy rely on the confidence placed in us by our NATO allies that we will, in the event of an article 5 situation, be both ready and willing to support our eastern flank NATO allies?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. It is absolutely right that hard power is an important part of maintaining our defence and security. Indeed, the vice-chief of the defence staff said the same last week, and he made a strong case for spending more on defence. Our armed forces and our civilians in defence must and do work in partnership with other Departments in international development and, indeed, diplomacy.

Recruitment Partnership Project

14. What steps he is taking to monitor the performance of the recruiting partnering project with Capita. (904165)

Recruiting people into our armed forces today is more important than ever. The Defence Secretary said recently: “We’re working closely with Capita to make the contract work better”. Can the Minister give some specific examples of that work? How will he assess whether performance has improved, and in what timeframe?

Defence has been working closely with Capita on a recruitment improvement plan, which is now being implemented. Initial signs are promising. We now expect Capita to deliver on improvements in converting applicants to enlistees. We will monitor progress closely in the coming months, including ensuring that the new defence recruiting system reaches full operating capability as quickly as possible.

23. Although many of us believe that the Regular Army should be closer to 100,000 in strength, it appears that we are struggling to reach even the reduced figure of 82,000. What more can our Government do to ensure that we increase recruitment, and maintain at those levels, to get closer to 82,000? (904175)

There is an awful lot going on at the moment. We are working closely with Capita. It would be wrong to say that there have not been challenges in implementing the defence recruiting system. There is also a change in demographics in the UK. That is why we are working so hard to widen our recruiting base and have set targets to recruit from both the BAME—black, Asian and minority ethnic—and female populations. There has been an increase of some 2.6% over the year, but we must do all we can to continue to ensure that joining the armed forces is an attractive occupation. I am particularly proud that the Army is now the largest employer of apprentices in the UK, which is something that we intend to continue.

Mental Health Support

15. What steps he is taking to improve mental health support for members of the armed forces and veterans. (904166)

16. What steps he is taking to improve mental health support for members of the armed forces and veterans. (904167)

The Ministry of Defence works with a range of partners to ensure that service personnel and veterans receive the best mental health support possible. There has been a comprehensive overhaul of our approach to mental health, as I mentioned earlier, with our mental health and wellbeing strategy. However, I stress that the number of mental health cases dealt with in the armed forces is smaller than in the general civilian population.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that organisations such as SSAFA, which runs a weekly support group in my constituency of Southport, play an essential role in providing help and support to veterans, including any mental health support they may need?

There are over 400 military charities that support not just our armed forces and the veterans, but the whole veterans family—the community—and SSAFA is just one of them. It does immensely important work in providing the support that our armed forces and veterans not only deserve, but request.

Mental health problems place a great strain on relationships, while family breakdown can worsen mental health issues. Will the Minister ensure that mental health support extends to service personnel families, with a particular focus on providing support to keep military families together?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is often not the person themselves who steps forward to recognise there is a mental health concern, but the partner, or the husband or wife, a family member or maybe a comrade in their unit. It is important that we provide the necessary support, which we are doing. It is a very macho environment, and unfortunately there has been a stigma attached to putting one’s hand up and saying there is issue, but we are moving forward, not just in society but in the armed forces, in challenging that.

Order. I am sure the House will want to join me in welcoming the visit of a delegation of distinguished Canadian parliamentarians here in the House today: our very good friends from Canada—thank you—who are accompanied by, among others, the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy).

I am dealing with the sad case of a young man in my constituency who was injured out of the Army, but did not get the treatment he needed. Apparently he slipped through the net because of his junior rank. Will the Minister review his systems to make sure that this does not happen in future?

The hon. Gentleman is very pertinent in what he says. We should have a robust system that can ensure that no person is left behind in any way. I would be more than happy to speak to him afterwards to see what more can be done to help that individual.

In the light of who our guests are, may I say thank you to the Canadians? We held a “Five Eyes” conference on mental health and veterans issues last year, where we compared notes from the “Five Eyes” community to improve all our contributions and better support for our armed forces personnel and veterans.

Sadly, some veterans return from service with mental health conditions and are faced with a shameful lack of resources to help them transition back into civilian life and find employment. I am very proud that a local Hull charity founded by Paul Matson, Hull 4 Heroes, provides them with that much needed support network and voice. Will the Minister join me in celebrating its work, and will he commit to providing our veterans with all the support for transition they desperately need?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Our transition intervention liaison service works specifically to ensure that the needs of individuals are met as they make the transition from being in the armed forces to being a veteran. I join her in paying tribute to that charity. All such charities across the country—some small, some large—do a huge amount of very important work.

Topical Questions

I thank our armed forces for doing an incredible job to support those affected by the recent treacherous weather across the United Kingdom. From Devon to Scotland, 328 service personnel, 124 vehicles and a Chinook helicopter, which is currently operating in Cumbria, have transported staff delivering critical care and services to and from hospitals, delivered medicines to vulnerable people in the community and assisted police in evacuating members of the public stranded in vehicles. My Department and the armed forces stand ready to assist with any further calls for support.

I would like to put on record my thanks to the armed forces who came out in Lincolnshire over the past few days to support us.

The physical fitness of our servicemen and servicewomen is extremely important, yet sports facilities at RAF Cranwell, used by the military and local communities alike, are currently in a poor state of repair. I have received correspondence from constituents with particular regard to the lights for the astroturf. Will my right hon. Friend confirm when they will be repaired, and will he ask the Minister responsible for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation to come and see for himself the fitness training and other facilities at RAF Cranwell that require repair?

Order. I gently remind colleagues that topical questions must be shorter. Forgive me. I am sure it was a very good question, but if people are going to have a script it needs to be much shorter. We have a lot to get through.

I can absolutely promise that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) is going to visit and take part in the assault course. Let me make it clear to Hansard that we are talking about my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East doing the assault course, not the right hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson).

T2. After the Secretary of State’s statement that terrorists cannot harm us and his ministry was forced to admit that its drone policy was misleading and erroneously drafted, will the Secretary of State tell the House whether it is the policy of the UK Government to kill people outside warzones? (904177)

Our Department and our armed forces always operate within the letter of UK and international law. Do our armed forces step up to keep our country safe from terrorist threats? Yes they do, and they will continue to do so. I am very proud of the amazing work they do to keep this country safe. I hope the right hon. Gentleman is also proud.

T6. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the British Army for all the work it has done, in conjunction with the Malawi Government, to protect elephants in Malawi? The ivory trade has seen a reduction in the number of elephants from 4,000 10 years ago to 2,000 now. Something must be done and thankfully the British Army is helping. (904181)

Our armed forces play an incredibly important role in training rangers to stop the vile trade of ivory poaching. I am very pleased that we have been able to extend the scheme and continue the amazing work with Governments across Africa to ensure that majestic animals such as elephants are protected.

T3. Uniformed cadets, like 241 Squadron air cadets in my constituency, do an amazing job of producing well-rounded, empowered young people. I invite the Minister to look at the funding provided across government to our uniformed cadets, which clearly offer much better value for money than some other Government-funded youth programmes. (904178)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in paying tribute to the 126,000 cadets that we have in this country. Being a cadet provides a wonderful introduction to our armed forces and what they can do, giving confidence to youngsters. I will certainly look at that individual case. Charities are involved in different ways in supporting our cadets and I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman afterwards.

T7. I look forward to hearing the details this week of the new scheme offering £40,000-worth of bursaries to military veterans to retrain as teachers. Does the Minister agree that focusing on priority subjects is another example of how we are trying to plug the STEM skills gap? (904182)

We have the most amazing resource in the armed forces—our people—and we want to give them the very best opportunities as they leave the armed forces. The bursary scheme offering up to £40,000 for them to train as teachers is a great opportunity. Our armed forces often have some amazing technical expertise that they will be able to bring straight to schools to benefit future generations.

T4. Under “A Better Defence Estate,” the Secretary of State plans to close the state-of-the-art medical facilities in York and the upgraded First Division headquarters. Can he say how much this is costing the taxpayer? (904179)

The hon. Lady will be aware that the MOD owns 2% of the land in the United Kingdom. There is a rationalisation programme to make sure that we can provide the housing for the future, and therefore, bases are being closed. Others are being opened and being invested in as well. I am happy to look at the individual case and discuss what can be done for the future.

There is a contingency plan, which we are looking at very closely, where we will be moving probably about 150 personnel to act as role models on the frontline for recruiting.

T5. There is a still a great deal of confusion and concern around the future basing arrangements for the Army Reserve. Could the Minister tell us when we might expect more information to be published on this important matter? (904180)

One of the complexities of the Reserve estate is that much of it is owned not by the Ministry of Defence, but by the Reserve forces themselves. This is adding some complexity, but we hope to be able to update the House in due course.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the further set of defence commitments reached by the Prime Minister and President Macron at the summit in January represents not just the deepening of this important bilateral relationship, but a strengthening of NATO?

The co-operation that our country has with France is second to none. The Anglo-French summit signposts an important development in that relationship—not just in terms of operations going forward, but about how best we can collaborate in terms of our defence industries.

As I mentioned earlier, we have seen some improvement in recent weeks. The numbers are increasing and that is a positive sign.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Lockheed Martin, which is based in Havant, on having just been awarded the contract to build the new missile defence system for the Type 26 frigate?

I am very pleased to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the company. The Type 26 is a fantastic ship for the Navy, and I think the fact that, again, we see UK industry providing components for the Type 26 is an example of the way in which the Ministry of Defence is contributing to innovation and growth in the UK economy.

I call Carol Monaghan—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!] The hon. Lady just did not how popular she was.

T9. I am enjoying the recognition, Mr Speaker. The National Audit Office has revealed that the cost of the Dreadnought and Astute programmes has now risen by nearly £1 billion. Can the Secretary of State confirm that there will be no further cuts to conventional forces to meet the rising costs of Trident? (904184)

I can assure the hon. Lady that our at-sea continuous nuclear defence programme is within budget, and there will be no impact on the rest of the defence budget as a result of the work that we are doing in relation to our submarine capability.

Today’s Daily Telegraph continues to report grave concerns about the Iraq fatality investigations unit. Will the Minister agree to urgently review the case of Major Robert Campbell and offer reassurance to our service community that the bond of trust between soldiers and the Government remains intact?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. This is not about process but about people and the Government’s obligation to look after them, and a balance needs to be struck between supporting our service personnel and veterans and the right of Iraqi families to find out what happened to their loved ones. I should add that an Iraq fatality investigation cannot lead to a criminal conviction, but I will look carefully at what he has said.

Can the Minister confirm that Carillion was the largest provider of facilities and management services for the MOD and whether there are any gaps in services at the 360 UK defence sites and establishments it reportedly had contracts for?

Our joint ventures included agreements put forward ahead of time to make sure that if one partner was to step back, the other would continue to work, and that is exactly what has happened right across the MOD.

I would very much like to pay tribute to the amazing peacekeeping work that our armed forces do in so many areas, South Sudan being a perfect example. It goes to show what an amazing impact our armed forces have in projecting Britain’s influence in all parts of the globe.

What assessment has the Secretary of State carried out of the preparedness of our armed forces for any expansion in the Syrian war, given the proxy conflict between Russia and America in that zone?

Conservative Members have always recognised the importance of being fully engaged in what is happening in Syria and Iraq, and we will continue to look at that exceptionally closely. I am incredibly honoured that our armed forces are playing a vital role in degrading the Daesh terror cult, and that is what we will continue to do going forward.

What assessment have Ministers made of the contribution of defence to UK plc in protecting the trade that forms such an important part of our economy?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that issue. The MOD is one of the largest customers of UK plc and supports over 20,000 apprenticeships throughout the UK. It is clear that the MOD contributes significantly to the prosperity agenda across the UK.

The incidence of traumatic brain injury among the armed forces is much higher than it is even in the general population. How will we make sure that every single member of the armed forces who has such an injury gets the full rehabilitation they require?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We want to make sure we provide the necessary support to all those affected, although I would question whether the incidence is higher than among the general population. The new process we are putting forward, including the helpline launched last week by the Defence Secretary, will make sure that we can meet our covenant promise.

Reports suggest that of the near 100,000 who wanted to join the Army last year, only 7,500 actually made it, in part because of time delays. What can be done to streamline the recruitment process?

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. We have identified as a key problem the time of flight between application and enlisting in the Army. Shortening this period and making sure we get the maximum number of people through the system is the main focus of our work at the moment.

Why has the mechanised infantry vehicle programme not got an acquisitions strategy—never mind that the contract has only three years to go—when it could bring mechanised vehicles back to Newcastle?

I can assure the hon. Lady that announcements will be made before the end of the financial year.

The parents of Corporal Simon Miller are yet to receive justice for their son, one of the Red Caps murdered in Iraq in 2003. I have written to Ministers over many years on this issue. Will the Minister agree to meet me and the Millers to find some justice for their son?

Will the Minister follow the Scottish Government’s lead and commit to lifting the public sector pay cap for armed forces workers?

We are looking at how to reduce the effect of the Scottish Government’s nat tax on all our service personnel. Some 70% of service personnel serving in Scotland are seeing their pay reduced because of the Scottish Government’s actions; we need to look at how to deal with that.

UK/EU Future Economic Partnership

With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on our future economic partnership with the European Union.

In December, we agreed the key elements of our departure from the EU, and we are turning that agreement into draft legal text. We have made clear our concerns about the first draft that the Commission published last week, but no one should doubt our commitment to the entirety of the joint report. We are close to agreement on the terms of a time-limited implementation period to give Governments, businesses and citizens on both sides time to prepare for our new relationship, and I am confident that we can resolve our remaining differences in the days ahead. Now we must focus on our future relationship: a new relationship that respects the result of the referendum, provides an enduring solution, protects people’s jobs and security, is consistent with the kind of country that we want to be, and strengthens our union of nations and people. Those are the five tests for the deal that we will negotiate.

There are also some hard facts for both sides. First, we are leaving the single market. [Interruption.] In certain ways, our access to each other’s markets will be less than it is now. We need to strike a new balance. However, we will not accept the rights of Canada and the obligations of Norway.

Secondly, even after we have left, EU law and ECJ decisions will continue to affect us. The European Court of Justice determines whether agreements that the EU has struck are legal under the EU’s own law. If, as part of our future partnership, Parliament passes a law that is identical to an EU law, it may make sense for our courts to look at the appropriate ECJ judgments so that we both interpret those laws consistently—[Interruption] —as they do for the appropriate jurisprudence of other countries’ courts. However, the agreement that we reach must respect the sovereignty of both our legal orders. That means that the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the United Kingdom will end. It also means that the ultimate arbiter of disputes about our future partnership cannot be the court of either party.

Thirdly, if we want good access to each other’s markets, it has to be on fair terms. As with any trade agreement, we must accept the need for binding commitments, so we may choose to commit some areas of our regulations, such as state aid and competition, to remaining in step with the EU’s.

Finally, we must resolve the tensions between some of our objectives. We want the freedom to negotiate trade agreements around the world. We want control of our laws. We also want as frictionless a border as possible with the EU, so that we do not damage the integrated supply chains on which our industries depend, and do not have—[Interruption.]

Order. A very considerable level of orchestrated heckling is taking place in the House, including heckling from some Members who will doubtless later grin at me and seek to catch my eye. They may find that there is a clash between the two. We should set a good example that will impress our dear and loyal Canadian friends, and indeed, for that matter, the British people. The House can rest assured that I will allow the maximum possible questioning and scrutiny on this occasion, as I always do, but the Prime Minister is entitled to be heard with courtesy.

There are tensions in the EU’s position, and some hard facts for it. The Commission has suggested that an “off the shelf” model is the only option available to the UK, but it has also said that in certain areas, none of the EU’s third-country agreements would be appropriate; and the agreement envisaged in the European Council’s own guidelines would not be delivered by a Canada-style deal. Finally, we need to face the fact that this is a negotiation, and neither side can have exactly what we want. However, I am confident that we can reach agreement, so I am proposing the broadest and deepest possible future economic partnership, covering more sectors and involving fuller co-operation than any previous free trade agreement.

There are five foundations that must underpin our trading relationship: first, reciprocal binding commitments to ensure fair and open competition, so that UK business can compete fairly in EU markets and vice versa; secondly, an independent arbitration mechanism; thirdly, an ongoing dialogue with the EU, including between regulators; fourthly, an arrangement for data protection that goes beyond an adequacy agreement; and, fifthly, free movement will come to an end. But UK and EU citizens will still want to work and study in each other’s countries, and we are open to discussions about how to maintain the links between our people.

We then need to tailor this partnership to the needs of our economies, and we should be absolutely clear this is not cherry-picking. Every free trade agreement has varying market access depending on the respective interests of the countries involved. So if this is cherry-picking, then so is every trade arrangement. What matters is that our rights and obligations are held in balance.

On goods, a fundamental principle in our negotiating strategy is that trade at the UK-EU border is as frictionless as possible, with no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. This means no tariffs or quotas, and ensuring that products only need to undergo one series of approvals in one country. To achieve this, we will need a comprehensive system of mutual recognition. That can be delivered through a commitment to ensure that the relevant UK regulatory standards remain as high as the EU’s, which, in practice, means that UK and EU regulatory standards will remain substantially similar in future. Our default is that UK law may not necessarily be identical to EU law, but it should achieve the same outcomes. In some cases, Parliament might choose to pass an identical law. If the Parliament of the day decided not to achieve the same outcomes as EU law, it would be in the knowledge that there may be consequences for our market access. And we will need an independent mechanism to oversee these arrangements, which I have been clear cannot be the European Court of Justice.

We also want to explore the terms on which the UK could remain part of EU agencies, such as those critical to the chemicals, medicines and aerospace industries. That would mean abiding by the rules of those agencies and making an appropriate financial contribution, and the UK would also have to respect the remit of the ECJ in that regard. Parliament could decide not to accept these rules, but with consequences for our membership and linked market access rights.

Lastly, to achieve as frictionless a border as possible and to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, we also need an agreement on customs. The UK has been clear it is leaving the customs union. The EU has also formed a customs union with some other countries, but those arrangements, if applied to the UK, would mean the EU setting the UK’s external tariffs, being able to let other countries sell more into the UK, without making it any easier for us to sell more to them, or the UK signing up to the common commercial policy.

That would not be compatible with a meaningful independent trade policy, and it would mean we had less control than we have now over our trade in the world, so we have set out two potential options for our customs arrangement: a customs partnership where, at the border, the UK would mirror the EU’s requirements for imports from the rest of the world for those goods arriving in the UK and intended for the EU, or a highly streamlined customs arrangement, where we would jointly implement a range of measures to minimise frictions, together with specific provisions for Northern Ireland. Both would leave the UK free to determine its own tariffs, which would not be possible in a customs union.

Taken together, the approach we have set out on goods and agencies, and the options for a customs arrangement, provide the basis for a good solution to the very specific challenges for Northern Ireland and Ireland. My commitment to this could not be stronger: we will not go back to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland; nor will we break up the United Kingdom’s own common market with a border down the Irish sea. As Prime Minister, I am not going to let our departure from the EU do anything to set back the historic progress made in Northern Ireland; nor will I allow anything that would damage the integrity of our precious Union. The UK and Irish Governments and the European Commission will be working together to ensure we fulfil these commitments.

That approach to trade in goods is important for agriculture, food and drink, but here other considerations apply. We are leaving the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, and will want to take the opportunity to reform our agriculture and fisheries management and regain control of access to our waters. I fully expect that our standards will remain at least as high as the EU’s, but it will be particularly important to secure flexibility here to make the most of our withdrawal from the EU for our farmers and exporters. We will also want to continue to work together to manage shared stocks in a sustainable way, and agree reciprocal access to waters and a fairer allocation of fishing opportunities for the UK fishing industry.

On services, we have the opportunity to break new ground with a broader agreement than ever before. For example, broadcasting and financial services have never previously been meaningfully covered in a free trade agreement. We recognise that we cannot have the rights of membership of the single market, such as the country of origin principle or passporting, but we should explore creative options, including mutual recognition, to allow broadcasting across borders. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will set out more detail on financial services later this week. We will also look to agree an appropriate labour mobility framework that enables travel to provide services in person, as well as continued mutual recognition of professional qualifications. Finally, our partnership will need to cover agreements in other areas, including energy, transport, digital, civil judicial co-operation, a far-reaching science and innovation pact, and cultural and educational programmes.

We cannot escape the complexity of the task ahead. We must build a new and lasting relationship, while preparing for every scenario, but with pragmatism, and calm and patient discussion, I am confident we can set an example to the world. Yes, there will be ups and downs over the months ahead, but we will not be buffeted by the demands to talk tough or threaten a walk out, and we will not give in to the counsels of despair that this simply cannot be done—for this is in both the UK and EU’s interests. As we go forwards, foremost in my mind is the pledge I made on my first day as Prime Minister: to act not in the interests of the privileged few, but in the interests of all our people, and to make Britain a country that works for everyone. My message to our friends in Europe is clear. You asked us to set out what we want in more detail. We have done that. We have shown we understand your principles. We have a shared interest in getting this right, so let us get on with it. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of the statement. Twenty months have passed since the referendum, and a year has passed since article 50 was triggered—20 wasted months in which the arrogance of some in the Cabinet, who said that it would be the easiest deal in history, has turned into debilitating in-fighting. We have seen set-piece speech after set-piece speech, yet the Prime Minister still cannot bring clarity to the negotiations or certainty to British businesses or workers.

The Prime Minister’s speech on Friday promised to unite the nation, yet it barely papered over the cracks in her own party. Even her own Minister for the Cabinet Office said that it was only “an ambitious opening bid”, so who knows where we will end up? The European Union published a detailed legal document last Wednesday; despite the criticisms rightly made from across the House, where is anything comparable in detail and focus from the UK Government? The reality is that the speech failed to deliver any clear and credible solution to the problems we face. This Government’s shambolic approach to Brexit risks taking us down a dangerous road. This Government’s reckless strategy is putting our jobs and manufacturing industries at risk.

The Prime Minister’s only clear priority seems to be to tie the UK permanently to EU rules that have been used to enforce privatisation and block support for industry. [Interruption.] The Prime Minister now seems to be saying that we will lose some access to European markets and that Britain will be worse off. [Interruption.]

Order. I said that the Prime Minister must not be subjected to orchestrated heckling and attempts to shout her down. The same goes for the Leader of the Opposition. Let me give notice now to some of the people who are shouting loudly: if you want to persist in that behaviour, do not be surprised if you do not catch my eye in the questioning. If you want to be called, behave; if you wish to persist with misbehaviour, frankly, you might as well leave the Chamber now.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Does the Prime Minister now agree that the Brexit Secretary was wrong when he told the House of Commons in January last year that a Tory Brexit deal will deliver the “exact same benefits” as the single market and the customs union? If so, why has it taken her so long to say so?

In her speech, the Prime Minister said that she wants “good access”. Can she make it clear today whether that means tariff-free access? The Prime Minister said that she wants a “customs arrangement”, but does that cover all sectors of industry or just some? Which will be excluded, and with what consequences in terms of tariffs and other barriers? Does the Prime Minister still think that a good trade deal can easily be reached with the Trump presidency after its unilateral imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, which follows its disgraceful attack on Bombardier?

It is possible to retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union. The problem is that we have a Prime Minister who is being held hostage by the extremes in her Cabinet who are willing to sacrifice parts of British business and industry and willing to risk a hard border in Northern Ireland to carry on with their ideological crusade to shrink the state, slash investment and bring about an economic race to the bottom.

The Prime Minister said in her speech that, in areas like workers’ rights and the environment,

“we will not engage in a race to the bottom in the standards and protections…There is no…political constituency in the UK which would support this”.

That simply is not true. In the recent past, we have seen the Secretary of State for International Trade write:

“It is intellectually unsustainable to believe that workplace rights should remain untouchable”.

The Leader of the House has said:

“I envisage there being…no regulation whatsoever—no minimum wage, no maternity or paternity rights, no…dismissal rights, no pension rights”.—[Official Report, 10 May 2012; Vol. 545, c. 209.]

The Foreign Secretary has described EU-derived employment legislation as “back-breaking”, and in its leaked assessments, the exit analysis from the Department for Exiting the European Union stated that there could be opportunities for the UK in deregulating in areas such as the environment and employment law. There clearly is a political constituency that supports a race to the bottom on workplace rights: it is called the Cabinet.

On the crucial issue of Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister offered no real solution. Instead, she rehashed an already discredited Government idea to use a mix of technology and good will to ensure no hard border—an idea that the Brexit Secretary has already conceded is mere “blue-sky thinking”. Does the Prime Minister not understand that this is not just about cross-border paperwork and trade? There is also the issue of maintaining the social peace that has endured for 20 years. Will she condemn the ridiculous remarks made by the Foreign Secretary last week, when he not only compared the Irish border to that of Camden and Islington, but wrote her a letter saying it was not the British Government’s responsibility to prevent a hard border?

There are some things we do welcome in the Prime Minister’s statement—[Interruption.] I knew Members would be pleased. For one, it is clear that she has now abandoned her ridiculous red line regarding any role for the European Court of Justice, which opens the door to her welcome adoption of Labour’s position of the UK remaining a key part of the European Union agencies that are of benefit to this country.

As I set out last week, Labour’s priority is to get the best Brexit deal for jobs and living standards to underpin our plans to upgrade the economy and invest in every region and every community in this country. The Conservative Government’s reckless austerity is damaging our country, and the increasing sense of drift over Brexit risks increasing that damage. Now the Prime Minister admits that her Brexit plan will reduce our access to European markets and leave people worse off. We have had 20 months of promises, soundbites and confusion. However people feel about Brexit, it is clear to them that this Government are nowhere near delivering a good deal for Britain.

The Leader of the Opposition raised a number of issues. First, he raised the issue of steel tariffs and the position of the United States of America, and I spoke to President Trump about this yesterday. May I just say to the right hon. Gentleman that we are much more likely to get a positive result by engaging with the United States of America than by standing on the sidelines sniping and shouting at them, as he always does?

The right hon. Gentleman talks about workers’ rights and other standards. We have been very clear: this Government are not just maintaining workers’ rights, but enhancing them; and we are committed to maintaining high environmental standards. He asked whether we want a deal that was tariff-free. I gave him the statement in advance, so if he had read it, he would know that I referred to tariff-free access in my statement. He talks about ideological crusades, and I have to say that only person in this House—[Interruption.] Well, not the only person, because the shadow Chancellor is also on an ideological crusade.

There is a fundamental flaw at the heart of what the Leader of the Opposition has chosen as his approach towards the European Union and the post-Brexit relationship. He talks about free trade agreements with the European Union, yet he is clear that he would go against one of the key elements of ensuring that we could have such trade deals, notably the issue around state aid. He would tear up rules on state aid and fair competition, as he does not believe in fair competition—that is perfectly clear.

At the very beginning of the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks, he asked about the withdrawal agreement—the draft legal text on the withdrawal agreement that was published by the European Union last week—and he referred to my speech last Friday as if it was about the same thing. I have to tell him that it was not, actually, so may I just explain? There are three issues and three elements of the process at the moment. We are negotiating the final arrangements for the implementation period, which we hope will be agreed in March—we certainly intend that they will be. Alongside that, we are looking at the legal text of the withdrawal agreement—Michel Barnier has made it clear that, on his timetable, we would be looking at October for that—and we now want to start negotiations on the future economic partnership and the future security partnership.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the European Court of Justice. The jurisdiction of the Court in the United Kingdom will end. We will bring back control of our laws to this Parliament—to this country—unlike the Labour party’s position, which is to remain in the single market and, in effect, remain under the jurisdiction of the ECJ. We will also take control of our borders, unlike the Labour party’s position—[Interruption.] Well, Labour Members do not seem to know what their position is. The Leader of the Opposition said that the Labour party would bring free movement to an end, but at the same time the shadow Brexit Secretary said that “easy movement” would continue. We know that Labour Members would not bring back control of money, because they have said that they would pay whatever it takes to the European Union regardless.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about delays. This Government are focusing on making a success of Brexit and on delivering for the British people, but Labour has nothing to offer. Labour voted against moving on the negotiations in the European Parliament. Labour Members twice voted against the Bill that delivers Brexit in this Parliament; now they have gone back on what they promised on the customs union; and over a week ago the shadow Chancellor said that Labour would keep “all options open” on whether or not to have a second referendum. This Government and this party are clear: there will be no second referendum. We are delivering for the British people, and we are going to make a success of it.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on what I thought was an excellent speech—clear and determined, giving the European Union a very clear sense of direction. I thought that perhaps the most important point in the speech—the point voted on in the referendum—was about taking back control, so does she agree that bringing back to a British Parliament all decisions about our arrangements is exactly about delivering on that? When she gets into negotiations about trade arrangements with her European counterparts, will she remind them that cake exists to be eaten and cherries exist to be picked?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He is absolutely right that when people voted in the referendum to leave the European Union, they voted to take back control of our borders, our money and our laws. We are absolutely clear that when we have left the European Union, decisions over our laws and standards will be for this Parliament to take. We will take back control.

I thank the Prime Minister for early sight of her statement.

It is now over 18 months since the referendum. At a time when the United Kingdom should be putting the finishing touches to its negotiating position, this Government are still struggling to find paper on which to write down their wish list. It was nothing short of a humiliation for the Government last week that when the EU presented a draft legal text for withdrawal, the Prime Minister gave a speech expounding empty rhetoric one more time.

No single market and no customs union mean that there is no solution that would prevent a hard border in Ireland. The Government’s own analysis has revealed that growth would be hit by up to 9% in such an extreme scenario. Scottish Government analysis revealed that Scots could face a loss of £2,300 per person each year, with our GDP around £12.7 billion lower by 2030. That is the reality of the Government’s plans.

Last month, as the Prime Minister gathered with her Cabinet at Chequers, there was one glaring absence. Where was the Secretary of State for Scotland? Scotland’s voice was not heard at those crucial Cabinet discussions. There has been a flagrant disregard by this Government of the nations that make up the United Kingdom. The Scottish Secretary might not have been invited to Chequers, but rest assured that Members on these Benches will be in this Chamber, speaking up for Scotland at every opportunity—[Interruption.]

Order. A very sizeable number of Scottish Conservative Members are waving at the right hon. Gentleman. Mr Ross, you are leading with your flag, at which you have very considerable experience. Mr Blackford, what I would say to you is: KBO, man—just keep going.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

We will settle for nothing less than continued membership of the single market and customs union. Scotland voted to stay in the EU. We cannot—we will not—be ripped out of the single market and customs union against our will. We will defend the jobs that the Prime Minister is prepared to trade away. We in Scotland must determine our own destiny. We are a European nation and we intend to stay one. Will the Prime Minister finally recognise that staying in the single market and the customs union is the least damaging outcome for jobs and prosperity?

The right hon. Gentleman talks about having Scottish nationalist MPs in this House, but I note that there are only nine here today, which is, of course, fewer than the number of Conservative Scottish Members of Parliament. The decisions that led to the approach in my speech were taken by the whole Cabinet, not by a sub-group of the Cabinet, and all members, bar one who was in this House at the time, were present when that decision was taken.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about timing. Like the Leader of the Opposition, he appears to have misunderstood the fact that the European Union set out at the beginning that there would be different phases to this negotiation. I was always straight with the House that I believed that citizens’ rights should be in the first phase. They were; we agreed that in December. Many people, including possibly the right hon. Gentleman—I cannot remember—were sceptical about whether we would get that deal. We did get that deal, and now we move on to the second phase of the negotiations.

May I say to the right hon. Gentleman that, yet again, he has tunnel vision on there being only one approach to take on a single market and a customs union? We will ensure that we get trade with the European Union that is tariff-free and as frictionless as possible; that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland; and that this country will be able to run an independent trade policy, negotiating trade deals around the rest of the world.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman talks about Scotland as an independent nation taking decisions. Yet again, I remind him that, from the point of view of Scotland’s economy, the most important thing is to be part of the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister speaks for the big majority of the British people when she says that both sides now need to get on with it. Will she confirm that the British Government will ensure that we are ready to leave in March 2019, with or without a deal, and with or without a positive response from the EU?

I can reassure my right hon. Friend that we will be leaving in March 2019 and that we continue to work on all scenarios to ensure that we are ready.

Although the Prime Minister’s speech provided some welcome additional detail on her view of the future partnership, the Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, said yesterday that she had not done so when it comes to

“maintaining a largely invisible border on the island of Ireland.”

Regardless of the means that she has in mind for achieving that, is she able today to give a guarantee to businesses in Northern Ireland and the Republic that their manufactured goods and agricultural products will be able to cross the border without checks, controls or infrastructure when we leave the European Union?

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s opening remark in which he said that I had provided more detail in the speech I gave on Friday. He might like to have a discussion with the Leader of the Opposition about the fact that there was such detail in the speech.

We will not return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We want that free flow of goods, services and people to be able to continue—of course we are committed to the common travel area—and we also want the free flow of goods, services and people between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. That is why we took the position that we did on the proposal that came forward last week from the European Commission. That would have meant a border down the Irish sea, which is unacceptable.

No one can doubt the determination of our Prime Minister to get the very best deal for our country in these most difficult of negotiations. In her speech on Friday, she was frank about the complexity and economic consequences of the deal that she seeks with the European Union. In the spirit of that frankness, and given that it is undoubtedly the case that any deal will bear considerable administrative costs, will the Prime Minister undertake to keep this House, and therefore our constituents, fully apprised of those administrative costs of our eventual relationship and deal with the European Union?

As we have said before, we will of course make information available to this House, when it is possible to do so, as we go through this process of negotiation. A certain amount of information has already been made available, for example about the amount of money that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer set aside for the contingency preparations that are being made by Departments. My right hon. Friend will be aware of some of the other steps that we have taken, including setting up two new Departments when I became Prime Minister, to ensure that we had a Department focused on exiting the European Union and another—the Department for International Trade—focused absolutely on making a success of the opportunities that will be open to us once we have left the EU.

The Prime Minister is still proposing that we will be outside a customs union and have different external tariffs and commercial policies, which she knows will mean burdensome rules of origin checks, and customs checks on goods crossing borders to ensure that businesses do not evade or avoid those different external tariffs. She has proposed that 80% of businesses in Ireland would be exempt from any of those checks, but she will be aware that security experts have warned of the risk from not just physical infrastructure at the border, but an increased incentive for smuggling, particularly given the links between smuggler groups and paramilitary organisations. Why is she continuing to pursue a policy on the customs union that involves a risk of increasing both the smuggling and security threats?

First, I remind the right hon. Lady that the 80% reference was in one of the options on future customs arrangements between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Of course, what I set out in the speech in relation to that border issue was about not just the customs arrangements, but the regulatory standards that this country will be following once we have left the European Union. We are not going to be in a customs union—we are not going to be in the customs union—because that would prevent us from being able to follow an independent trade policy, which is something that we should be following because we can see great opportunities for companies, businesses, jobs and prosperity in the UK as a result.

Given my right hon. Friend’s confirmation in both her speech on Friday and her statement today that our EU policy rightly rests on fundamental UK principles in our national interest—namely, the sovereignty of our own Parliament and our own judiciary, our own democracy and the integrity of the United Kingdom—does she agree that the official Opposition’s continuous unprincipled reversals of their policy betrays not only their own voters, but the country?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We consistently hear the Opposition saying one thing about their Brexit policy one minute and something else the next. Crucially, they would not be delivering for the British people, because they would stay in the single market and the customs union, they would see the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and they would continue to pay sums of money over to the European Union. Those are the very things that people voted against.

May I first congratulate the Prime Minister on the fact that, after 20 months of tough negotiation, she appears now to have delivered at least a trade deal with her own Cabinet? In her future independent trade negotiations with the economic nationalist and warmonger in the White House, what exactly are the Prime Minister’s red lines, and do they include the NHS?

I am absolutely clear that as we look to negotiate a trade deal with the United States of America, the national health service will remain as it is today. It will remain free at the point of use. The national health service is not for sale. We continue to stand by the principles of the NHS, and we will be very clear about that when we come to negotiating a trade deal with the United States.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for that compliment.

Does my right hon. Friend, having made such a generous offer to the European Union, expect more generosity than it has shown so far? I think particularly of the aggression in the draft legal text of suggesting a solution to the Irish problem that would have been in contradiction to the confidence and supply agreement with the Democratic Unionist party, threatening the existence of the Government. Does my right hon. Friend think that it is right for the European Commission to behave in such a high-handed fashion?

We are in a negotiation. Both sides put their positions at various stages. Just as the European Commission chose to put that position forward, so it was absolutely right for this Government to be clear—I repeated it last week in Prime Minister’s questions and I am happy to do so again—that the suggestion that there should be a border down the Irish sea separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom is completely unacceptable to this Government and, I believe, to any Government in the United Kingdom.

On Friday and today, the Prime Minister said that our access to one another’s markets would be less than it is now. This is the public burial of the claim made by her Brexit Secretary a year ago in this House that the Government’s aim was to secure the “exact same benefits” as we now enjoy. The Prime Minister has admitted to the country that there is an economic cost to Brexit, so will she now tell us what is that economic cost, when the public will be told about it, and who will pay it?

Life is going to be different in the future because we will have a different relationship with the European Union. While the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour party consistently focus only on our relationship with the European Union, we, as a Government, are ensuring that we get the best possible trade deal with the European Union, together with trade deals with countries around the rest of the world, and that we develop our economy so that we have a Britain fit for the future.

The Prime Minister is rightly putting the needs of patients first in seeking associate membership of the European Medicines Agency. Will she go further in doing the same and commit to freedom of movement, both now and in future, for researchers and those in the health and care workforce who seek to work and study in each other’s countries?

When we leave the European Union, free movement, which has been one of the pillars of the EU, will end. However, as I said in my statement and in my speech on Friday, EU citizens will continue to want to work and study here, and UK citizens will continue to want to work and study in the EU27. We will be setting out our proposals for our immigration rules on that, and we will stand ready to discuss the arrangements that will be made in future.

I thank the Prime Minister for her robust rejection of the disgraceful European Union attempts to interfere in the internal constitutional affairs of our sovereign United Kingdom. Does she agree that in finding and pursuing the customs solutions outlined today, there is nothing—nothing—that could create additional barriers or additional requirements in relation to Northern Ireland’s trade with Great Britain in the internal market of the United Kingdom?

I am very happy to make it clear that we are looking for an arrangement that both maintains the internal market of the United Kingdom and ensures that we have no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We have set out proposals on how we can achieve that. I look forward to discussing those with the European Commission, and also with the Taoiseach and the Irish Government.

Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Commission is now in full possession of all the issues upon which we are to negotiate, and thus that there is no good reason why these talks should not now proceed apace in an orderly and friendly fashion?