House of Commons
Wednesday 9 May 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
The Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker (Order, 8 May, and Standing Order No. 3).
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Two-child Tax Credit Cap
May I start by paying tribute to Stephen Neil Heaney, who tragically died while taking part in the Belfast city marathon a few days ago? I think that the whole House will join me in conveying our deepest sympathies and condolences to his family and friends.
The implementation process for child tax credit is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland. To protect claimant confidentiality, the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland has established an exceptions team to handle any applications for benefit payments for a third child under an exemption to the two-child tax credit cap on the ground of non-consensual conception. The Department has advised that, to date, the team has received no applications for an exemption on the ground of non-consensual conception.
Many women say that they are put off applying for this abhorrent exception under the rape clause due to shame, trauma or perhaps fear. In Northern Ireland, women and those who assist with and endorse their applications, such as GPs, social workers and midwives, face an extra hurdle, as they risk prosecution under section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 for failing to report details of a crime. What is the Secretary of State doing to support women in Northern Ireland and protect them from that risk?
The hon. Lady raises a sensitive issue, which is being treated sensitively by all concerned. She will appreciate that criminal law is a devolved matter, but I can assure her that in the 50 years since 1967, when section 5 was introduced, no prosecutions for failing to report a rape case took place. The outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions has said that it would be highly unlikely that one would happen in the future.
I associate myself with the Minister’s remarks about the tragic death at the Belfast marathon in my constituency on Monday.
The Minister is right to indicate that this is a devolved matter, but we are implementing national policy in Northern Ireland. May I invite him to ensure that we operate this policy in the most compassionate and caring way possible? Will he meet a range of stakeholders including me, Women’s Aid, the Royal College of Midwives and others?
The benefits charity helpline Turn2us has evidence that women are choosing to abort and terminate their pregnancies as a result of this Government’s despicable two-child cap. The Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers says, despite the Minister’s assurances, that the law is the law and that women and those who support them in their applications could find themselves prosecuted under section 5 of the Criminal Law (Northern Ireland) Act 1967. Will he accept that the two-child policy, and the rape clause of which it stands part, is abhorrent and unacceptable, and will he support its abolition?
I repeat what I said earlier: this is a devolved matter. We have to respect—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady in particular, given that she is a Scottish National party Member, will want to respect the rights of the devolved Assemblies. Criminal law is a devolved issue in Northern Ireland. I say again that there have been no prosecutions at all as regards the rape issue in the 50 years since 1967 when section 5 was introduced, and that the outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions has said that it is highly unlikely that there will be any.
Equality and Human Rights
This Government have a strong track record of supporting equality and human rights across the whole United Kingdom.
“Cruel, inhumane and degrading”—not my words, but those of the United Nations on our treatment of women in Northern Ireland. Given the absence of an Assembly, why does the Secretary of State choose to recognise the importance of a free vote in this place on same-sex marriage while refusing to extend the same protection to Northern Irish women’s fundamental right not to be forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy?
The hon. Lady knows that abortion is a very sensitive issue, and there are strongly held views on both sides of the debate. It is also a devolved matter, as she has said. She refers to the fact that I am on record as saying that a vote on same-sex marriage, among Government Members, is a matter of conscience, and that is also true for abortion. But it would not be right for the UK Government to undermine the devolution settlement by trying to force on the people of Northern Ireland something that we in Westminster think is right; the people of Northern Ireland have to make that decision.
On equality, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a real danger that the Stormont House agreement institutions might act against the interests of servicemen and former members of the security services, and give an unfair advantage to former paramilitaries? In particular, does she share my concern that, without checks and balances, those institutions might create a form of historical revisionism that casts members of the security services in an unfairly poor light?
My hon. Friend, who of course was instrumental in the Stormont House talks that led to the agreement on those institutions, will know that the current status quo involves a disproportionate emphasis on the actions of the military and law-enforcement bodies during the troubles, and really very little emphasis on the actions of paramilitary terrorists, who were responsible for 90% of the killings. That is why I want a consultation on the institutions so that they are set up in a way that addresses the concerns that my hon. Friend raises and deals with the issues of the past.
With regard to equality, there appears to be one law for Members of the Legislative Assembly and another for everyone else. What excuses will the Secretary of State offer today for continuing to allow MLAs to receive their full salary when they have not been doing their full job for over a year?
I am offering no excuses; I intend to act on this issue. As the hon. Lady will know, I legislated on MLA pay at the beginning of the year to stop the £500 increase. I have been considering what to do with the Trevor Reaney recommendations and other representations, and I will make announcements in due course.
I would like to ask a question about the human rights of our brave servicemen who served in Northern Ireland for so many years, without whom there would be no peace in Northern Ireland today. May I make an early submission to the consultation? May I tell the Secretary of State, in all candour, that many of us on the Government Benches would not be prepared to traipse blithely through the Lobby to support setting up any institution that would scapegoat our military veterans in order to pander to Sinn Féin?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right—I agree with him. There is no way that I, as Secretary of State, am prepared to do anything that makes the situation more difficult for our veterans. We owe them thanks for the relative peace that we see today in Northern Ireland. They served with incredible dignity and duty, and I respect that, which is why I want to ensure that we deal with the situation. The status quo is not good enough. The only people getting knocks on the door from the police to tell them that they face inquests are the military. We need to change that, which is why we need to issue a consultation.
When veterans living in England, Wales or Scotland apply for a post with Border Force, their former service in the armed forces is taken into account, but that is not so for veterans in Northern Ireland. That is based on advice given to the Home Office by the so-called Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which claims that equality laws in Northern Ireland do not undermine the military covenant. Well, it has been caught out well on that one.
With support from this Government, Northern Ireland stands among the UK’s most popular inward investment destinations. We have increased the block grant in real terms, proposed a city deal for Belfast, with more to follow, and created business opportunities through our industrial strategy. Ultimately, however, political stability is key to economic growth, and that means a restored Executive delivering for the Northern Ireland economy. That remains my overriding priority.
I am sure that my hon. Friend and the rest of the House welcome the news of Bombardier’s investment in Northern Ireland. My constituency is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises, and I am sure that the economy of Northern Ireland reflects that. What is his Department doing to ensure that SMEs also benefit from inward investment in Northern Ireland?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He is right to point out the importance of small and medium-sized businesses, which do a fantastic job in Northern Ireland and contribute a huge amount to the local economy. I have met many of those small businesses, and I have nothing but praise for them. They have contributed to the 52,000 more jobs and 12,300 more businesses since 2010. The Government will continue to engage with organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses and Invest Northern Ireland so that those small businesses can fulfil their maximum potential.
There is no progress on the border’s status after Brexit, which will crunch inward investment badly unless Northern Ireland remains part of the customs union. The alternative is a border in the Irish sea. Which is more likely: customs union or sea border?
I am afraid that the hon. Lady should deal with facts rather than what analyses say. If she took an interest in what the Belfast Telegraph has to say, she would have read on Wednesday 2 May the inside-page headline, “Top US software firm to create 50 new jobs in Belfast investment”. My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) has welcomed the new Bombardier contract, which is worth more than £500 million. I am afraid the facts are that business is continuing, and continuing to prosper.
One of the reasons why there is so much inward investment in Northern Ireland is the peace created by our soldiers, policemen and special forces, with whom I had the honour of serving in the 1970s. If we are to honour the bravery of people such as Robert Nairac and my other colleagues who lost their lives in the Province, the consultation should flatly say, “We are not having a conversation. We will protect our soldiers, putting them first and the terrorists second.”
If we are to maintain a stable economic environment for inward investment, if we are to have democratic oversight of decisions such as that of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust to recall neurology patients and, indeed, if we are to have a legislature in Northern Ireland that is capable of changing the law for victims of rape who may fall foul of the UK Government’s foolish two-child policy, we need the Stormont Assembly back in action. Can we have a very clear road map from the Minister today setting out how the Government intend to get that Assembly back in operation?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position. Both the Secretary of State and I very much look forward to working with him constructively. He raises a good point about the need to have the devolved Assembly up and running again, and I assure him that the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and I, and all those concerned, are very keen to do so.
We are doing an enormous amount. The hon. Gentleman will be aware there were intensive talks in February, when the two main parties in Northern Ireland got close but not close enough. We are not giving up. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is having regular conversations with the parties. Only a couple of weeks ago she met the five main parties with a view to seeing how we can make progress and get the Assembly up and running.
Leaving the EU: Border Checks
The Government’s policy on future customs arrangements in Northern Ireland is very clear. We will not accept a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, and we are committed to avoiding a hard border with Ireland, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls.
The Good Friday agreement, which underpins the peace process in Northern Ireland, was not universally welcomed, although it was overwhelmingly welcomed on both sides of the border. One main pillar of the agreement is that there will be no border infrastructure between the north and the south of Ireland. Why can the Secretary of State not tell us categorically today that the answer to my question is that no additional customs officers will be needed for the Irish border? Is it because the Government are going soft on their commitment to the Good Friday agreement?
The latest InterTradeIreland report said that only 8% of cross-border traders had made any plans for post-Brexit trading. How many of the Secretary of State’s new customs officers will be tasked with reassuring those businesses and helping them to prepare for the future?
The reassurance I can give to those businesses is that this Government are committed to leaving the customs union, and to doing so in a way that respects our commitments under the Belfast agreement and the joint report for no hard border on the island of Ireland.
Is it not the case that we cannot know what arrangements, if any, will be needed on the Irish border until we know what kind of deal we have got with the European Union? Is not the EU putting the cart before the horse when it insists on arrangements being made now?
Does the Secretary of State agree that with investment in technology, and investing now, we can be ready on day one for trade to continue on the island of Ireland as it has always done, and that there will never be any need for physical infrastructure or customs checks at the border?
It would not be right for me to comment on the work that is being done within government on customs arrangements, suffice it to say that we are committed to no hard border on the island of Ireland, no border down the Irish sea, no new physical infrastructure, and no new related checks and controls.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that as it is our policy that there will be no hard border between the Republic and the north, there is no need for any extra officials, but that if Brussels insists that the Republic puts in a hard border, the customs officials will be required in the Republic, not in Northern Ireland?
I thank the Under-Secretary for welcoming me to the Dispatch Box earlier.
We strongly welcome the Secretary of State’s words today, which are consistent with those of the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland when he warned that any physical infrastructure would be a potential target and could eventually put lives at risk, but if her Government are going to reject a customs union—a realistic proposal put forward by the Labour party—what proposals can she set out to the House today that will make it clear that she can make this “no hard border” work?
May I now welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post? I look forward to working with him over the next few weeks, months and, possibly, years—we never know how long each of us will last.
We have discussed this matter ourselves, and the Government are committed not only to no hard border, but to respecting the result of the referendum, which means that we are leaving the single market and the customs union. We set out possible alternative arrangements in our customs paper last summer and we are working towards them.
Leaving the EU
The Government are committed to delivering a Brexit that upholds the commitments we have made to the people of Northern Ireland to uphold the Belfast agreement, and to avoid a hard border and any border down the Irish sea.
The Department for Exiting the European Union’s own impact report predicts an 8% hit to economic growth in Northern Ireland—a part of the UK that has long been less economically developed than others—after we leave the EU. Why are the Secretary of State and the Minister prepared to let Northern Ireland suffer, when they could avoid that by following the Labour party’s lead and committing to a new customs union?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the economic analyses of the past have not always been exactly accurate. As far as Northern Ireland is concerned, he might wish to reflect on the fact that as well as the huge economic benefits that I outlined in answer to earlier questions, over the past year exports are up by 9%.
Paragraphs 47 and 48 of the joint report identified the commitment to north-south and east-west co-operation. The Government have still not published the results of the mapping exercise on the 140 areas of cross-border co-operation. Will the Minister tell us when we can have the list demonstrating those 140 areas of co-operation?
Is the truth not that we have seen record foreign direct investment in the United Kingdom as a whole despite Brexit, and that when we leave, Northern Ireland will continue to be a top destination of choice for investment? After all, we do have the fifth largest economy in the world.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make the good point that we have one of the leading economies in the world. Leaving the European Union will be an opportunity for the United Kingdom to pursue a new path and trade policies that benefit us, and us exclusively. I agree entirely that we have a positive future outside the European Union. [Interruption.]
I am glad to hear what the Minister and the Secretary of State have said about the integrity of the United Kingdom. Will the Minister take this opportunity to reaffirm that whatever happens and whatever the effect of Brexit on Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom will remain together economically, politically and constitutionally?
Every right-thinking person should welcome that commitment, not only on the political front but economically, given that the vast bulk of sales from Northern Ireland go to the Great Britain market. Those who advocate separating out Northern Ireland into the customs union while the rest of the United Kingdom leaves it would inflict economic misery on all our constituents. Will the Minister take the opportunity to remind Leo Varadkar that when he talks about not leaving Northern Ireland behind, what he means is sucking Northern Ireland into the institutions of the EU, which would be economically disastrous for all our citizens?
Let me assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that neither she nor any other Prime Minister would ever compromise the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom. That means that Northern Ireland is very much a full part of the rest of the country, along with Scotland, Wales and England. There is no question whatsoever of having a border at the Irish sea—none whatsoever.
I think the House recognises that I am a beacon of stability in an ever-changing Opposition Northern Ireland team. Sadly, I am always the bridesmaid.
The European arrest warrant is vital to policing in Northern Ireland—we all accept that—and enables the Police Service of Northern Ireland to co-operate with colleagues in the south. Many have commented that no visible progress has been made on the replacement of the critical EU policing frameworks that enable vital cross-border co-operation. Will the Minister outline what discussions his Department has had with Home Office colleagues about this vital issue, and reassure not just the House but the people of Northern Ireland?
It is good to see that the hon. Gentleman is still in his place and that there is some continuity in the shadow Northern Ireland team.
As far as the withdrawal agreement is concerned, a huge amount of progress has been made. The hon. Gentleman raises the very important issue of the European arrest warrant. The various Departments are all working together to ensure that we achieve the very best deal possible. Yes, the Northern Ireland Office is speaking with the Home Office to make sure that we get the very best deal in terms of protection and of the replacement framework that we will have when we leave the EU.
Order. Mr Speaker is attending the funeral of the late Michael Martin, who was Speaker of this House and a true family man who was committed to his community in Glasgow. I know that the House wants to pass on its prayers and condolences to his wife, Mary, and family.
There is important business to come in Prime Minister’s questions and we want to hear from as many colleagues as possible. May I remind all Members, Front and Back Benchers, to ask succinct questions? I trust that the replies will be as pithy.
The Prime Minister was asked—
As I said last week, the condolences of the whole House are with the family and friends of Michael Martin.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
Many highland businesses rely on EU national employees simply to operate. Given that the Prime Minister’s Government already make a charge of up to £1,000 per year per person for non-EU nationals, will she categorically rule out any such immigration skills charge for EU nationals after the UK leaves the EU?
We recognise that, after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, there will still be those in the EU who wish to come to work and study here in the UK, and that there will still be UK citizens who wish to work and study in the European Union. We will bring forward our proposals for those arrangements in due course.
I can say to my hon. Friend that she is right about votes that took place in this House where the Opposition did vote against the abolition of stamp duty for those young first-time buyers, which is proving so helpful. Last Thursday, when millions of people across England went to the polls to vote for their local councils, we saw that the real winners were ordinary people. More people are now able to get the benefit of Conservative councillors who keep their council tax lower and provide good local services.
First, may I put on record my thanks to Mr Speaker for attending the funeral of the late Michael Martin this morning in Glasgow on behalf of this House?
Does the Prime Minister agree with her Foreign Secretary that the plan for a customs partnership set out in her Lancaster House speech is, in fact, “crazy”?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we are leaving the European Union and we are leaving the customs union, but, of course, for our future trade relationship with the European Union, we will need to agree customs arrangements, which will ensure that we leave the customs union, that we can have an independent free trade policy, that we can maintain no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and that we can have as frictionless trade with the European Union as possible. I will tell him what is crazy. What is crazy is the fact that the Leader of the Opposition, who for years opposed the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, now has a policy that would mean Labour signing up to TTIP with no say in it whatsoever.
Could the Prime Minister explain why she and her Cabinet wasted weeks working up proposals that the EU said were unworkable and that the Foreign Secretary described as “crazy”? Does she agree with her Business Secretary who apparently backs the “crazy” customs partnership proposal, but who made it clear that he did not back a technological alternative when he told the BBC that jobs would be at risk if we do not sort out a comprehensive customs deal?
What the Business Secretary said on Sunday was that it was absolutely right that we should be leaving the customs union. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about jobs, I am happy to do so: half a million jobs lost under the last Labour Government; record employment rate under this Conservative Government.
The Government say that they have two options. The Foreign Secretary says that one is “crazy”, and Sir Ivan Rogers, our former EU ambassador, said that the technological alternative is a “fantasy island unicorn model”. They have two options, neither of which is workable. The case for a new customs union with the European Union is clear, to support jobs and living standards. Why is the Prime Minister ignoring all the major business organisations and all the major trade unions backing a customs union? Is it not time that she stood up to those described last night by the Father of the House as “wild, right-wing people”?
We are leaving the customs union. What we are doing is ensuring that we deliver customs arrangements but leave the customs union, ensure no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, as frictionless trade with the EU as possible, and an independent trade policy. What would Labour give us? It wants to go into a customs union with the European Union, with no say over trade policy and with Brussels negotiating trade deals in its interests, not our own. The Labour manifesto said that it wanted to strike trade deals, but now it has gone back on that policy. Typical Labour—letting Britain down once again.
The Prime Minister presides over a divided Cabinet. She has had 23 months to negotiate an agreement and has not made any progress on it. The CBI says that
“a comprehensive customs union, after transition, is a practical, real-world answer”.
The TUC, on behalf of 6 million workers in this country, puts it simply:
“Ruling out a customs union risks jobs”.
The Government continue to reject a new customs union, but at the weekend the Business Secretary made it clear that neither of their options would be ready to be implemented by December 2020. Can the Prime Minister tell us her preferred option and the date on which it will be ready to be implemented?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the length of time in the negotiations. Of course, it was not until March and the agreement to move on to the next stage of negotiations that it was possible to have discussions with the European Commission on the customs arrangements. There were two options in my Mansion House speech. Questions have been raised about both of them and further work continues.
The right hon. Gentleman has spent an entire career opposing a customs union. Now that the British people want to come out, he wants to stay in. I know that he is Leader of the Opposition, but that is going a bit far.
Due to divisions within the Government, these negotiations are a shambles, and this House is being denied the opportunity to debate crucial legislation affecting the future of our economy and communities all over Britain. Can the Prime Minister now tell the House when we will debate the Trade Bill and when we will debate the customs Bill? She has had 23 months to get ready for it.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the state of the negotiations. Before December, he was saying that the negotiations were not going to get anywhere, but what did we get? A joint report agreed by the European Council. He said before March that we would not get what we wanted in the negotiations, but what did we get? An implementation and an agreement with the European Union Council. We are now in negotiation for the best deal for the UK when we leave the EU, and we will get the best deal for the UK when we leave the European Union.
I would have thought that after 23 months, we would have a better answer than that from the Prime Minister.
How can the Government negotiate in the future interests of people’s jobs and living standards when Cabinet members are more interested in putting their own futures first? Fundamentally, how can this Government negotiate a good deal for Britain to defend people’s jobs and living standards when they are unable to reach an agreement between themselves?
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what this Government have been doing to defend jobs. We have had a balanced approach to the economy, opposed by the Labour party. We have introduced changes in legislation for more workers’ rights, often opposed by the Labour party. We have been ensuring that we see jobs being created in this country—employment is at its highest rate since records began, and unemployment is at its lowest rate for 40 years or more. This is a Government that are putting jobs first at every stage of what we are doing. Last week, what we saw up and down this country, whether in Barnet, Dudley or Peterborough, was the British people voting to reject the back-to-the-future economic policy of the Labour party and the broken promises of Labour. They do not trust Labour, and they do not trust its leader.
I know that my hon. Friend has been campaigning hard to promote financial inclusion, which is very important. We are committed to ensuring that consumers are protected from unfair lending practices. I understand that the FCA is currently conducting a review of the high-cost credit market, including doorstep lending, and will publish an update later this month. Of course, we have also given the FCA new powers to cap the cost of credit, and it will do so if it believes that necessary to protect consumers.
We all woke up this morning to a much more dangerous world. Donald Trump has undermined progress towards normalisation of relationships with Iran. In the Prime Minister’s representations to the President of the United States on Saturday, did she speak in the strongest terms on the lunacy of the actions that he is taking?
I have been very clear in a number of conversations with the President of the United States about the belief of the United Kingdom that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—the nuclear deal with Iran—should stay. That view is also shared by Chancellor Merkel of Germany and President Macron of France, which was made clear in the joint statement that I issued last night with them. We accept that there are other issues in relation to the behaviour of Iran that need to be dealt with, such as ballistic missiles, the question of what will happen when we reach the sunset clause at the end of the nuclear deal and the destabilising activity of Iran in the region. Those issues need to be addressed, and we are working with our European and other allies to do just that.
The Prime Minister did not make any reference to sending her Foreign Secretary to appear on Fox News as part of his foreign policy initiative, pleading with the President through Fox News rather than direct intervention. The middle east is in need of stability. Conflicts are already raging in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary cannot deliver a message abroad in the correct manner, and at home, he undermines the Prime Minister on the customs union. Can the Prime Minister tell us when the Foreign Secretary will agree with his own Government’s position? If he does not, will she have the backbone to send him to the Back Benches?
It is absolutely right that the Government, in addressing the issue of the Iran nuclear deal with the United States Government, have worked across all levels and made representations at a variety of levels and in a variety of ways. That is what the Foreign Secretary was doing in Washington. It is what he has done with his opposite number in the past, as I have done with President Trump and as has happened with our French and German colleagues as well. We continue to believe that the Iran nuclear deal was an important step forward in helping to keep the world safe. As I say, there are other issues that need to be worked on, and both the Foreign Secretary and I will continue to work on those with our European and other allies.
It was indeed very good to see millions of people on the roads of Yorkshire, cheering on the Tour de Yorkshire as it took place this bank holiday weekend. As my hon. Friend says, not only are these events hugely enjoyable for sports fans, but they bring huge economic benefit to the area and they show off the best of Britain to the world. That is why I am delighted that in September next year we will see the cycling road world championships taking place in Yorkshire, bringing the world’s best cyclists to Yorkshire—we are providing financial support for these championships—and I am always happy to visit Yorkshire.
The former Home Secretary was absolutely clear about the offer that has been made to those people who were covered by the legislation—the Immigration Act 1971—who came to the United Kingdom before 1973. I am sure that the Home Secretary will ensure that the case the hon. Lady has raised is looked into carefully. Often, cases are raised in this House and there is sometimes a complexity to the cases that needs to be looked into very carefully, but I am sure the Home Secretary will ensure that that case is properly considered.
My constituency of Aldershot is the home of the British Army and it has a very fine tradition of military service. I am delighted that the commander of the Aldershot garrison, Colonel Mac MacGregor, and his wife Deborah have joined us in the Gallery today. Next month, Colonel Mac will leave the Army after nearly 40 years’ service, so will the Prime Minister join me in thanking Colonel Mac for his service and the tremendous good works he does in the wider community of Rushmoor borough?
I am very happy not only to welcome the colonel and his wife to the Gallery to watch our proceedings today, but to thank him for the significant service he has shown our country in his time in our armed forces and for all the work he has done as commander of the garrison at Aldershot. We wish him all the very best in his retirement from the Army.
As I made clear in my Mansion House speech, the European Medicines Agency is one of those that we wish to discuss with the European Union the possibility of having associate membership of. I and the Business Secretary, as well as others, spend time with the life sciences industry and with other industries to understand their concerns. We will be looking to ensure that we can provide the same level of interaction in the future to enable our life sciences industry not just to continue at the current level, but actually to be enhanced and to grow.
Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the Bomber County Gateway Trust on the approval of its plans for a full-sized sculpture of a Lancaster bomber? In this centenary year of the RAF, does she agree that it will be a fitting tribute to the service personnel—past, present and future?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating those who are looking for an appropriate commemoration of the Lancaster bomber squad and to recognise all that was done by those who were involved with the Lancasters. As she says, this year is the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Royal Air Force and all of us across the House should show our gratitude and support for all those in the RAF who have contributed so bravely to the safety of our country over the years.
As I said earlier, there are two options for delivering on the objectives that we have set. We will leave the customs union, we want to ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, we want to ensure that there is as frictionless trade as possible between the UK and the EU, and we want to ensure that we can have an independent trade policy. I say to the hon. Gentleman that what is not credible is a Labour party policy that wants us to be in a customs union, giving all the power for negotiating our trade deals to Brussels, with no say whatsoever for the UK.
Will my right hon. Friend welcome the re-election of Bexley’s Conservative council, congratulate it on its good record locally, and look forward to its continuing to implement efficient and effective Conservative policies?
I am very, very pleased to welcome the re-election of Bexley’s Conservative council. I was pleased to speak to the leader of Bexley council shortly before the elections last week, and I am very pleased that the residents of Bexley will enjoy yet more years with a good Conservative council, delivering great local services at lower cost.
We recognise the important and valuable work that the White Helmets do. As the hon. Gentleman says, they do it in horrendously difficult conditions and are incredibly brave to continue that work. We do support them and we will continue to support them. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will look at the level of that support for the future.
Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the four fantastic new Conservative councillors—[Interruption.] Their election takes the control of Redditch Borough Council from the Labour party to the Conservative party—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] If her diary permits, I ask her to visit Redditch at the earliest possible opportunity to back our fantastic local campaign to unlock—
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the newly elected Conservative councillors. I gave a list of councils earlier where people had rejected Labour, like Barnet, Dudley and Peterborough. I can add Redditch to that list, and indeed other councils around the country. Many congratulations to her, to those councillors and to all the volunteers and activists who work so hard.
Congestion on the A40 in west Oxfordshire is a blight for residents. With developments, including the Cotswold garden village, set to increase demand, will the Prime Minister work with me so that upgrades to the A40, to buses and to the Cotswold railway line ensure that we have an integrated transport structure to keep west Oxfordshire moving?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue on behalf of his constituents. I recognise that he is absolutely right to do so and how important it is to them. At the Budget, we announced £1.7 billion for the transforming cities fund to deliver transport infrastructure for the future. We have also ensured that local authorities are able to bid in to over £1 billion of discounted lending to support high-value infrastructure projects, giving power back to local people and recognising the importance of such infrastructure. He raises specific issues and I know my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will be happy to discuss them with him.
The question of intergenerational fairness is one that we recognise and one I think the whole of society needs to recognise. We need to ensure, through Help to Buy and abolishing stamp duty for many first-time buyers, that we help young people to get their foot on the housing ladder and buy more homes. It is important that we make sure we have jobs for people, and that young people are skilled, trained and educated to take on the jobs of the future. That is what our modern industrial strategy is doing and that is the best thing we can do: ensure, as we are doing, that we have the policies, through our balanced approach to the economy, that provide the jobs and homes for those young people for the future.
Yesterday, the Scottish Affairs Committee heard from Royal Bank of Scotland executives. Given this publicly funded bank’s blatant disregard for the local communities it serves, will my right hon. Friend strengthen the access to banking standards to give local people more of a say when banks remove vital local services?
We are putting record investment into rail across the country and that includes investment in rail in the north. We are supporting Transport for the North, which is coming forward with proposals for the north. This Government recognise not just the importance of infrastructure but the importance of infrastructure across the whole of the country.
Yesterday, with my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), we launched the One Britain One Nation all-party group, which will be working with schools to promote pride in our country, and respect, tolerance and inclusion regardless of one’s background. Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to the founder of One Britain One Nation, Kash Singh, for the hard work he is doing to promote unity in our communities and schools?
It is absolutely right that we pay tribute to those like Kash Singh who are working to promote inclusion and unity in our communities, and it is important that we see that the values of respect and inclusion, regardless of one’s background, are ones that everybody recognises and practises. We have changed the law so that schools have to actively promote our fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs. I am absolutely clear that nobody’s path through life should be affected by their background or where they came from. How far they go should be based on how hard they work and their talents, and not their background.
No. The hon. Lady has raised a number of points. We have been clear about the support that we are giving in terms of the funds that have previously come from the European Union. We have also been clear about the issue of citizens’ rights for people who are currently here in the United Kingdom from the European Union, and for those who will come here during the implementation period up to the end of December 2020. If she wants to be worried about policies that will affect jobs in Newcastle and the north-east, I will tell her the policies that would affect jobs in Newcastle and the north-east: the policies of her Front Benchers and her party.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that the previous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland suggested that the possibility of dealing with legacy cases through a statute of limitations coupled with a truth recovery process would be included as an option in the forthcoming consultation exercise? Does she accept that that is a legitimate option for consideration, and will she therefore ensure that it is not excluded from that consultation exercise?
My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue. At its heart is the support and gratitude that we owe to all those who have served in our armed forces. Our armed forces personnel are willing to put their lives on the line for our safety day in and day out, as are our personnel who work in law enforcement. The peace we see today in Northern Ireland is very much due to the work of our armed forces and law enforcement in Northern Ireland, but we have an unfair situation at the moment, in that the only people being investigated for these issues that happened in the past are those in our armed forces or those who served in law enforcement in Northern Ireland. That is patently unfair—terrorists are not being investigated. Terrorists should be investigated and that is what the Government want to see.
Obviously, Members across this House raise issues about the PIP process, and the Department for Work and Pensions is consistently looking at the whole PIP process. One of the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised in his question was the health of the individual concerned. As he sits for a Welsh constituency, I would have thought that, if he wants to talk about health, he should talk to the Labour Government in Wales.
I recently visited a construction site for 85 affordable homes in Cotmanhay in my constituency, which is benefiting from a £3 million Homes England grant. Will my right hon. Friend assure me and the House that she will continue to work with the new Housing Secretary to ensure that more people, such as those in Cotmanhay, fulfil their dreams of home ownership?
I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that commitment. This is an important issue. As I mentioned in response to an earlier question about intergenerational issues, there are young people today who worry they will never be able to get a home. The Government are committed to building more homes and helping young people to get their feet on the housing ladder. That is why we have abolished stamp duty for many first-time buyers and put more money into Help to Buy. Helping young people to get their feet on the housing ladder is a commitment of this Government and something we will continue to do in her constituency and elsewhere.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We are making progress on plastic, but we need to work with the manufacturers on its production, which is why we are doing exactly that. The Business and Environment Secretaries and others are talking to manufacturers about how to ensure that plastic is recyclable and does not end up in our oceans, with all the problems that causes.
Afghan interpreters who served alongside British troops did so with skill and courage. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that those who have made their homes in our country can remain and that the ordinary fees will be waived as a small sign of our gratitude?
My hon. Friend raises an important point about Afghan interpreters, who served bravely alongside our armed forces, as he says. The Home Secretary has been looking at this issue, particularly in relation to the fees for those individuals. Some have wished and been able to return to Afghanistan and have been given opportunities by the Government to retrain and re-establish their lives there, but it is important that we recognise the debt that we owe them.
Since 2015, we have been protecting police funding. This year, we have made available £460 million extra to policing across the country, which is more than the Labour party was committed to in its election manifesto last year. As I have always said—and indeed as the shadow policing Minister has said—there is no direct link between the number of police officers, crime and funding.
Iran Nuclear Deal
With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on the future of the Iran nuclear agreement, officially known as the joint comprehensive plan of action.
The Government regret the decision of the United States Administration to withdraw from the deal and reimpose American sanctions on Iran. We did our utmost to prevent this outcome: from the moment that President Trump’s Administration took office, we made the case for keeping the JCPOA at every level. Last Sunday, I travelled to Washington and repeated this country’s support for the nuclear agreement in meetings with Secretary of State Pompeo, Vice-President Pence, national security adviser Bolton and others, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke to President Trump last Saturday.
The US decision makes no difference to the British assessment that the constraints imposed on Iran’s nuclear ambitions by the JCPOA remain vital for our national security and the stability of the middle east. Under the agreement, Iran has relinquished 95% of its low-enriched uranium, placed two thirds of its centrifuges in storage, removed the core of its heavy water reactor—thus closing off the plutonium route to a bomb—and allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency to mount the most intrusive and rigorous inspection regime ever devised, an obligation on Iran that lasts until 2040. The House should not underestimate the impact of those measures. The interval needed for Iran to make enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear bomb is known as the breakout time. Under the deal, Iran’s breakout time has trebled, or even quadrupled, from a few months to at least a year, and the plutonium pathway to a weapon has been blocked completely.
For as long as Iran abides by the agreement—and the IAEA has publicly reported its compliance nine times so far—Britain will remain a party to the JCPOA. I remind the House that the JCPOA is an international agreement, painstakingly negotiated over 13 years under both Republican and Democratic Administrations, and enshrined in United Nations resolution 2231. Britain has no intention of walking away; instead, we will co-operate with the other parties to ensure that while Iran continues to restrict its nuclear programme, its people will benefit from sanctions relief in accordance with the central bargain of the deal. I cannot yet go into detail about the steps that we propose to take, but I hope to make that information available as soon as possible, and I spoke yesterday to my French and German counterparts.
In his statement on 12 January, President Trump highlighted important limitations of the JCPOA, including the fact that some constraints on Iran’s nuclear capacity will expire in 2025. Britain worked alongside France and Germany to find a way forward that would have addressed the President’s concerns and allowed the US to stay in the JCPOA, but without reopening the terms of the agreement. I still believe that that would have been the better course. Now that our efforts on this side of the Atlantic have not succeeded, it falls to the US Administration to spell out their view of the way ahead. In the meantime, I urge the US to avoid taking any action that would hinder other parties from continuing to make the agreement work in the interests of our collective national security. I urge Iran to respond to the US decision with restraint and to continue to observe its commitments under the JCPOA.
We have always been at one with the United States in our profound concern about Iran’s missile tests and Iran’s disruptive role in the middle east, particularly in Yemen and Syria. The UK has acted to counter Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the region, and we will continue to do so. We remain adamant that a nuclear-armed Iran would never be acceptable to the United Kingdom. Indeed, Iran’s obligation not to “seek, develop or acquire” nuclear weapons appears—without any time limit—on the first page of the preamble to the JCPOA.
Yesterday, President Trump promised to work
“with our allies to find a real, comprehensive, and lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat.”
I have no difficulty whatever with that goal; the question is, how does the US propose to achieve it? Now that the Trump Administration have left the JCPOA, the responsibility falls on them to describe how they, in Washington, will build a new negotiated solution to our shared concerns—a settlement that must necessarily include Iran, China and Russia, as well as countries in the region. Britain stands ready to support that task, but in the meantime, we will strive to preserve the gains made by the JCPOA. I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement.
I am sure that there will come a time to debate whether the Government’s approach to Donald Trump since his election in 2016 has been the right one, but today is not the time, because instead I believe that the whole House, and indeed the whole world, should stand united in condemning Donald Trump for the reckless, senseless and immoral act of diplomatic sabotage that he has committed. Every independent inspection has confirmed—even the US Defence Secretary James Mattis admitted this last month—that the nuclear deal is working and Iran is complying with it in full.
Yes, there are other important matters that must be addressed with Iran—its regional activities, its ballistic missile programme, and its record on human rights—but the platform for that dialogue, and the foundation on which future arrangements could be reached, was the nuclear deal. Instead, by seeking to scupper the nuclear deal, Donald Trump has destroyed the platform for future progress and risked triggering a nuclear arms race in the middle east, handing power to the hard-line theocrats in Tehran and pushing Iran back into isolation. Donald Trump is taking all those risks without a single care, without the slightest justification and without the simplest rational thought about what will come next; and in doing so he is sending a message to North Korea that any agreement it reaches with the US will be worthless.
While we could talk all day about the recklessness and idiocy of what Donald Trump has done, the key question is this: how should the world react? And here I believe there are three challenges. First, there is the challenge for the other signatories of how to best preserve the deal. For Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia that means providing urgent legal and financial protection for companies and banks in our countries engaged in trade and financial transactions with Iran so they can continue doing so. As for Iran, it must have the patience and resolve not to respond in kind to this act of belligerence, but to continue working with the other signatories to try to keep the deal alive.
The second challenge is equally serious: how to stop a descent into conflict. Iran is a country nine times the size of Syria with a population as big as Germany’s. The idea of Iran racing to develop a nuclear weapon and the US Administration seeking to stop it through military means does not bear thinking about. Yet we know that that is exactly what the Trump Administration are thinking about. In February, The New York Times published an important comment piece accusing the Trump Administration of employing exactly the same playbook used before the Iraq war to manufacture a pretext for war with Iran. The article was written by Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, and he warned simply:
“I helped sell the false choice of war once. It’s happening again.”
And that was before the appointment of John Bolton. So while we rightly focus our efforts now on trying to salvage the nuclear deal, we must also be alert to stop any further steps the US may take to escalate its confrontation with Iran.
The third and final challenge I want to mention today is equally profound: if we did not know it beforehand, what yesterday’s announcement confirmed is that as long as Donald Trump remains President we must get used to a world without American leadership—a world where efforts to secure peace and progress on the great challenges facing the planet must be made not just without American co-operation but often in the face of the Administration’s active opposition. That is the challenge we now face in relation to Iran, as it has been on climate change, the refugee crisis and the Israel-Palestine peace process. But starting with the consensus in this House today, I hope we can all play our part in ensuring Britain rises to that challenge.
I am grateful for the right hon. Lady’s point that there is no merit in any reckless and counterproductive attacks on the United States today, and I am sure that she will continue that spirit when the President makes his visit in July and trust, too, that she will communicate that to the rest of those on the Labour Benches and, indeed, to the Labour party in London. She made a good point when she said that the Iranian Government and the Iranian people have not walked away from the deal. They remain in compliance, and it is our duty, as the UK Government with our European partners, to help them to remain in compliance and to assist in the survival of the JCPOA.
To be fair to the US Administration, they have decided that there is another way forward. They have decided that the limitations that they see in the deal—the sunset clauses, Iran’s malign behaviour in the region and the problem of the intended Iranian acquisition of intercontinental ballistic missiles—can be met by bringing all the problems together and having a big negotiation. The UK Government have long taken a different view that the essence of the JCPOA was to compartmentalise—to take the nuclear deal and solve that—but the President has taken another view. It is now up to Washington to come forward with concrete proposals on how exactly it intends to bring the problems together and address them collectively. Our posture should be one of support in that endeavour, although, as I say, we have been sceptical about how that is to be done.
As for North Korea, the whole House will want to wish the President of the United States every possible success in his endeavours and convey to him our admiration for the vigour with which he has tackled the matter.
My right hon. Friend will know from his work that US leadership has often been a force for good in the world, and although many of us still support the leadership that the United States shows around the world, many of us are worried by their withdrawal from this deal. We are perhaps, however, a little more concerned by the malign activity of the Iranian regime, its theocrats, its acolytes and its useful idiots around the world, who have encouraged it and supported it in the media and in the region. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is incumbent on us, as good Europeans and good internationalists, to work with partners around the world and around the region not just to encourage a new approach to a peace process in Iran, but to encourage the Iranian regime to change, to become a good neighbour, not a malign influence, and to cease threatening our friends and allies, such as the other countries in the region and, of course, Israel?
My hon. Friend is entirely right to point out that, as Members on both sides of the House will agree, Iran is a malign actor in the region. There is no question but that Iran has been a seriously disruptive force in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. He is also right to point out the cardinal importance of the Iranian people in the discussions. Ultimately, the effort behind the JCPOA was to give them the prospect of the economic benefits of participating in the global economy in exchange for denuclearisation. That is still the fundamental bargain to be struck.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for early sight of his statement. Mr Deputy Speaker, may I wish you and all Members a very happy Europe Day?
The JCPOA has illustrated the importance of our relationship with our European partners, who are after all our closest allies. This work illustrates the painstaking effort that goes into seeking a diplomatic way forward. The Foreign Secretary was right to mention the reduction in low-enriched uranium and some of the other achievements of the Iran deal, and the shadow Foreign Secretary was right to talk about the false choice of war. The process has been long and painstaking, and I pay due credit to officials and to Ministers from both sides of the House for their work over the years. This is a much more effective way to deal with concerns about weapons of mass destruction than that deployed by Iran’s neighbours, for example.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that this move by President Trump is deeply reckless and irresponsible and has undermined the importance of the diplomatic process? Given what appears to be the UK’s lack of influence and the Foreign Secretary’s appeal on the President’s favourite TV show, does that not illustrate even more why we have such an important relationship with the EU in tackling the issue? Will he tell me when he next plans to meet Federica Mogherini, who has shown such leadership on this?
As the hon. Gentleman knows well, we work not only hand in glove with the United States, but with our allies, friends and partners in continental Europe. Indeed, that work has intensified over the past few months because, as the Prime Minister has said many times, we may be leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe. As for Federica Mogherini, I expect that I shall probably see her next week.
While many across the House will want to continue to give the benefit of the doubt to the Foreign Secretary on the Iran deal, does he nevertheless acknowledge that there remain serious questions about what our wider policy of engagement with the Iranian regime is achieving? Has my right hon. Friend seen anything over the past two years to indicate that Iran is taking steps towards becoming a more responsible member of the international community, instead of remaining the force for chaos and terror that it continues to be?
As my right hon. Friend knows, the UK is in the lead in trying to disrupt malign Iranian behaviour in the region. Whether trying to stop Iranian missiles going to Yemen or to Hezbollah in Lebanon, the UK is doing that. Indeed, this country maintains sanctions on the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. We are determined to bear down on Iranian malign activity, but we can do that while retaining the core achievement of the JCPOA.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that one of the most serious consequences of President Trump’s decision, which the special relationship was unable to prevent, is that it will result in hard-liners in Iran and elsewhere saying, “There is no point in doing deals on security with the United States of America, because it does not keep its word.”?
If the right hon. Gentleman is correct, that is all the more reason for the UK to work to preserve the essentials of the deal. I just remind the House, which may be getting into a mood of undue pessimism, that President Trump said last night that he is committed to finding a new solution, and we should hold him to his word.
One of the deal’s essential elements for Iran is the restoration of commercial banking relationships in return for adherence to the JCPOA—indeed, it is mentioned in the JCPOA—and Iran has adhered to the JCPOA, but we have still seen no sight of any restoration. Will the Foreign Secretary meet me and other members of the all-party parliamentary group on Iran, which has already met the deputy governor of the Bank of England to discuss the matter, to find a way to produce a non-dollar financial arrangement that works, so that Iran can retain some credence in the other partners to the JCPOA?
Now that the Government have discovered the limits of sycophancy in dealing with President Trump, will the Foreign Secretary spell out some of the economic implications? Do the Government have any contingency plans to protect British industry and motorists if the withdrawal of 4 million barrels a day of Iranian oil results in an inevitable oil shock?
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his unswerving loyalty to collective Government policy at the Dispatch Box this afternoon. Does he agree that one of the many dangers following the President’s decision is that the so-called moderates in Iran—although they are not very moderate by our standards—will be undermined by the decision, which will strengthen even more hard-line people? While the Foreign Secretary may take steps to try to reduce Iran’s malign behaviour in some areas, will he give an unswerving guarantee that Britain will stick to its commitments under the agreement so long as the Iranians are fully compliant with the commitments that they entered into and that we will not modify that in any way?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend, and I remember getting a lot of wonderful copy when I was a political journalist from his own displays of unswerving loyalty to Government policy. By the way, I am completely in conformity with Government policy on the matters to which I believe he is referring, since that policy has yet to be decided. On his wider point, it is absolutely vital that we continue to get the message over to the moderates in Iran—I include President Rouhani in their number—that the UK remains committed to this agreement.
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have both praised the joint efforts that have been made with our French and German partners. In the light of the impetuous, destructive, unilateralist behaviour of the US President, is this not the worst possible time for us to be leaving the European Union?
But is not the President right in his analysis of this rather flimsy agreement, which should never have been called comprehensive, in that it does not include missiles and that, far from constraining Iranian behaviour, it has enabled the regime to use its new financial freedom to interfere in Syria, in Iraq, and above all in Yemen, and to sponsor further Houthi attacks on our friends in Saudi Arabia?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, but I do not recall him making those points when he was serving so well as Secretary of State for Defence when the deal was done, and I disagree with him. Of course the JCPOA has its limitations, as I have readily conceded, but its advantage is that it has at its heart the idea of preventing the Iranians from acquiring a nuclear weapon in exchange for limited economic benefits. I still think that that idea has validity, and the Iranians are still in compliance with that agreement, limited though it is.
I am disappointed with today’s statement, because it was not a big surprise when this happened, yet the Foreign Secretary has said that he will come back with some details later on. I do not know why that should be the case, because this was even signposted during the American election. The statement is also light on what we are going to do about the Iranians’ behaviour in the middle east. The Foreign Secretary needs to tell us now when he intends to come back to the House.
There is no doubt that Iranian interference in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain and elsewhere is a legitimate cause for concern, but does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a very poor decision by the President, which flies in the face of the advice of his own people and of America’s most loyal allies? In trying to sustain this agreement, will he work to ensure that the inspection regime—which is, at the end of the day, the crown jewels of the agreement—will still apply?
Yes, of course we will work to ensure that the inspection regime continues. I think there have been about 400 inspections since the JCPOA began, and they have all found that Iran was in compliance. As I have said, it is now up to the United States to come forward with a plan, and if it has military options, frankly I have yet to see them.
What discussions will the Foreign Secretary and the other members of the E3 be having with NATO allies? Clearly, they also will be feeling greatly disturbed by this unilateral action by the United States, which will impact on their relationships with Iran.
In the same way as a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable to the UK, so is Iran’s record on human rights. The Foreign Secretary said in his statement that the UK will continue to “counter Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the region”. What can he do to bring to an end the continuous persecution of the people of the Baha’i state, which has now spread to Yemen, where a prominent Houthi leader has placed a message on social media, threatening to butcher every Baha’i in the country? Surely we should be able to help bring that terrible persecution to an end.
I can assure my right hon. Friend that we repeatedly raise the issues of human rights, the treatment of the Baha’i and other frankly disgusting aspects, not least the death penalty—there are many disgusting aspects of the behaviour of the Iranian regime—whenever we meet our Iranian counterparts.
The Israeli Government do not believe that Iran is abiding by the terms of the agreement. Iranian opposition groups are saying that the Iranian regime is using revenue from the lifting of sanctions to finance terrorism across the middle east, and of course Iran has played an important part in the conflict in Syria and Yemen. In the light of that behaviour, does the Foreign Secretary accept that the decision by the American President has some validity, and that it will send an important message to a regime that is out of control?
On the contrary—I thought that the most powerful point about Benjamin Netanyahu’s slideshow was that it showed that Iran did indeed have a nuclear weapons ambition up to 2003, and it showed, therefore, the importance of beginning a process of negotiation to get Iran to stop that ambition, and that is what the JCPOA did. I remind the hon. Gentleman and others in the House that many sanctions on Iran are currently in place, and they will abide.
My right hon. Friend was surely absolutely right to go to America to seek to stop the President dismissing this agreement, in the same way as he is absolutely right to meet Nelson Chamisa, the Leader of the Opposition in Zimbabwe, today on his visit to London. In respect of Iran, surely British foreign policy should be to try and bring Iran into the comity of nations and build on the existing agreement, rather than can it.
Will this unilateral decision in effect mean that the United States—a country that we are setting great store by in terms of trade—will be introducing sanctions, or the threat of sanctions, against UK companies that continue to trade with Iran?
The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the extraterritorial impact of US sanctions. There may be a staggered period of either 90 or 180 days before that extraterritorial impact is felt. We will have to see exactly how it plays out, but we will do our utmost to protect UK commercial interests.
Will the UK tell the US that we would of course be very happy to work with them to try and limit the abuses of the Iranian regime and to control the missile programme better? May I also say how much I support my right hon. Friend on the UK’s need for an independent trade policy with functioning borders?
We all agree that Trump’s reckless decision has made the world a more dangerous place, but does the Foreign Secretary also agree that that makes the rule of international law even more important? Does he recognise the rank hypocrisy of Britain’s lecturing other countries that are seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, while we keep our own—and indeed enhance them—in direct contravention of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty? Is it not time that we joined those 122 countries that have been negotiating a nuclear-ban treaty at the UN and sought some world leadership on the world stage?
I cannot say that President Trump is my cup of tea, but Iran’s actions in the middle east go down like a cup of cold sick. They support terrorism, Hamas and Hezbollah, they suppress their own people at home with the death penalty, as the Foreign Secretary mentioned, and they are supporters of President Assad. I think that rather than appeasing Iran, we should be supporting our oldest ally, the United States, and recognising that it has taken this decision because the Iranians are backing down on the agreement and are continuing with ballistic missiles.
There was not a word that I could disagree with in the first half of my right hon. Friend’s question, and of course it is true that Iran is up to all sorts of bad behaviour in the region; but the Iranians are not in violation of the JCPOA—on their ambition to acquire nuclear weapons, they are obeying the letter of that agreement. Yes, it is perfectly true that they are not in conformity with UN resolution 2231 in respect of ballistic missiles, but there we are holding them to account and there is the prospect of extra sanctions to bring them into line.
Further to that question, does the Foreign Secretary agree that Iran’s appalling destabilising behaviour in the wider region, including its support of terrorism, would be even more dangerous if its nuclear programme goes unchecked, and that it is therefore not just in Britain’s national interests, but in the interests of America and the world that the JCPOA remains in place?
While the signing of treaties of this sort can lead to political advance, does my right hon. Friend agree that the history of the biological weapons convention of 1972, which was exposed in 1992 as having been broken from day one for 20 years by the then Soviet Union, shows that in reality our security depends on the twin pillars of the independent strategic nuclear deterrent and our alliance, through NATO, with the United States of America?
Many of us who do not support the President’s decision would argue that the JCPOA contains some very serious flaws, including the lack of a clear plan—what happens when the agreement ends in 2025?—the weak inspection regime, the absence of any restraint on Iran’s ballistic missile programme, and the failure to address its pernicious influence in the middle east, not least its repeated threats to annihilate Israel. I hope that the Foreign Secretary is not playing down these flaws. I urge the Government not only to stick with the agreement, but to push to mend it.
The right hon. Lady speaks a good deal of sense. It is a limitation that there is no agreement on the ballistic missile programme, or indeed on Iran’s wider behaviour in the region, but it would have been impossible to get an agreement on the nuclear dossier if those had been brought in. The United States thinks differently, and the President has a global vision of bringing these dossiers together and solving the problem as one. We have yet to see the detail on how he intends to do it, but we will certainly be as supportive as we can.
We should not underestimate the importance of maintaining a positive direction of travel in the region, particularly given that it will take a series of steps to reach desired outcomes. Given that all the evidence suggests that Iran has adhered to the agreement, has the time come for the international community to act in concert in pursuing and maintaining this agreement, even if that means isolating the US for the time being, not just diplomatically but when it comes to sanctions against Iran, where possible?
I must say that, speaking as somebody who was born in New York, now I come to think of it, I see absolutely no advantage in isolating the United States, our closest and most important ally. Our job of work on the Government side of the House is to bring the United States back into agreement and to get a successor deal that the President wants to achieve.
The Foreign Secretary is well aware of the case of my constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has now been in prison in Iran for two years, one month and seven days. Nazanin has been told explicitly by sources in the judiciary that her imprisonment is linked to the unpaid debt that our country owes Iran. Will the Foreign Secretary assure me that when he is negotiating with Iran in the coming days he will talk about paying back that debt and bringing my constituent back home to West Hampstead?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the work she has done for her constituent. As I have said to her many times, we have a number of very tough consular cases with Iran—alas, the number is growing—and they do not necessarily benefit from day-to-day discussions, as she knows.
The economic advantages of the agreement have been used by the hard-liners to project malign power throughout the region, so will my right hon. Friend agree to support proportionate measures brought forward by the President to constrain that power?
This very worrying decision by President Trump could lead to at least three cataclysmic scenarios: first, the takeover of the Iranian regime by hard-liners; secondly, the eventual development of an Iranian nuclear bomb; and thirdly, ultimately, another war in the middle east. Which scenarios does the Foreign Secretary consider to be most likely?
The agreement has unfortunately enabled Iran to spend over $100 billion over the past five years on its operations in Syria, and it is spending even more on its intercontinental ballistic missile programme. Many people believe that a country does not spend billions on an ICBM programme merely to put a $100 TNT warhead on it. Can my right hon. Friend not at least understand the motivation of the United States Administration and perhaps work with them on this?
We are of course working hand-in-glove with the United States, but we do believe that there were advantages in maintaining the discrete deal at the heart of the JCPOA and stopping Iranian breakout. We thought that was a good idea. We certainly share the general ambition across the House to constrain Iran’s malignant activity.
France, Germany and the United Kingdom have stood shoulder to shoulder in supporting the nuclear peace deal, and the US has walked away. Does that not show that it is not the customs union that is crazy, but the idea that we can instead have a trade deal with the United States that we think will put mutual interests before Trump’s and the US’s self-interest?
The truth is that there are no moderates in the Iranian regime, and the use of the word “moderates” leads to conclusions that are simply not the case. It is a regime that murders its own people, including minorities, that is an exporter of terrorism, and that is destabilising the middle east. Perhaps the fact that none of that is covered under the JCPOA explains why Iran may indeed be compliant with it. I therefore urge the Foreign Secretary to work with the United States on a replacement to the deal, that deals with Iran’s increasingly malign and dangerous influences elsewhere in the middle east.
In terms of practicalities, what is the Department’s assessment of a successor trade deal with the United States when that country might punish UK companies that are legitimately conducting business in Iran under international agreements?
The Foreign Secretary said that he has no difficulty with President Trump’s goal of working with our allies to find a real, comprehensive and lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat. The Foreign Secretary then asked how the US proposes to achieve that. What suggestions does he have for the United States President?
I thought that we made a series of very fruitful suggestions, and we will continue to make such suggestions. The central idea is that, around the core of the JCPOA, we build a superstructure—a follow-on agreement—that addresses the problems of the sunset clauses and the issues of the ICBMs, and satisfies the anxieties of the President and of many colleagues in the House today.
My right hon. Friend is obviously much better briefed than I am but, as I understand it, Iran is not in compliance with all the letter of the agreement. Can he assure me that Israel, which the Iranians have sworn to wipe off the earth, will not now strike Iran in a counter-attack to prevent any further escalation in building nuclear missiles?
What assessment has the Foreign Office made of Mr Trump’s announcement in February 2018 that the US will develop a batch of new smaller nuclear weapons? Mr Trump reportedly asked his foreign policy advisers why the US does not use nuclear weapons. Will the Foreign Secretary please make it clear to the House that it is never in any country’s interest to use nuclear weapons?
The JCPOA was rushed and flawed, and it was never ratified by Congress, which is one of the reasons why it was vulnerable to being changed by President Trump. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that whatever structure replaces the JCPOA is built on firmer foundations and goes through Congress, and is therefore sustainable, to ensure that Iran does not continue to flout international laws and norms and does not abuse its own people and others, and to minimise the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran?
The JCPOA took 13 years to negotiate, so to say it was rushed is perhaps a slight exaggeration. I want the House to remember the crucial point that the JCPOA has not gone. The JCPOA is there, and the UK is a party to it, as are France, Germany, Russia, China, the EU and Iran, and that will continue. We will do our level best, around that core, to build a superstructure or entablature—whatever we want to call it—to allay my hon. Friend’s understandable concerns.
Although I appreciate that the Foreign Secretary cannot go into detail here, can he assure us that the Intelligence and Security Committee will be briefed on what reassessments now need to be done of the global threat to United Kingdom citizens so that this Parliament can be assured that our security services are taking cognisance of the increased risk we now face as a result of the premature and stupid actions of our so-called closest ally?
One of the problems faced under the agreement is that Iran has continued to develop nuclear facilities, such as the one discovered at Fordow and that recently discovered at Natanz—Natanz was discovered only by opposition groups in Iran. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that those facilities, which were not included in the original agreement, have been inspected and are in conformance with the deal? Is not one of the problems that the deal does not constrain Iran from developing further nuclear facilities?
My hon. Friend speaks on this matter with a great deal of interest and authority. The IAEA has conducted 400 inspections and confirmed nine times that Iran is in compliance. Iran has reduced its number of centrifuges by two thirds and its stock of enriched uranium by 95%. On that basis alone, the agreement must be counted a success.
First the Paris agreement and now the Iran deal—does this show that the USA’s signature is not worth the paper it is written on? Our Government must show that we honour our agreements. We must particularly protect British interests and British companies against forthcoming US sanctions that will affect us. Will the Secretary of State build an alliance with the remaining partners in the Iran deal, whose collective GDP is twice the USA’s, and use the EU sanctions-blocking regulations that were first used in 1996? Just as we have on the Paris agreement, will we strengthen our resolve to thwart this retrograde step by the Trump Administration?