With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on last week’s European Council.
The focus of this Council was migration, and there were also important conclusions on security and defence. The UK made a substantive contribution on both, and our continued co-operation after we have left the EU will be in everyone’s interests, helping to ensure the long-term prosperity and security of the whole continent. The consequences of mass uncontrolled immigration are one of the most serious challenges confronting Europe today. The problem is felt especially acutely by countries on the Mediterranean and the Aegean, which are often where migrants first arrive, but this is a shared challenge, which affects us all. More than anything, the situation is a tragedy for the migrants themselves, thousands of whom have now lost their lives. At the core of all our efforts must be trying to prevent others from doing so.
The UK has long argued for a comprehensive, whole-of-route approach to tackling migration, and the Council agreed actions in each of the three areas that we have championed. First, there will be more work upstream to reduce the number of people who undertake such perilous journeys in the first place. This includes providing more opportunities in the countries where economic migrants are coming from, and helping to ensure that refugees claim asylum in the first safe country that they reach. To support this, the UK will continue to invest for the long term in education, jobs and services, both in countries of origin and transit.
We are also committed to the second tranche of the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey, provided that we can agree an appropriate mechanism for managing the funds. We made a further commitment at this Council of €15 million to support the EU Trust Fund for Africa. Both are delivering on the UK’s call for more support for countries of transit and origin on the main routes into Europe, which is vital if we are to achieve the solutions we need to mass uncontrolled migration. Alongside our economic development and humanitarian support, we have also been stepping up our communications effort upstream so that more potential migrants understand the grave dangers of the journeys they might undertake and the criminal people smugglers who are waiting to exploit them.
Secondly, there will be more work to distinguish between genuine refugees and illegal economic migrants. This includes exploring the concept of regional disembarkation platforms. It was agreed at the Council that these could be established on a voluntary basis. Key to their success would be operating in full respect of international law and without creating a pull factor for further migration. There is clearly much more work to be done, with the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration, to establish whether such proposals are practically and legally viable, but we do need to be prepared to look again at new solutions, given the gravity and intractability of this challenge.
Thirdly, there will be further efforts to strengthen borders to help to prevent illegal migration. Last week I agreed with Prime Minister Tsipras of Greece that we would work towards a new action plan of UK support for Greek and European efforts, including a further Border Force patrol vessel to work with the Greek coastguard. The UK now has law enforcement officers in 17 EU and African countries as part of our organised immigration crime taskforce. UK and French officers are also working together to build links between counter-trafficking agencies in Nigeria and Niger to strengthen this key border on the central route. I am keen that we should replicate this model with other states.
This is a challenge that faces the whole of our continent. As I said at the Council, we will continue playing our full part in working together with the EU to meet that challenge both now and after we have left, for that is in our national interest and in the interests of Europe as a whole.
The same is true for security and defence, which was why at this Council I made the case for a new security partnership between the UK and the EU after we have left. We have seen over recent weeks and months that Russia and other hostile state and non-state actors are trying to sow disunity, destabilise our democracies and test our resolve. We must work together to adapt our current defences to the new normal, and take responsibility for protecting international norms and institutions. In this context, I thanked our European partners for their solidarity in the wake of the appalling nerve agent attack in Salisbury. The unprecedented co-ordinated expulsion of undeclared Russian intelligence officers demonstrated our unity in response to this kind of disregard for global norms and rules that poses a threat to us all.
At the March Council, we agreed to do more to strengthen our resilience against such threats. Since then, the UK has led work with our European partners to propose a package of measures to step up our strategic communications against online disinformation, strengthen our capabilities against cyber-security threats and further reduce the threat from hostile intelligence activities. This Council agreed measures in all these areas, including an action plan by December that must go even further in co-ordinating our response to the challenge of disinformation.
This effort to adapt our defences to protecting international norms should also enable us to respond robustly to events beyond Europe when they threaten our security interests, so this Council welcomed the agreement reached by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in The Hague last week, enabling the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons use. The Council reinforced this by agreeing with President Macron and myself in calling for the adoption of a new EU sanctions regime to address the use and proliferation of chemical weapons. The Council also agreed to roll over current sanctions on Russia in the light of its failure to fully implement the Minsk agreements in Ukraine. In the context of online threats from the full range of state and non-state actors, President Macron and I joined together in pushing for further action to tackle illegal online content, especially terrorist content.
Finally, on security, we looked ahead to our NATO summit next week, which will be an important moment to demonstrate western unity. The NATO Secretary-General joined this discussion at the Council, where we agreed that Europe must take greater responsibility for its own security while complementing and reinforcing the activities of NATO. Far too few of our allies are currently meeting the commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence. At this Council, I urged them to do so, in order that, together, we can meet the full range of targets that challenge our interests. For our own part, we have the biggest defence budget in Europe and the biggest in NATO after the United States. We are investing more than £179 billion on new equipment. That means, among other items, new aircraft carriers and submarines for the Navy, new cutting-edge F-35B aircraft for the RAF, and new Ajax armoured vehicles for the Army. We are leading throughout NATO, whether that is through deployed forces in the Mediterranean, air policing in eastern Europe, or our troops providing an enhanced forward presence in Estonia.
We are operating with our allies to defend our interests all over the world. In April, RAF aircraft took action to degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter their future use. Over 1,000 personnel are deployed in the fight against Daesh, and we are the second largest contributor to the coalition air campaign in Iraq and Syria. In Africa, UK troops have built and now operate a hospital in South Sudan supporting the UN mission there. They are training security forces in Nigeria, and our Chinook helicopters are deploying to Mali in support of the French this week. Two Royal Navy vessels are deployed in Asia in support of sanctions enforcement on North Korea, working closely with the US, Japan and others, with another to follow—the first Royal Navy deployments to the Pacific since 2013. Our submarines are silently patrolling the seas, giving us a nuclear deterrent every minute of every hour, as they have done for 50 years. Our modernising defence programme will ensure that our capabilities remain as potent in countering the threats of tomorrow as they are in keeping us safe today. We are the leading military power in Europe, with the capabilities to protect our people, defend our interests and project our values, supporting the global rules-based system—and the Government who I lead will ensure that that is exactly how we remain.
Turning to Brexit, I updated my fellow leaders on the negotiations, and the 27 other member states welcomed the further progress that had been made on the withdrawal agreement. With the exception of the protocol relating to Northern Ireland, we now have agreement or are close to doing so. There remain some real differences between us and the European Commission on Northern Ireland. So, on the protocol on Northern Ireland, I want to be very clear. We have put forward proposals and will produce further proposals so that if a temporary backstop is needed, there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We are absolutely committed to the avoidance of such a border, and we are equally committed to the avoidance of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is an integral part of our country and we will never accept the imposition of a border within our United Kingdom.
We all agreed that we must now urgently intensify and accelerate the pace of negotiations on our future relationship. I warned EU leaders that I do not think this Parliament will approve the withdrawal agreement in the autumn unless we have clarity about our future relationship alongside it. I will hold a meeting of the Cabinet at Chequers on Friday, and we will publish our White Paper on the future partnership with the EU next week. The EU and its member states will want to consider our proposals seriously. We both need to show flexibility to build the deep relationship after we have left that is in the interests of both our peoples. Our White Paper will set out detailed proposals for a sustainable and close future relationship between the UK and the EU—a partnership that means that the UK will leave the single market and customs union, but a partnership which supports our shared prosperity and security. It will mark an important step in delivering the decision of the British people. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of her statement. The statement was nearly 2,000 words, and all the Prime Minister says on Brexit is that we need
“clarity about our future relationship”.
Yes, we do—we have been waiting for over two years for any clarity from this Government.
Let me first address the issue of migration. I hope that the whole House shares my concern about the direction in which those on the hard right seem determined to take Europe’s migration and asylum policy. There was evidence of that only a few weeks ago when the new Italian Interior Minister exploited the plight of 600 migrant refugees on the rescue ship Aquarius to make a callous political point. That incident has made it clear that, more than ever, we need strong leadership across Europe to uphold the right to asylum and treat all migrants with dignity and respect. It is right that EU countries should help migrants rescued in the Mediterranean and also take action to alleviate the burden on Italy and Greece. What commitments or support has the Prime Minister made or offered in that respect?
We understand that the EU plan now is to swiftly explore the idea of processing centres in north Africa. Can the Prime Minister confirm whether any non-European Union countries have indicated that they would sign up to that deal? In the face of a very worrying surge in far-right rhetoric across the EU, I urge the Prime Minister to stand up for humanitarian values and ensure that Britain is on the right side of this debate, ready to stand up to those who try to use the plight and suffering of tens of thousands of people to incite division and hate anywhere across this continent. On the issue of security and challenging disinformation, I look forward to the December action plan and to debating the NATO summit next week.
When it comes to Brexit, this Government have mishandled the negotiations every step of the way. Another summit has gone and another opportunity has been missed. The division and infighting in the Cabinet is having a debilitating effect on this country, and threatens jobs and communities in every part of the UK. I do not envy the Prime Minister as she prepares for her Chequers sleepover. She has many loud and competing voices in her Cabinet—competing not to do the best for this country, but to do the best for themselves. The Prime Minister’s primary duty is not to manage the latest division within her Cabinet, but to negotiate a deal that will safeguard jobs and living standards for decades to come.
We look forward to the much-vaunted third way on customs that the Prime Minister hopes will unite her Cabinet, because the current chaos at the heart of government leaves us facing crucial unanswered questions. First, will UK trade be greater outside a customs union? If the Government believe that it will, can they show us how they reached that conclusion? In recent days, one major business after another has lined up to say that it is vital for Britain to be in a customs union, as have many trade unions. The Government’s published impact assessments show that potential new trade deals come nowhere near replacing the advantages of being in a customs union, leaving every region and every nation worse off. What evidence do this Government have to suggest that rejecting any form of customs union with our biggest trading partner is the best way of protecting jobs here in Britain? Even the NHS is now having to plan for multiple scenarios because there is no clarity from Government.
Secondly, how do the Government intend to prevent a hard border in Ireland if we are not in a customs union? They say they have been working on finding “flexible and imaginative solutions”, so where are those solutions? The people of Northern Ireland deserve honesty.
Thirdly, what will our future relationship with our biggest trading partner look like? The problem is that the Prime Minister is stuck in the middle of two warring factions, but she now needs to pick a side. Does she want—[Interruption.] The question is quite simply: does she want a close trading relationship with the EU, with aligned rights and regulations, or does she believe in the visions of those on her Benches who see Britain’s future as a low-regulated, low-investment tax haven?
Fourthly, will potential options for Britain’s future immigration policy be included in the Brexit White Paper? We know freedom of movement will change when we leave the EU, but we are still no clearer about what will come next. Recent figures show that migration of EU nationals is continuing to fall, with some sectors suffering shortages, including in the national health service.
Finally, is the Prime Minister still confident she can get a deal? At this stage, it is not clear that the Prime Minister can even get a deal with her Cabinet, which is why—after two years—the White Paper is nowhere to be seen. The divisions and open warfare at the highest levels of her Government are holding this country back. Even her own Cabinet members are openly saying a deal cannot be done before the transition period, and they are already saying that the transition period will have to be extended.
The Prime Minister has for too long hidden behind a series of soundbites, including “No deal is better than a bad deal.” No deal is a bad deal and would represent historic failure. The Prime Minister must choose: will she rein in the egos of her Cabinet, or negotiate a deal that works for the people of this country and those worried about their jobs, their future and their communities?
First, the right hon. Gentleman talked about the issues raised in relation to migration. As I said, uncontrolled migration and the numbers of people we have seen attempting to come to Europe, some of whom have lost their lives in that attempt, do pose a serious challenge to Europe, and we have been working with our European colleagues to be able to address these issues.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the right to claim asylum. In 2016, when I went to the United Nations, I set out the three principles that we believe underlie these issues: first, that people should claim asylum in the first safe country that they come to; secondly, that it should be possible to differentiate better between economic migrants and refugees, which I think will enable more support to be available for refugees; and thirdly, that countries have a right to be able to defend their borders, but they must also accept returns of those individuals who have gone illegally elsewhere and should be returned to those countries.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the alleviation of the burden on Italy and Greece. We have been working for some time now with both Italy and Greece in a number of ways to alleviate the burden on them. In particular, we have had Border Force staff working in Greece to help in terms of the processes there for claiming asylum and identifying refugees and others. We have been working similarly in Italy, but also working, as I indicated in my statement in relation to the organised immigration crime taskforce, to ensure that we are identifying the people smugglers who are the people behind the misery that so many individual migrants find themselves subjected to.
These people smugglers have no care for the humanity—for the lives—of the people that they are dealing with; they are quite happy to put them into boats that they know will sink and send them off from the Libyan coast. That is why we have been part of the search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean and, as I say, we are working to identify those smuggling groups. As I said in my statement, I agreed with Prime Minister Tsipras that we are going to work towards further action—a new action plan of UK support for Greek and European efforts—and that will include a further Border Force patrol vessel, which will be working with the Greek coastguard.
The right hon. Gentleman then came on to reference the issue of Brexit. He talked about the issue of whether or not there had been progress on Brexit. I have to say that, at virtually every stage, Labour Members have said that there was no progress on Brexit; at every stage, we have delivered. They said we would not deliver article 50 —we did. They said we would not, but I laid out our plans at Lancaster House, at Florence, at Munich and in the Mansion House speech. We got agreement on phase 1 in December, and we got agreement in March to an implementation period. We are on schedule. The question is: why does the Labour party spend all its time trying to frustrate Brexit and stop the vote of the British people?
The right hon. Gentleman asked about trade. Yes, we do want to ensure that we continue to have a good trading relationship with the European Union, but we also want to ensure that we have an independent trade policy that allows us to get good trade deals with the rest of the world. That will be for the prosperity and benefit of people and jobs here in this country.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the national health service. Well, months ago Labour were complaining that the national health service was not preparing for a no deal, and now they are complaining that it is. Labour really need to get themselves straight on what they are talking about. When it comes to getting a position straight, the right hon. Gentleman wanted to trigger article 50 the day after the referendum, but now he refuses to rule out a second referendum. It is not just a question of who in the Labour party agrees with who else; the right hon. Gentleman cannot even agree with himself on his Brexit policy.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman said that I should pick a side. I am very clear: I have picked the side of the British people, and they will be the ones I deliver for.
Order. I remind the House that, in accordance with long-standing convention, right hon. and hon. Members who came into the Chamber after the Prime Minister began her statement should not expect to be called to question her about it. More widely, if I am to have any chance of accommodating the understandably extensive interest in the matter, there will be a premium upon brevity, which is now to be brilliantly exemplified by Mr John Redwood.
Will the Prime Minister table urgently a full free trade agreement, covering both goods and services, and ask the EU whether they want that or no deal? Either way, we must take back control of our laws, our money and our borders.
We will be taking back the control that my right hon. Friend sets out; that is what people voted for in the referendum, and that is what we will deliver. We will be setting out, in greater detail than we have done so far, our proposals for that trade agreement with the European Union, making very clear to it the options that now lie on the table.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement. How embarrassing it must have been for her last week in Brussels, when the most oft-heard words were, “Time is running out.” We learnt that this year the Brexit Secretary has spent only four hours in talks with Michel Barnier. The EU’s chief negotiator has warned that
“huge and serious divergence remains, in particular on Ireland and Northern Ireland.”
The UK is inching ever closer to a cliff edge, but the Prime Minister cannot even negotiate with her own Cabinet, let alone—[Interruption.] I hear the guffawing and laughter coming from the Conservative Benches, including from the Prime Minister. They should reflect on the fact that this is about the jobs and security of our people; they deserve to have these important matters taken seriously, not treated like a Punch and Judy show by the Conservatives.
In a worrying development, EU officials yesterday warned that the deal might not be ready until December at the earliest. The Irish Prime Minister summed up the situation perfectly when he said:
“I think it would have been helpful to have that white paper two years ago. You would have thought they’d have had that before people voted.”
To go to a European Council meeting with nothing to negotiate on and then to come back and hold a Cabinet summit beggars belief. Talk about putting the cart before the horse. On Friday, the Prime Minister will face her Cabinet. Goodness knows where she will be with Brexit this time next week. More than two years on from the Brexit vote, we are no clearer on what the Government want—two years wasted, with no vision and no plan. The result is that jobs and investment are at risk from lack of a coherent plan. Where is the leadership? Where is the recognition of the responsibility that the Prime Minister has to protect jobs? Mr Speaker, you could not make this up. No wonder businesses, communities and the devolved Administrations are speaking out.
Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether December is her new deal deadline for negotiations? Does she think it is right that NHS England is preparing for no deal and working to secure medicine and equipment because she cannot give simple reassurances? To protect the NHS and to protect jobs and investment, will she commit now to keeping the United Kingdom in the single market and in the customs union to protect our communities?
I set out clearly the progress made in our talks since we triggered article 50. The right hon. Gentleman says it is wrong for the national health service to prepare for no deal. Actually, it is right that contingency arrangements are being put in place across the Government, because the negotiations have not yet been completed. The European Union itself—we agreed with this—is looking to the October deadline. As I said in my statement—if he noticed that paragraph in my statement—I believe it is right that, when this House looks at the details of the withdrawal agreement, it should have sufficient detail about our future relationship with the European Union to be able to make that decision. Finally, he talks about role of the United Kingdom and the importance of jobs in the future. I say very simply to him—I have said it before, but I will continue to repeat it—that if he is interested in jobs in Scotland then he should make sure that Scotland stays in the United Kingdom.
First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on Royal Assent being granted to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which repeals the European Communities Act 1972 in line with the wishes of the voters in the referendum. This repeal, as my right hon. Friend knows, means no freedom of movement, no customs union, no single market and no European Court of Justice. It is a sovereign Act returning to this country self-government and is the law of the land. There are, however, some disturbing reports in parts of the press that the Government may have in mind proposals for some form of legal re-entry into a form European unity of some description—for example, in the context of the European economic area. This is preposterous, and I simply ask my right hon. Friend to dismiss those reports, as they are completely unfounded and would undermine trust in our democracy if they were true.
In relation to the point my hon. Friend makes about the EEA, I have been clear from the start that that is one of the things the European Commission suggested was on the table. The EEA is not right, because it would not deliver—particularly in the form the European Commission proposed it—on the vote of the referendum and the vote of the British people.
Since the Prime Minister has now wisely accepted that we would be willing to respect the remit of the European Court of Justice when it comes to co-operation on security and EU agencies, will she please explain to the House why she is so opposed in principle to doing the same when it comes to participation in the internal market and the customs union?
I set out in my Mansion House speech that if we are a member of an EU agency that is governed by the European Court of Justice and we continue to have a role in it, that of course has implications for the actions of that agency. That is different from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which will be ended in the United Kingdom.
People are fed up with not just Brexit but fudge, so on Friday the Cabinet must agree and settle its policy on Brexit. May I assure the Prime Minister that if the agreement meets the needs of British business she will command support not just across the Government Benches but across the country at large?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments and I assure her that that is exactly what the Cabinet intends to do on Friday.
In managing the internal debate on Brexit in the Government, they have developed a very flexible, elastic approach to the idea of collective Cabinet responsibility, even more than in the Government the Prime Minister and I were a part of. What are the red lines that Ministers cannot now cross for fear of being dismissed for disloyalty?
That is a very interesting contribution from the right hon. Gentleman. I seem to remember when we were in the coalition Government one or two occasions when I woke up as Home Secretary to discover statements he had made from his position, which certainly did not reflect Cabinet collective responsibility.
Will Brexit be recognisable as Brexit?
There has been much jocularity around the term “Brexit means Brexit,” but it does mean Brexit. People want to ensure that we take back control of our borders and our laws, and that we no longer continue to send vast sums of money to the European Union each year. We will be coming out of the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, but we will be ensuring that we are able to trade with the European Union and set an independent trade policy that enables us to negotiate good trade deals around the rest of the world.
This weekend, the Prime Minister criticised the Commission’s approach to security, and I think the Commission is being too rigid, but I have to say to her that her red lines—that she just reaffirmed—on the European Court of Justice and on the charter of fundamental rights are also causing huge problems in getting a security deal. Frankly, from the outside, it look as though no one is listening to the police. Will she now accept that we are running out of time, and will she confirm that she will not stick with those red lines if they get in the way of a security partnership?
I set out our ambition on a security partnership in my Munich speech and negotiations have been started with the European Union on this particular issue. What I want to see in the security partnership for the future is our ability to maintain operational capabilities. That is not something that is being put in jeopardy by the position that the Government are taking on the European Court of Justice. We are working and will work to ensure that those operational capabilities are maintained in the future.
In recognising that this deal will probably not be completed until the very last minute, as we have seen in previous deals, I urge my right hon. Friend not to be too specific in the White Paper and to keep the negotiating hand that she will need in those negotiations, ever mindful of the fact that this country has been incredibly successful in attracting inward investment, because this has been the place to invest. I urge her to have that in her mind for the long-term future of the country.
I thank my right hon. Friend. He may recall that right at the beginning of this process I said that we would not be giving a running commentary on negotiations. It is absolutely right that in a negotiation, there are certain aspects on which it is necessary to ensure that we have flexibility. On his second point, he is absolutely right: we continue to see international companies investing in and creating new jobs in this country. That is because this is a great place to do business and it will continue to be so.
To lose one unworkable customs variant may be regarded as misfortune, but to lose both looks like carelessness. Would it not be far simpler if the Prime Minister just admitted that it is impossible to avoid a hard border in Ireland unless we are in the single market and the customs union?
No, I will not accept that, because it is not the case. We can do it, and we can do it in a variety of ways, but we remain committed to no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
It is very clear that a no-deal Brexit would carry a high risk, both for our economy and our security, so I urge my right hon. Friend to continue to listen to British businesses and other stakeholders and to continue fighting for practical and pragmatic solutions that safeguard jobs and security.
We have indeed been listening to British business. We have also listened to European businesses that are investing here in the United Kingdom. I want to see a good Brexit deal, which not only ensures that we maintain prosperity and jobs here in the UK, but gives us the freedom to be able to extend those trade deals around the world in our interests, and not in the interests of Brussels, as has been the case in the past.
If we are to be legally bound by the withdrawal agreement on the £35 billion to £40 billion and other issues such as the backstop on Northern Ireland, surely we need something more than clarity about our future relationship alongside it. Surely we need the same level of legal certainty, as with the withdrawal agreement before this Parliament voted the money through.
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We have always seen our agreement on the future relationship and the withdrawal agreement running alongside each other. That is why I am clear, as is the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, that when the House considers the withdrawal agreement, it will need to have sufficient detail about the future relationship to be able to judge that. We see the withdrawal agreement and the future relationship as linked. The EU itself has said that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that at the end of the implementation period the United Kingdom will leave the customs union and will no longer be subject to the common external tariff?
We are going to be leaving the customs union. We have, of course, as my hon. Friend will be well aware, set out the alternative proposal for a backstop in relation to the situation in Northern Ireland and Ireland which would come into play were there any delay in putting our future customs relationship into full operation and into place. I am clear that we should be doing everything we can to ensure that at the end of December 2020 our future relationship, including our future customs relationship, is in place such that the backstop is not necessary.
How likely is it that our customs arrangements will not be in place by the end of the transition period?
As I just said, we are working to ensure that they can and will be in place.
Rather than listening to arbitrary red lines, set down, as we have just heard, by Members such as those for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) and for Wokingham (John Redwood), will the Prime Minister do what Conservative Prime Ministers over the ages have done and find a pragmatic, sensible and flexible Brexit that delivers on the referendum result of two years ago, which we have done through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, while protecting business, jobs, the economy and entrepreneurs? If we do otherwise we will not be thanked for the mess we end up in.
I and the whole Government are working for a Brexit arrangement and deal that will ensure prosperity for our economy into the future and a Brexit deal behind which the whole country can unite.
Are there any circumstances in which the Prime Minister would support the extension of either the article 50 period or the transition period?
We will be leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019.
On a different subject, will the Prime Minister accept that, while she has secured the future of the nuclear deterrent submarines, and while she has invested, rightly and heavily, in intelligence, security and cyber, if a black hole is found in the conventional defence budget, we will need to fill it, if we are to fulfil the ambitious programme she set out in her statement?
As my right hon. Friend knows, and as I referred to in my statement, we are committed to spending 2% of GDP on defence, but we are also committed to increasing the amount we spend on defence by 0.5% above inflation every year, which I did not refer to in my statement. Then there is the £179 billion we will be spending on equipment. The whole point of the modernising defence programme is to look at the defence of the future and the threats we now face, and to make sure that we have the capabilities to meet those threats.
On Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister said: “I want to be very clear. We have put forward proposals and will produce further proposals”. Could she be a little clearer now and tell the House what those further proposals are?
We will publish next week a White Paper with details about the proposals for our future relationship, and that will include matters relating to customs and Northern Ireland.
Michel Barnier tells us that we should not cherry-pick, yet we import 850,000 cars from Germany every year, we drink more champagne than the French and we import a lot of cherries from Spain. We will want to continue to do that post-Brexit. Does my right hon. Friend believe as I do that it is in the interests of the EU, where a lot of countries have high unemployment, to do a trade deal with the UK?
It is absolutely in the interests of the other countries in the European Union, which will be remaining in the European Union, to do that trade deal with the UK. I have always said that I think a good deal for us would be a good deal for them.
As the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) has just referred to cherries, it seems timely for me to call Joanna Cherry.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. This is, from my point of view, one occasion on which cherry-picking is in order.
We are advised that the EU27 are so united in their approach to Brexit that they spent only 10 minutes discussing it last week. Can the Prime Minister give us an estimate of how long she thinks the members of her Cabinet will spend discussing matters next Friday at Chequers before they reach agreement on Brexit?
The Cabinet will meet, and the Cabinet will reach an agreement on this important matter, which is in our national interest.
Does my right hon. Friend believe that Chancellor Merkel, with the benefit of hindsight, now regrets her decision in 2015 to open the European Union’s borders unilaterally to uncontrolled mass migration?
In fact, the majority of the time at the Council was spent discussing migration. It is important, because this is an issue that affects the whole of Europe. We have seen movements coming into Europe before the date to which my hon. Friend has referred, and, indeed, after it. We now need to ensure that we are taking some of the steps that the UK encouraged the EU to take at an earlier stage in relation to, for example, further action upstream. That is, I think, the best way in which to ensure that we do not see people in the hands of people-smugglers, making perilous journeys and risking their lives.
The Jaguar plant in Erdington is a jewel in the crown of manufacturing excellence that is the 800,000-strong automotive industry. There is grave and growing concern in the plants and among the companies about the potential of a hard Brexit, which would be catastrophic for a world-leading industry. Would the Prime Minister be prepared to meet Members of Parliament across parties to hear the concerns being expressed about the future of our vital automotive industry?
I do meet Members of Parliament and hear their concerns on a regular basis, and I am happy to do that. However, I also hear from the automotive industry directly, because I sit round the table with businesses and hear their views on this particular issue. We are delivering on Brexit for the British people, and I want to do so in a way that ensures that we have a good trading relationship with Europe, which is important to sectors such as the automotive industry.
There are 650 different opinions on Brexit in the House, but the only opinion, and the only office with any authority and a mandate to deliver for all our constituents, is that those of the Prime Minister. Does she agree that it is time for all of us to get behind her position, and give all our constituents the best possible chance of prosperity and a future with our European neighbours?
I think that the overwhelming view of the British public is that they took a vote, they want the Government to deliver on it, and they want us to get on with delivering on it. That is exactly what we are doing.
Section 10 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 very clearly makes it unlawful for Ministers to do anything that would lead to any form of physical customs border on the island of Ireland. The Solicitor General has confirmed that to exit with no deal and to trade under World Trade Organisation rules would necessitate such a border. Will the Prime Minister therefore specifically confirm the following? She has said that no deal would be better than a bad deal, but no deal would actually be unlawful under the Act.
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that his interpretation is not correct. In a no-deal situation, it will of course be up to the United Kingdom to determine what it does in relation to the border in Northern Ireland.
As we get closer to setting out our priorities for future trade relationships with our European partners, we have reasonably heard more from business, including the fact that modern integrated supply chains call for those relationships to be as frictionless as possible. That is certainly a message that the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has heard, not just in relation to the automotive industry but in relation to pharmaceuticals, food and drink, and aerospace. Does the Prime Minister agree that in this matter, business has been consistent?
Certainly it is the case that business has been expressing its views to Government and elsewhere on these matters for some time, but we should recognise that there are businesses around the UK that have integrated supply chains with countries in the EU, businesses that will be exporting to the EU without those integrated supply chains, and businesses that will be exporting to the rest of the world and who want to see us negotiating trade deals around the rest of the world. We are looking for a deal and deals in future trade that are in the best of the interests of the UK, and that includes business and jobs here.
Jobs at risk, scientific research threatened, and now people may not be able to receive the vital medicines they need when they are needed: Brexit is an unfolding disaster. Did the Prime Minister bring back any answers to these essential questions?
Of course it is right that, as I said earlier, across Government preparations are being made for every contingency, which includes the possibility of no deal being reached with the EU. The hon. Lady talks about issues relating to jobs: we are continuing to see new jobs being created in this country by firms that are investing here and looking ahead to a bright future for Britain and for our economy.
After a very good lunch with my right hon. Friend, I asked her whether leaving the EU meant leaving, no ifs, no buts; she gave me that assurance. Will she very kindly give some of my constituents who are concerned at the direction of travel the assurance that we are indeed going to leave the EU and not remain in any way a vassal state?
We will be leaving the EU; I want my hon. Friend and his constituents to be very clear that we will be leaving the EU on 29 March 2019. As we do that, we are negotiating a future relationship with the member states that will remain in the EU, which will continue to ensure jobs and prosperity here in the UK but also enable us to increase jobs and prosperity as a result of the trade deals we will be free to make as an independent trade country with countries around the rest of the world.
The Prime Minister mentioned regional disembarkation platforms, but what will she do specifically to increase capacity for refugees to be processed closer to conflicts and increase the number of refugees eligible for resettlement, thereby creating safe and legal routes for people fleeing war and persecution?
We have already taken steps in the work we do to resettle Syrian refugees here in the UK. We work with the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration in region to ensure the conditions are met and we can process those claims and cases as well as possible.
The hon. Lady mentioned the regional disembarkation centres and platforms that have been talked about. The precise point of those, which is why the discussions are taking place with the UNHCR and the IOM, is to ensure that people can be prevented from making the dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean that lead to loss of lives, and that proper circumstances can be set up in which their situation can be assessed. That is why we must look at the practicality and legal viability of this, but it is important that we work with the IOM and UNHCR in doing so.
I speak to constituents who voted leave and constituents who voted remain, and they are pretty much all of the same opinion: that this Government and this House as a whole should work towards delivering on the will of the people. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me of the Government’s willingness to accelerate these negotiations, and say more about the response from the EU Commission and the EU leaders in that regard?
We stand absolutely ready to accelerate those negotiations, and of course the EU at its Council meeting last week also agreed it was necessary to accelerate them. It takes two sides to do this: we are ready; they should be, too.
According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, investment in new models, equipment and facilities in the UK was just £347 million in the first half of the year compared with £647 million in the same period of 2017, and that is on top of foreign direct investment plummeting by 90% since 2016. This is not “Project Fear”; it is happening right here, right now, to our jobs and to our economy. Does the Prime Minister not recognise that if she were to commit to the European economic area, she would stop the rot?
If the hon. Gentleman looks at foreign direct investment in the United Kingdom, he will see that we remain the No. 1 destination for FDI in Europe.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that she believes that we can reach a deep and special partnership with the European Union that safeguards and improves our economic prosperity up and down the country and in Redditch?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. We are looking not just to reach that deep and special partnership but to ensure as we do so—through other steps that the Government are taking, such as our modern industrial strategy—that we are a country that works for everyone and that the advantages and benefits of our future trade relationships are felt up and down the country, including in Redditch.
Children are increasingly the victims of cross-border crime, cyber-crime and trafficking, and our ability to ensure that we protect them and bring criminals to justice depends on our relations with other European criminal justice agencies. Will the Prime Minister guarantee that children will remain her first priority in the deal that she negotiates on security, if necessary by accepting the continued jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, at least for a time, to ensure that those criminal justice instruments can continue to protect children?
We are looking to maintain our operational capabilities, and the hon. Lady is right to say that there will be many cases involving the protection of children. We are taking many steps, not just with the EU. I referred in my statement to the steps we have been taking with France, with President Macron, in relation to online abuse and particularly to terrorist content. We have also been working on the wider issue of the inappropriate use of materials online. We will continue to ensure that we are working towards having those operational capabilities, so that we can do as the hon. Lady asks and continue to protect children and others from criminal activity across borders.
The terrorist threat to the UK and across Europe is becoming more complex and is evolving quickly. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is in the UK’s national interest and in the interest of the European Union to come to an agreement quickly on shared security arrangements as we prepare to leave the European Union?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The focus in these questions is usually on our future economic partnership, but the security partnership is equally important. As he suggests, that covers not only terrorist activity across borders but the activity of organised crime gangs and others, as well as online activity, as I have just said. We are confident that we will be able to reach a partnership on our security relationships because that is in the operational interests of all the EU27 states as well as of the UK.
Over the past weeks, Airbus, BMW and Siemens have echoed the warning of the trade unions that the Government’s Brexit strategy is putting thousands of jobs at risk. Will the Prime Minister listen to business and to the trade unions, and commit to keeping the UK in a customs union?
I have said on many occasions that we will be leaving the customs union, but we will of course be putting in place customs arrangements with the European Union that will match the ambition of our trade relationship in the future.
My constituents were very clear on what they were voting for in 2016, and that would not be delivered by a Norway-style agreement. Can the Prime Minister guarantee that, whatever our future arrangement with the EU is, it will not circumscribe our ability to strike free trade deals or to end free movement?
As my hon. Friend makes absolutely clear, the future relationship must enable us to strike those trade deals and have an independent trade policy, and also to bring an end to free movement.
The squabbling, back-stabbing and leadership positioning in the Prime Minister’s Cabinet is marching us towards a no deal Brexit. Will she and the Leader of the Opposition accept that the only way of getting us out of this mess is, as advocated by the British Medical Association and members of the Unite union, to provide the people with a final say on the deal and a chance to exit from Brexit?
The right hon. Gentleman might not have noticed, but at the last general election, around 80% of people voted for parties that supported our leaving the European Union.
Ah, the Northamptonshire rivalry—Socrates and his follower. Who is to be? I call Mr Philip Hollobone.
The press speculation today is that the Prime Minister is in receipt of senior civil service advice that the European Union will not accept a bespoke deal. For any deal to be better than no deal, will the Prime Minister confirm that it needs to be a bespoke arrangement to suit the special needs of the fifth-largest economy in the world? Will she also confirm that we will not be forced to take an off-the-shelf option, such as the Norwegian model, and that the Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for International Trade have been working their socks off to ensure that we get the bespoke arrangement that our country needs?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. In fact, looking at the operation of the European Union in terms of its trade negotiations and the economic partnerships that it forms with a variety of countries around the world, each of those is a bespoke arrangement, and it is right that the UK’s deal will be a bespoke arrangement. We are ambitious as to what that can contain, and I look forward to receiving the same degree of ambition from the European Union.
The Prime Minister referred to the discussions with NATO’s Secretary-General, which are welcome, and mentioned Russia’s failure to implement the Minsk agreement and the extension of EU sanctions against Russia. Was any concern expressed about what President Trump might do in his bilateral meeting with President Putin and about the danger of him selling out Ukraine and therefore European interests?
We discussed the importance of transatlantic unity and the importance of NATO’s role and of ensuring, as I pointed out, that other European Union members in NATO step up and deliver their commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence. The focus of our discussions was transatlantic unity and the continued operation of NATO as the bedrock of our defence and security in Europe.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that our holistic approach of predominately focusing our aid in the region means that we maximise the number of refugees that we help while minimising the number of perilous journeys undertaken? Is she encouraging other European leaders to follow suit?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. At the beginning of the situation in Syria, the UK took a view that it was right to help people in region through our aid budget to help far more people there, and that is exactly what we have done. It also means that people are not encouraged to make dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean at the hands of people smugglers. Our position is absolutely right, and I have encouraged others to do the same.
Does the Prime Minister believe that frictionless trade and regulatory alignment are a particular concern of the fashionable metropolitan elite or a priority for manufacturing across the nation?
As we look for our future trading relationship, I have been clear that what the hon. Lady and I have referred to as “as frictionless trade as possible” is one of our objectives in the negotiations.
Is it not the case that the British Government would find themselves in an extremely weak and vulnerable position if they sought to negotiate the detail of our future relationship when outside the EU?
As I made clear earlier, we should be negotiating for sufficient detail of our future relationship, such that that will be clear at the point at which we are asking for agreement on the withdrawal agreement and before we leave the European Union.
At the weekend, Simon Stevens said that the NHS is now planning explicitly for a no deal Brexit scenario so that vital medical supplies can still get through. Will the Prime Minister explain how much that is costing the NHS and whether the money is coming out of the budget for treating patients?
It is entirely right and proper that, like every organisation, the NHS considers what future contingencies should be. The NHS is no different from any other organisation.
In this brave new world, does the Prime Minister expect us to remain a member of the European agency Europol?
As I have said in today’s statement and previously, we are looking to negotiate a security partnership that enables us to maintain operational capabilities. I have previously cited Europol as one of the agencies of which we may wish to be a member. We are a significant contributor to Europol, and I think it is in the interest of the EU27 that we are able to continue to have a relationship with Europol in the future.
Does the Prime Minister accept that future UK immigration policy will have to form part of the overall negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship? Will we finally see a decent outline of her immigration proposals in next week’s White Paper?
One of the things people voted for when they voted to leave the European Union was to bring an end to free movement, and that will be the case. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the Migration Advisory Committee has been asked to advise the Home Office on the question of the contribution made to our economy by workers from within the European Union, and it will be reporting on that later this year.
The Prime Minister has recognised that, in the national interest, we will need to continue to recognise the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in a number of areas after the end of the implementation period at the end of 2020. Does she agree that data privacy regulation is one of those areas—she has acknowledged the importance of that—and that Europol is another? Will she set out some of the other areas in which we will need to continue to recognise that jurisdiction?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I indicated in my Mansion House speech and subsequently that what he says may pertain in future where we continue to remain a member of a European Union agency, but the arrangements for that membership, that partnership, that association would still have to be negotiated.
Like Northern Ireland, Gibraltar is an integral part of our country. Can the Prime Minister update the House on what progress has been made in negotiations on the Gibraltarian border?
Negotiations have been taking place on Gibraltar, and we maintain our steadfast support for the people of Gibraltar. We have been clear that Gibraltar is covered by our exit negotiations. We are committed to fully involving Gibraltar as we exit the EU, and we have been involving the Government of Gibraltar in these matters. We are looking for a deal that works for the whole UK family, and it must work for Gibraltar, too. We support the territorial scope of the draft withdrawal agreement, which explicitly includes Gibraltar.
I thank the Prime Minister for standing firm. This morning, in the local press back home, the EU Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan, stated that the Republic of Ireland is preparing for a no deal Brexit. The Republic of Ireland has notified 70 stakeholders to ready themselves for just that. We would like an accommodation with the EU, but does the EU really want an agreement, or should we prepare for a no deal Brexit?
It is right that everyone should make contingency arrangements for all eventualities. That is what the Government are doing here, and it is what others will be doing, too. We are working to get that deal. As I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), I believe a deal that is good for the UK will be a deal that is good for the EU27, and we continue to work on that basis.