House of Commons
Monday 9 July 2018
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Armed Forces Veterans: Historic Allegations
Before I answer my hon. Friend’s question, I think it is right to record our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Dawn Sturgess. Our thoughts and prayers are very much with them, as well as with the recovery of Mr Rowley. Our armed forces continue to provide support to the police investigation, including through the safe removal of vehicles, and they will help with any further requests.
With reference to my hon. Friend’s question, I understand the concerns over whether serving and former personnel are receiving the legal protection and certainty that they deserve. I am therefore pleased to announce that I have established a dedicated team within the Ministry of Defence to consider this issue and to advise on the way forward. This work will be complementary to the work of the Defence Committee, which is looking at the specific question of how to protect our service personnel and veterans against historic allegations as part of its inquiry into this important topic.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply. Obviously, many veterans will listen carefully to what he has said, particularly Dennis Hutchings, a Northern Ireland veteran who was arrested in a dawn raid and charged with attempted murder in respect of an allegation from 1974 which had already been fully investigated four times and completely closed—
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not go into detail about that case, which is sub judice. I know that he is concluding his question.
I would just suggest to the Secretary of State that we need to look at the situation regarding all veterans, so that veterans from all campaigns can have a statute of limitations.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we should be looking at this not in isolation but right across the piece. That is why we have set up the dedicated team, but it is also important to look at the evidence and information collected by the Select Committee.
I completely agree that we have to ensure that our armed forces personnel are protected from vexatious and ludicrous legal claims from the past, but do we not also need to ensure that we can pursue international war crimes and criminals all around the world and that we do not renege on those promises?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Our armed forces have the very highest standards, and our ability to pursue people right around the world who have done some very bad things is absolutely the right stance to have. That is what we will continue to do.
The Defence Committee will warmly welcome the setting up of the dedicated team. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 means that soldiers and terrorists alike cannot be sentenced to more than two years in jail, of which they will probably serve only half, and that in those circumstances, it is right that we should move to a statute of limitations so that we do not have an unfair imbalance where some are prosecuted and others are not?
My right hon. Friend is correct in his analysis of the current situation. We are keen to find a long-term solution to help all service personnel, from conflicts not only in Northern Ireland but in Afghanistan and Iraq, to ensure that vexatious claims are eliminated.
After the Good Friday agreement, a political decision was made to give letters of comfort to terrorists. Can we not make a political decision to give letters of comfort to our soldiers?
The reason that we are setting up the dedicated team is to look at all the options. That is why it is so important to work with the Select Committee to try to find solutions to this problem, which has been going on for far too long.
Daesh: Syria and Iraq
The UK is as committed as ever to working through the global coalition to eliminate the danger posed by Daesh. We continue to undertake air strikes against Daesh targets, and we have been building the capacity of the Iraqi security forces, including the peshmerga, to deal with a potential insurgency. For as long as they want and need our support, we will continue to train Iraq’s security forces, enhancing their ability to respond to the threat and carrying out security sector reform in Iraq.
Apart from military action, what steps are being taken to help to tackle the sectarian tension in Syria and Iraq, and in the wider region, which in part led to the rise of Daesh?
My hon. Friend highlights an important element. This is not just about support through the military; it is also about international development support and about building civil law enforcement, which involves the police and, equally importantly, the courts, in order to give people confidence that the courts are fair and just.
Daesh still has a strong online presence. What is being done to combat that?
As has been mentioned in the House, the British Government and the Ministry of Defence have been using offensive cyber in Iraq for the first time to counter the messages that Daesh puts out. We will continue to do that.
As we train up personnel in Iraq, can I assume that the Secretary of State will ensure that the knowledge gained and the contacts made will be banked for the future for our own defence purposes, not least intelligence?
Yes, the hon. Gentleman can have that assurance.
Royal Fleet Auxiliary: Fleet Support Ships
Since entering a four-year assessment phase in April 2016, the project has held three industry days. We have also undertaken a period of market engagement with UK and international shipbuilders. We formally launched the international competition on 5 June. Subject to normal approvals, our current intent is to award the contract in 2020.
Will the Minister finally give us a reason why the ships are being put out to international competition? Would it not be better if UK shipyards were block building the ships?
I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s question. I have explained several times at the Dispatch Box that we have adopted the shipbuilding strategy in full. The strategy is clear about defining warships as a capability that will be built in the UK and non-warships as a capability that will be subject to international competition.
Will the Minister confirm that any weaponry installed on the fleet support ships will be procured from British companies?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The weapons element of any ship that is not designated as a warship will be procured from the United Kingdom and fixed on to the platforms in the United Kingdom.[Official Report, 12 July 2018, Vol. 644, c. 7MC.]
Given that every other European country that has shipyards and procures such vessels builds them in their own shipyards, why will the Minister not accept that the problem is not with Brussels or with European regulations but with Whitehall and its refusal to back British industry, British workers and British steel?
I reject the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. This Department and this Government have supported our shipbuilding industry to such an extent that for the first time in 40 years we have actually secured significant orders for the export of British-designed warships to Australia. The right hon. Gentleman should recognise that the shipbuilding strategy is working by ensuring that our yards are competitive internationally. Protectionism is never a friend to a long-standing, secure industry.
I agree with the Minister that the superb recent news of the deal with Australia shows that we can compete internationally in this area. Does he agree that it is still important that local yards get the chance to bid and show that we are still at the cutting edge in this area?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Our shipbuilding industry, our businesses and our yards are fully engaged with the process, and they are confident that they can bring forward a successful bid. The key thing is that they will be bringing bids forward knowing that they are competitive on the world stage, not just being protected due to a “Britain First” policy.
I have just attended a good briefing by the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), whose report is called “Growing the contribution of defence to UK prosperity”. On shipbuilding, will the Minister take the report’s recommendations seriously to help retain jobs in Rosyth in my constituency? My constituents need to know that prosperity means prosperity and that the contracts are coming home.
First, I extend my thanks to the workers of the Rosyth yard for their fantastic work on our carriers. Secondly, the report that has been produced about the contribution of defence to the prosperity of the UK is important, but I return to the point I made earlier: we have adopted all the recommendations of the shipbuilding strategy, and we are already seeing the results.
We on the Opposition Benches join the Secretary of State in offering our deep condolences to the family of Dawn Sturgess and express our full support for the police as they investigate this appalling incident.
This morning, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne) published an important review titled “Growing the contribution of defence to UK prosperity”. The review was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Defence. It cites the new Type 31e frigate as an example of how the MOD has started to take the prosperity of the British economy into account in procurement. If that can be done with the new frigates, why on earth can it not be done for the fleet solid support ships?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question but, once again, I refer him back to the shipbuilding strategy, which was endorsed on a cross-party basis. The key thing is that the Type 31e is a frigate and, as such, is designated as a warship. The fleet solid support ships are not designated as warships. We are very clearly following through the shipbuilding strategy, which we think will clearly improve the productivity of our yards and contribute to UK prosperity. The hon. Gentleman should do likewise.
Our objective for the summit is a modern, unified NATO that is fit to face current and future global challenges and that is delivering against the commitments that allies have made.
Given that the NATO defence budget will be under discussion, does the Secretary of State agree that President Trump has a point when he criticises the lack of commitment on behalf of some member states towards our collective security?
I think it is right to expect every single European country to contribute to the defence of Europe. All European countries need to step up their defence spending.
Does the Secretary of State agree that American Presidents come and go but the alliance we have through NATO is the foundation stone of our security and our international effectiveness? Will he work to overcome resistance and to keep NATO strong, with America in it?
We are rapidly approaching the 70th year of NATO, and this alliance has kept Europe at peace with itself and has delivered our security. I will do everything, as will the Government and, I am sure, the Opposition, to ensure that that endures and will last another 70 years.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is the 70th anniversary year of the most successful defence alliance the world has ever seen? Does he agree that, after President Trump has rightly been accorded the respect that is his due for his views on the enlargement of spending on NATO, the most pressing object of the meeting should be the continuation of transformation? Without transformation, NATO cannot give a full account of itself on the battlefield.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct in his analysis. We have to make sure that NATO has the ability to respond to the challenges of the future, which is why we are investing more in NATO’s command structure to make sure it can act more speedily against emerging threats.
What message does the Secretary of State believe President Trump should take from the NATO summit to President Putin the following day?
I was hoping President Trump would come to visit Britain before going to visit President Putin, but he should take a message of unity, of European nations and our north Atlantic partners standing shoulder to shoulder to make sure that Europe and the north Atlantic remain safe.
I am delighted to hear the Secretary of State say that. Does he agree that it is totally and utterly unacceptable for a British citizen to be murdered by a foreign force on British soil, as happened in my neighbouring constituency of Salisbury? That will, of course, form a central part of discussions at NATO. Does he agree that it is surely right that we should show Russia a strong hand and say to it that this kind of behaviour is totally and utterly unacceptable?
That is absolutely correct. We need to stand together with our allies, and we have had an unprecedented amount of support from countries right across the NATO alliance saying that the behaviour of Russia is completely and utterly unacceptable and is taking that country down the route of pariah status.
The Secretary of State has repeatedly said that the conclusions of the modernising defence programme will be published in time for the NATO summit. I would never suggest that the Government are in the grip of complete chaos and, even if all those around him were to lose their head, I know the Defence Secretary, of all people, will keep his. Can he now assure the House that the promise to publish before Wednesday’s summit still stands?
What we are aiming to do is introduce the headline findings of the modernising defence programme before the summer recess.
It is very troubling indeed that the UK risks going to this NATO summit without being able to offer certainty to allies about our future defence capabilities. The past few months have seen unprecedented leaks from the MDP, speculation about cuts, outlandish briefings to the media and even a reported threat to bring down the Prime Minister, although I gather the Defence Secretary may now have to join a queue for that. The MDP review will ultimately be a futile exercise, however, unless it is properly funded. Can he tell us what assurances he has had from the Chancellor that the Treasury will provide additional funds, as required?
What we see is a Conservative Government who this year committed an extra £800 million over the budget that was going to go to the Ministry of Defence to support our armed forces. We are undertaking the modernising defence programme to look at the threats this nation faces and to make sure we have the best equipped and best trained armed forces to deal with those threats. The Government have committed money to our armed forces; we have a rising defence budget. We are a very proud nation in the sense that we can see we have been hitting 2% in the past and will continue to do so going forward.
Former Service Personnel: Amputees
I am sure you will be familiar, Mr Speaker, with the significance of the battle of Solferino in 1859 when it comes to looking after our casualties. Tens of thousands of casualties were left for dead there and that was observed by Jean-Henri Dunant, who went on to form the international Red Cross. Today, we do provide support for those who are injured on the battlefield, but even faster we move them into state-of-the-art hospitals, such as we saw in Helmand province. Some of them end up losing a limb or more, and we need to make sure that we look after these brave veterans for the rest of their lives.
In 2011, Paul lost his left arm when injured by an improvised explosive device. He wrote about how he did not know how to go forward and did not want to leave the house, but he got everything back that the military offered him: confidence, camaraderie, teamwork and the chance to compete through an inspirational golfing charity, the On Course Foundation. Will the Minister agree to visit that charity and accept an invitation to see the American and British ex-servicemen compete for the Simpson cup, which is named after the founder John Simpson and will be played next year at the Royal & Ancient golf club between 19 and 22 May?
I endorse absolutely the On Course Foundation and what it does. Such organisations and the Invictus games have shown us that there is a new chapter to be had and a new direction for those who have been injured in terms of what they can do through sport. Prince Harry is very involved in that. I would be more than delighted to accept my right hon. Friend’s invitation and I pay tribute to the work that has been done by John Simpson.
We know how important it is to link up the armed forces with the NHS, particularly for personnel who have suffered life-changing injuries. What steps has the Minister taken to strengthen those links?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Not only the Ministry of Defence, but other Departments have a responsibility in this regard. That is why we have set up the veterans board, but for those who have lost limbs or who have had severe injuries there is integrated personal commissioning for veterans. That makes sure that all the agencies that are required to support and individual through their life provide better access to help our brave veterans.
British Armed Forces: Knowledge and Experience
The threats Britain faces are getting complex and more diverse. We are entering a phenomenon of constant confrontation by state and non-state actors. We are not at war but we are not at peace. If we are to continue to play a role on the international stage, we need to advance our defence posture, which involves investing in our three services and at all ranks.
I thank the Minister for that reply, but my question was really about the retention of skilled personnel. Like many right hon. and hon. Members, I was proud to attend the armed forces celebrations in my constituency, where I chatted to a number of former and current service personnel about the consequences of accelerated promotion within the armed forces. I am told that service personnel are being pushed through the ranks to cover gaps created by a retention crisis, which in turn is placing other pressures on recruitment. What is the average length of service today compared with what it was 10 years ago?
First, let me join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to Armed Forces Day, which is growing in status. It is important that we strengthen the bond between society and the armed forces, as it is from society that we recruit. The challenge we face is in recruiting people—we need to recruit 18, 19 and 20-year-olds who are fit and able then to meet the criteria.
The quality of service housing and the cost of private sector housing around RAF Brize Norton in west Oxfordshire are major factors affecting retention. What are Ministers doing to address those two factors?
I have visited Brize Norton—I was trying to weave that into the end of my answer to the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris)—and with the future accommodation model, we are trying to provide greater opportunity for those who want to live on the base, rent accommodation or, indeed, live outside and get on the housing ladder. I hope that that will lead to greater retention and recruitment.
I acknowledge Ministers’ work to retain knowledge and skill in the ranks of our defence forces; it is just a pity that they do not apply the same effort to our defence industry, instead of giving a billion-pound taxpayers’ order to improve skills and jobs in Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.
As I said, the art of war is changing, and we need to diversify, which means recruiting a wider range of skillsets. Not everybody can come up through the ranks with all the capabilities that we need. We need to be cleverer at inviting people in at a higher rank, which is part of our enterprise approach to bringing in skillsets from civilian street at a much higher level.
One factor that affects retention is esprit de corps. The Royal Marines have a unique training system whereby officers and those of other ranks train together on their core programme. What consideration has my right hon. Friend given to other branches of the armed forces doing that?
I have visited Lympstone and the operation there is fantastic for recruiting some of the brightest, the best and the fittest. My hon. Friend puts a question for my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, who I am sure would be delighted to have a cup of tea with him in the Tea Room.
In calling the hon. Gentleman, I welcome him back after a brief absence.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
An unfortunate aspect of the modernising defence programme debate is that we focus so much on kit and platforms and not enough on our real deterrent: the men and women of the armed forces. When the document eventually sees the light of day, will the Minister confirm at the Dispatch Box that it will allow the Ministry of Defence to lift the 1% pay cap?
The lifting of the 1% pay cap has already advanced because the Chief Secretary to the Treasury liberated that ceiling last year when she made her statement. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is pushing forward with the MDP. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that this is not just about equipment and training; it is about the people. It is the people who make our armed forces the most professional in the world.
Thinking of the defence community in the round, which is of course the Minister’s brief, perhaps he can tell us why the Government are pressing ahead with the privatisation of the defence fire and rescue service. It is another windfall for the cowboys at Capita, despite the fact that the Ministry of Defence’s internal documents have given it the highest possible risk assessment. Why on earth is he going ahead with it?
I made a full statement to the House on this issue. Capita won the contract fairly and squarely. This is not the first time that the private sector has been used. A number of airfields already have a set up in place. We need to make sure that we provide the best safety for airfields, and I think that Capita will be able to provide that.
Leaving the EU: Defence and Military Aerospace Industry
The Ministry of Defence is working closely with the defence industry to understand the implications and opportunities presented by our departure from the EU. We will continue to work with our allies and partners on the development of the capability that we need to keep us safe, and much of this already takes place outside an EU framework. The UK defence industry is globally competitive and I am confident it will continue to thrive in the future.
The EU Galileo satellite navigation system is vital for Britain’s future defence capacity. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the finances required for an independent system in the event of a post-Brexit exclusion from this EU project?
I am glad to say to the hon. Gentleman that a cross-governmental group is looking into this issue to ensure that we are prepared for the possibility of having to build an independent system for the United Kingdom, but I repeat from the Dispatch Box what I have said previously: our preference is to remain involved in the Galileo project. To exclude the United Kingdom from the project would harm the project and do nothing to enhance the defence of Europe or the United Kingdom.
People in Bristol working in the defence and aerospace industry and its supply chain are worried sick about their future if Airbus leaves because of Brexit. The industry supports thousands of jobs across the country, so why can the Government not reassure trade unions and the employers that there is a clear plan for this sector? What have they got against people in the aerospace and defence industry?
I do not think that this Government have anything against the aerospace industry. Indeed, the combat air strategy, which was announced by this Department recently, is a sign of our confidence in a world-beating aerospace sector. I will be very pleased when the completion of that work on our new combat air strategy is announced, as it will highlight what this country has to offer. I can assure the hon. Lady that other countries in Europe are very keen to work with us on that combat air strategy.
Given the importance of future co-operation with the EU on a multitude of defence and security issues, will the Minister confirm when the Secretary of State intends to hold a bilateral meeting with Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative?
I will write to the hon. Gentleman about the meeting between the Secretary of State and the individual from the Commission whom he named. I have to say that I have also been in Brussels recently with regard to this issue. It is clear from our perspective that we want to be involved with European defence firms. We would also like to be involved with the European Defence Agency, but the way in which this has been put together by the Commission makes that very difficult, because the third-country offer being made to the United Kingdom would not be beneficial to our position at this point, so there is still a lot of negotiation to be done. None the less, we are very, very clear that we would like to be involved in these projects.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the £20 billion Australian frigate order is yet another example of the confidence that there is in the UK defence industry as we leave the European Union?
It is, undoubtedly, a fantastic good news story for the United Kingdom. As I have said, it is the first time that we have exported a warship design in more than 40 years, and great credit should be offered to the teams at BAE and across Government who have worked so hard to ensure that that happens. It is a great success story for our industry and for the United Kingdom.
Major defence companies are clearly deeply concerned about the effect of this Government’s Brexit policy on their operations in the UK. Rolls-Royce has started to move some functions to Germany while the chief executive of Airbus has said that the Government have
“no clue on how to execute Brexit without severe harm.”
Given that the man who was meant to be leading the UK’s approach to Brexit has now resigned because he has no confidence in his own Government’s approach, how on earth can business trust that this divided Government will deliver a Brexit deal that protects jobs and the economy?
The chief executive of Airbus made very similar comments back in January, but he would also be very pleased with the plans that were announced by the Prime Minister at the Chequers meeting. The key thing is that defence industries in the United Kingdom are confident—they have larger order books and they are winning contracts for the first time in generations in some countries. On top of that, I am also in regular discussions with defence companies in other parts of the world, which are very keen to invest in the United Kingdom.
The Royal Navy and Royal Marines are integral to the UK’s global reputation in amphibious warfare. That is why the Government remain committed to ensuring the future of the amphibious warfare capability within our future force structures.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Can he give me an assurance that Royal Marine numbers will not be cut in the foreseeable future and that there will be more joint exercises with our Polish and Baltic states allies?
I am second to none in my admiration for the Royal Marines. Indeed, one of the highlights of my time as Armed Forces Minister has been presenting the green berets to them. I can absolutely assure my hon. Friend that there is a strong future for the Royal Marines as part of our armed forces. Of course, they are currently serving on HMS Albion off the Korean peninsula.
The Minister just mentioned HMS Albion. The sailors and the Royal Marines are serving with distinction in the far east, but their ship is under threat of being cut and they are watching decisions carefully. Can the Minister update us on when he expects to give them reassurance that their ship will not be cut, and can he give an assurance that the decision on Albion and Bulwark will be in the first tranche of decisions announced by his Department?
Well, this seems to be a monthly exchange on the same subject, with the same question and, I fear, with same answer forthcoming: there are currently no plans to change the end-of-service dates for HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, which are 2033 and 2034.
Tier 1 Status: Job Dependency
The UK has always been and will always be a tier 1 military power, supported by a world-class defence industry. Last year, we spent £18.7 billion with UK industry and commerce, directly supporting 123,000 jobs throughout the United Kingdom. Through the modernising defence programme we are considering how to grow even further the already substantial contribution that defence makes to UK prosperity.
Does the Minister agree that the excellent news of the BAE Systems contract to sell Type 26 frigates to Australia has come about in part because our Royal Navy has decided to buy them, and the rest of the world knows that, as a tier 1 military nation, we buy the best and most advanced equipment?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Quite clearly the capability of the Type 26 was understood and appreciated by our Australian counterparts, but the key element was the fact that the Royal Navy is committed to this platform as our future anti-submarine warfare frigate. There is no doubt that my hon. Friend is absolutely right that when the Royal Navy shows confidence in a piece of equipment, the rest of the world takes note.
Well, I thank the hon. Lady for her question. It is important to understand that tier 1 is shorthand for the fact that we are a country that can reach globally in terms of our military capabilities. That has always been the case for the United Kingdom, and it shall remain the case for the United Kingdom under this Government.
Mental Health Support
One third of us will suffer some form of mental health problem during our lifetime, and the same applies to those in the armed forces. It is very important that we challenge the stigma that surrounds mental health and ensure that we equate mental health with physical health. I am therefore pleased that we are moving forward with our mental health and wellbeing strategy, which encourages our service personnel to step up so that we can treat at an early stage.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend values the work carried out by the charity sector in this field, with organisations such as Combat Stress, Change Step and Care after Combat conducting vital work in support of military veterans. Will the Government therefore consider funding these charities, or giving them further funding, so that they are able to do more?
My hon. Friend gives me licence to thank all the service-facing charities for their work—there are more than 400 of them. I have had the honour of visiting Veterans’ Gateway, which is a simple online portal that brings together organisations, giving those who seek help one place to go to for support. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to ensure that these charities are funded. The MOD does not directly fund them, but we do fund individual projects. I would be more than delighted to meet him to discuss the matter further.
I am sure that the Minister will agree that it is vital that the UK Government and devolved Administrations work together on this important issue of mental health. Will he assure me that he is working closely with the Scottish and Welsh Governments to ensure that all veterans and service personnel have access to the high-quality mental health support that they so richly deserve, irrespective of where in the United Kingdom they reside?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Wherever veterans are in the United Kingdom, we must ensure that every one receives the support that they deserve. That is why the Veterans Board brings together the devolved Administrations, and the MOD health partnership board brings together the health specialists from all the devolved nations and England.
The Ministry of Defence continues to lead strategic exports campaigns, working across Government and with industry to win business abroad. I am sure that hon. Members will join me in welcoming BAE Systems’ success in being selected as the preferred bidder in Australia’s SEA 5000 future frigate programme.
What plans does the Secretary of State have for the next phase of exports for the Type 26 frigates?
We have a world-leading product and want to sell it right across the world. The deal with Australia is a great success; it is the first major export of ships in more than 40 years. The next place that we will target is, of course, Canada. Working closely with our “Five Eyes” partners, it is important that we have capability so that we can work together, as well as build prosperity together.
While we hear much about the physical exports manufactured by Chemring Defence in my constituency, among other companies, what more is being done to export British military skills and training, which are the envy of the world, so that we ensure that operational equipment that is exported from the UK is used in accordance with our specific aims?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Our skills are in not just the development of technology and equipment, but people, as was touched on earlier. We have a lot of world-leading companies, such as Babcock, that export their services right around the world, but we also have people’s experience of serving in the armed forces and the way in which they help and support other countries right around the world after they leave service.
What discussions has the Defence Secretary had with the Foreign Secretary about defence exports by UK companies, and does he think that he might be Foreign Secretary by teatime?
In answer to the last bit of that question, I am very confident that the answer is no. I had regular discussions with the former Foreign Secretary about exports, and I will continue to work very closely with the Foreign Office. I pay tribute to the way in which the Department for International Trade and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, especially the high commission in Canberra, have worked with the Ministry of Defence to land this vital order.
What discussions has the Secretary of State had with Rolls-Royce regarding the shedding of power generation to other companies, because there could be jobs at stake?
We have constant discussions with not just Rolls-Royce but many other companies because of the importance of our whole industrial partnership. We will continue to do so.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the Premier of South Australia, who will be in the House in about four minutes and whom I will be taking to tea in the Pugin Room? I would be very grateful if my right hon. Friend would like to join us to congratulate him on buying the Type 26 and encourage his Canadian opposite numbers to do likewise. Does he agree that this offers an opportunity to build a Commonwealth of common law on our sea lanes and keep trade open for all of us?
We will work ever more closely with our Commonwealth cousins in order to do that. The Royal Australian Navy’s making this investment is an absolutely vital step forward for our relationship with it. This is about more than just buying ships; it is also about the capability to operate together and keep world sea lanes safe.
Army Reserve Service: Prestatyn
The future of the Prestatyn is yet to be finalised. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers regiment is doing a reorganisation of its assets. This is part of the rationalisation of real estate. However, there are no further announcements to be made at the moment.
There has been an armed forces footprint in the Vale of Clwyd for over 100 years. I am opposed to 119 Recovery Company leaving Prestatyn and the disposal of that site. Will the Minister and his Department consult local stakeholders, including the town council, the county council and, especially, the Royal British Legion, before they make their decision?
Well, HQ 160st Infantry Brigade and 38 (Irish) Brigade will continue to have a footprint in the area. I would be more than delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this. I am always happy to meet any colleagues to discuss the real estate challenges that we face in any particular constituency.
UN Peacekeeping Missions
The MOD has more than doubled the number of British forces on UN peacekeeping missions in the past three years in accordance with the commitment made in the strategic defence and security review in 2015. This is through new deployments to the UN missions in South Sudan and Somalia, in addition to our long-standing commitment to the UN mission in Cyprus. That means that we have increased numbers from some 300 to over 670 today.
It is important that NATO works hand in hand with the UN and other bodies with regard to conflict prevention and peacekeeping. What steps are the Government taking to promote collaboration between NATO and the UN to make that as efficient as possible?
I met the UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, in London last month, and that is just the sort of discussion we have with him. There are a number of areas where we think that closer co-operation between the UN and NATO can be of benefit, and that is precisely why we are increasing our commitment to the UN in practical terms.
Armed Forces: Scottish Taxation
I have regular discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on armed forces funding. Work to identify which Scottish taxpayer service personnel should benefit from any financial mitigation offered, how much that should be and how best it can be delivered through the payroll is almost complete. I hope to be able to update the House shortly, following final Government consultation, which is under way. I will update service personnel by the end of this month, after having informed the House.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the progress he has made so far, following campaigning by myself, my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) and the Scottish Conservative group, but can he outline when military personnel in Moray and across Scotland can expect those details? These men and women proudly serve the United Kingdom but are punished in the pocket by the SNP, which has made Scotland the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom.
May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend and his Conservative and Unionist colleagues from Scotland? If they had not been campaigning on this issue, a solution would not be being provided, because SNP Members were silent on it. We are going to deliver. Hopefully, if everything is agreed in terms of a write around and laying a written ministerial statement next week, we can inform service personnel about how we will help to protect them from the Nat tax before the end of this month.
Defence takes cyber-threats very seriously, and we regularly assess our ability to defend against them. We are strengthening our defences against increasingly sophisticated attacks through a wide range of technical, operational and administrative measures, including close co-operation with the National Cyber Security Centre.
Can the Minister provide an update on whether the recruitment plan for reservists with cyber-specialisms is working?
I am delighted to say that it is. My hon. Friend hits on a key issue. We have recognised that many of the skillsets we need sit in the private sector, which is why we have actively recruited reserves into this area, and I am delighted to say that the joint cyber reserve unit is now at 90% strength.
Two weeks ago, a large Hyndburn company had 4,000 cyber-attacks from Russia in one day. What are the Government doing to protect UK companies?
I can only update the hon. Gentleman about the opening of the National Cyber Security Centre just a mile down the road. That is precisely why the Government have invested some £1.9 billion in cyber over the past few years.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to use the reserve forces as a way to get cyber-experts into the field, metaphorically. Will he ensure that they have a career path through the reserve forces that does not cap them because of their niche specialisations?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. That is precisely why I was honoured to open the new Defence Cyber School at Shrivenham in March. We recognise that basic cyber-skills will be vital in our armed forces. This will become a separate career branch in time, but we hope that every member of the armed forces will have cyber-skills.
Shipbuilding Contracts: Scottish Yards
The national shipbuilding strategy seeks the long-term growth of UK shipbuilding, including Scottish yards. The Ministry of Defence works closely with industry and the Department for International Trade on export campaigns for platforms, sub-systems and support. We seek to build on our recent success in the Australian SEA 5000 competition—for example, through our Type 31e frigate programme, which considers exports from the outset.
Part of BAE Systems’s bid to win the order to build ships for the Australian navy was the promise that workers on the Clyde would have already ironed out any problems with the ships because they were being built for the Royal Navy first. Is it not the case that the expertise and craft of Clyde ship workers allow BAE to make huge profits by building those ships in Adelaide, but there will be no benefit for the Scottish yards at all? Is it not the case that Scotland’s shipbuilders have been sold down the river?
With supporters such as the hon. Lady, I shudder about the future of the Scottish shipbuilding sector. The yards on the Clyde will benefit immensely from this vote of confidence in their design capability. The supply chain will benefit immensely from opportunities that come from this contract, and other export opportunities are available for both the Type 26 and Type 31, which will be built in the United Kingdom. She speaks ill of her own constituency in Scotland with such a negative attitude.
As the House is aware, my Department is currently conducting the modernising defence programme. I meet the National Security Adviser on a regular basis to discuss key issues, including Russia’s increasingly destabilising behaviour; conflict and tension in Syria and the wider middle east; the spread of violent extremism and organised crime in ungoverned spaces; and of course the situation on the Korean peninsula.
Will my right hon. Friend update the House about the threat to British citizens from the Russian state following the tragic announcement of the death of Dawn Sturgess in Wiltshire?
We continue to work incredibly closely with the police on the investigation, as well as on the clear-up effort; 175 armed forces personnel are currently working with them. The simple reality is that Russia has committed an attack on British soil that has seen the death of a British citizen, and that is something I think the world will unite with us in condemning.
I am just seeking to recover from seeing the sartorial magnificence of the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson)—quite remarkable.
In line with the Government’s industrial strategy, the Department is committed to supporting UK prosperity through the contribution it makes to our stability and security, and through growing the economic value generated by defence activities. My hon. Friend has today published an independent report, with recommendations to enhance the contribution defence makes to UK prosperity. I would like to thank him for his work, which we will be considering very closely.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the opportunity to produce this report. I have to say that I was surprised but encouraged to see Opposition Front Benchers attending the launch earlier today, and given their contributions in the Chamber, they are clearly learning something from it. Does my right hon. Friend agree with my recommendation that we should take advantage, as we come out of the EU, and look at how the MOD can take account of the UK economic impact in its major procurements?
Leaving the European Union presents this country with one of its greatest opportunities in a generation, and we must use every opportunity we have to leverage prosperity for the United Kingdom. Let us not forget that for every single pound spent on defence, £4 is generated in our economy, so investing in defence is investing in Britain’s prosperity.
I would like to pay tribute to all service personnel who took part in Armed Forces Day last week and to the members of the public who went out to support them. The fantastic events up and down the country showcased the very best of our armed forces, and I was delighted to be able to attend the main event at Llandudno. I also want to thank the personnel recently involved in fighting the fires on Saddleworth moor.
I welcome the intervention, as I know the Secretary of State does, of the British Army in tackling the illegal wildlife trade in places such as Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Ethiopia. This is a global problem, so what answers—multinational answers—do this Government have for the global problem of the illegal wildlife trade and the protection of our planet?
The hon. Gentleman outlines a number of examples of where we are doing so much. Personally, I have become slightly cautious of dealing with elephants since my recent involvement with them. We have to do more and more to provide protection and counter the illegal wildlife trade. So much of the money from the illegal wildlife trade goes to fund terrorism and organised crime, and that is why the armed forces are working more closely with organisations involved in countering poaching.
Britain always has been and always will be a tier 1 nation. SDSR ’15 set out clearly what we would expect from a tier 1 nation. We are very much looking at the evolving threats to this country to ensure we are best placed to deal with them.
Capita’s recruiting partnership project is failing on every measure. It has missed the MOD target for savings by more than £100 million in the past six years and the latest figures show that the number of personnel in the Army has fallen yet again. Does the Minister agree with Labour that it is time to take this failing contract back in-house?
No, I absolutely do not. The hon. Lady’s comments are slightly short-sighted. There have been challenges for the defence recruiting system in recent months, but I am confident that, because of some of the hypercare measures, we are firmly on the up.
After Capita’s abysmal failure to deliver the recruitment project, many people would question its capacity to carry out any major MOD contracts, but the Government’s decision to outsource the Defence Fire and Rescue Service to Capita when the MOD has scored the company as 10 out of 10 for risk simply beggars belief. The Minister’s response to the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) suggested that the Government are ideologically obsessed with privatising key services without considering the consequences. Is it not surely time for an urgent rethink of this dangerously short-sighted policy?
It took far too long for the contract to be awarded—I made that very clear during a statement a couple of weeks ago. However, I stand by what I said: it is important that we look after our airfields and get a good deal, which will be provided by Capita.
Indeed, as a serving reservist for some 30 years, I hope there is no greater champion of reserves in the House, but my hon. Friend makes an important point. We should celebrate reserves not just on Reserves Day, but almost every day of the year. To that end, we are looking carefully at other opportunities.
The right hon. Gentleman should be aware that, like every other Department, the MOD hedges to ensure that we are not affected by currency fluctuations. Indeed, changes since the start of the year have been beneficial. At this point in time, the effect will be minimal.
Order. The hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) is going to have to get used to her popularity. She should wear it lightly upon her shoulders.
That is so true, Mr Speaker. Thank you.
Cyber-security is more important than ever and should be paramount for those who are in charge of our armed forces. Will the Secretary of State tell me whether it is true that when he threatened to bring down the Prime Minister, Siri replied: “I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”?
I am sorry that the hon. Lady belittles cyber with such a cheap remark. If she were serious about the security of this country, she would recognise that the Government have invested more than £1.9 billion in cyber in recent years. We recently opened the Defence Cyber School to ensure that it is ingrained in the training of our armed forces.
We will show the whole House the full treaty we concluded with Poland. One key element was not just military co-operation but how we can work closer together on an industrial basis. Recently, I was in Poland meeting my opposite number to discuss how we can develop new technologies together for the defence not just of Poland but all our NATO allies.
Unity and the strong alliance between all NATO allies is absolutely critical. I join the hon. Member in paying tribute to the Royal Welsh, who have done such an amazing job in Estonia. We will continue to show that unity with our allies—the United States, Estonia and all NATO allies—not just this year but over the next 70 years.
It was my honour to visit the Veterans’ Gateway last week. This is an incredible portal that allows the 400 or so service-facing charities to provide access for those who need help. I very much hope that this will advance and that more charities will join in and support it.
Does the Secretary of State accept that existing black hole in the defence equipment budget cannot be filled by the small annual increase in that budget?
This is why we are undertaking the modernising defence programme: to see how best we can change and respond to meet all the commitments this country has always met to keep Britain and our allies safe. That is what we will be doing to assess the threats Britain faces.
The Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations want to dispose of Duncombe barracks in York. Will the Ministry of Defence ensure that they work with City of York Council and use the principles of One Public Estate, so that the land is developed in the housing interests of the city, rather than that of developers?
The cadet programme is one of the huge success stories in Britain, with over 400 cadet units operating throughout the country. I join with the hon. Lady in paying tribute to what they do to advance an interest in the armed forces and the education of our young.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his personal support for the Year of Engineering and for all his Department is doing to create inspirational and exciting experiences that demonstrate what it is to be an engineer in the military. Will he pass on my thanks to all those involved in making that happen?
I most certainly will. We celebrate 100 years of the Royal Air Force, which plays a key part in driving technological development and inspiring so many young people to enter a career in engineering. Seeing amazing aeroplanes designed and flown is an inspiration for many future generations.
In this centenary year of the RAF, will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State join me in celebrating its extraordinary achievements and encourage as many people as possible to see the exhibition at Horse Guards and the fly-past tomorrow?
Yes, I will.
Leaving the EU
I am sure the House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Dawn Sturgess, who passed away last night. The police and security services are working urgently to establish the full facts, in what is now a murder investigation. I want to pay tribute to the dedication of staff at Salisbury District Hospital for their tireless work in responding to this appalling crime. Our thoughts are also with the people of Salisbury and Amesbury. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will make a statement shortly, including on the support we will continue to provide to the local community throughout this difficult time.
Turning to Brexit, I want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friends the Members for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) for their work over the last two years. [Interruption.] We do not agree about the best way of delivering our shared commitment to honour the result of the referendum, but I want to recognise the former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union for the work he did to establish a new Department and steer through Parliament some of the most important legislation for generations, and similarly to recognise the passion that the former Foreign Secretary demonstrated in promoting—[Interruption.]
Order. There is a very unseemly atmosphere. I want to hear about these important matters, and I think the House should.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I recognise the passion that the former Foreign Secretary demonstrated in promoting a global Britain to the world as we leave the European Union. I am also pleased to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab) as the new Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
On Friday at Chequers, the Cabinet agreed a comprehensive and ambitious proposal that provides a responsible and credible basis for progressing negotiations with the EU towards a new relationship after we leave on 29 March next year. It is a proposal that will take back control of our borders, our money and our laws, but do so in a way that protects jobs, allows us to strike new trade deals through an independent trade policy and keeps our people safe and our Union together.
Before I set out the details of this proposal, I want to start by explaining why we are putting it forward. The negotiations so far have settled virtually all of the withdrawal agreement, and we have agreed an implementation period that will provide businesses and Governments with the time to prepare for our future relationship with the EU. But on the nature of that future relationship, the two models that are on offer from the EU are simply not acceptable.
First, there is what is provided for in the European Council’s guidelines from March this year. This amounts to a standard free trade agreement for Great Britain, with Northern Ireland carved off in the EU’s customs union and parts of the single market, separated through a border in the Irish sea from the UK’s own internal market. No Prime Minister of our United Kingdom could ever accept this; it would be a profound betrayal of our precious Union. And while I know some might propose instead a free trade agreement for the UK as a whole, that is not on the table, because it would not allow us to meet our commitment under the Belfast agreement that there should be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Secondly, there is what some people say is on offer from the EU: a model that is effectively membership of the European economic area, but going further in some places, and the whole of the UK remaining in the customs union. This would mean continued free movement, continued payment of vast sums every year to the EU for market access, a continued obligation to follow the vast bulk of EU law, and no independent trade policy, with no ability to strike our own trade deals around the world. I firmly believe this would not honour the referendum result, so if the EU continues on that course, there is a serious risk it could lead to no deal. This would most likely be a disorderly no deal, for without an agreement on our future relationship, I cannot see that this Parliament would approve the withdrawal agreement with a Northern Ireland protocol and financial commitments, and without those commitments, the EU would not sign a withdrawal agreement.
A responsible Government must prepare for a range of potential outcomes, including the possibility of no deal, and given the short period remaining before the conclusion of negotiations, the Cabinet agreed on Friday that these preparations should be stepped up. But at the same time, we should recognise that such a disorderly no deal would have profound consequences for both the UK and the EU, and I believe that the UK deserves better.
The Cabinet agreed that we need to present the EU with a new model, evolving the position that I had set out in my Mansion House speech, so that we can accelerate negotiations over the summer, secure a new relationship in the autumn, pass the withdrawal and implementation Bill and leave the European Union on 29 March 2019.
The friction-free movement of goods is the only way to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and it is the only way to protect the uniquely integrated supply chains and just-in-time processes on which millions of jobs and livelihoods depend. So at the heart of our proposal is a UK-EU free trade area that will avoid the need for customs and regulatory checks at the border and protect those supply chains. Achieving this requires four steps. The first is a commitment to maintaining a common rulebook for industrial goods and agricultural products. To deliver this, the UK would make an up-front sovereign choice to commit to ongoing harmonisation with EU rules on goods, covering only those necessary to provide for frictionless trade at the border. This would not cover services, because that is not necessary to ensure free flow at the border, and it would not include the common agricultural and fisheries policies, which the UK will leave when we leave the EU.
The regulations covered are relatively stable and supported by a large share of our manufacturing businesses. We would continue to play a strong role in shaping the European and international standards that underpin them, and there would be a parliamentary lock on all new rules and regulations, because when we leave the EU we will end the direct effect of EU law in the UK. All laws in the UK will be passed in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. Our Parliament would have the sovereign ability to reject any proposals if it so chose, recognising that there would be consequences, including for market access, if we chose a different approach from the EU.
Secondly, we will ensure a fair trading environment. Under our proposal, the UK and the EU would incorporate strong reciprocal commitments relating to state aid. We would establish co-operative arrangements between regulators on competition and commit to maintaining high regulatory standards for the environment, climate change, social and employment, and consumer protection.
Thirdly, we would need a joint institutional framework to provide for the consistent interpretation and application of UK-EU agreements by both parties. This would be done in the UK by UK courts and in the EU by EU courts, with due regard paid to EU case law in areas where the UK continued to apply a common rulebook. This framework would also provide a robust and appropriate means for the resolution of disputes, including through the establishment of a joint committee of representatives from the UK and the EU. It would respect the autonomy of the UK’s and the EU’s legal orders and be based on the fundamental principle that the court of one party cannot resolve disputes between the two.
Fourthly, the Cabinet also agreed to put forward a new business-friendly customs model—a facilitated customs arrangement—that would remove the need for customs checks and controls between the UK and the EU because we would operate as if a combined customs territory. Crucially, it would also allow the UK to pursue an independent trade policy. The UK would apply the UK’s tariffs and trade policy for goods intended for the UK and the EU’s tariffs and trade policy for goods intended for the EU. Some 96% of businesses would be able to pay the correct tariff or no tariff at the UK border, so there would be no additional burdens for them compared with the status quo and they would be able to benefit from the new trade deals that we will strike. In addition, we will bring forward new technology to make our customs systems as smooth as possible for businesses that trade with the rest of the world.
Some have suggested that under this arrangement the UK would not be able to do trade deals. They are wrong. When we have left the EU, the UK will have its own independent trade policy, with its own seat at the World Trade Organisation and the ability to set tariffs for its trade with the rest of the world. We will be able to pursue trade agreements with key partners, and on Friday the Cabinet agreed that we would consider seeking accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership.
Our Brexit plan for Britain respects what we have heard from businesses about how they want to trade with the EU after we leave and will ensure we are best placed to capitalise on the industries of the future in line with our modern industrial strategy. Finally, as I have set out in this House before, our proposal includes a far-reaching security partnership that will ensure continued close co-operation with our allies across Europe while enabling us to operate an independent foreign and defence policy. So this is a plan that is not just good for British jobs but good for the safety and security of our people at home and in Europe too.
Some have asked whether this proposal is consistent with the commitments made in the Conservative manifesto. It is. The manifesto said:
“As we leave the European Union, we will no longer be members of the single market or customs union but we will seek a deep and special partnership including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement.”
What we are proposing is challenging for the European Union. It requires the EU to think again, to look beyond the positions that it has taken so far, and to agree a new and fair balance of rights and obligations. That is the only way in which to meet our commitments to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland without damaging the constitutional integrity of the UK and while respecting the result of the referendum. It is a balance that reflects the links that we have established over the last 40 years as some of the world’s largest economies and security partners. It is a bold proposal, which we will set out more fully in a White Paper on Thursday. We now expect the EU to engage seriously with the detail, and to intensify negotiations over the summer so that we can get the future relationship that I firmly believe is in all our interests.
In the two years since the referendum we have had a spirited national debate, with robust views echoing around the Cabinet table, as they have around breakfast tables up and down the country. Over that time I have listened to every possible idea and every possible version of Brexit. This is the right Brexit. It means leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019; a complete end to free movement, and taking back control of our borders; an end to the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the UK, restoring the supremacy of British courts; no more sending vast sums of money each year to the EU, but instead a Brexit dividend to spend on domestic priorities such as our long-term plan for the NHS; flexibility on services, in which the UK is world-leading; no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, or between Northern Ireland and Great Britain; a parliamentary lock on all new rules and regulations; leaving the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy; the freedom to strike new trade deals around the world; an independent foreign and defence policy—but not the most distant relationship possible with our neighbours and friends; instead, a new deep and special partnership. It means frictionless trade in goods; shared commitments to high standards, so that together we continue to promote open and fair trade; and continued security co-operation to keep our people safe.
This is the Brexit that is in our national interest. It is the Brexit that will deliver on the democratic decision of the British people, and it is the right Brexit deal for Britain. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance copy of her statement, and share her condolences to the friends and family of Dawn Sturgess.
We are more than two years on from the referendum: two years of soundbites, indecision and Cabinet infighting, culminating in a series of wasted opportunities, with more and more people losing faith that this Government are capable of delivering a good Brexit deal—and that is just within the Prime Minister’s own Cabinet. It is two years since the referendum and 16 months since article 50 was triggered, and it was only this weekend that the members of the Cabinet managed to agree a negotiating position among themselves—and that illusion lasted 48 hours.
There are now only a few months left until the negotiations are supposed to conclude. We have a crisis in the Government; two Secretaries of State have resigned; and we are still no clearer about what our future relationship with our nearest neighbours and biggest trading partners will look like. Workers and businesses deserve better than this. It is clear that the Government are not capable of securing a deal to protect the economy, jobs and living standards. It is clear that the Government cannot secure a good deal for Britain.
On Friday the Prime Minister was so proud of her Brexit deal that she wrote to her MPs to declare that collective Cabinet responsibility “is now fully restored”, while the Environment Secretary added his own words, saying that
“one of the things about this compromise is that it unites the Cabinet.”
The Chequers compromise took two years to reach and just two days to unravel. How can anyone have faith in the Prime Minister getting a good deal with 27 European Union Governments when she cannot even broker a deal within her own Cabinet?
To be fair—I want to be fair to the former Brexit Secretary and the former Foreign Secretary—I think they would have resigned on the spot on Friday, but they were faced with a very long walk, no phone and, due to Government cuts, no bus service either. So I think they were probably wise to hang on for a couple of days so they could get a lift home in a Government car.
I also want to congratulate the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab) on his appointment as the Secretary of State. He now becomes our chief negotiator on an issue that could not be more important or more urgent. But this new Secretary of State is on record as wanting to tear up people’s rights. He has said: “I don’t support the Human Rights Act…leaving the European Union would present enormous opportunities to ease the regulatory burden on employers.” And he is the one negotiating, apparently, on behalf of this Government in Europe.
This mess is all of the Prime Minister’s own making. For too long she has spent more time negotiating the divisions in her party than she has in putting any focus on the needs of our economy. The Prime Minister postured with red line after red line, and now, as reality bites, she is backsliding on every one of them. We were also given commitments that this Government would achieve “the exact same benefits” and “free and frictionless trade” with the EU. Now those red lines are fading, and the team the Prime Minister appointed to secure this deal for our country has jumped the sinking ship; far from “strong and stable”, there are Ministers overboard and the ship is listing, all at the worst possible time.
If we look at the Prime Minister’s proposals for the long delayed White Paper, we see that this is not the comprehensive plan for jobs in Britain and the economy that the people of this country deserve. These proposals stop well short of a comprehensive customs union, something trade unions and manufacturers have all been demanding; instead, they float a complex plan that had already been derided by her own Cabinet members as “bureaucratic” and “unwieldy”.
The agreement contains no plan to protect our service industry and no plan to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland, and also puts forward the idea of “regulatory flexibility”, which we all know is code for deregulation of our economy. The Government’s proposals would lead to British workplace rights, consumer rights, food safety standards and environmental protections falling behind EU standards over time, and none of this has even been tested in negotiations.
The Chequers agreement now stands as a shattered truce, a sticking plaster over the cavernous cracks in this Government. The future of jobs and investment is now at stake, and those jobs and that investment are not a sub-plot in the Tory party’s civil war. At such a crucial time for our country in these vital negotiations, we need a Government who are capable of governing and negotiating for Britain. For the good of this country and its people, the Government need to get their act together and do it quickly, and if they cannot, make way for those who can.
The right hon. Gentleman has been in this House for quite a long time, and I know that he will have heard many statements. The normal response to a statement is to ask some questions. I do not think that there were any questions anywhere in that; nevertheless I will—[Interruption.]
Order. Members on both sides of the House should try to calm down. There is a long way to go and, as is my usual custom, I hope to be able to call everybody who wants to ask a question. People do not need to chunter from their seats when they can speak on their feet.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will comment on a few of the points that the right hon. Gentleman has made. He talks about removing or lowering standards in a number of areas, including employment. As I said in my statement, we will
“commit to maintaining high regulatory standards for the environment, climate change and social and employment and consumer protection.”
He says that there is no plan in what I had said to ensure that there would be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, but in fact the very opposite is the case. The plan delivers the commitment for no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. At the beginning of his response, he thanked me for giving him early sight of my statement. It is just a pity that he obviously did not bother to read it.
The right hon. Gentleman says that we are two years on. This is the right hon. Gentleman who, immediately after the referendum decision in 2016, said we should have triggered article 50 immediately with no preparation whatsoever. He talks about delivery. Well, I remind him that we delivered the joint report in December, we delivered the implementation plan in March, and now we stand ready to deliver on Brexit for the British people with the negotiations that we are about to enter into. He talks about resignations, but I remind him that he has had, I think, 103 resignations from his Front Bench, so I will take no lectures from him on that.
When it comes to delivering a strong economy and jobs for the future, the one party that would never deliver a strong economy is the Labour party, whose economic policies would lead to a run on the pound, capital flight and the loss of jobs for working people up and down this country.
Whatever one’s view might be on the plan that my right hon. Friend has been talking about, I urge her not to accept a single recommendation from the Leader of the Opposition, as nobody else in his party does so. May I urge her, however, to answer this question. As she lays this plan in front of the European Union Commission and proceeds with the negotiations, does she believe that there will be any concessions offered to them, or none?
This is the plan that we believe is going to deliver on Brexit for the British people, in a way that gives us a smooth and orderly Brexit and ensures that we can do all the things we want to do in terms of trade policies around the rest of the world and the commitments that we have made to Northern Ireland. When the White Paper is published on Thursday, my right hon. Friend will see that there are a number of areas, such as participation in certain agencies, where we are proposing a way forward, and of course there will need to be negotiations on that way forward, but this is the plan that I believe delivers on Brexit for the British people and does so in a way that protects jobs and ensures that we have a smooth and orderly Brexit.
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of her statement. I share the sentiments in her remarks about Dawn Sturgess. The Prime Minister knows the commitment of the SNP to work with her when it comes to important matters of national security.
I should start by congratulating the departing Secretary of State for Exiting the EU on the whole four hours that he spent negotiating in Brussels and wish all the luck in the world to his replacement—he is going to need it. Then there is the departing Foreign Secretary. He should not have been allowed to resign; he should have been sacked for being a national embarrassment.
The Prime Minister’s proposals represent at best a starting point—a cherry-picking starting point. It is hard to believe that it has taken the Prime Minister two years to put together a proposal—two years to put it together and two days for the Cabinet to fall apart. There is, I believe, a majority in the House of Commons for staying in the single market and the customs union, so will the Prime Minister work with the rest of us to make sure that we can deliver on staying in the customs market and the single market, to deliver what is in the best interests of all our people? Will she stop kowtowing to her hard Brexiteers who are prepared to accept economic self-harm and the loss of jobs? Will she recognise that she now has to take on her extreme Brexiteers and work in the national interest of all the nations in the United Kingdom?
The Prime Minister’s proposed facilitated customs arrangement has been called the “fudge of the century” by one senior EU official. The response from EU negotiators has been to see if the proposals are “workable” and “realistic”. I would not hold my breath. In her piece in The Daily Telegraph today, the Prime Minister has again noted that the UK Government continue to prepare for no deal. That is simply outrageous. To put the economy and jobs in such peril is a complete failure of leadership.
The absolute crisis that has engulfed the Conservative party over the past 17 hours is a national embarrassment. As the UK inches closer to the cliff-edge scenario, we see a Government in chaos and a Prime Minister struggling to lead her party—never mind her Government—and there have been seven resignations since the election a year ago. The Prime Minister must see sense and accept the mounting evidence against a hard Brexit raised by Opposition parties, the business community and the devolved Administrations. Will she work with the rest of us to stay in the customs union and the single market to protect jobs and ensure prosperity?
The right hon. Gentleman commented on the preparations for no deal. It is entirely right and proper for this Government to make preparations for every eventuality, because we are going into a negotiation. It is right that we step up our preparations for no deal to ensure that we are able to deal with whatever comes at the end of the negotiations. The right hon. Gentleman’s key question—he asked it twice—was whether I would work with people across this House to stay in the single market and in the customs union. The answer is an absolute unequivocal no. We are leaving the single market and we are leaving the customs union.
How does my right hon. Friend reconcile the Chequers statement with the recent repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and with the European Court of Justice and with democratic self-government in this country?
We have, as my hon. Friend says, repealed the 1972 Act, but we have also ensured that we will take EU laws into UK law at the point at which we leave the European Union, such that we see a smooth and orderly Brexit. In the future, the European Court of Justice will not have jurisdiction over the United Kingdom, and this Parliament will make sovereign decisions. The decision as to whether Parliament is willing to accept the deal that has been negotiated will be made when the meaningful votes in the withdrawal and implementation Bills come before the House. Thereafter, it will be up to this Parliament to decide whether it agrees with any changes to the rules or any laws that this Parliament wants to pass. That is sovereignty—taking back control of our laws. That is what I believe people want and that is what we will do.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on effectively killing off the United States-UK trade agreement by agreeing to retain EU regulatory convergence, which of course the Americans cannot accept. I echo the calls she has just heard saying that, now she has lost the support of her Brexit fundamentalists, now is the time for national consensus. A majority in the House supports our retaining membership of the customs union and the single market, the original Common Market, or whatever name and label she wants to attach to it.
The right hon. Gentleman refers, as the leader of the SNP did, to staying in the single market and staying in the customs union. We will not be staying in the single market, and we will not be staying in the customs union. To do so would involve keeping free movement, which would not be keeping faith with the vote of the British people. There will be an end to free movement from the European Union into this country as a result of our leaving the European Union.
I commend the Prime Minister for this plan. In particular, I congratulate her on her leadership in the past few days. She said she would listen to business, and she clearly has listened to business. However, there are concerns that there are no details of the Government’s plan for services. What more detail can we expect to hear in the forthcoming White Paper?
There will be more detail in the forthcoming White Paper, but the point about services is that, for a variety of reasons—not least because services are an important sector for the United Kingdom—we believe it is important to maintain more flexibility in how we deal with them. On industrial goods, businesses are very clear that they will continue to meet EU rules, regardless of the position the Government take, because they want to continue to export to the European Union. On services, we want to be free to ensure that we are able to put in place what we believe is necessary to maintain our key position in services, not least in financial services. The global financial centre of the City of London needs to be maintained into the future, and we will continue to do that.
The Prime Minister welcomed the new Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union to his post, and I join her in doing so. The Exiting the European Union Committee looks forward to seeing him appear before us very soon indeed.
The Government have indicated that the facilitated customs arrangement, even assuming the EU were to agree to it—a question about which there must be a great deal of doubt—will be fully operational only by the time of the next general election in 2022. Will the Prime Minister therefore now confirm to the House that, in light of that, the current transitional arrangement, which expires in December 2020, will inevitably have to be extended?
The Prime Minister is right to reaffirm that we are taking back control of our laws, our money and our borders, which I fully support, but will she clear away the ambiguity or contradictions in the Chequers statement that imply we will give the ECJ powers, we might pay money to trade, we might accept their laws and we might have their migration policy?
I am sure my right hon. Friend has read the Chequers statement very carefully but, actually, it did not say that. We will be ending free movement. As in any trade agreement we would strike with any country or group of countries around the world, there will be mode 4 provisions on mobility of investors and businesses, but we will be able to set our own immigration laws and immigration rules for people coming here from the European Union. We will be able to continue to set our own laws in the future.
It is not the case that the European Court of Justice will have jurisdiction in the United Kingdom—it will not. Businesses and individuals here in the United Kingdom will not be able to take cases to the European Court of Justice. Matters here in the UK will be determined by the UK courts.
The Prime Minister’s plan is still a fudge, on immigration, on the European Court of Justice and on the “customs facilitated partnership maximum arrangement”—nobody understands what it is. She has kept trying to pander to different parts of the Conservative party, and today has shown that it just is not working. Will she instead put a plan for negotiations to the whole House of Commons for approval? When she is in such a mess she cannot just keep standing there saying, “Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed.” It has.
I did not say nothing has changed; I said our position had evolved. We have set out more details in our position, and I believe that it is the position that is absolutely right for the United Kingdom. It is the best Brexit deal for Britain; it gives us delivery on Brexit, protects jobs, and ensures that we maintain our commitment to Northern Ireland in relation to the border and that can have a smooth and orderly Brexit.
The Prime Minister is not dealing with the theory of leaving the European Union—she is dealing with the practice of leaving the EU. Will she assure me that the Chequers agreement allows the continuation of the situation that has seen the UK get more inward investment over the past 30 years—under both parties—than we could possibly have anticipated? That is good news for the future of the engineering industry in our country, as well as all the other jobs that are so reliant on such industries.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right; we have seen good figures for foreign direct investment in the UK, supporting jobs in the UK. That will continue in the future. I believe that the plan I have set out, with its clear momentum for frictionless trade with the EU while giving us the freedom to strike trade deals around the world, will be welcomed by businesses and investors, and we will see more investment and more jobs in the UK.
Among the matters agreed in the Chequers communiqué, reference was made to the continuing obligation of the Government to the so-called backstop arrangement. I have heard the Prime Minister’s clear statement about the main deal as far as the Union is concerned, and I welcome it, but will she make it clear that as far as the backstop is concerned she stands by her rejection of the EU’s legal interpretation and there will be no constitutional, political or regulatory differences between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK?
As the right hon. Gentleman has invited me to do, let me say that I am happy to say that I continue to reject the protocol proposal of the so-called backstop put forward by the European Commission earlier this year. The fact that it would have effectively carved Northern Ireland away from the rest of the UK and kept it in the customs union and most of the single market would have meant that border down the Irish sea—that is completely unacceptable to the Government of the UK.
Delivering the referendum result was always going to involve a series of compromises and trade-offs, and I want to support the position that the Prime Minister achieved with the Cabinet on Friday at Chequers, which absolutely puts business and jobs at the heart of any Brexit deal. That is in the national interest, and I think the Prime Minister has the vast majority of the country behind her in delivering a Brexit in the national interest. Is she able to say when we expect to hear the initial reaction from the European Union after publication of the White Paper on Thursday?
I have had conversations with a number of European leaders in recent days, and the indication is that they do feel this is a proposal that can ensure that we move the negotiations on and move them on at pace. I will be seeing a number of European leaders over the next couple of days; we are hosting the western Balkans summit tomorrow and then there is the NATO summit. I believe this plan is good for the UK, and the EU will see that it will lead to a deep and special partnership that will be in both our interests.
I believe the Prime Minister to be a rational human being, so why does she not save herself, us and the country a great deal of misery and grief by putting the option inexplicably ruled out at Chequers, the EEA-plus option, to this House in a free vote?
As I indicated in the statement that I made, the reason I do not think the EEA-plus option is right for the UK is that it does not deliver on the vote of the British people. That is our duty: it is our job as a Government to deliver the Brexit that the British people voted for.
The announcement that the Government are preparing for a no deal—an inaccurate term for moving to WTO terms, on which we trade with the vast majority of countries in the world—is very welcome and sensible. Given the intransigence and churlishness with which the EU has welcomed the Prime Minister’s generous offers so far, what is the date by which she judges it will be a “drop dead” moment at which to state that the talks are not progressing and that we will definitely go on to WTO terms?
I am sure that my right hon. Friend has been in a sufficient number of negotiations to know that it is not sensible to try to put a date on these matters in the way that he said. We have so far received a positive reaction to the proposals that we have put forward. We will go into intense and pacey negotiations with the European Union. I am clear that when this House comes to look at the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill, it needs to have sufficient detail about the future relationship to be able to make that proper judgment.
The oddly named Chequers agreement fell apart after a weekend and is now the Chequers disagreement, as the Prime Minister’s Cabinet disintegrates before our eyes. Will she tell the House how on earth she is going to persuade the European Union to agree to her disagreement when her own Cabinet does not agree with it?
We have put forward the UK Government’s position and that has been received by the European Union as something on which there can be negotiations in future. We will go into those negotiations determined to deliver the best deal for Britain.
What matters even more than the agreement reached at Chequers is the eventual agreement that this country reaches with the European Union, and what matters about that is that it promotes jobs and prosperity by helping British business. Will the Prime Minister assure the House that in the details of the White Paper that we will see on Thursday there will be a clear commitment to as free trade as possible across Britain’s borders with the European Union, to preserve jobs and prosperity for the future of this country?
I assure my right hon. Friend that maintaining that free trade across the borders between the United Kingdom and the European Union is important, which is why we have always said that we want as frictionless trade with the EU as possible. The plan that I have put forward, which the Government will set out in the White Paper later this week, will show how we can do exactly that: maintain those jobs but have the freedom to increase our prosperity with trade deals around the rest of the world.
Have any European leaders agreed to let the UK collect tariffs on their behalf?
We are putting forward the facilitated customs arrangement for the future as part of the negotiations for the plan for the future relationship.
May I say to my right hon. Friend how much we are looking forward to the publication of the White Paper on Thursday? Will she undertake to publish the White Paper that was set aside—the White Paper that was months in drafting by DExEU under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) ?
The White Paper that we publish on Thursday will be based on the work that has been done by DExEU over recent weeks and will of course reflect the decision taken by the Cabinet on Friday.
The Prime Minister says that under her plan, we will not be subject to the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice, but the Chequers statement says that our courts will pay due regard to its case law and make joint references for rulings, which presumably will be binding. The big difference is that after 29 March, there will be no Scottish and no English judge on the Court of Justice. Will that not be the very definition of being subject to the jurisdiction of a foreign court that her Brexiteers so opposed?
No, and I understand that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has already commented on this issue in response to a question that the hon. and learned Lady asked in another meeting. We will not be under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That is one of the things that people voted for and that we will deliver.
The Prime Minister said that we would not be hindered from doing trade deals, but at a briefing given by 10 Downing Street, it was explained that in signing the trans-Pacific partnership there would have to be a carve-out, because of our obligation to follow the common rulebook. Will my right hon. Friend explain what obstacles there will be to trade and how the process will work?
There are issues that we would look at in any circumstances as the United Kingdom in relation to standards and the way in which we wish to operate, which could lead to our not being able to undertake all the commitments that somebody might want in a free trade deal. We could tear up all our regulatory standards, but I do not think that that is what we should do, I do not think that that is what this House wants us to do, and I do not think that that is what the public wants us to do. As we go forward, we will be making those trade deals. We specifically looked at whether the plan that we were putting forward would enable us to accede to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, and it will.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement. I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) in welcoming the Brexit Secretary to his place. Might I ask that time is found to visit the elected political leaders of Europe to seek support for this plan, rather than just depend on the bureaucrats in Brussels?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I am speaking to elected leaders across Europe. The incoming Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), will also be out and around in Europe, talking not just to leaders, but to politicians across Europe and in the European Parliament about the plan that we propose.
The EU says that it will not tolerate cherry picking, but what I fear is that we have picked the wrong cherry. By accepting a common rulebook in goods, we are locking ourselves into a sclerotic structure in which the EU has an overwhelming trading surplus. Will that not severely constrain our ability to make our business more competitive and to undertake free trade deals, which means that Brexit will no longer mean Brexit, and the Commission, where we will have no vote, regulating our business forever?
No. The position that my hon. Friend sets out is not the position for the future. I have been very clear that Parliament will be able to take these decisions about rules in the future. The reality and practicality of Brexit—somebody said earlier that I am dealing not with the theory, but with the reality and practicality of Brexit—is that our businesses which want to export to the European Union will continue to operate to the European Union’s rulebook in industrial goods, just as when we sign trade deals with other parts of the world, we will need to ensure that both sides can operate to the rules that are appropriate there. Businesses will continue to apply these rules regardless. By operating in this way, we are able to ensure that frictionless border between the UK and the EU, which is important to delivering on our commitments for Northern Ireland while maintaining the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom, and to ensuring that we maintain the jobs that rely on the integrated supply chains that have grown up over decades.
The Prime Minister has proposed a free trade area for goods, but the fact is that our services sector has been left out and left behind by this Government. TechUK, which employs more than 700,000 workers in the technology sector, has said that a deal such as the one that she has proposed will reduce access to EU markets, will be confusing for consumers, and will add to complexity for business. Why is she ignoring these services, which make up most of the British economy?
This is not about ignoring services’ businesses, but about seeing that that sector is one of the areas where we have great opportunities for trade deals around the rest of the world. It is also about recognising the importance and the significance of financial services in the City of London and the importance of ensuring that we can have not just regulatory co-operation, but the freedom to be flexible in these areas.
On Saturday mornings, I lead the listening team in Wellingborough. We have an hour’s meeting when we talk about national and local politics and then we go out and campaign for two hours. This week, the activists were so disappointed about what had happened at Chequers that they said they had been betrayed. They said, “Why do we go out each and every Saturday to support the Conservative party to get MPs elected?” For the first time in more than 10 years, that group refused to go out to campaign. What does the Prime Minister say to them?
I am very sorry that my hon. Friend’s activists did not feel able to go out and campaign. I would hope that they would campaign for their excellent Member of Parliament and be willing to support him on the doorsteps. This is not a betrayal. We will end free movement. We will end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. We will stop sending vast sums of money to the European Union every year. We will come out of the common agricultural policy. We will come out of the common fisheries policy. I believe that that is what people voted for when they voted to leave, and we will deliver in faith with the British people.
My constituents who work at Airbus, Vauxhall Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, Unilever and many other parts of our modern manufacturing supply chain have had their voice heard, but they need to be heard more, because they need not just what is in the Chequers statement. When will the Prime Minister go further and accept that we need to include more in this deal and that we need to be part of the internal market of the European Union?
We are very clear that we will not be members of the single market, because of the full set of requirements that that brings, including free movement. The hon. Lady refers to Vauxhall, which has of course announced that it will invest in a new manufacturing platform and boost production at its commercial vehicle plant in Luton; that will safeguard 1,400 jobs. There have been other positive announcements from the automotive sector. We have recognised the integrated supply chains and the need for frictionless trade across the border, and that is what this plan delivers.
May I give the Prime Minister a message from Mid Sussex, to this end—that despite the inevitable slings and arrows, will she stick to her guns to deliver a Brexit that is in line with the interests of our people, their prosperity and their security?
That is exactly my aim and that of this Government—to deliver a Brexit that is smooth and orderly, that maintains the prosperity of this country and indeed enables it to be enhanced in the future, but that maintains our important security co-operation for the safety and security of citizens.
When the Prime Minister took office she said that she wanted to bring the country back together, and I believe that she had the will of most people in this House and the country. Some 69% of British people now think that Brexit is going badly, her Cabinet is horribly split, the Government are split, the nation is more divided than ever, and our people will be poorer as a consequence of this deal that leaves out services. Will she now commit to giving the people a second vote on this deal?
No, I will not commit to doing that, and the reason that I will not is that the British people voted. This House and this Parliament gave the British people the vote. The British people made their choice and they want their Government to deliver on that choice. Given that 80% of people at the last election voted for parties that were committed to delivering Brexit, I think that it is time that the Labour party ruled out a second referendum.
In my constituency, 60% voted to leave the EU. Within 48 hours of the Prime Minister’s statement on Friday, I received over 300 emails—disheartened, dismayed and telling me that democracy is dead. Will the Prime Minister tell the House how she plans to restore faith in my constituents that this is not a sell-out?
People from across the country, wherever they voted to leave—I understand that my hon. Friend has received comments not just from her constituents on this matter—wanted to see an end to free movement. We will deliver that. They wanted us to stop sending vast amounts of money to the EU every year. We will deliver that. They wanted us to end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK. We will deliver that. They wanted to come out of the common agricultural policy. We will deliver that. They wanted to come out of the common fisheries policy. We will deliver that. We will deliver Brexit that people voted for, but we will do so in a way that ensures that we protect jobs, maintain our commitments to the precious Union of the United Kingdom, and can go out and do trade deals around the rest of the world that will bring jobs to my hon. Friend’s constituency and others.
The new Brexit Secretary has proudly advocated no deal, claiming that we would thrive. He has suggested that we might have to abandon the common travel area with Ireland. He has suggested scrapping the working time directive. In 2013, he voted against crucial police and justice co-operation across Europe that will be key to any security treaty. Are those things now Government policy, and if not, why did the Prime Minister appoint him?
The Government’s policy is very clear. I have set it out this afternoon. Further details will be in the White Paper. The Brexit Secretary looks forward to delivering on that Government policy.
Will the Prime Minister assure me that we will not charge the EU any more for access to our markets than we would expect to be charged?
One of the key features of the facilitated customs arrangement that people may not have seen is that we would recognise that the European Union would effectively be taking tariffs for UK goods that would enter other European Union countries to come to the United Kingdom. We would make sure that that was reflected in the arrangements that are made in relation to the facilitated customs arrangement.
Today the Welsh Affairs Committee published a report recommending continued membership of the single market and the customs union on the basis of evidence received about agriculture. If whoever is in government does not come to the same conclusion, we will all wake up on 30 March without a functioning Government and without a functioning deal. For all our sakes, when will the Prime Minister push for an extension to article 50? This is a negotiation with people’s livelihoods, not a game against the clock.
This is a negotiation that is of vital importance to the United Kingdom and to our future as global Britain, and that, with the plan that we have put forward, will be about protecting jobs and livelihoods for people across the whole of the United Kingdom. We are not—we are not—extending article 50. We have a negotiation, we have a plan for that negotiation, and we will go to it at pace.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons companies have come to this country, and that British companies have become involved in integrated European manufacturing, is that for more than 30 years we have had a settled rulebook about trade in goods? Does she agree—I thank the Cabinet for agreeing to this—that the proposal is right to protect that business and to ensure that we keep those jobs?
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right: the rulebook in relation to industrial goods has been broadly settled over a number of decades and is not expected to change significantly in the future. Businesses continue to work to that and would do so after we have left the European Union. The position we have taken, which protects jobs, is absolutely right.
May I beg the Prime Minister to think again? It is obvious, even from today’s proceedings, that for all her hard work at Chequers, she is still imprisoned by a group of hard Brexit ideologues. Will she change her mind, speak to those who have a real desire for the national interest in withdrawing from the European Union, and take a rather different view on having a vote in Parliament on the Chequers agreement?
The hon. Gentleman talks about operating in the national interest. That is exactly what the Government are doing. It is exactly why we are putting this proposal forward. We will negotiate with the European Union on the basis of this proposal, and of course, in due course, Parliament will have its opportunity to vote through the meaningful vote and on the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill.
My right hon. Friend refers to negotiations. Of course, negotiations are about give and take, and some people may think we have given rather too much, but I am actually not sure that the European Union will take it—I think it will want us to give a little more, and a little more. Will she recall Parliament over the summer if, in those deep and pacey negotiations, we are asked to give even more? [Interruption.]
Although I recognise the good intentions with which my hon. Friend asked that question, I suspect that it did not quite receive the full approval of the entire House.
The Prime Minister should have sacked her Foreign Secretary some time ago, given that he is someone who put himself before his party. She now risks putting her party before her country. How can she possibly persuade us that she can negotiate with strength with Brussels when it is clear that she leads a divided House and is struggling to take back control of her Cabinet, never mind anything else?
The Cabinet has agreed the position that the Government are taking forward. The right hon. Gentleman asks about the ability to achieve in negotiations. I simply point out that that is exactly what we have been doing at every stage in these negotiations.
In noticing the hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), I note with approval that the bright shirt he is wearing is more reminiscent of Arsenal than of West Ham.
Thank you for that endorsement, Mr Speaker.
My constituency contributes roughly half a billion pounds to the GDP of this nation, mainly through small and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most important thing we must achieve is that those small and medium-sized enterprises, which are the lifeblood of this country, are able to supply the big companies, no matter where they are able to trade, and that this deal allows them to expand in all other parts of the world as well?
That is exactly what this deal does. By ensuring that we have frictionless trade across the border with the European Union and in the facilitated customs arrangement we have put forward, we are ensuring that those businesses that currently only trade with the European Union will have no extra requirements in terms of customs, and therefore that we are not increasing the burdens on those businesses.
In the Prime Minister’s initial letter to Donald Tusk notifying the European Commission that she wanted to trigger article 50, she said that if there was no deal, there would be no deal on security. I do not think she was making a threat—she was simply stating the truth and the facts—but since then, the European Union has made it clear that it is not sure that it wants precisely the same version of security co-operation that we have talked about. It now says that we will not be able to be a member of the European arrest warrant. Is not this issue of national security as important as it was on the day that she wrote that letter, and is it not therefore most important that we get a deal?
Of course the issue of national security is important. We want to maintain operational capabilities. As the hon. Gentleman will see when the White Paper comes out, in the security partnership that I outlined in my Munich speech and that we are putting further details on, we want to ensure that operational capabilities through instruments, programmes and agencies are still available to the United Kingdom. That will be part of the negotiations that we take forward, and a security partnership is an important element of our future relationship.
Could my right hon. Friend say what distinction she would draw between a combined customs territory, which the Cabinet appears to consider desirable, and a customs union, which it does not?
I am very happy to answer my right hon. Friend’s question. In a customs union, it would be necessary to be part of the common commercial policy, which would not enable us to sign trade deals with other countries around the world. In the arrangement that we have put forward, we will be free to sign trade deals around the rest of the world.
The Government’s proposals effectively seem to seek to reproduce parts of the backstop proposal for the whole of the UK, but with a Swiss-style dispute settlement system. What will the Prime Minister’s proposals mean for the mutual recognition of health professionals’ qualifications so that they can operate cross-border?
That is one of the areas in which we will be entering negotiations with the European Union. We want to ensure that we see recognition in a number of areas in relation to professionals and professional services but, of course, that is something that we have to agree with the European Union.
The Prime Minister knows my constituency well, and my constituents know her to be a lady of integrity who puts the national interest first; she has done that in this deal, and I commend her for it. Many of the businesses in my constituency are concerned about non-tariff barriers. Can she confirm that this agreement overcomes their concerns and that they will be free to trade over those non-tariff barriers?
The point of the deal that we have put out and the proposal that we will be presenting to the European Union is that we can have the ability for free trade between the United Kingdom and the remaining EU27. That is partly about frictionless borders, but it also about the standards and regulations to which those businesses will continue to operate.
There is obviously disagreement in the Prime Minister’s party, as there is in the Labour party, about what the people actually voted for in 2016. Is it not time to clarify this with the people themselves rather than always to be guessing? With respect, I do not accept, as is being said, that the people have spoken. There is a further question for the people once they have the final deal, and they should have the final say on the deal.
The hon. Lady talks about disagreement, but the biggest disagreement is of course between the Liberal Democrats and the people of this country, who voted to leave the European Union.
May I warmly congratulate the Prime Minister on the progress that she made at the weekend at Chequers? I wish her well during the difficult few days that no doubt lie ahead before we see, I trust, further details in the White Paper.
Is the Prime Minister now confident that the leaders of the other 27 European Governments involved will accept this as a reasonable starting position for negotiations, based on the realities of business and trade in the modern world? Will she ask them to speed up as far as possible the serious negotiations that must now begin, with no doubt some modest compromises on both sides before we reach a successful conclusion?
I reassure my right hon. and learned Friend that the responses I have received so far from other European Union leaders have been positive about the proposals we have put forward. Indeed, at the June European Council, the European Council at 27 agreed that we needed to increase the pace of the negotiations in the future.
On 18 December, the Prime Minister told the House:
“We will be going in and negotiating for services and for goods.”—[Official Report, 18 December 2017; Vol. 633, c. 761.]
We trade at an annual surplus of £28 billion in services with the European Union. Why, other than for reasons of internal politics and ideology within the Conservative party, has she taken the profit-making trade aspect of the UK economy and thrown it under the Brexit bus?
May I say to the right hon. Gentleman that that is not correct? We are ensuring that we have flexibility in relation to services. As we look around the rest of the world, it is services that will be a significant element of our trade agreements with the rest of the world, and it is in services that we will be able to benefit. We want that flexibility, and that is precisely what we are negotiating for.
The Prime Minister has always been very clear that she seeks a bespoke relationship between the EU and the UK. There are only nine meetings of the European Parliament in Strasbourg before we will have left. May I urge the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet to keep focused on the timetable and deliver that deal?
I thank my hon. Friend for pointing that out. We will indeed be focused on the timetable, both in negotiations with the European Union, and also in recognising the role that the European Parliament will play, because it will need to agree to the withdrawal agreement when it has been finalised.
The Prime Minister has been struggling quite cleverly within the constraints of her self-imposed chains and red lines. Would it not be a bit easier for her if she acted in the way that Clement Attlee acted in the 1941 crisis and we worked together in the national interest to deal with this crisis? Carrying on as we are will not succeed, and she knows it.
The Government have put forward a proposal in the national interest. There are differences across this House, as has been obvious from a number of Opposition Members who want us to stay in a customs union and want us to stay in the single market, which in my view would not be keeping faith with the vote of the British people.
It is generally accepted that the EU has a poor track record on trade deals, in large part because of its protectionist rules and regulations. Does the Prime Minister accept that, in pursuing a common rulebook and promising harmonisation, we would be obliging imports from third countries to abide by those same regulations and therefore make trade deals more difficult to achieve?
As I said earlier, we could of course tear up the regulatory standards we have in the United Kingdom, but I do not believe that that would be the right thing to do. I also do not believe that the House would support it. When we look at trade deals around the rest of world, we see that there are decisions to take, as in any trade deal, about the basis on which trade goes forward, and about the standards that both sides will apply in those deals. However, I believe it is right that the United Kingdom maintains high regulatory standards in a number of areas.
The customs Bill and the Trade Bill were both drafted several months ago. In the Chequers agreement, the Prime Minister has set out a rather complicated new customs arrangement. Will the legislation that the House will consider next week need any changes?
No, I do not believe it will.
It is just over 16 months since the Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously—leavers and remainers together—concluded that
“the previous Government’s decision not to instruct key Departments to plan for a ‘leave’ vote in the EU referendum amounted to gross negligence. Making an equivalent mistake would constitute a serious dereliction of duty by the present Administration.”
Does my right hon. Friend understand the relief that the no-deal preparations will be overt, and will she ensure that the resources and commitment that may have been absent from the preparations are given to this important task to show the steel in our position?
As I am sure my hon. Friend knows, we have allocated a significant amount—£3 billion over two years, £1.5 billion of which has already been allocated to Departments—for Departments to do their work on preparing for leaving the European Union. Some of that work will relate to what might be necessary in getting a deal, and other work will relate to what would be necessary if there were no deal. Work has already been undertaken by Departments, but we are now stepping up the pace and intensity of that work.
On Friday night, after the Chequers meeting, the Prime Minister announced unanimous Cabinet support and reaffirmed the principle of collective responsibility. After the resignations of two of her Cabinet today—it looks like she could have a hat-trick by close of play—has she appointed a new Foreign Secretary and, if so, who is it?
I have actually been in the Chamber for quite a time since the resignation of the Foreign Secretary. I will be appointing a new Foreign Secretary in due course.
In South West Bedfordshire, small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. One of my constituents started his four years ago. It turns over £4 million and moves high-value capital equipment across EU-UK borders at short notice on a daily basis. Before Friday, he feared for the future of his business. Friday’s agreement gives him hope. I ask the Prime Minister to maintain her resolve to help him and men and women like him across our United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that small businesses form the backbone of our economy. It is right that we have heard from businesses large and small about their interest in maintaining frictionless trade across our EU-UK borders. That is exactly what we will be delivering in this proposal.
There is an air of complete unreality this afternoon, because it should be blindingly obvious from the resignations of the Foreign Secretary and the Brexit Secretary, and from the constituency of opinion they represent on the Government Benches, that there is no majority in the House for the Chequers deal—it is dead. No European leader ought to take it seriously because it will not pass through the House. The question for the Prime Minister is this: when will she finally accept that trying to appease the hard Brexiteers on the Conservative Benches will never work? She can reach across, but she must also accept that Opposition Members will never vote for a deal that delivers, yes, a softer Brexit on goods, but a hard Brexit on services.
Through all of these decisions, I have had people complaining that I have taken the view of this side of the argument or taken the view of the absolute opposite side. What I have done is put forward what is in the national interest for the best Brexit deal for Britain.
Will the Prime Minister explain to the House how the new UK-EU free trade agreement will ensure that London retains its status as the global trading capital of Europe? To do that, is it not best that the rulebook is made in Britain?
If we look at the two areas of goods and services, what is very clear is that those who will be trading with the European Union will continue to operate according to that rulebook in the European Union. Where we need to ensure we have that flexibility—particularly to protect one of the key areas for London, which is the City of London as a global financial centre providing a significant proportion of the debt and equity that underpins business across the European Union, with the risks that that entails here in the United Kingdom—it is right that we have regulatory co-operation with others, but that we are able to have rather more flexibility on services. That will be good for London.
The Prime Minister has today presented her position on the negotiating position decided at Chequers as an evolution of her Mansion House statement. Most Members believe there will have to be a further evolution of that position before the House will agree a deal. On that basis, does the Prime Minister agree that it is crucial to keep business in all parts of the economy—services and manufacturing—at the heart of the negotiating process?
What is important to keep at the heart of the negotiating process is our duty to deliver on Brexit for the people of the United Kingdom, and to do that in a smooth and orderly way that protects jobs and livelihoods while ensuring our commitment to our precious Union of the United Kingdom. That is exactly what the Government will be doing.
Does the Prime Minister recognise the overwhelming support she has for the pragmatic and collaborative approach she has taken in outlining these Brexit proposals, taking the lead to find a way forward that shows us the compromise needed to bring a divided country back together and, crucially, to safeguard our economy? One of the qualities we expect in a Prime Minister is to lead and not quit when the going gets tough.
It is absolutely the case that on such issues it is important that we come to a decision that I and the Government believe is in the UK’s national interest and will deliver a good Brexit deal for the United Kingdom. That is where our focus is and will continue to be.
The Prime Minister has opted, finally, for a high degree of alignment with the European Union—she is right to have done so. The Government and the EU intend that the UK will stay in the large number of international agreements with countries outside the EU covering trade and other areas, but that will require agreement from those non-EU countries. What progress has there been so far in securing agreement from those countries?
The right hon. Gentleman is right in that we are looking to maintain those agreements. Of course, once we are out of the European Union, it will then be possible for us to enhance and improve those agreements in negotiation with those countries. Discussions have been held with a number of countries, and also with the European Commission, which itself has indicated its recognition that this is the right way forward.
Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), every single Government in every single particular will need to be ready when we leave the European Union, which could perhaps be as early as 29 March next year. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree to publish more information so that Parliament can be reassured in this respect?
We have always been clear that we will keep Parliament informed. One of the things I said at Lancaster House was that we would provide information generally as and when it was possible to do so. My hon. Friend said, I think, “if” we leave the European Union on 29 March 2019. Let me just confirm that we will be leaving on 29 March 2019.
It may be possible that European leaders welcome this plan simply because it is the first thing to make it on to paper. The Prime Minister talks about sticking to a common rulebook for goods but not services, but is it not the case that goods and services are often combined, particularly in the aerospace industry, which is important in my constituency?
This is not the first time that the Government have put something down on paper in relation to proposals for the future, but we have evolved the position since the Mansion House speech that I made about this. The industrial goods rulebook—we have used that term—is recognised and has been stable over quite a number of years, as has been pointed out by Conservative Members. Businesses, including the aerospace industry, were very clear that it was that rulebook that they wanted to continue to operate by, and that that would protect jobs. That is why we have taken this step.
The Brexit Secretary has unfortunately resigned. He, at least in theory, was leading our negotiations with the European Union. For months, his Department had been working on a detailed White Paper, but that was not presented to the Cabinet at Chequers; it was presented with a different plan. I echo the call made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin), which was that that DExEU White Paper should now be published so that the House and the country have a chance to see the alternative options that DExEU had proposed.
It was always clear that the White Paper, which will be published as a DExEU White Paper, would reflect the Government’s position, and the White Paper that is published next week will do exactly that.
Now that even senior members of the Government are resigning—DExEU’s midnight runners and the Foreign Secretary—because they think that we are heading for a bad Brexit deal, I suggest to the Prime Minister that at the end of the negotiations, she could put herself in a strong position by holding a people’s vote to validate the final deal. What is she scared of?
I think that I have covered this point on a number of occasions. It remains unfortunate that the Labour party is not willing to rule out a second referendum. This House—this Parliament—overwhelmingly gave the people of this country the decision and the choice whether to leave the European Union. They voted. I think that the vast majority of the public out there want their Government to deliver on that—not to have a second referendum, but to have faith with the British people and deliver on their vote.
Seventy per cent. of my constituents voted for Brexit. In the past two years, they have become increasingly frustrated at the progress and concessions that have been made. That frustration is now turning into anger. What can the Prime Minister say to reassure them that there will be no further concessions?
First, I believe that the important message to my hon. Friend’s constituents and others is that we are delivering on the key issues that led to people voting to leave the European Union—an end to free movement, no more vast sums of money going to the EU every year, and our coming out of the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy and out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. He talks about their concerns about the timetable. It is precisely to ensure that we are able to reach the end of our negotiations this autumn—such that, where we have a deal, we have those proposals in place by 29 March 2019— that we are presenting this proposal to the European Union. His constituents will see us leave the European Union on 29 March 2019.
Contrary to what the Prime Minister has repeatedly told the House today, the EEA agreement does in fact enable the suspension and reform of free movement of labour, removes the direct effect of EU law and sits outside the jurisdiction of the ECJ. The Chequers proposal, however, is a bureaucratic nightmare that is riddled with ambiguity and complexity. Why does the Prime Minister stop trying to reinvent the wheel and commit instead to an EEA-based Brexit?
The hon. Gentleman might have noticed that this House had an opportunity to vote on the EEA issue within the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and voted overwhelmingly against membership of the EEA.
I welcome the agreement that the Cabinet reached last week and urge the Prime Minister to hold firm in the national interest. Does she agree that what we have forms the basis for a good deal for Scotland—frictionless trade with the European Union, out of the common fisheries policy and maintaining and preserving the integrity of the UK’s internal market?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This will be a good deal for Scotland. Crucially, it does deliver on what I believe Scotland wants, which is to come out of the common fisheries policy, and of course it maintains the UK’s internal market, which is of significant benefit to Scotland and is indeed of more consequence to Scotland than its trade with the European Union.
The Prime Minister has said clearly in her statement today that she sees an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over UK matters. How does she square that with continued membership of the European arrest warrant?
We are clear that as we go forward in these negotiations we will look at how we could operate the various operational capabilities in the security arrangement to the benefit of citizens in both the UK and the EU. Our position on the European Court of Justice remains, however, and of course changes were made to the operation of the EAW when I was Home Secretary, not under the jurisdiction of the ECJ but under the laws of this country as determined by this House.
Prime Minister, I have listened very carefully to everything you have said today, and I have read very carefully everything you have circulated. I even went to one