With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House ahead of this week’s European Council.
We are entering the final stages of these negotiations. This is the time for cool, calm heads to prevail, and for a clear-eyed focus on the few remaining but critical issues that are still to be agreed. Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union went to Brussels for further talks with Michel Barnier. There has inevitably been a great deal of inaccurate speculation, so I want to set out clearly for the House the facts as they stand.
First, we have made real progress in recent weeks on both the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration on our future relationship. I want to pay tribute to both negotiating teams for the many, many hours of hard work that have got us to this point. In March, we agreed legal text around the implementation period, citizen’s rights and the financial settlement, and we have now made good progress on text concerning the majority of the outstanding issues. Taken together, the shape of the deal across the vast majority of the withdrawal agreement—the terms of our exit—is now clear. We also have broad agreement on the structure and scope of the framework for our future relationship, with progress on issues such as security, transport and services.
Perhaps most significantly, we have made progress on Northern Ireland, on which the EU has been working with us to respond to the very real concerns we had about its original proposals. Let me remind the House why this is so important. Both the UK and the EU share a profound responsibility to ensure the preservation of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, protecting the hard-won peace and stability in Northern Ireland and ensuring that life continues essentially as it does now. We agree that our future economic partnership should provide for solutions to the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland in the long term, and while we are both committed to ensuring that this future relationship is in place by the end of the implementation period, we accept that there is a chance that there may be a gap between the two. This is what creates the need for a backstop to ensure that if such a temporary gap were ever to arise, there would be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, or indeed anything that would threaten the integrity of our precious Union.
This backstop is intended to be an insurance policy for the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland. Previously, the European Union had proposed a backstop that would see 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. As I have said many times, I could never accept that, no matter how unlikely such a scenario might be. Creating any form of customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would mean a fundamental change in the day-to-day experience for businesses in Northern Ireland, with the potential to affect jobs and investment. We published our proposals on customs in the backstop in June. After Salzburg, I said that we would bring forward our own further proposals, and that is what we have done in these negotiations. The European Union has responded positively by agreeing to explore a UK-wide customs solution to this backstop, but two problems remain.
First, the EU says that there is not time to work out the detail of this UK-wide solution in the next few weeks, so even with the progress we have made, the EU still requires a “backstop to the backstop”—effectively an insurance policy for the insurance policy—and it wants this to be the Northern Ireland-only solution that it had previously proposed. We have been clear that we cannot agree to anything that threatens the integrity of our United Kingdom, and I am sure that the whole House shares the Government’s view on this. Indeed, the House of Commons set out its view when agreeing unanimously to section 55 in part 6 of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018 on a single United Kingdom customs territory, which states:
“It shall be unlawful for Her Majesty’s Government to enter into arrangements under which Northern Ireland forms part of a separate customs territory to Great Britain.”
So the message is clear not just from this Government but from the whole House.
Secondly, I need to be able to look the British people in the eye and say that this backstop is a temporary solution. People are rightly concerned that what is only meant to be temporary could become a permanent limbo, with no new relationship between the UK and the EU ever agreed. I am clear that we are not going to be trapped permanently in a single customs territory unable to do meaningful trade deals. So it must be the case, first, that the backstop should not need to come into force; secondly, that if it does, it must be temporary; and, thirdly, while I do not believe that this will be the case, that if the EU were not to co-operate on our future relationship, we must be able to ensure that we cannot be kept in this backstop arrangement indefinitely. I would not expect the House to agree to a deal unless we have the reassurance that the UK, as a sovereign nation, has this say over our arrangements with the EU.
I do not believe that the UK and the EU are far apart. We both agree that article 50 cannot provide the legal base for a permanent relationship, and we both agree that the backstop must be temporary, so we must now work together to give effect to that agreement.
So much of the negotiations is necessarily technical, but the reason why this all matters is that it affects the future of our country. It affects jobs and livelihoods in every community. It is about what kind of country we are and about our faith in our democracy. Of course it is frustrating that almost all the remaining points of disagreement are focused on how we manage a scenario that both sides hope should never come to pass and that, if it does, will only be temporary. We cannot let that disagreement derail the prospects of a good deal and leave us with the no-deal outcome that no-one wants. I continue to believe that a negotiated deal is the best outcome for the UK and for the European Union. I continue to believe that such a deal is achievable, and that is the spirit in which I will continue to work with our European partners. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of her statement.
This really is beginning to feel like groundhog day—another “nothing has changed” moment from this shambles of a Government. Almost two and a half years after the referendum, 18 months since the triggering of article 50 and with less than six months to go, what do we have to show for all that? Yesterday we saw another Brexit Minister shuttling over to Brussels only to come back, tail between his legs, unable to deliver because of divisions in the Conservative party. Over—[Interruption.]
Order. I appealed earlier for calm and I do so again. I will reiterate what people should know anyway by now: there will be ample opportunity for everybody who wants to ask a question—not to shriek across the Chamber, but to ask a question—to do so. Let us have a bit of hush on both sides of the House.
Over the past 18 months, red line after red line has been surrendered. Even the Prime Minister’s much-vaunted Chequers plan now appears to be dead in the water. In fact, after countless resignations and the threat of even more, she could not even bring herself to mention Chequers in her own conference speech. The Prime Minister must stop the excuses. There is a Brexit deal that could command the support of Parliament and the country—a Brexit deal that would benefit Britain and allow us to rebuild our communities, regions and economy, and avoid any hard border in Northern Ireland—but that is not her deal.
As we reach a critical point in this nation’s history, we need a Prime Minister who will for once make the right decision, put the country before her party and stand up to the reckless voices on her Back Benches and within her Cabinet. For too long this country has been held hostage to those in her party who want to drive through a “race to the bottom” Brexit deal that lowers rights and standards, and sells off our national assets to the lowest bidder. It is clear—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Heappey, you are normally such a good-natured and laid-back fellow. I do not know what has happened to you. I do not know what you had for breakfast, but tip me off afterwards and I will make sure to avoid it. We need an atmosphere of calm. Nobody in this Chamber—questioner or anybody answering, namely the Prime Minister—will be shouted down, and that is the end of it. It is as simple as that.
It is clear that the Prime Minister’s failure to stand up to the warring factions on her own side has led us to this impasse. Let me remind the Prime Minister and Conservative Members what they signed up to just 10 months ago:
“In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.”
Does that still stand? That is an interesting question for the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister is now hoping that she can cobble together a deal that avoids all the big questions as to what our future partnership with the European Union will be. Is it not the case that the backstop is necessary only because the Government will not agree to a new comprehensive customs union with the EU, with a say for Britain in future trade deals? How long is her envisaged temporary deal? One year? Two years? Five years? More? Britain deserves a bit better than this. The blindfold Brexit that the Government are cooking up is a bridge to nowhere and a dangerous leap in the dark.
Let me be clear that the only thing we can trust this Government to do is to impose more years of austerity on the people of this country. The Prime Minister wants to present Brexit as a choice between her deal and no deal. This is simply not the case. There is an alternative option—an alternative that can command the support of Parliament and the country. Labour has set out our six tests. Indeed, at times the Prime Minister has said that she will meet them. Labour’s plan—[Interruption.]
Order. An even better-natured fellow, the hon. Member for Colchester—normally the embodiment of charm and good grace—is very overexcited. We will get you in in due course, Mr Quince, do not worry.
Labour’s plan is for Britain and the EU to negotiate a permanent customs union to protect jobs and manufacturing. We want a deal that allows us to strengthen rights and working standards so that we can avoid a race to the bottom, and we want a deal for all regions and nations that allows us to invest in local infrastructure, local transport and energy markets so that we can grow our economy again. Labour will not give the Government a blank cheque to go down the reckless path they are set on at present.
Let me be clear that the choice for this Parliament should never be the Prime Minister’s deal or no deal. If this Government cannot get a good deal for this country, they have to make way for those who can. The Prime Minister faces a simple and inescapable choice: be buffeted this way and that way by the chaos of her own party, or back a deal that can win the support of Parliament and the people of this country.
Perhaps I could point out a few things to the right hon. Gentleman. He says that the discussion on the backstop was in order to avoid the questions of the future relationship. If he had actually listened to my statement—in fact, he received an early copy of it—he would have heard me make it clear that we have made good progress on both the structure and scope of the future relationship, which we have been discussing alongside the withdrawal agreement. He also talks about there being a better deal available. Well, we never hear from the Labour party exactly what deal it thinks it wants. What we have seen—[Interruption.]
Order. There is far too much noise. I said a moment ago that the Leader of the Opposition must be heard, and the Prime Minister must also be heard.
What we have heard from Labour Members is that at one point that they want to do really good trade deals around the rest of the world, and the next moment they want to tie us into the Brussels trade deals by being part of the customs union. One minute they say they want to respect the vote of the British people in relation to free movement; the next minute they say, “Well, actually, no, free movement is still on the table.” What we constantly see from them is no firm proposals on this particular issue.
Labour Members also talk about being in a customs union. May I say to the right hon. Gentleman—this is perhaps the sort of detail he may not have recognised—that even if we were to go down the route of the sort of deal that might involve being in a customs union, it would still be necessary to have a backstop, in case there was a delay between bringing that in and the end of the implementation period. Certainly, on this side of the House, we are very clear about our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland and our commitments to the United Kingdom.
The right hon. Gentleman then said, “What have we got to show for all of this that has been undertaken?” What we have got to show for it is: the vast majority of the withdrawal agreement agreed; and significant progress and agreement on the structure and scope of the future relationship. What we also have to show for it is a Government who are determined to deliver on the vote of the British people, unlike an Opposition who want to frustrate the people’s vote and frustrate Brexit.
May I urge my right hon. Friend not to listen to the groundhog opposite, who does not have any interesting questions, but to rely on one specific question? I agree with my right hon. Friend that we are not going to be and will not be in the customs union—being out of the customs unions is a pledge that she made and that the British people voted for. The question I ask her is: she made her decision on that, but how long does she think this temporary arrangement might last and, most importantly, who would make the final decision on when it ends?
In relation to the UK-wide customs arrangement, we set out when we published our proposals in June that we would expect that to end by December 2021. My right hon. Friend asked me what I want to see and what I think in relation to this arrangement. I do not want to see the backstop having to be used at all. I want to ensure that we deliver for the people of Northern Ireland through the future relationship and that that future relationship comes into place on 1 January 2021, when the implementation period ends, so that we do not have to see this backstop arrangement being used at all.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement. First, may I apologise on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), who, as is often the way when coming from a remote location, has been delayed in transit?
This morning, Scotland’s First Minister launched “Scotland’s Place in Europe: Our Way Forward”, which is the latest in a series of analyses on the ongoing negotiations and sets out the best—or least worst—possible future for Scotland. The first of these Scottish Government analysis papers came 18 months before Chequers and, to date, has not led to a single resignation from the Scottish Cabinet. The sense of unity and the responsibility being demonstrated by the Government in Edinburgh could hardly be in more marked contrast to what we see from the UK Government here today.
Last night, the negotiations collapsed again. Did the Secretary of State go dashing off to Brussels just to fail? Or did he go because his officials had told him a deal was close? If that is the case, surely this House is entitled to know what, yet again, went wrong at the last minute. The Government’s official explanations only make sense if the Prime Minister has decided that the proposal she signed up to last December is unworkable.
The reality of all this weighs heavily across communities, particularly on the island of Ireland. We are three days away from the EU Council summit, and the UK Government continue to show at best disdain and at worst open contempt for the people of Ireland and for the Good Friday agreement. The Government clearly have no real understanding of what communities on both sides of the border are feeling about these negotiations. As long ago as last December, the Brexit Select Committee, despite an over-representation of hardliners, made it clear:
“We do not currently see how it will be possible to reconcile there being no border with the Government’s policy of leaving the Single Market”—[Interruption.]
Order. I am trying to hear the hon. Gentleman. Let’s hear the fella. [Interruption.] Order. I know that there is much noise. The hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) was pointing out that there is a lot of noise. I am well aware of that fact, and he does not need to conduct the orchestra.
We can see how the Prime Minister’s Back Benchers have responded to her appeal for cool, calm heads. We can understand why she struggles to keep her party together when there are hard questions to be answered.
What was striking was the contrast in reaction from the Tory Back Benchers: when the Prime Minister committed to defend the Good Friday agreement, there was at best a lukewarm response, but there were then three hearty cheers when she said that we were taking Northern Ireland out of the customs union. It tells us where the Tory party’s priorities lie. A Conservative party playing politics with people’s lives for the sake of its own political survival is nothing short of disgraceful.
There is a better way. It is time for the Prime Minister to disown the extreme hard-line minority in her own party. She has the chance to resolve the question of the Irish border to protect jobs, to prevent the economic catastrophe that we face and to respect the result of the referendum in 2016. Will she now accept that she got it wrong? Will she now commit to a damage limitation Brexit and accept that there is a significant consensus in this House in favour of remaining in the single market and the customs union? I say to her to ignore her own career prospects, to ignore the career ambitions of those behind her and to look instead at the hundreds of thousands of people whose jobs are at risk if this goes wrong. Will she take her head out of the sand and work with those on all Benches in this House to ensure that a United Kingdom stays in the single market and in the customs union?
I will pick up on a number of those points. It interests me that the hon. Gentleman was talking about the importance to him of staying in the single market, presumably because of his concern about trade with the European Union. Well, we want to have a good trade deal with the European Union, but we also want to be free to be able to negotiate our own trade deals around the rest of the world. He asked what were still the areas of disagreement between us and the European Union in relation to the withdrawal agreement, and I set those out in my statement. I am afraid that he used a very unfortunate term. He said that we were showing contempt for the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland. Far from that, it is precisely because we recognise our commitment to the people of Northern Ireland that we are working hard to ensure that we deliver no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and to ensure that people and businesses in Northern Ireland are able to carry on their day-to-day lives and their business as they can do today.
The hon. Gentleman also started off by referencing a piece of work that talked about the best economic future for Scotland. I hate to have to remind the Scottish National party yet again, but the best economic future for Scotland is to remain in the United Kingdom.
I know that my right hon. Friend will appreciate that, in deciding to remain in the customs union, the Leader of the Opposition is guilty of a shameless U-turn and a betrayal of millions of people—[Interruption.]
Order. I want to hear the right hon. Gentleman. Let’s hear the fella.
In that case, I will repeat that the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, is guilty of a shameless U-turn and a betrayal of millions of people who voted leave. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister confirm, as I think she has just said, that the very latest deadline by which this country will take back control of our tariff schedules in Geneva and vary those tariffs independently of Brussels in order to do free trade deals will be, as I think she has just said, December 2021? If that is not the deadline, will she say what it is?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in pointing out the U-turn of the Leader of the Opposition. As I referenced in my response to him, the Opposition cannot hold the position both that they want to do trade deals around the rest of the world and also that they want to be part of a customs union. As I said, when we published the temporary customs arrangement proposal back in June, we set as a point of expectation that that would be completed by December 2021. As I indicated in my statement, one issue that we are discussing with the European Union is how we can ensure that we do reflect—properly reflect—the temporary nature of the backstop. I continue to believe that what we should all be doing is working to ensure that the backstop never comes into place and that, actually, it is not December 2021 that we are talking about, but 1 January 2021.
In the paper that was published on 7 June, proposing a way to keep an open border in Northern Ireland, the Government said that their temporary customs arrangement would be in place
“until the future customs arrangement can be introduced”.
The Prime Minister has just reminded the House that she expects those arrangements to be in place by December 2021 at the latest—which, incidentally, is a whole year after the end of the proposed transition period—but since the expectation of an end date is not the same as a definite end date, when is she going to tell her party that we cannot have a fixed artificial time limit on the fall-back that the Government are trying to negotiate with the EU?
May I say, as I have in relation to a number of questions on this point, that we are very clear on this? The purpose of the backstop is to be an insurance policy such that if the future relationship is not in place by 1 January 2021, there is an arrangement that ensures no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland; so it is there for the time until the future relationship can come into place. As we indicated in June, we expect that to be no later than December 2021, but we will be working to ensure that that point comes as early as possible because it is in everybody’s interests to ensure that we are able to move seamlessly into the future relationship after the implementation period without actually having to enter into another sort of relationship in the interim period. That is what the backstop would be, and that is why we want to work to ensure that the backstop never has to come into place.
This is a moment of great importance, which is why the Chamber is so full of Members of Parliament who are here to speak on behalf of their communities and—given the relevance of this particular discussion—on behalf of their businesses. As the Prime Minister listens to the very many different voices in this House that she is blessed to hear from, I urge her to respond by working on those compromises with the EU not just on behalf of the 52%, but also on behalf of the 48%. It is on behalf of the 100% that we need to deliver on leaving the European Union.
Let me give my right hon. Friend the assurance that the Government and I are looking for a deal on the future relationship with the European Union that is good for the whole United Kingdom and that reflects the interests of the whole United Kingdom. We want to ensure that we have the freedom to do trade deals around the rest of the world and that we protect the jobs and livelihoods that today depend on the relationship and the trading relationship with the EU. What we are looking for, what I am looking for and what I am sure my right hon. Friend and other right hon. and hon. Friends are looking for is a deal that is good for the whole United Kingdom.
Why does the Prime Minister really find it necessary to make this statement today, given that it does not advance one iota our understanding that, in relation to Ireland, Brexit means borders, bureaucracy and—ultimately—betrayal of the Good Friday agreement?
The right hon. Gentleman frequently stands up in this Chamber to complain about the lack of members of the Government coming to the House of Commons to inform Members about matters, but I have come here today to inform the House of Commons about the position, and he complains about that as well. That is typical of the Liberal Democrats; they do not know where they stand on the issue.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if we go one second beyond 31 December 2020, we will automatically fall into the multiannual surveillance framework and will therefore be accumulating tens of billions of pounds extra year on year? Does she accept that, and does she also accept that if we continue to be dictated to by the EU in the way in which things are going at the moment, this country will be brought to a humiliating conclusion?
My hon. Friend is obviously one of my hon. Friends who has paid particular, very careful attention to these issues, but I do not agree with the situation that he has set out. We have been negotiating with the European Union. That has seen both the European Union recognising our arguments and moving its position in relation to some issues, and our recognising our need to put forward proposals that are acceptable to us but that recognise the concerns that have been expressed by the European Union.
But what we are doing, and what I am doing, is making sure that any deal that we have is the deal that is best for the future of the United Kingdom. That is a deal that delivers on the Brexit vote but does so in a way that protects jobs and livelihoods.
In relation to the future relationship, I want to ensure that that future relationship can start at the end of the implementation period, in which case, of course, there would be no question of a different relationship with the European Union for any period of time. We have agreed the financial settlement as part of the withdrawal settlement, as my hon. Friend knows, but I remind the House, yet again, that—this was a phrase first used, I think, by the EU itself—nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
The Prime Minister will know that there is a real fear that the Government will delay pinning down any deal until the last possible minute so that they can try to bounce Parliament with the threat that it is her deal or no deal. She knows that that would be unacceptable to Parliament, but she also knows how damaging no deal would be in terms of security as well as jobs and the economy. So will she confirm that it would be better to apply for an extension to article 50 than to crash out with no deal?
I do not believe that we should be extending article 50. I have been very clear that we should not be extending article 50. I am a little bemused by the right hon. Lady’s first suggestion. We have legislated here in Parliament for a process that ensures that there will be not just the deliberations that this House will rightly have on the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill, but a meaningful vote in this House prior to that. [Hon. Members: “When?”] Labour Members say “When?” Of course, we are still in negotiations with the European Union in terms of delivering on the deal, and we continue to work to the timetable that has recently been set out.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is not what leave voters voted for? Leave voters and businesses in Broxtowe were promised a deal on trade not after we have left the European Union, but at the time that we leave the European Union. They were told that it would be the easiest deal in the history of trade deals. They were told that it would convey the “exact same benefits” as our membership of the single market and the customs union. What we now see is complete chaos and a total mess. Would the Prime Minister consider that, if her Government cannot get a grip on this, and if Parliament cannot get a grip on this, then it is time to face up to the fact that Brexit cannot be delivered, take it back to the people, and have a people’s vote?
As I have consistently said on this issue, this Parliament voted overwhelmingly to give the choice to the British people as to whether to leave or remain in the European Union. The people voted to leave the European Union, and I believe it is a matter of faith in our democracy, and the integrity of politicians, that we deliver for people on that vote. That is why it is so important to recognise—there is talk of a people’s vote; of going back to the people for a vote—that the people were given a vote. The people’s vote happened in 2016 and the people voted to leave.
In order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, which nobody wants, it can never be right that we have any kind of borders in the Irish sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister knows that we
“could not support any deal that creates a border of any kind in the Irish Sea”.
Those are not my words—they are the words of Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives. Will the Prime Minister confirm today that, as she said in her statement, she could never accept a proposed
“backstop that would see 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”?
Would she confirm that the UK is leaving the EU together with no part hived off either in the single market or customs union differences?
When we leave the European Union, it will be the UK that leaves the European Union. We will be leaving the European Union together. I am very clear that there should be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, but, as we have put forward in our proposals, we can deliver on that and maintain the integrity of our Union. We made that very clear when the European Union made its backstop proposal that would effectively have carved Northern Ireland away from the rest of the United Kingdom. We cannot accept the EU’s backstop to a backstop precisely because it continues to want to see that. In fact what we want to see in a backstop is a situation where Northern Ireland businesses can export freely to Great Britain and to the European Union. That would be a good position for Northern Ireland businesses.
Trying to sign a withdrawal agreement without having legally binding texts on the future partnership would leave the UK in a deeply vulnerable position and unable to negotiate properly. Will the Prime Minister confirm that, in her view, no deal is still a lot better than a bad deal, and that a bad deal is giving £39 billion away, for no good reason, that we need to spend on our priorities?
I still believe that no deal is better than a bad deal. I am still working for what I believe is the best outcome for the UK, which is a good negotiated deal with the European Union for the future, but of course, we continue with our no-deal preparations. As my right hon. Friend will know, the negotiations on the financial settlement have already taken place. We are clear about the importance of linking the withdrawal agreement to the future relationship, such that we cannot find ourselves in a limbo situation and that we are able to see that future relationship committed to by the European Union and put in place. As I say, I want to see it put in place on 1 January 2021.
The issue over the Irish border is a direct result of the wilful dismissal of its importance before the referendum campaign and the wilful disregard of its importance by leading Brexit advocates since the referendum. They now advocate a Canada-style free trade agreement. Will the Prime Minister confirm that she rejects a Canada-style agreement as being completely unsuitable for the UK not only because of the huge economic damage it would do to industries dependent on multinational supply chains but because it would result in a hard border, which would break commitments that this country has made?
Of course, what we have seen from the European Union is that a Canada-style deal is not available or on offer for the whole of the United Kingdom; it is only on offer for Great Britain, with Northern Ireland effectively carved out from the rest of the United Kingdom. The proposals that the Government have put forward following the discussions that the Cabinet had in July at Chequers are focused on a free trade deal with frictionless trade at its heart. A Canada-style deal does not deliver on frictionless trade and therefore does not deliver the absolute guarantee of no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland or, indeed, frictionless trade at our other borders.
The Prime Minister is right to say that a negotiated deal is the best outcome for the United Kingdom. She is also right to say that protecting the Union is of fundamental importance to Members on all sides of the Brexit debate on the Government Benches. But as we just heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), there are people who disagree with what she said in her statement about the
“no-deal outcome that no one wants”.
There are people in this House and on the Government Benches who want a no-deal outcome.
My right hon. Friend is nodding.
People in this country are now really concerned and worried about no deal, including businesses, EU citizens living here and British citizens living in the EU. I urge the Prime Minister to ensure that we do not slip into any kind of no-deal scenario, because I believe that this House will not support it and therefore would have to step into the negotiations.
As I said earlier in response to a question, I am clear that we are working to get a good deal for the whole of the United Kingdom, but it is also right that we continue our preparations for no deal because we do not know what the outcome of those negotiations will be. I think it is right that we ensure that the deal we bring back is a good deal for the whole of the United Kingdom.
Does the Prime Minister stand by the commitment made by the Brexit Secretary to this House last week that the Government will publish a specific end date to the Irish backstop as part of the withdrawal agreement?
As I said both in my statement and in response to other questions, one of the issues that we are discussing with the European Union remains this issue of ensuring that the backstop is a temporary arrangement and that we cannot be kept in a permanent relationship of that sort with the European Union. The backstop is intended as an insurance policy for the people of Northern Ireland. I do not want that backstop ever to be put in place; I want to ensure we negotiate a future relationship that can start at the end of the implementation period.
After the referendum, a large majority of MPs across the House were elected to help this country to negotiate a future outside the EU, with trade arrangements that are sensible and that allow us to use our control over money, borders and the like in a way that is beneficial to us and beneficial to others. Will my right hon. Friend assure our negotiating partners that less friction is better than more friction?
Yes, it is precisely because we believe in the value of frictionless trade that we have put forward a proposal that would indeed deliver on frictionless trade.
It must be obvious to the Prime Minister that there is no majority in this place for a hard or no-deal Brexit, and she cannot do the sensible thing on the customs union and the single market because half her party and the DUP will not let her, so is she never tempted by the suggestion of her right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) that the way out of this mess—for her and for the country—will be a people’s vote?
No. I am going to repeat what I have said, in response to the right hon. Gentleman. The people had a vote in 2016. It was in a referendum. This Parliament gave the people that vote. The people voted to leave, and that is what we will deliver.
Whether leave or remain, we can all agree that in the past Britain may have pooled its sovereignty, but we have never just given it away. Does the Prime Minister accept that the common rulebook represents a unique loss of sovereignty for Britain, but that for the first time we will have tied the hands of future generations, to be bound by rules they will have had no chance to write?
No, I am afraid I do not agree with my right hon. Friend on the definition she has set out, precisely because the proposal that we have put forward involves a parliamentary lock. It will be this Parliament that will decide on those rules—whether we adopt those rules and whether we adopt any further changes to those rules.
Is not the Prime Minister’s problem that she is dancing to the tune of the hard Brexiteers—the duo from Uxbridge and Somerset—and we should not therefore be surprised that she is taking the country towards an inferior, low-grade, hard-Brexit FTA deal? Will she give an undertaking that, when this House—when Members of Parliament—look at that deal and decide that, actually, it is not right for the country and we decide a different course, she will respect the decision of Members of Parliament to put this question to a people’s vote?
The hon. Gentleman will know full well that it is very clearly set out what the process would be—what the procedure would be—were it to be the case that this Government were to bring a proposal back to this House and the meaningful vote were not to support that particular proposal.
What are the cross-border transactions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that so threaten the integrity of the European single market and customs union that they cannot be resolved by existing techniques or existing processes under existing law, none of which requires hard infrastructure on the border?
There are arrangements in relation to customs checks that would be put in place were it not the case that we had come to an agreement to have a customs arrangement that did not require those checks to take place. I have seen and have heard of a number of proposals for technical solutions to deal with those issues. I have to say to my right hon. Friend that some of those technical solutions effectively involve moving the border—and it would still be a border. Some involve equipment, which could come under attack, and some involve a degree of state surveillance that, frankly, I think would not be acceptable in Northern Ireland.
It is reported today that the Prime Minister wants the meaningful vote to take place on 27 November. The 27 November is the same day that the European Court of Justice will hear the Scottish Court’s referral on the question of whether article 50 can be unilaterally revoked. My question for the Prime Minister is, is she afraid of MPs knowing the answer to that question before we have the meaningful vote?
First of all, the hon. and learned Lady is making an assumption about the date of the meaningful vote, and we are still in negotiations. Secondly, no, because the point about whether article 50 can be revoked is that this Government will not be revoking article 50—we are going to keep article 50.
The Government were clearly right to reject that part of the Commission’s proposals that would have threatened the integrity of the United Kingdom, but it is salutary that what the European Commission produced was a deal that would have been worse than no deal. Despite that, can my right hon. Friend assure me and the House that she will continue to work very hard to make sure that we get a deal? I believe that, apart from a relatively small number of people who genuinely believe that no deal would be a good thing for this country, and apart from a few people who would vote against a deal for purely partisan reasons, there is an enormous majority in this House for a negotiated settlement to this procedure.
I can give my right hon. Friend that assurance. We will continue to work for a good deal, because I believe a good deal is the best outcome for the people of the United Kingdom.
The DUP, which has sustained the Prime Minister in office, has made it clear that it thinks no deal is almost inevitable. What does she think?
We continue to work for a good deal for the whole of the United Kingdom.
I wish my right hon. Friend every good thing in this negotiation, but I do point out to her that we are heading towards a conclusion where we are going to be in an at least two-year relationship with the EU—which is a condition of vassalage, because we have absolutely no say in the rule making, but we are tied to it—and we are going to be bound by a common rulebook afterwards, even if she is successful. I have to say to her that, in those circumstances, I will not be able to support the Government in this, unless this matter is put to the British people again. It is entirely different from what was discussed and negotiated during the referendum in 2016.
I say gently to my right hon. and learned Friend that I think I recall the time when he was in favour of the Government negotiating an implementation period for our withdrawal from the European Union, to bridge the point between our leaving on 29 March 2019 and the point at which the future relationship would come into place. We have set out the reasons why it is important for us to ensure that at the heart of our future relationship is a free trade deal that has frictionless trade at its heart—that is a good trade deal for the United Kingdom, but also enables us to undertake good trade deals with others around the world.
Can the Prime Minister give a firm commitment that nothing will be agreed with the European Union that would exclude Northern Ireland from any part of any future UK trade deals?
In the future relationship, we will be negotiating trade deals on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.
My right hon. Friend made the excellent point that it would be unlawful to have a separate customs arrangement for Northern Ireland. Why did that point escape the negotiators until so late in the process?
The point about not having a customs border down the Irish sea is not one that has escaped negotiators. We have been very clear: we were clear when the proposal was first published by the European Union earlier this year and we have consistently been clear that such an arrangement was one that the UK Government could not accept.
Does not the existence of a backstop serve only to illustrate the fact that the Prime Minister has actually wasted the last two years?
Employees in the car manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and food and drink manufacturing sector in Eddisbury want to manufacture to a single rulebook, with frictionless trade. Can the Prime Minister confirm that this remains her negotiating position?
We continue to negotiate on the basis that the best deal for the future is one that has frictionless trade at its heart. That would be good for businesses here, and good for jobs and livelihoods here, but it would also deliver on the vote of the British people.
Given the trouble being caused to the Prime Minister by a relatively small number of Members, does she not now regret not seeking cross-party consent for her negotiating objectives?
We have a very clear negotiating objective in relation to the deal we are getting from the European Union. Sadly, what I see from the Labour party Front Bench is not a consistent approach in relation to that. The Government set out our approach in Lancaster House and we have followed that through at every stage of the negotiations.
When it comes to signing the political declaration on the future relationship, will my right hon. Friend confirm that it will be clear, specific and binding, so that business has more certainty and that we do not just begin another period of Brexit fog and uncertainty?
This is precisely why we want to ensure that there is a proper linkage between the withdrawal agreement and the future relationship, so that certainty can be given on what the future relationship is and that that is going to come into place. I think that that is what the House will want to see as well when it comes to look at the meaningful vote.
The Prime Minister has chastised Labour’s six tests. Let us look at the one she set, which is that frictionless trade must be the condition for signing up to the withdrawal agreement. Two and a half years on, all the whizz-bang technology you like and a temporary customs arrangement later shows that only staying in the customs union can do that. So in meeting her own test, the Prime Minister will face the same challenge she faces now: is it friction with the European Research Group or the future of the people of Northern Ireland that matters more? Her refusal to let the British public sort this out through a final-say deal shows that it is not the country.
As I have said to others, the British people made their decision on our leaving the European Union. If the hon. Lady wants to know how to deliver frictionless trade, she should read the White Paper.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has rejected the Opposition proposal to be in a customs union in the EU, which was of course rejected by this House only in July. Apart from the most important reason—having our tariffs and trade policy determined by Brussels without our having a seat at the table—it would also mean we would have no control over trade defences, dumping, unfair trade practices or trade preferences for the developing world. Does she therefore agree with me that it would illogical to agree to be in a customs union with the European Union beyond December 2020?
First, I commend my right hon. Friend for the work he did on our trade policy when he was a trade Minister. I absolutely want to see that we are able to put those new trade arrangements into place at the end of the implementation period. I want to see that future relationship coming into play at that point, which of course would be 1 January 2021.
Does the Prime Minister accept that the best interests of the country are not served by a gaggle of self-serving Cabinet Ministers threatening to resign, but by allowing the people a vote in a people’s vote?
I am quite happy to repeat what I have said in answer to all those Members who have proposed a people’s vote. We had a people’s vote. It was called the referendum and the people voted to leave.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and the progress that has been made, but will my right hon. Friend make it clear that throughout the tangle of these incredibly complex and difficult negotiations, security co-operation must remain a national priority, and will she confirm unequivocally that this will be the case?
I am very happy to give that reassurance to my right hon. Friend. I am pleased to say that we are making good progress in our discussions with the European Union on both internal and external security matters.
The Prime Minister has clearly ruled out a Canadian-style free trade agreement. As she rightly says, such an agreement would not lead to frictionless trade, and indeed would be disastrous for our food, automotive and aerospace industries, among others. However, will she explain how she will guarantee jobs in these industries and deliver frictionless trade if the UK leaves the customs union, and will these customs arrangements be detailed in the political declaration that we will have to vote on?
The hon. Lady wants to know how we will deliver frictionless trade in the circumstances—read the White Paper.
The Prime Minister spoke about the need to take a cool and calculated approach to the negotiations and that everything that has been achieved so far in the negotiations has been a result of that approach. But does she agree that to have the sort of free trade that we want, it must be frictionless, or as frictionless as possible, with the EU so that our manufacturers can continue to have those very important businesses and all the jobs that go with them? With that in mind, I hope that she will send our Brexit Secretary over the channel as often as possible to achieve the result we want—that is, a good deal for Britain.
Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald), I absolutely agree on the importance of the point about frictionless trade, because what we want to see in the future is a United Kingdom that not only is able to have good trade deals around the rest of the world, but has a very good trading relationship with its near neighbours in Europe, so that manufacturers here are able to continue to operate on the basis that they have done so far.
Will the Prime Minister update the House on the progress being made on the other border between the UK and the EU—the border between Gibraltar and Spain?
I am happy to say that discussions are continuing in relation to the matter because it will of course be part of the withdrawal agreement that we will look to enter into. There have been positive and constructive negotiations taking place, but they are still in progress.
The Prime Minister has always said that the United Kingdom will leave the EU on 29 March next year and that any agreement will be based on ending the free movement of people, not sending billions and billions of pounds to the EU each and every year, and making our own laws in our own country, judged by our own judges. Does she still believe that that is possible?
The Good Friday agreement took months of intensive negotiation and was then agreed in simultaneous referendums by overwhelming majorities in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. The position as regards the 2016 referendum was that it was a narrow majority on an advisory referendum. Which does the Prime Minister think is more important?
I think that both of these are important. That is why the Government, as we negotiate the terms on which we are leaving the European Union and the terms of our future relationship, are very clear that we remain fully committed to the Belfast agreement.
I do not wish to labour the point, but like my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) my businesses and constituents in South Cambridgeshire are terrified of a no deal, too. If that comes to pass and the Prime Minister will not entertain an extension of article 50, but accepts the reality that there is no way that no deal will pass through this House, I ask with the greatest respect: what option does that leave us other than going back to the people? What else can we do?
My hon. Friend’s question involves a number of assumptions. We are working to get a good deal with the European Union. If, at the end of the negotiation process, both sides agreed that no deal was there, that would actually come back to this House, and then we would see what position the House would take in the circumstances of the time.
The Prime Minister keeps advising hon. Members that if they want to know how to keep frictionless trade, they should just read the White Paper, but surely the Salzburg summit taught her that the White Paper was completely and utterly dead in the water. What is her plan B?
That is not the case. We have been negotiating with the European Union on the structure and scope of the future relationship, and we have been doing that on the basis of our proposals in the White Paper.
In trying to come up with a constructive solution, will my right hon. Friend remind the EU of what it signed up to in last December’s joint report? It signed up to unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the rest of the UK, and also to her commitment to follow only those rules that would be necessary for that north-south co-operation. If she reminded it of what it signed up to, we might make some progress.
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. It was a joint report, and the basis on which we were looking to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland was very clear.
Some people in the House who have been supporting the Government seem to think that the solution is to have a hard border in Northern Ireland but not to enforce it. Is not that prospect just a myth?
The Government are committed to ensuring that we have no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and that is what we are working for.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that when she meets her EU counterparts later this week, she will tell them that although we are a patient people, our patience is not inexhaustible, and that if it continues to maintain its present negotiating stance of seeking to divide the United Kingdom internally, we will have to assume that it is not serious about achieving a negotiated settlement and therefore be obliged to prepare for no deal?
We are all operating to a timetable—we will leave the European Union on 29 March next year—and we are clear that to get legislation through the House, we must follow a timetable and the negotiations need to end to match that timetable. I have said—I am very clear; the Government are very clear—that we cannot accept Northern Ireland effectively being divided from the rest of the UK.
Of course there has been a people’s vote since the referendum—the general election—when the public sent the Prime Minister the clear message that there was no majority in the country for a hard Brexit. Given that, and given that she was told very clearly that there was no majority in the House for Chequers and the White Paper, why does she expect Labour MPs to ride to her rescue and vote for a hard Brexit that would cost people’s jobs in our constituencies and the country at large?
There has indeed been a general election since the referendum. Over 80% of Members stood on a manifesto promise to deliver on the vote of the people to leave the EU.
Were it to become necessary to implement a backstop agreement, the subsequent ending of that arrangement must be a matter for the British Government, must it not?
As I said in my statement, if it is necessary to implement a backstop agreement, we will want to ensure that we, as the British Government, can ensure that it is indeed temporary and does not become permanent.
It has been suggested that the Brexit Secretary has promised the Prime Minister that he will deliver Chequers while at the same time assuring the ERG that he will stop it. Will she confirm that this cannot possibly be the case and that she has full confidence in her Secretary of State?
Yes, I have absolute full confidence in my Secretary of State. The Government have been negotiating with the European Union on the basis of the White Paper, and that continues to be the case.
Next spring, when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are having their first baby, I want this country to be at a time of economic stability, and no deal is unpredictable. May I encourage my right hon. Friend to continue to press the case for innovative customs solutions that will deliver frictionless trade while listening closely to the concerns of other EU member states about the risks that they face? Only when we make progress on finding a long-term solution will the difficulties of the backstop disperse.
My hon. Friend’s question gives me an opportunity to say what I am sure was said earlier in the Chamber and give my personal congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on the great news that we have heard today.
I assure my hon. Friend that, absolutely, concentrating on the long-term solution will not only deliver a good economic future for the partnership with the European Union for this country, but ensure that we deliver on our commitment to the people of Northern Ireland.
During the referendum and since, the people running Britain’s businesses have been promised repeatedly that they will enjoy the exact same benefits that they currently enjoy once we have left the EU. After two years of negotiation, it is patently clear that they will not. Does the Prime Minister empathise with them? Does she understand why they want to have a say on the deal themselves, and to decide for themselves whether it is fit for British business?
We have indeed been listening to British business. We have put forward a proposal for frictionless trade and a free trade area between the United Kingdom and the European Union that would deliver for British business and meet its concerns.
Last month, Michel Barnier very helpfully said that the border that he envisages down the middle of the Irish sea would be heavily reliant on innovative technical solutions. If that is true, why is he so dismissive of the same solutions, approved and endorsed by the European Parliament, in respect of the land border on the island of Ireland?
As I said earlier, a number of comments have been made about issues relating to the border and the possibility of technical solutions. We have made it very clear to the European Union—including, obviously, Michel Barnier—that any suggestion that there should be a customs border down the Irish sea is one that this Government cannot accept.
The Republic of Ireland is the main trading link with the United Kingdom, through the port of Holyhead in my constituency. I have been raising this issue with the Prime Minister for the last 18 months. Businesses are worried because contingency plans have been undertaken by Irish companies to go directly to the European continent. What assurances can the Prime Minister give to businesses in my community that that will not happen?
We continue to negotiate in relation to our future economic partnership. We have put forward proposals that would enable that frictionless trade to continue to take place across the sea between the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and Ireland. We continue to work on those proposals, and we are making good progress on that future relationship.
I heartily welcome the Prime Minister’s firm assurances that any backstop will be temporary. Businesses that wish to trade outside the EU would like to plan for that event, and, in my opinion, they need to have an idea of how long the backstop would last. If the Prime Minister is not prepared to specify a date, will she tell us how we can shore up the fact that nothing can derail the temporary nature for which she wishes? May I also ask her to update the House on the future of British citizens in the EU during that temporary period?
As I have said to other Members, we are very clear that this should be temporary. As I said earlier, when we published the proposals for a UK-wide customs backstop, we included the expectation that it should end by December 2021, because the future economic relationship should be in place at that point. We are also clear about the fact that we cannot be in a position in which we would be potentially trapped in a permanent backstop, for a number of reasons, one of which is that we want to negotiate trade deals around the rest of the world and gain the economic advantage for this country of doing so.
I will ask this question again because I have not had an answer from the four different Ministers to whom I have asked it: after 29 March, which queue will British passport holders use when they land in Spain, France, Germany or Greece, and which queue will EU citizens use when they arrive in the UK?
The Home Office is looking at the arrangements that will take place at the border after 29 March 2019. As to those arrangements for UK citizens entering other countries within the EU, of course they are a matter for those countries. One of the issues that we have put forward in the White Paper, which we will discuss with the European Union, is precisely about ensuring that those who wish to travel as tourists, for example, between the United Kingdom and the 27 member states of the European Union will be able to continue to do that as easily as possible in the future.
There are no hardcore Brexiteers on this side of the House; there are only those who want to honour the referendum and do the best for their country. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is now a question of trust and that, on the backstop, there is deep unease that somehow we will be left in the EU indefinitely? May I ask her this again: if we have to fall back on a backstop, will the UK have the sole right—the sole right—to pull out of it?
The point about the backstop is that it is an insurance policy for the people of Northern Ireland. I am clear that, first, it must be temporary and, secondly, we must be able to ensure that there is no way in which we can be left within that backstop as a result of a decision that the European Union takes in relation to this issue. There is a concern, I know, that somehow this will be an arrangement in which the EU does not negotiate the future economic partnership—the future relationship—and therefore we are left in limbo. That is why it is so important that we get a number of things, not least the linkage between the withdrawal agreement and the future relationship, and also reassurance in the withdrawal agreement about the temporary nature of the backstop.
There are many of us who genuinely accept the referendum result and want the Prime Minister to agree a good deal, but we are also realists and accept that there will be trade-offs in the different deals and options. The problem with the Prime Minister repeating today her belief that we will somehow agree the Chequers proposals is surely that the EU has clearly said it will never agree to them, that the Conservative party has said it would never vote for them, if they were agreed, and, crucially, that Chequers does not resolve the big issue of substance: the question of whether the ability to unilaterally agree free trade deals is really worth the loss to the UK of frictionless supply chains in manufacturing and of market access for financial services and, even more importantly, the risk to future stability and peace in Northern Ireland.
The proposals that have been put forward that form the basis on which we are having discussions with the European Union precisely address the issues the hon. Gentleman has raised in relation to frictionless trade, and ensuring that we maintain our commitments to the Belfast agreement and that there should be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Here is some Brexit reality: AstraZeneca has announced just this afternoon that it is stopping investing in the United Kingdom. We have just 165 days to go until we leave the EU and we still have no deal, with disastrous consequences. The Prime Minister says that we cannot have a people’s vote, but is not the truth here that the people were not able to see—there is no consensus about this—which of the many versions of Brexit we will be heading towards? Once we know that final deal, would it not be reasonable to go back to the British people, present them with what is involved and what the consequences are—both positive and negative—and then allow them to give their informed consent to moving forward?
I have answered this question on a number of occasions before this afternoon in relation to the fact that I believe it is imperative for Members of Parliament across the House to deliver on the decision that we freely gave to the people of the United Kingdom and to deliver on the vote that they took in relation to leaving the EU. My hon. Friend references the fact that there is no deal yet, but we are continuing to work for that deal. We continue in those negotiations and look forward to continuing to work with the member states of the EU and the European Commission towards that end.
In 2015, David Cameron was elected on a promise of a referendum on the EU, but promised to stay in the single market. Given that the current Prime Minister has decided to break that latter promise, and given the other promises broken since 2016—not least, those written on red buses—does she not agree that this mandate about the single market and the customs union fundamentally undermines the integrity of Britain and Northern Ireland? Should the situation not ultimately be resolved not by a simple choice between a bad deal and no deal, but with the option of remaining in the EU through a people’s vote so that the people can look again?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, I have answered the question about the people’s vote on a number of occasions already. I refer him to my previous answers.
My understanding—and that of the whole House, I believe—is that the £39 billion divorce bill is predicated on our leaving the implementation period at the end of December 2020. If the period continues until December 2021, will that be included in the divorce settlement or will it be extra?
The arrangement to which I think my hon. Friend refers is whether or not the backstop will be in place up to December 2021. That, of course, is a different arrangement from the implementation period, and it has different aspects to it from the arrangements that will be in place during the implementation period.
I repeat what I have said on a number of occasions: what I want to do, and I believe others want to do, is to work to ensure that we do not have to have that period when a backstop is in place, so that we are able to see our future relationship come in place at the end of the implementation period and we have that seamless transition.
This country is divided, and that was both a cause and consequence of the referendum two years ago. What is the Prime Minister’s vision for uniting the country, so that my constituents, four out of five of whom voted to remain, as well as those who voted to leave, can feel that there is something that we can all truly unite behind? I do not see it.
First, we are working to get a good deal that will deliver for the whole United Kingdom. But I would remind the hon. Lady, as I did one of her hon. Friends earlier, that the vast majority of people sitting in this Chamber were elected on a mandate to deliver on the vote of the British people.
My right hon. Friend has rightly said that she seeks a resolution on behalf of all the people of the United Kingdom and all its citizens. More than a million of those live in other countries of the European Union, and others will wish or need to leave and live in those other countries. Is she going to protect their interests, please?
When we were negotiating the citizens’ rights element of the December joint report, I was asked in this House on many occasions to give a unilateral declaration of the rights of EU citizens here in the UK. I refused to do that until we could negotiate reciprocal arrangements for United Kingdom citizens living in the remaining member states of the European Union. In some of those member states, the precise technical details of those reciprocal arrangements are still being worked through, but that was part of the citizens’ rights agreement that we came to in the December joint report.
If the European Parliament, the EU 27 or this Parliament vote against any deal that the Prime Minister brings forward, what next?
As I said earlier, this House has set out clearly what the process would be were it to be the case that, on a meaningful vote, the position that the Government set forward was not agreed by this House.
Will the Prime Minister give a commitment that the interests of our fishermen will be considered in any agreement with the EU? Will she ensure that the full benefit of leaving the EU will be available to our fishermen when we leave?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We are absolutely clear that we are coming out of the common fisheries policy and that we will be an independent coastal state. We will be able to decide and negotiate who has access to our waters.
The Prime Minister has ruled out putting a date on the backstop. Can she also rule out an indefinite backstop with a notice period?
I am very clear that we are not going to have an indefinite backstop and that we will ensure that the backstop is a temporary arrangement. As I said in my statement,
“while I do not believe that this will be the case…if the EU were not to co-operate on our future relationship, we must be able to ensure that we cannot be kept in this backstop arrangement indefinitely. I would not expect this House to agree to a deal unless we have the reassurance that the UK, as a sovereign nation, has this say over our arrangements with the EU.”
During Saturday’s excellent victory by Gloucester rugby club against the French league champions Castres Olympique, several representatives of small and medium-sized businesses focused on telling me how disastrous no deal would be, both for their and their European partners’ trade. May I therefore encourage my right hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for International Trade to highlight for EU officials the fact that the huge risks and unintended consequences of failing to reach a sensible agreement with us on the Irish border would be much greater than has hitherto been highlighted?
We continue to work for the good deal that I know my hon. Friend and others want us to be able to agree with the European Union. Obviously, we remain committed in relation to the hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, but we continue to make the point to the European Union that the integrity of the United Kingdom is of key importance to us and that we cannot accept anything that would challenge that integrity. Congratulations to Gloucester rugby club.
Recent Government figures show a 7% increase in Welsh exports to the EU, and the fact that the EU single market accounts for 61% of total exports from Wales. Given the importance of the single market and the customs union to the Welsh economy, what representations has the Prime Minister received from the First Minister of Wales in relation to her policy of leaving both?
I talk to the First Minister of Wales, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office has spoken to Welsh and Scottish Ministers today to update them on where we are. We keep in regular contact with the Scottish and Welsh Governments on these matters.
A few weeks ago, the Prime Minister made the very welcome statement following Salzburg that in the event of no deal, the rights of all lawfully resident EU nationals in this country—such as my parents and other family members—would be guaranteed. Will she take this opportunity this afternoon to repeat that statement in the House for the benefit of all MPs, so that they understand clearly that it is a Conservative Government who will protect the rights of EU nationals?
Yes, I am happy to repeat that commitment to protect those rights of EU nationals in the event of no deal. I hope that we will see a reciprocal arrangement from the member states of the European Union for UK citizens in the event of no deal.
I never thought I would see the day when the Prime Minister’s Secretary of State for Scotland and the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, were prayed in aid by the Democratic Unionist party in support of its arguments on the backstop. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the only way in which a backstop can function and succeed is if it undertakes the same functions as the single market and the customs union on that border? Will she stop pandering to reactionary nationalists such as our ex-Foreign Secretary and his cohort?
If the hon. Gentleman wants to see the details of the proposal that we put forward on the customs arrangement—[Interruption.] “Oh, we’ve heard that,” says the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy). I think if she waits, she will hear a slightly different answer to the one she thinks I am about to give. If the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney) wants to see the arrangements for the UK-wide customs proposal that we put forward in response to the EU’s suggestion of a customs border down the Irish sea, he should look at the paper that we published in June.
So far today, my right hon. Friend has failed to reassure the House that we will definitely be able to leave the backstop by 31 December 2020. She continues to argue for a common rulebook that many of us on the Government Benches will not be able to support. Will she not pivot to a super-Canada policy and focus the remaining negotiating time on the technical solutions that have been set out? I urge her to do so, please, before it is too late.
My hon. Friend raises a number of issues. I have been clear in this House that one of the areas where we are continuing discussions with the EU in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol, precisely because of our concerns about the issue, is the question of the temporary nature of the backstop and of ensuring that we have the means to ensure that the backstop is temporary were it ever to come into place. As for the common rulebook, there would be a parliamentary lock on that issue, and our manufacturers tell us that they would be abiding by those rules in any case, regardless of whether there was a lock. The offer that was on the table from the EU in relation to the Canada-style free trade agreement was one that related only to Great Britain and essentially carved Northern Ireland away from the rest of the United Kingdom on such matters.
It is an indisputable fact, if regrettable, that a majority of Members of this House voted to trigger article 50. Can Parliament overturn that decision?
It is an indisputable fact that the majority of Members of this House voted to trigger article 50, but it is also an indisputable fact that this Government have no intention of revoking article 50.
People may not have listened or liked what they heard, but is it not the case that not a single argument has been made since the referendum that was not made before the referendum? As such, anyone who is a democrat should reject a second vote.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Many issues have been raised in this House as though they were not discussed during the referendum. There was a full debate during the referendum process on issues about our remaining in or leaving the European Union, and it is a matter of faith in our democracy and the integrity of politicians that we deliver on that vote.
The Prime Minister appears to be heading towards a deal that enjoys the support of almost nobody. She is saying to the Brextremists that they need to vote for her deal otherwise Brexit will collapse, and she is saying to more moderate voices that they need to back her deal otherwise there will be no deal. Is it not the truth that neither of those positions is actually true?
We are working for a good deal; we will bring that deal back; and there will be a vote in this House of Commons.
As we approach this crucial phase, I am convinced that my constituents want to be assured of one thing: that my right hon. Friend is not negotiating in her interests or in the interests of our party but, quite properly as a sensible Prime Minister, in the interests of the country, our people and our businesses. Will she confirm that that is the case?
I am happy to confirm that. It is important that this Government and I put the national interest first in the negotiations, and that is exactly what we are doing.
The Brexit Minister luckily made it back okay from the continent yesterday, but my son’s school trip letter about Berlin in June warns that in the case of a no-deal Brexit the projected price may rise due to the pound sterling rate relative to the euro and that additional fees may be incurred for visas—not to mention what will happen to the plane if the open skies agreement is not renewed. If Elthorne Park High School is not prepared to take the whole “It’ll be all right on the night” line that we be keep being fed, surely “Project Fear” is fast becoming “Project Reality”.
We are working for a good deal, but it is right that the Government, as we have done through the publication of the technical notices and our work on the matters that are the responsibility of Government, prepare for the possibility of no deal. The European Union is preparing for the possibility of no deal, but both sides are working to ensure that we get a deal.
My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) brought more tourists to my constituency for the rally on Saturday. Obviously, tourism is big business for Torbay, so what are the Prime Minister’s thoughts about tourism after we leave the European Union?
My hon. Friend raises an important sector, and there are many areas that we must consider when looking at our future relationship. One of the key issues—I have referred to it already this afternoon—is the question of ensuring that tourists can move across the border as easily as possible, and preferably as easily as they can today, so that there is no further encumbrance on tourists who want to visit my hon. Friend’s beautiful constituency.
Despite her protestations, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Prime Minister is unable to hold her party together, let alone the country. There is no doubt about it: my constituents did not vote to become poorer, which is what will happen if she proceeds along this route. Will the Prime Minister do the right thing and give the people a final say on the deal?
I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I have given previously.
Talk of no deal is now commonplace, but the hard reality is that it will be very damaging to the people of the UK and the EU, and, indeed, to our future relationship. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is incumbent on both sides to strain every sinew to avoid no deal?
I agree. It is important for both sides to work as hard as we can to get a good deal. As I have always said, a deal that is good for the UK will also be good for the EU.
I did not realise until today that the Prime Minister is an Eagles fan. In her announcement, she said that the backstop could last as long as 2021. She has put her country into Hotel California: we can check out anytime we like, but we can never leave. When is she going to put workers, businesses and consumers first and, at the very least, look at a customs union between the United Kingdom and the EU?
We are putting the interests of people across the United Kingdom—workers, consumers and businesses—at the forefront of what we are doing. That is precisely why we have proposed a free trade area that includes frictionless trade.
I entirely recognise the strong potential economic upside of being able to negotiate our own free trade deals, but surely we need to remember that the very same firms we would expect to invest into and benefit from those trade deals would be hit hard if friction on our border disrupted supply chains. Surely we have to get it right on both counts.
Yes. We want to ensure that we have a good trade relationship with the European Union. Our proposal has frictionless trade at its heart, but we will also get the benefit of those great trade deals around the rest of the world.
The Prime Minister has come here today and failed to outline how her backstop is going to meet the impossible conditions of the ERG and the DUP. She is just going to act as their fall guy, is she not? Why does she not put herself out of her contortionist misery and put this question to a general election or to a third referendum, with remain as an option? [Interruption.]
Order. It is immensely stimulating to listen to the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson), but it is even more interesting to listen to the Prime Minister’s answer.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am not quite sure where a third referendum came from, but I refer the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) to the answer I have given previously.
The European Union’s negotiating position on the Irish backstop appears to imply that the only way it can believe we could avoid a hard border is by maintaining a customs union. Does the Prime Minister join me in rejecting that premise? There are two ways to avoid it: one was outlined in July’s White Paper; and the second is evident from studying the Swiss-French border, which crosses the customs union—there are different arrangements on the single market—where there is pretty much no infrastructure on most A-roads, barring a little French sign and a single camera of a kind seen on most high streets.
I do believe there is a way to ensure that we avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and it is by having an arrangement with the European Union on frictionless trade—that is a customs arrangement that does not include us as part of the customs union.
No sooner were rumours circulating at the weekend of a differentiated deal for Northern Ireland than the Scottish Government wanted in on the act. They want the same bespoke deal to apply to them, even though it would cause a hard border at Berwick. Is the Prime Minister absolutely clear that any new differences that are needed to make a frictionless border in Northern Ireland, beyond what already exist on an all-Ireland basis, will apply UK-wide and that we will leave together with one deal?
We are indeed working for a deal that ensures we leave the European Union as the whole United Kingdom. The circumstances of Northern Ireland having a land border with a country that will remain within the EU are different from those at Scotland. Of course, some checks already take place, for example, in relation to livestock moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I cannot really believe that the Scottish Government or the Scottish National party want to impose those checks on livestock that would be moving from Scotland to northern England.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that her plans mean we will leave the common agricultural policy?
The Prime Minister has an excellent record of standing up for the interests of Britain’s defence workers, especially the 6,000 Eurofighter workers at Warton in my constituency. Will she impress upon our European counterparts the importance of doing a deal, because hundreds of thousands of jobs across Europe are at risk if they do not come to the table with her?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. When we talk about the importance of frictionless trade, often the sector referred to is the automotive sector, but the aerospace industry also has a real interest in it, and we will continue to make the point about the importance of that frictionless trade.
Will my right hon. Friend reconfirm that she would reject any plans or deal that would break up the United Kingdom or threaten our precious Union?
I am happy to give that commitment. That is precisely why we have been clear that we cannot accept the proposals that the European Union has put forward which would, in effect, mean a customs border down the Irish sea and so break Northern Ireland away from the rest of the UK.
I call Nigel Huddleston.
Does the Prime Minister agree that compromise on both sides, whether in politics, business or any human relationship, does not mean giving in, giving up and being humiliated, but is a perfectly sensible and reasonable route to getting a mutually beneficial and desirable outcome?
Yes. By definition, negotiations mean both sides sitting down, talking about the issues and coming to an agreement that both can accept. Very often, that does mean both sides having to accept some degree of compromise.
Mr Chalk, you seem to be losing your appetite—I hope not.
It is just because the question was asked so artfully before that I do not want to repeat it. May I repeat it, Mr Speaker? My right hon. Friend has made it clear that there is an impasse over the Northern Ireland backstop, but is she confident that with a constructive approach and good will on both sides it remains possible—and, indeed, it must be possible—to cut the Gordian knot?
Yes. I reassure my hon. Friend that I do believe it is possible for us to come to an agreement that meets our requirements, and I believe it is possible for us to achieve the good deal that we want to see for the UK.
I think I have heard very clearly the Prime Minister state and restate that our precious Union is not up for negotiation, but will she rule out any increase in checks on trade flowing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
What we have put forward in relation to the backstop proposal is a mixture of a UK-wide and Northern Ireland-specific proposal which meets the constitutional settlement that we have for Northern Ireland. As we have already recognised, a limited number of checks already take place. What we want to ensure, as I said earlier, is that businesses in Northern Ireland are able to have that free and unfettered access to the rest of the UK internal market and, indeed, in the backstop arrangement, have that unfettered access to the European Union as well.