This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. The Cabinet will meet this afternoon to consider the draft agreement that the negotiating teams have reached in Brussels, and the Cabinet will decide on the next steps in the national interest. I am confident that it takes us significantly closer to delivering on what the British people voted for in the referendum. We will take back control of our borders, our laws and our money and leave the common fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy while protecting jobs, security and the integrity of our United Kingdom. I will come back to the House to update it on the outcome.
Yesterday saw the best wage growth figures in a decade and the best employment figures in my lifetime. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that that can only be delivered by the free market economics that unite this side of the House, and not by the bankrupt socialism opposite?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He references yesterday’s figures, which showed more people in work than ever before. They showed the female unemployment rate at a record low and, as he said, the fastest regular wage growth in nearly a decade. However, may I say to my hon. Friend that that is on top of figures last week that showed our economy growing three times faster than the eurozone average, the share of jobs on low hourly pay at a record low and the number of children in workless households at a record low? You only get that through good Conservative management of the economy.
Order. If necessary, I will say it again and again to Members on both sides of the House: voices must be heard. I happen to know that there are visitors from overseas in the Gallery. Let us try to impress them not merely with our liveliness, but with our courtesy.
The Government’s deal breaches the Prime Minister’s own red lines and does not deliver a strong economic deal that supports jobs and industry, and we know that they have not prepared seriously for no deal. Does the Prime Minister still intend to put a false choice to Parliament between her botched deal and no deal?
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong in the description that he has set out. Time and time again, he has stood up in this House and complained and said, “The Government are not making progress. The Government are not anywhere close to a deal.” Now that we are making progress and are close to a deal, he is complaining about that. That clearly shows that he and the Labour party have only one intention, which is to frustrate Brexit and betray the vote of the British people.
After the utter shambles of the last two years of negotiations, the Prime Minister should look to herself in this. She has not managed to convince quite a lot of the Members who are standing behind her. The rail Minister resigned last week, saying:
“To present the nation with a choice between two deeply unattractive outcomes, vassalage and chaos, is a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis”—
and that from a Tory MP. Last night, the EU’s lead Brexit negotiator reportedly told the 27 European ambassadors that the UK
“must align their rules but the EU will retain all the controls.”
Is that a fair summary of the Prime Minister’s deal?
As I have said all along, throughout the negotiations, we are negotiating a good deal for the United Kingdom. We are negotiating a deal that delivers on the vote of the British people; that takes back control of our money, law and borders; and that ensures that we leave the common fisheries policy, we leave the customs union and we leave the common agricultural policy, but we protect jobs, we protect security and we protect the integrity of the United Kingdom.
Under the Prime Minister’s deal, we are going to spend years with less say over our laws or how our money is spent. The International Trade Secretary said last week that the decision to withdraw from any backstop agreement could not be contracted to somebody else. Can the Prime Minister confirm whether under her deal, it will be the sovereign right of the UK Parliament to unilaterally withdraw from any backstop?
There needs to be a backstop as an insurance policy, but neither side actually wants us to be in that backstop, because we want to bring the future relationship into place at the end of December 2020. I am aware of the concerns that we do not want to be in a position where the European Union would find it comfortable to keep the United Kingdom in the backstop permanently, and that is why any backstop has to be temporary.
I think that that non-answer has confirmed that Parliament will not have that sovereign right. The International Trade Secretary breezily declared that he would have 40 trade deals ready to be signed the second after midnight when we leave the EU. With four months to go, can the Prime Minister tell us exactly how many of those 40 deals have been negotiated?
Order. It is not acceptable for Members to shout at the Prime Minister when she is answering questions. We have been talking recently in this Chamber about respect and good behaviour. On both sides, the person who has the floor must be heard, and that is the end of the matter.
We have been negotiating on two fronts. We are negotiating on the continuity agreements, which ensure that the trade deals that we have been party to as a member of the European Union can continue when we leave the European Union, and we have also started discussions with other countries about the trade deals that we can forge across the world once we leave the European Union. If the right hon. Gentleman is interested in trade deals, he really needs to sort out the Labour party’s position on this issue. Originally, the Labour party said that it wanted to do trade deals around the rest of the world. Now, he says that he wants to be in the customs union. That would stop him doing trade deals around the rest of the world. We know what is good for this country: an independent trade policy and trade deals—good trade deals—with Europe and with the rest of the world.
The International Trade Secretary is not the only one who does not understand international trade rules, and he is not the only one in the Cabinet who does not understand a few things. The Brexit Secretary said last week:
“I hadn’t quite understood the…extent of this, but…we are particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing”.
When did the Prime Minister become aware of this absolutely shocking revelation about Britain’s trade routes?
The right hon. Gentleman stands here and reads out something that says that we do not know about trade policy, but we do know about trade policy. That is exactly why we are negotiating the continuity agreements, and it is why we will be taking our place as an independent state in the World Trade Organisation. If he wants to talk about different positions that are being taken, what we are doing is delivering a good deal that will deliver on the vote of the British people. We are delivering Brexit. What have we seen recently from the Labour party? Well, the Labour leader said: “we can’t stop” Brexit, but the shadow Brexit Secretary said that we can stop it. When the right hon. Gentleman stands up, he should make it clear: is it Labour party policy to stop Brexit?
Labour respects the result of the referendum. What we do not respect is the shambolic mess the Government have made of negotiations: the mess they created that they cannot now get themselves out of. We will not let them destroy this country’s economy or the jobs and life chances of so many others.
If the Brexit Secretary is still in office by the time the Cabinet meets this afternoon, could the Prime Minister take him to one side and have a quiet word with him? Will she tell him that 10,000 lorries arrive at Dover every day, handling 17% of the country’s entire trade in goods, estimated to be worth £122 billion last year? This woeful ignorance by a person in high office is disturbing to so many people.
This Government spent two years negotiating a bad deal that will leave the country in an indefinite halfway house without a real say, yet they think they can impose a false choice on Parliament between a half-baked deal and no deal, when a sensible alternative plan could bring together—[Interruption.]
When a sensible alternative plan could bring together Parliament and the country. Even Conservative MPs say the Prime Minister is offering a choice between the worst of all worlds and a catastrophic series of consequences. When will the Prime Minister recognise that neither of those options is acceptable?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about woeful ignorance. I will tell him where the woeful ignorance lies: it lies with those on the Labour party Front Bench who think they can build a better economy by spending £1,000 billion more, putting up taxes and destroying jobs. The real threat to jobs and growth in this country sits on the Labour party Front Bench. I will tell him what we are delivering in relation to Brexit. [Interruption.] He says, “What about Brexit?” I will tell him what we are delivering on Brexit: we will not rerun the referendum, we will not renege on the decision of the British people, we will leave the customs union, we will leave the common fisheries policy, we will leave the common agricultural policy, and we will take back control of our money, laws and borders. We will deliver Brexit and the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019.
I say to my hon. Friend that what we have been negotiating is a deal that does deliver on the vote of the British people. In the list I set out earlier, I left out one of the things that the British people are very keen to see from this deal, which is an end to free movement. We will ensure that we deliver on that, as well as the other elements I set out. What we are doing is a deal that delivers on that vote, and in doing so protects jobs, protects the integrity of our United Kingdom and protects the security of people in this country.
The Scottish National party, with the leaders of other Opposition parties, has written to the Prime Minister, urging her to drop plans to prevent a truly meaningful vote on the Brexit deal. Shamefully, it seems that the Government are seeking to prevent Opposition amendments to the deal, effectively gagging the sovereignty of Parliament by playing dirty tricks with procedures. I ask the Prime Minister: what is she afraid of? Is her Government so weak that the Brexit deal will not succeed when other solutions are still on the table?
We have been very clear that there will be a meaningful vote in this House. We have also been clear that the motion on the deal will be amendable, but I say to the right hon. Gentleman that if you went out and asked any member of the public, “When the Government bring a deal back from Europe, what do you expect Parliament to vote on?”, I think they would expect Parliament to vote on the deal.
We expect Parliament to take its responsibilities, which are to hold the Government to account and amend the deal. This Prime Minister is hamstrung, divided, desperate and looking defeated. In a total panic, the Prime Minister has been reduced to playing political games rather than playing fair. This is not a game. The SNP will never, ever gamble with Scotland’s future. There is only one lifeline left: to protect jobs in Scotland, we must stay in the single market and the customs union. The Prime Minister will not drag Scotland out against its will. If there is a deal to protect the economy in Northern Ireland, why not Scotland?
First of all, it is very good news to see more disabled people getting into the workplace, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the Disability Confident scheme. I praise the work of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who created and has personally championed the scheme since it started back in 2013. As my hon. Friend obviously knows, it works directly with employers and aims to challenge the perceptions of what it means to employ a disabled person. We will continue to ensure that we are making every possible effort to make sure that more disabled people who want to be in the workplace are able to take their place in it.
As I said earlier, what we are negotiating is a deal that will deliver on the vote, that will actually ensure—under the proposals that we put forward in the summer—that we are able to see that frictionless trade across borders and a free trade area with the European Union, and that gives Parliament a lock on those rules.
I recognise the concern that my hon. Friend’s constituents have raised about this issue and thank her for the hard work that she has undertaken to campaign on this issue on her constituents’ behalf. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is aware of this issue. He is urgently looking into it, and I encourage my hon. Friend to continue to engage with him on this matter to ensure that her constituents get what they were promised.
Obviously we have seen a change to the post office network across the United Kingdom—it has happened as people’s pattern of behaviour in relation to these matters has changed—but I am sure the Post Office is making decisions that it believes are right for local communities and to ensure that services are there where they are needed.
I thank my hon. Friend for referring the House to the fact that we are bringing in those changes to business rates to help local businesses. We are determined to help local businesses, which is why we are also implementing reforms to make the system fairer and more effective, including three-year evaluations, removing the so-called staircase tax and the new check, challenge and appeal system. We also aim to increase the local share of local business rate receipts to 75% from 2020-21. On future taxation, I can assure him that we will of course continue to keep it under review.
The hon. Gentleman raises a terrible and tragic case in his constituency, and, as he says, the thoughts of the whole House will be with the victim’s family and friends. Our deepest condolences go to them following this terrible attack. Crossbows are subject to strict controls, but we keep the legislation under review and will consider the risk that such weapons pose to public safety and whether further measures are needed, and we will of course look at that in the context of the legislation we are bringing before the House.
My hon. Friend highlights the fact that we are delivering the biggest rail investment programme since the Victorian era. He says we are spending millions on our railways, but actually we will be spending nearly £48 billion on modernising and renewing our railways, which will deliver better journeys and fewer disruptions. He is right, however, that it is absolutely vital that Network Rail delivers its projects on time. I am told that Northern’s new rolling stock is currently planned to serve lines from June and July next year, but I know he has been campaigning excellently on this issue, and I encourage him to continue to do so.
If the hon. Lady looks at what we have been doing for education funding overall, she will see that we have been putting extra money into funding—[Interruption.] Members say, “Not in FE”, but we have invested nearly £7 billion in further education this year to ensure that there is an educational training place for every 16 to 19-year-old who wants one. We are also transforming technical education through T-levels, and £500 million will go into those once they are fully rolled out. By 2020, the funding to support adult participation in further education is planned to be higher than at any time in England’s history.
I am very pleased first to wish Dennis Brock a very happy 100th birthday, and secondly to pay tribute to him for his 87 years of bellringing. As my hon. Friend has said, that is a considerable and significant record, and I think the support he has given, the work he has done and his commitment to St Mary’s in Sunbury-on-Thames are truly inspiring.
As the hon. Lady is well aware, we are introducing universal credit because the previous system, the benefits system that we inherited from the Labour party, did not work. It left more than a million people living on benefits, trapped on benefits for up to a decade. What we are doing is ensuring that people are given more encouragement to get into the workplace, and that when they are in the workplace, work always pays. As I have said, we are seeing very good figures showing a significant reduction in the number of children in workless households.
We are currently in the middle of a swirl of rumours about the proposed deal with the European Union, and a torrent of criticism from all the Government’s most ferocious critics. One of the rumours is that if the Cabinet agrees to the deal this afternoon, the Government propose to publish a White Paper setting out all the details later today.
Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that, if and when this deal is published, a statement will be made to this House of Commons when it is produced? It is this Parliament that will have to decide now what to do next, and we do not want Parliament to be consulted only after another 24 hours of rumours and criticism. We want to re-establish parliamentary sovereignty, and I wish the Prime Minister well in obtaining a majority for some course of action in future that is in the national interest.
There are, in fact, two stages—potentially two stages—in this process. As I said earlier today, the Cabinet will be looking at the draft agreements that the negotiating teams have produced, and will consider and determine what the next steps should be in the national interest, as my right hon. and learned Friend requests us to do. I can assure him that we will be looking at this in the national interest.
As I said, I will return to the House to explain the outcome of that, but I should also say to my right hon. and learned Friend that there is then the issue of ensuring—as we will—when a final deal is agreed with the European Union, that proper analysis is available to Members before the meaningful vote takes place, and that briefings on the details of the proposals that are laid are available to Members, so that, as he has said, Members are able to make their decision in the light of an understanding of the details of the deal that has been agreed.
I am sure that we are all concerned across this House about the attacks that have taken place in recent days in London. We are concerned about knife crime and the serious violence we have seen. We heard earlier from the right hon. Lady’s colleague, the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), about the use of a crossbow to attack and, sadly, kill an individual. The right hon. Lady talks about police funding. We have protected police funding overall since 2015. We are putting more money into the police. We are making more money available—we have announced that. But this is also about ensuring that the police and the criminal justice system have the powers they need to deal with knife crime, and if she is concerned about knife crime I suggest that she asks her right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition why he voted against increasing the powers to deal with knife crime.
I say to my right hon. Friend that I am not going to be asking about Brexit—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] For now. I was enormously proud of my Government for agreeing to lower the stake on fixed odds betting terminals to £2 because they have caused endless harm and terrible damage to families. It was the right decision. Since then there has been a hiatus about the date on which this will start. Is it a reality that now we have put down an amendment the Government will accede and we will get this process started on 1 April next year?
My right hon. Friend has campaigned on that issue with a passion because, as he says, the question of the maximum stake for FOBTs has an impact on vulnerable people as well as their families and loved ones. I recognise the strength of feeling on the issue. I know that gambling addiction can devastate lives, so our priority is making sure that this change delivers the results we all want to see. We are listening to concerns being raised by colleagues and, if he will have a little patience, I can tell him that the Culture Secretary will set out further details later today.
What we have seen under this Government is absolute poverty reducing to a record low. We have also seen, as I referenced earlier, a significant reduction in the number of children in workless households. When we look at the figures, we see that actually three quarters of children are taken out of poverty when their household moves from being a workless household to a household with work, which is why the changes that we are making, to ensure that our benefit and welfare system encourages people into work and makes sure that work pays, are the right changes.
Former New Zealand high commissioner and experienced trade negotiator Sir Lockwood Smith told our International Trade Committee:
“If you remain bound into the EU regulatory system you will not be able to have a significant global trade strategy”.
Will my right hon. Friend advise whether this might be one of the prices to pay for her Brexit deal?
No, it is not one of the prices paid that my hon. Friend refers to. We will still be able to strike those deals around the rest of the world. I am pleased to say that not only are a number of countries expressing an interest in that, but, as we have seen and as I saw two or three weeks ago, countries including Japan, Vietnam and Australia are keen that we should talk to them about joining the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-pacific partnership. We specifically looked at our ability under the proposals we put forward to strike those trade deals around the world, and we will have an independent trade policy—we will able to strike those trade deals.
It is no secret that the Labour Welsh Government have been somewhat lacklustre in what they demand from the British Government on Brexit, so I will speak on behalf of Wales. When will the devolved Parliaments be given the opportunity to see the withdrawal agreement texts and to see for themselves the devastating effect that leaving the European frameworks will have on each of the devolved nations?
As I have indicated in response to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), we will ensure that information is available to Members of this House on the withdrawal agreement and on the future relationship that is agreed with the European Union. We will ensure that briefings are available, that documents are available and that the analysis that the Government have previously committed themselves to is available, so that, when Members of this House come to the meaningful vote on a deal, they will be able to have that information and to cast their vote against the background of that information.
Further to the point raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), will my right hon. Friend endeavour as soon as practicable following the Cabinet meeting this afternoon to make available to all Members the details of the draft agreement, so that those of us who wish to do so can comment on them on the basis of fact, rather than on the basis of ill-informed speculation?
Obviously the Cabinet is meeting to determine what the next steps are in relation to this issue. If this is a deal that is then taken forward for further debate and negotiation with the European Union, I believe it is the intention to ensure that the details of that deal are made public so that people can look at the facts.
If what is being reported is correct, the Prime Minister is set on ploughing through with a Brexit deal that will be bad for our economy, bad for our jobs and bad for a hard-working people up and down this country. If she honestly believes that she commands the will of the people, will she put her Brexit deal to the people, either through a general election or, failing that, through a new referendum?
First, we are negotiating a deal that will be good for the economy of the United Kingdom. It will be a deal that will ensure that we continue to have a good trading relationship with the European Union but also that we are able to strike independent trade deals around the rest of the world. On the issue of the second referendum, there was a referendum in this country in 2016 in which we asked the British people whether they wanted to remain in the European Union or to leave it. They voted to leave, and that is what this Government will deliver.
This morning, an incredibly well-attended annual general meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on thalidomide took place. May I invite my right hon. Friend—and indeed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—to lend their support, to talk to the German Government to persuade them of the merit of social justice, and to deliver a lasting solution for those who have suffered for too long?
I thank my hon. Friend for the way in which he has been championing this cause. It is significant that, so many years after thalidomide caused the problems and difficulties for people that it did, he and others like him are still having to campaign on this particular cause. I will certainly look into, and ask the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to look into, what he says about the possibility of speaking to the German Government on this issue.
Asia Bibi spent eight years on death row in Pakistan for a crime that she did not commit. Since the High Court quashed her conviction, she has been in hiding. Weekend reports suggested that she had applied for asylum in Britain. Does the Prime Minister agree that Britain should be a beacon for human rights and for those fleeing religious persecution?
Our primary concern is for the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family, and we want to see a swift resolution of the situation. Obviously there is an issue for the Government and courts in Pakistan, and the Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has publicly supported the Supreme Court and promised to uphold the rule of law while providing continued protection for Asia Bibi. A number of countries are in discussion about providing a safe destination for her once the legal process is complete—
But is she welcome here?
I am sure the House will understand, given the sensitivity of this case, that it would not be right to comment on the details of those proposals at this stage, but we remain in close contact with international partners to ensure Asia Bibi’s long-term safety and interests.
The Prime Minister confirmed earlier that we will indeed be leaving the common fisheries policy, which is welcome, but she will be aware that there is still considerable concern within the industry. Can she give an absolute assurance that it will be for the UK, and the UK alone, to determine who fishes in our national waters after a deal is signed?
The Prime Minister will know that, back in 1965, there was a neighbourhood agreement between Northern Ireland and the Republic that each could fish in the other’s six-mile waters. Two years ago, the Irish Republic reneged on that. We, of course, taking the moral high ground, did not renege, so now all the Irish fishermen can come into Northern Ireland waters, but Northern Ireland fishermen cannot go into Republic waters. Will the Prime Minister try to speak up sometimes for Northern Ireland fishermen and not feel that she always has to support the Irish Government?
Consistently throughout these negotiations one of the issues that I have had at the forefront of my thinking has been the people of Northern Ireland. The hon. Lady raises a specific issue about fishing, and I am happy to look at the specific issue of the six-mile waters. We will become an independent coastal state, as I have just said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers). We will ensure that it is the United Kingdom that is negotiating on behalf of the UK for access to UK fishing waters, but the people of Northern Ireland are at the forefront of our concerns in relation to the deal that we are negotiating.
The Prime Minister is to be commended for initiating her race disparity audit, which showed, among other facts, that Traveller children have the worst educational, health and employment outcomes of almost any group. Given the acute distress also caused to many settled residents by policy in this area, and given the support yesterday for my ten-minute rule Bill calling for a review of this area across the House, will the Prime Minister please appoint a senior Cabinet Minister to undertake a complete review of this area so that we can have better outcomes for all our constituents?
My hon. Friend raises an issue that I know is of concern for many across the UK in terms of what they see in their constituencies. As he said, there is also a concern about the impact on the educational attainment of Traveller children. As he will know, we published a consultation on tackling unauthorised encampments in April, and we will respond on that in due course. We are committed to strengthening local councils’ and the police’s powers to address these problems and to ensure fair play. We take this issue very seriously, and we are carefully considering the response that we can give to the consultation.
Can the Prime Minister confirm that her deal will leave the United Kingdom a rule taker, not a rule maker —in other words, a vassal state? Is not the best way to get herself out of the mess that she and her colleagues have caused to allow the people a vote in a people’s vote?
I think I have given the right hon. Gentleman the same answer to this question on a number of occasions. This Parliament gave the British people the vote on whether or not to stay in the European Union in 2016. The British people voted—they voted to leave—and it is this Government who will deliver on that vote and deliver Brexit.