House of Commons
Thursday 15 November 2018
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
This is the first time that I have spoken in the House since the death of Sir Jeremy Heywood. He was a dedicated public servant to whom I, among many, owe a great debt. I am very fortunate to have been able to call him a friend as well as a colleague. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House would join in a tribute to Sir Jeremy.
The export strategy launched in the summer consists of the four ways in which Governments can make a difference: encourage, inform, connect and finance. It is only by making it easier for businesses that we will increase our exporting performance. Governments do not create wealth, businesses do.
Last week, I visited Crosby Premier Stampings in Cradley Heath. The company has been forging for nearly 100 years in the Black country, and currently uses traditional and high-tech methods. It is increasing its global sales, including to China. Will the Secretary of State explain how the export strategy will help other such small and medium-sized enterprises to develop their export business worldwide?
My hon. Friend is a great champion of business in the Black country, but all businesses are different, and we want to help both new and seasoned exporters of all sizes with the sort of support that is appropriate to the barriers and opportunities that they will face. SMEs in particular will benefit from increased peer-to-peer learning, improved access to specialist advice, and the thousands of export opportunities on the great.gov.uk website.
When I was a Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry, the Trade Minister had no control over trade policy—they just went on jollies around the world promoting trade. As we will now be stuck in the EU customs union for years to come, with no ability to make our own trade deals, will the Secretary of State change the name of his Department to the “Department for International Trade Promotion and Engagement with the Customs Union”?
The Government’s intention is that we will leave the European Union in March, we will exit the implementation period in December 2020, and we will have a fully independent trade policy. We have already begun—and finished—the first four consultations on independent trade agreements with other countries.
It is welcome that, under the draft EU withdrawal agreement, businesses that export to the EU can continue to discount tariffs, volumes, customs, fees and so on, but the documentation —this relates directly to future export strategy—says:
“the development of the United Kingdom’s independent trade policy will be the subject of the future relationship negotiations.”
Given what we have seen so far, that effectively means that the UK will not be able to strike differentiated deals with third countries with which the EU currently has a deal. Given that that contradicts precisely everything that the Secretary of State has been saying, why has he not resigned?
One key part of the Government’s strategy is to build an extensive business-to-business network of exporters. What progress has been made on that? In particular, what role are business organisations playing so that we can foster such a network?
One of the demands of the business community during the consultation was to give them better online communities so that they can speak to one another. We discovered that businesses did not necessarily want to talk to Government advisers, but wanted much more to speak to those who had faced similar business challenges and to ask how they had overcome them. That is under way, and we have recruited more staff to make that happen.
Foreign Direct Investment
The UK, I am pleased to say, remains the No. 1 destination in Europe for foreign direct investment. We have recently published analyses of the positive economic impact of FDI, which show the benefits of investment to the UK and how the Department is delivering national wealth by attracting investors to our key industries.
Foreign direct investment in the UK has been directly responsible for more than half a million jobs since 2010, including hundreds in my constituency. Whatever the shape of future trade policy, will the Minister assure me that, building on that figure, increasing our attractiveness to foreign direct investment remains a priority for this Government?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right—it is a priority of this Government to create even more high-paying jobs by making the UK the most business-friendly market in the world. The Labour party’s promise to seize the assets of foreign pension funds invested in the UK threatens our prosperity and the retirement of those around the world who have put their confidence in Britain.
In the past few years I have often thought that I live on a parallel planet to the Minister. That obviously is the case, because the senior people I meet from the United States, China and other major economies are not investing, or thinking of investing, in the United Kingdom, partly because of the uncertainty over Brexit and because, if we leave the European Union, they want a market of 650 million, not 65 million.
I can confirm that the hon. Gentleman does live in a parallel universe, but it is one that he shares with his Front Benchers. His parallel universe is entirely divorced from the reality that investors are coming to the UK. We are the No. 1 foreign direct investment destination in Europe. We have the largest stock, and that is why we have been able to support more than half a million new jobs since 2010. The biggest threat, investors tell me, is that of Labour coming to power.
During the referendum, “Project Fear” told us that global business interest in the UK would collapse if people voted to leave. Can the Minister confirm whether foreign direct investment has gone up or down since the referendum in June 2016?
I am glad to confirm to my hon. Friend that our stock of foreign direct investment has gone up. We remain the No. 1 destination in Europe and are seeing companies in so many sectors coming here. Investors have some concerns about Brexit but, as I have said, what they are really alarmed about is the prospect of Labour seizing their assets and destroying the job creation that investment brings.
May I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks about Sir Jeremy Heywood?
I was delighted, if somewhat surprised, to see the Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box this morning. He and his Ministers have talked about a record number of FDI investments in the last full year, 2017, but he knows that, in value, it was actually the worst year for inward investment since 1994. Complacently, he celebrates the forecast by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development for the first half of 2018, but he knows that the UNCTAD report states that this reflects
“a surge in intra-firm loans”.
These are loans that are often used to minimise tax by creating an artificial debt shield and they create no new jobs in the UK. How many such intra-firm loans are in the FDI statistics, and what assessment has the Minister made of the reduction in tax receipts to the Exchequer as a result?
The UNCTAD figures that measure foreign direct investment showed the UK moving above the United States into third in the first six months of this year, but the hon. Gentleman is entirely right to say that they include intra-company loans. Any figures around flow should be treated with caution; the most important thing is the stock of foreign direct investment in this country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) said, if we had listened to some, we would have expected divestment. There was no divestment; there were increases in investment. In the last year, if I may deal with what is most important to me and my constituents, there were 75,000 new jobs created by foreign direct investment.
China: Trade and Investment
I have made five visits to China this year. The most recent was when I led the UK delegation to China’s International Import Expo in Shanghai this month, supporting British firms to sign deals worth over £2 billion.
Our ratio of goods and services exports to the world outside the European Union is roughly 50:50. Eighty per cent. of our exports to China are goods, which suggests that the Chinese service market is not as open as it should be. Therefore, much of our effort is based on trying to encourage the Government of China to open up its services, which of course would be of benefit to the United Kingdom, the world’s second biggest services exporter.
Let me put on record my thanks for the work that the Minister and others have done to secure the £250 million deal for Lakeland Dairies’ milk products over a five-year period, which secures jobs as well.
In the past 10 years alone, China’s GDP has tripled. What assessment has the Department made of the potential trade and investment opportunities for the UK, with special reference to the agri-food industry?
We are conducting a joint trade and investment review with China as part of looking ahead to deepen that relationship. Under the UK-China Joint Economic and Trade Commission, we lobby for increased market access sector by sector. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments; it is not the highest publicity aspect of the Department for International Trade, but opening up a sector worth quarter of a billion pounds to Northern Ireland is a big achievement.
We know from a number of consumer surveys that about 60% of Chinese consumers say that they would pay a higher price for produce just because it is made in the United Kingdom. We are associated with the quality end of the global market, which is the rising market in China, and I expect our exports there to continue to grow apace.
The UK is home to a world-leading creative industries sector, which we will continue to support as part of our modern and ambitious trade policy. UK creative industries exported £40.2 billion of goods and services in 2016, and we recently completed a public consultation that will inform our future approach in trade agreements.
That is exactly what we are seeking to achieve in the agreement the Prime Minister reaches—I take it that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the European market. Not only do we want to secure continued tariff-free EU access, but we want further liberalisation so that we increase potential global trade, too.
We will be leaving the European Union. It is important to note that sometimes the creative industries sector is generally underappreciated for the contribution it makes to the earnings of this country, not only through exports—I mentioned the £40.2 billion of goods and services exports—but through the income it generates for the United Kingdom. It is an important sector, which is why we put it at the heart of not only our industrial policy, but our trade policy.
The Society of Authors has called on the Government to ensure that copyright is not used as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations. Any future deals must ensure that international copyright treaties are applied by the book; anything else would risk damaging this important and iconic sector. Will the Secretary of State still be here to reassure British authors, the reading public and other creative industries that our gold standard copyright regime will be protected post Brexit?
Food and Agricultural Standards
The Government have been clear that future imports to the UK must meet UK food safety, animal welfare and environmental standards. We will not compromise our standards in pursuit of a trade agreement.
The Minister knows full well that UK consumers expect safe, high-quality food. The Secretary of State has assured us that he has 40 trade deals ready to go at the drop of a hat. Can the Minister tell us how many of those trade deals embed the exact same high food standards?
The 40 deals to which the hon. Gentleman refers are, of course, the deals that the EU currently has with partners. Our ambition is to transition those trade deals exactly as they are—or at least as closely as possible—and they contain the current measures.
We not only have really high welfare and hygiene standards, but reduce much antibiotic use by producing good-quality food. Can we be assured that food that does not meet those standards will not come into the country and that those standards will not be frittered away in an agreement on service industries?
I can say to my hon. Friend the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that we absolutely have that intention. It is very straightforward. When I am abroad, I find on a regular basis, as the Secretary of State has said, that it is the commitment to high standards in the UK market that so motivates consumers to buy our products. Not only is having these high standards the right thing to do, but there is no rational commercial incentive to do otherwise.
The so-called backstop would trap Northern Ireland in a common regulatory area under EU rules for our key export industries of manufacturing, agriculture and agri-food. What assessment has the Department made of the impact of that on Northern Ireland’s ability to participate in UK-wide trade deals in relation to those key exports?
The Secretary of State spoke earlier of how highly regarded UK goods are. That is true of successful exports such as dairy, smoked salmon and vegetables. I noticed that the Minister made a commitment in his initial answer to not dropping our food standards. Given that the United States has made it clear that that is exactly what has to happen to agree any future trade deals, will he now rule out any trade deals, including with the United States, that see any drop in our very high and successful food standards?
I can only refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave moments ago. We are scoping potential trade deals with all the partners with whom we have announced that we are seeking to do free trade deals, and our position on these standards remains exactly the same: we will not be changing UK law in this regard.
The UK’s automotive sector is one of our strongest industries and, for that reason, it has been at the heart of our negotiations with the EU. The agreement announced last night will protect integrated supply chains and allow the industry to continue to thrive.
The hon. Gentleman is right, which was why we put the interests of that industry at the heart of our negotiations. That is why the deal provides the supply chain with exactly the continuity needed to ensure its successful growth, and it is why I ask the hon. Gentleman to ensure that he supports it; otherwise, he will be putting all those automotive jobs at risk.
We have set up the Trade Remedies Authority, which I note the Labour party voted against. We have put in place all the measures necessary to ensure that producers are protected from dumping. It was a shame that the Labour party voted against the very measures that sought to protect British jobs, and I do not know why the hon. Lady joined those on her Front Bench in doing so.
The Minister says that he will support all measures to help the supply chain, including small businesses in my constituency, but can he guarantee that he and the Secretary of State will still be in post by lunchtime to defend those industries?
It is unfortunate, as was shown by the previous vote, that the Labour party always puts politics ahead of the interests of ordinary people working in the automotive industry across this country. We are seeing more and more investment in this country, with the announcement of a major investment by McLaren in Sheffield only yesterday. Let us not play politics. Let us get the deal over the line and protect our growing and strong automotive industry.
Food and Agricultural Standards
My ministerial colleagues and I regularly meet our counterparts from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to discuss a range of issues. When it comes to products imported to the UK, quality, safety and performance will continue to be paramount. Without exception, imports must meet all the relevant UK product rules and regulations.
We have heard quite a few times this morning that there will be no lowering of standards when it comes to imports under future trade deals, but the Government rejected an amendment to the Trade Bill to include a non-regression clause. Will they now support an amendment to the Agriculture Bill, which we will be discussing in Committee later today, that would allow for the same so that we can be sure that our food and our safety standards are protected?
I have noted some of the discussions on the Agriculture Bill, which I read earlier today, and I have noted the discussions on this. I have to say, and the hon. Lady should take some real encouragement from this fact, that the standards on these issues in the UK are already higher than they are in the EU. That, I think, should give the House confidence as to the UK’s intention on this. I will repeat one more time: there is absolutely no intention that the Government will reduce their standards in this area.
I am committed to ensuring that UK trade policy supports gender equality. I will be publishing scoping assessments on each new free trade agreement and these will consider the effects of concluding trade deals on different groups, including gender groups.
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. It was one of the points we considered at the World Trade Organisation meeting of Trade Ministers in Buenos Aires. We looked at a study showing that of companies that trade only offline, four out of five are owned or run by men. Of those that run only online, four out of five are run or owned by women. This indicates that e-commerce is one of the prime development tools that we can use. The liberalisation of e-commerce and creating a global network of regulation is therefore one of the best ways we can combine trade and development policy, specifically to help women experience the benefits of the global economy.
My Department is responsible for foreign and outward direct investment, establishing an independent trade policy and export promotion. Later today, the Board of Trade will meet in Wales for the first time in history, jointly hosted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. As the President of the Board of Trade, I can today announce a £240 million investment drive in Wales, which will create thousands of jobs. The Board of Trade will also today announce the launch of the UK’s first energy investment portfolio, worth an estimated £5 billion.
Exporting companies in my constituency have told me that the Trade Secretary actually asked to meet them, but on condition that they did not discuss Brexit. Even more ludicrously, the Brexit Secretary—not the one who has just resigned, but the one who resigned before that—also said he wanted to meet them, but on the same condition. It is only £1 to go over Clifton suspension bridge from the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency into Bristol. If I offer to pay that quid for him, will he come to Bristol and tell our exporting companies what the hell is going on?
The companies in Bristol seem to know already what is going on, without requiring any contribution from the hon. Lady—financial or otherwise. They are not only creating huge numbers of jobs, but are among the best export hubs in the whole of the United Kingdom, showing excellence in whole areas from the creative industries to aerospace. She need not worry too much.
There are a number of events up and down the country. I will be hosting events in my own constituency, using the export hub. A number of Members will already have used the hub in their own constituencies. This is a great initiative, and it is a chance for MPs of all parties to show just how much support they give to small businesses. I know that a number of MPs hosted events up and down the country last year. I will be doing so, and I urge my hon. Friend to do so, although I am sure he requires no urging whatsoever. I hope that Members on both sides of the House will use this opportunity to celebrate the success of small business.
We have set out our export and investment strategy, and we are one of the few countries in the world that are seeing a rise in investment at a time when foreign direct investment is dropping by 41%. We currently have one of the biggest increases in exports, and our trade policy and new system of trade commissioners will ensure increased levels of contact with Governments in all countries, including the one that the right hon. Gentleman failed to tell us the name of.
As my hon. Friend will know, the Government have outlined to the House the progress that new free trade deals will make, and consultations on four potential deals were in the public realm from July to October. Those potential deals include the US, Australia, New Zealand and the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, and we are currently in the process of analysing the extensive responses that we received.
The United Kingdom is committed to the joint comprehensive plan of action, and we want Iran to derive the economic benefits of that agreement. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are two particular difficulties for British companies. One is access to finance for doing business in Iran, and the second is that it is often difficult for companies to know who the end point they are dealing with is, and whether they may in fact be part of the regime that would require sanctions to be applied. We work with British businesses to try to help them, but we understand that it is a real minefield.
My hon. Friend makes a useful point, and we have identified 400,000 businesses that could be exporting but do not because of their fear, or lack of understanding, of the markets to which they would export, and their cultural and regulatory frameworks. That is why we have established the framework of our trade commissioners around the world, and why we have put members of UK Export Finance in those markets, so that they can gain expertise in the financial areas that companies will enter, and will be there to advise companies in those markets.
The north-east is the only region in the country that still exports more than it imports. That involves large companies such as Nissan, as well as many great small start-ups and businesses that cannot afford expensive lawyers or management consultants. What specific guidance is available to those companies on how to continue and increase trading post-Brexit?
That is why we have the export strategy and we have worked with industry, which has been welcomed by small business groups and others. With staff in 108 countries around the world, and our regional and sector teams, we are working harder than ever before to ensure that the information flow, and the advice and opportunities for small businesses, is advertised in a better and more effective way than ever before. [Interruption.] Despite the hon. Lady’s laughter, that is why last year our exports grew by more than 10% to £617 billion, and they are now more than £630 billion and counting.
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
We are committed to tackling misogyny and gender inequality, and have pledged £100 million over four years to support our strategy to combat violence against women and girls. We will soon publish our plans to tackle sexual harassment, and we have asked the Law Commission to consider whether sex and gender should be included under current hate crime legislation.
Of course not: hate crimes are crimes that already exist as crimes in themselves, such as assault and criminal damage, but for which the hatred of a protected characteristic is the aggravating feature that enables judges to reflect that in their sentencing, and we have asked the Law Commission to consider whether sex and gender should be added to those protected characteristics. There will be no legislation for thought crime from this Government.
Recent work done in women’s prisons shows that 48% of women prisoners have had a major brain injury before going to prison, the vast majority due to domestic violence. Could we not solve some of the problems of crime if we dealt more robustly with domestic violence?
I am so pleased the hon. Gentleman raises this point. As he knows, the Government are committed to a domestic abuse Bill. The draft Bill will be published by the end of this Session and there will be a whole range of non-legislative measures with that proposed legislation as well. I hope the whole House will join me in fighting this terrible crime, because it has such enormous impacts not just on the immediate victims themselves but on wider society.
I hope the Minister will agree with me when I say that language is extremely important in terms of misogyny and the way that men, in particular, behave in politics at all levels across the United Kingdom. Will she consider formal training not just for MPs but those in devolved institutions and councils across the country, because misogyny is never acceptable?
I think that this is where we, as a society, need to make it very clear that we do not expect women to be shouted at in the street or have very unpleasant things said to them. I know there are Members of this House who suffer such abuse on a daily basis on social media. That is simply unacceptable, so I join the hon. Gentleman in saying to everyone in this House that how we use our language really matters and that we must ensure our young people grow up with that clear message, too.
Universal credit treats all individuals equally, irrespective of gender. It provides one-to-one support and incentives to help claimants progress in work. The latest Office for National Statistics labour market statistics show a near record high rate for women in employment.
The Minister will know that universal credit pays less to lone parents under 25 than the current legacy benefits. Given that 90% of young lone parents are women, surely that is a clear and blatant case of discrimination against them. Will the Minister speak to the new Work and Pensions Secretary to ask for a review of this policy?
We support everyone on the universal credit system, including lone parents. As the hon. Gentleman will know, in the Budget we announced an extra £4.5 billion of support which included increasing work allowances, and childcare support is available for parents of young children.
In Northern Ireland, we listened to organisations that work in the area of domestic abuse and introduced split payments. Will the Minister consider what has happened in Northern Ireland? It is a low-cost, no-cost option. Will he consider introducing it to ensure a safety net for those people who are in abusive and controlling relationships?
As the hon. Lady knows, split payments are available under universal credit. It is very important that if any individuals are facing the sort of abuse she talks about, we need to be able to signpost them to additional support. We give training to our work coaches to allow them to do that.
Universal credit comes to Castlemilk in my constituency next month, where there is a women’s group supporting women who have fled or who are living with domestic violence. They are deeply, deeply concerned about universal credit coming. Will a Minister please come to Castlemilk to meet these groups of women?
The reality is this: women who work, women without children, women with children, disabled women, black, Asian and minority ethnic women and women fleeing domestic violence have all been punished by universal credit. Report after report has issued stark warnings about the design of universal credit and its impact on survivors, but the Government refuse to listen. Instead, they make claims about a landmark domestic abuse Bill, while their policies, staff and systems are failing to protect survivors. It makes no sense. Will the Minister show some compassion when he gets to his feet and halt the roll-out of universal credit until it is fixed?
We are keen to support everyone who is coming on to universal credit. That is why earlier this year we introduced £1.5 billion of support. In the Budget, we had another net £4.5 billion of support produced. With respect, I say to the hon. Lady that if she wants to help her constituents, she should vote for the measures whereby we put more money into the system.
Equality Act 2010: Commencement of Section 106
We keep any uncommenced provisions from the Equality Act under review. Equality is never a one-time fix and it is right that we keep re-examining these issues. However, political parties are responsible for their candidate selection and should lead the way in improving diverse representation.
I hope that every party is looking at this legislation. Certainly, the Conservative party is looking at how we can gather this information, not just for the national Parliament but for local government, because we believe it is absolutely essential that local government reflects the society it serves as much as this House does.
I know that the Minister has committed to increasing the number of women in Parliament. Does she agree that we have a woman Prime Minister and strong women Secretaries of State, such as the woman beside her at the Dispatch Box, the Secretary of State for International Development, who should be congratulated on the support and the leadership they show to women across the country?
I think it is 2-0 to us. This is a serious point. In the Labour party, there are many, many strong, capable women I have very good working relationships with. It is a great shame that the Labour party has never managed yet to entrust the leadership of its party to a woman—[Interruption.] I see somebody volunteering on the Opposition Front Bench. We have the opportunity to bring more women into this Parliament through an event next week, on 21 November, when every Member of Parliament can bring a woman into the House of Commons and invite them to stand in this House.
A number of single parents have accessed the advance payment service under universal credit. However, as a result, they have found that the payments are required to be repaid in 15 months, or with 40% of their entitlement reclaimed. What will the Government do to ensure that many are not falling further into financial hardship as a result of advance payments under universal credit?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady. The only difficulty with her question is that it does not seem altogether aligned with, or even adjacent to, the subject matter on the Order Paper. Her supplementary question would have been entirely pertinent to Question 2, but I am going to imagine that she has a great interest in section 106 of the Equality Act and that there is some sort of link, unknown to me but known to clever people like Ministers.
I am very interested by the hon. Lady’s question—I am so interested that I am going to ask the responsible Minister to write to her in due course. But I make the point that the more female Members of Parliament we have in the House, the more they can scrutinise this legislation.
The Government have kept that under review, but, as I said earlier, it is also for political parties themselves to act on it, so I am pleased that the Conservative party is looking into how we can gather the evidence in order to improve diversity in our candidates list.
Order. There is a certain amount of gesticulation from a sedentary position. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) is signalling that the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) wanted to come in on Question 2. I am sorry if she has been inconvenienced, but she needed to bob on Question 2, not Question 3. But never mind; she has made her point with considerable force and alacrity, and it is on the record. I would call her again, but she is entitled to only one. However, she has made her point very clearly, and we are extremely grateful.
Domestic Abuse Survivors: Workplace Policy
The Government are committed to transforming their approach to domestic abuse, and that includes improving the response of employers to this devastating crime. We have therefore awarded £1 million to the charity Hestia for its “Tools for the Job” pilot project, which will help employers to improve their HR policies on domestic abuse and will fund specialist employment domestic violence advocates. We are also working closely with the employers initiative, which does similar work.
Victims of domestic abuse and violence tell us that a short period of leave from work while they manage to sort out the difficulties in their lives would be helpful. Will the Minister agree to meet employers and trade unions to discuss the possibility of introducing paid leave for victims of domestic violence?
Very much so. I keep pointing out to employers that having policies that can help to identify and support victims of domestic abuse in their workforces makes not only good moral sense but good business sense. I should be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman, and employers and trade unions, to discuss what more we can do to help.
Of course, domestic violence affects not just women but men, too; but what contact has my hon. Friend had with companies such as the John Lewis Partnership, whose chief executive takes a particularly proactive approach to care in her company?
We tend to focus on women as being the victims of domestic abuse because the statistics show us that it is a gendered crime, but I never forget the fact that, of course, men can be the victims of domestic abuse. That is why we are doing a great deal of work, both through the domestic violence and abuse Bill and through non-legislative measures, to support them and ensure that services are there for them.
I am sure that the John Lewis Partnership is part of the employers initiative, a piece of work in which I am very involved and about which I am very enthusiastic. I should be delighted to support John Lewis not just in a spending capacity, but in a legislative capacity as well.
When I recently visited a Leeds Women’s Aid hostel, which does fantastic work throughout my city, it raised the problems experienced by women in low-paid work in accessing emergency accommodation. What support can the Government give to ensure that women feel confident enough to leave violent relationships and seek support?
The hon. Lady has raised an extremely important point. There have been more refuge places since 2010 under this Government, and in the summer we reconfirmed the funding arrangements for refuges. When I visit refuges, which are incredibly important places for women who need to flee very dangerous situations, what I hear from those women is that they would like to have that support at an earlier stage so that they do not have to be the ones who leave—so that he leaves, rather than her—and we are working on that as well.
Gender Pay Gap
It’s me again!
It is encouraging that the national gender pay gap is at its narrowest ever, but it will take time and action by employers if we are to close it entirely. I am thrilled that more than 10,000 employers reported their gender pay gaps this year, but that is just the first step. We are now working with employers to help them to understand their gender pay gaps and what plans they could make to close them.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend, who is a committed feminist on this subject. Interestingly, not only have more than 10,000 businesses had to have this conversation about how they treat women in their workplace, but we know it is having a trickle-down effect on employers who do not necessarily meet the threshold. I know from the conversations that I have had with business leaders that they understand: the will is there for them to change. They want to do so, and they want to do so in partnership with us in government.
Given the early signs of the success of mandatory gender pay reporting for large businesses, has the Minister considered extending pay transparency to tackle wider inequalities, as recommended by the Institute for Public Policy Research, such as requiring companies with 50 or more employees to report not just on gender pay, but ethnicity and disability gaps?
A huge amount of work is going on, and as the hon. Lady rightly says, the focus this year has been on gender inequality, but we are extending it to ethnic diversity and so on. Interestingly, we have just announced that we are consulting on whether businesses should publicise their parental leave policies to help women and carers.
Forgive me if I have had not heard the hon. Gentleman correctly because of the hubbub in the Chamber; it is wonderful that everybody is so excited about women and equalities today.
The gender pay gap for women between the ages of 40 and 49 has fallen since 2010, but we published the “Fuller Working Lives” strategy last year and continue to work with businesses to ensure that everyone can adapt to the changing face of the workplace.
It is disappointing that the Government rejected the Women and Equalities Committee recommendation of a cross-departmental race equality strategy. Can the Minister at least commit to making the reporting of a race pay gap compulsory, in line with the gender pay gap?
As I have said, a great deal of work is going on, and I had a meeting earlier this year on exactly this point and look forward in due course to working with my colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on how we can close these gaps as well.
The Government-owned British Business Bank provides start-up loans for new entrepreneurs, and women account for 39% of recipients. The bank is also conducting a review into specific barriers female-led businesses face in accessing venture capital. All entrepreneurs in England can access advice and support from growth hubs and business support helplines, and 45% of the helpline users were women in 2017-18.
I welcome such initiatives that encourage and support women to start their own businesses, and I also appreciate the work of my right hon. Friend’s constituent Alison Cork. Connecting people and building networks is an important part of supporting entrepreneurs. That is why the Chancellor announced in the autumn Budget another £20 million to strengthen local networks.
Many women experience debilitating symptoms during the menopause, with 72% saying they feel completely unsupported at work during this time. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can make the necessary legislative changes so that these women feel supported?
Women in Parliament: Centenary
The Government Equalities Office will be holding a conference to celebrate the centenary of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918 on 21 November 2018. The GEO is also providing financial assistance to ensure that every MP in this House can invite a woman constituent into Parliament for the day, and I hope that all MPs will be doing that.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. It was great to see female MPs from around the globe pledge to support one another’s fight for gender equality recently. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on that first ever meeting of women MPs from every Parliament around the world?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point. One of the outcomes of that day, alongside the issues that the women discussed, was the desire expressed by me and the other host of the event that those women should form a lasting network to support one another in fighting for gender equality around the world.
As a result of meeting the commitments to raise the personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate threshold to £50,000 one year early, 13.6 million women will see their income tax bill reduced in 2019-20 and 1 million women will be taken out of income tax altogether.
I will be making an announcement on this in my topical questions statement. It is important that the Government Equalities Office, which has rightly concentrated on executive women and women in the workplace, should broaden the scope of its work to look at wider issues, including the financial fragility of some women.
To ensure that the Government Equalities Office is at the heart of this Government’s work, the Prime Minister has agreed that it will join the Cabinet Office from 1 April next year. This machinery of government change will provide a permanent home for the Government Equalities Office in line with the key recommendations of the Women and Equalities Committee earlier this year. It will enable the GEO to have even more influence and leverage within the Government, working with the Race Disparity Unit, the Office for Disability Issues and others to drive meaningful progress on equalities. This will be a step up in the work that the GEO can do to reduce inequality in the UK.
The women’s centenary suffrage fund supports initiatives across England to engage women in local democracy. We will also be funding an Ask Her to Stand event. We funded one in July that was attended by more than 300 women, many of whom were interested in becoming councillors. I congratulate my hon. Friend’s borough on the progress that it has made.
I am pleased that the Minister for Women’s duty was to be here at 10 o’clock. I wonder whether that will still be the case at 11 o’clock. A shocking new report on maternity support for female offenders by Dr Laura Abbott, a specialist midwife and academic, has highlighted a real gap between what is recognised as being needed and what is actually provided for pregnant women in prison. Can the House be assured that specific mandatory provision for pregnant women and new mothers in prison will be included in any future framework?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. We know that quite often the care given to female offenders in prison does fall short, and I will look at the specific issue that she raises. Clearly, we need to ensure that the best maternity support is given to them.
I thank my hon. Friend for her question and for highlighting her constituent Erin Rodgers. The Government support offer is available to all those wishing to grow a business, regardless of their age, gender or ethnicity. We back the Start Up Loans Company, which has been providing funding and incentives to support new entrepreneurs since 2012. It has delivered loans totalling £446 million, 39% of which went to women. I wish Our Little Globe every success for the future.
EU Exit Negotiations
With permission, I would like to update the House on our negotiations to leave the European Union. First, I want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friends the Members for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab) and for Tatton (Ms McVey). Delivering Brexit involves difficult choices for all of us. We do not agree on all of those choices, but I respect their views, and I would like to thank them sincerely for all that they have done.
Yesterday we agreed the provisional terms of our exit from the European Union, set out in the draft withdrawal agreement. We also agreed the broad terms of our future relationship, in an outline political declaration. President Juncker has now written to the President of the European Council to recommend that
“decisive progress has been made in the negotiations.”
A special European Council will be called for Sunday 25 November. This puts us close to a Brexit deal.
What we agreed yesterday was not the final deal. It is a draft treaty that means that we will leave the EU in a smooth and orderly way on 29 March 2019 and sets the framework for a future relationship that delivers in our national interest. It takes back control of our borders, laws and money, it protects jobs, security and the integrity of the United Kingdom, and it delivers in ways that many said could simply not be done.
We were told that we had a binary choice between the model of Norway or the model of Canada—that we could not have a bespoke deal. But the outline political declaration sets out an arrangement that is better for our country than both of these—a more ambitious free trade agreement than the EU has with any other country. We were told we would be treated like any other third country on security co-operation, but the outline political declaration sets out a breadth and depth of co-operation beyond anything the EU has agreed with any other country.
Let me take the House through the details. First, on the withdrawal agreement, the full legal text has now been agreed in principle. It sets out the terms on which the UK will leave the EU in 134 days’ time, on 29 March 2019. We have secured the rights of the more than 3 million EU citizens living in the UK and around 1 million UK nationals living in the EU. We have agreed a time-limited implementation period that ensures businesses only have to plan for one set of changes. We have agreed protocols to ensure Gibraltar and the sovereign base areas are covered by the withdrawal agreement, and we have agreed a fair financial settlement—far lower than the figures many mentioned at the start of this process.
Since the start of this process, I have been committed to ensuring that our exit from the EU deals with the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. I believe this issue can best be solved through our future relationship with the European Union, but the withdrawal agreement sets out an insurance policy should that new relationship not be ready in time for the end of the implementation period. I do not pretend that this has been a comfortable process or that either we or the EU are entirely happy with all of the arrangements that have been included, but of course that is the case—this is an arrangement that we have both said we never want to have to use. But while some people might pretend otherwise, there is no deal that delivers the Brexit the British people voted for that does not involve this insurance policy—not Canada plus plus plus, not “Norway for now,” not our own White Paper. The EU will not negotiate any future partnership without it.
As the House knows, the original proposal from the EU was not acceptable as it would have meant creating a customs border down the Irish sea and breaking up the integrity of our United Kingdom, so last month I set out for the House the four steps we needed to take. This is what we have now done, and it has seen the EU make a number of concessions towards our position.
First, the EU proposal for a Northern Ireland-only customs solution has been dropped and replaced with a new UK-wide temporary customs arrangement that protects the integrity of our precious Union.
Secondly, we have created an option for a single time-limited extension of the implementation period as an alternative to bringing in the backstop. As I have said many times, I do not want to extend the implementation period and I do not believe we will need to do so. This is about an insurance policy, but if it happens that at the end of 2020 our future relationship is not quite ready, the UK will be able to make a choice between the UK-wide temporary customs arrangement or a short extension of the implementation period.
Thirdly, the withdrawal agreement commits both parties to use best endeavours to ensure that this insurance policy is never used, and in the unlikely event that it is needed, if we choose the backstop, the withdrawal agreement is explicit that the backstop is temporary and that the article 50 legal base cannot provide for a permanent relationship. There is also a mechanism by which the backstop can be terminated.
Finally, we have ensured full continued access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the UK internal market.
The Brexit talks are about acting in the national interest, and that means making what I believe to be the right choices, not the easy ones. I know there are some who have said I should simply rip up the UK’s commitment to a backstop, but this would have been an entirely irresponsible course of action. It would have meant reneging on a promise made to the people of Northern Ireland during the referendum campaign and afterwards—that under no circumstances would Brexit lead to a return to the borders of the past—and it would have made it impossible to deliver a withdrawal agreement. As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, I have a responsibility to people in every part of our country, and I intend to honour that promise.
By resolving this issue, we are now able to move on to finalising the details of an ambitious future partnership. The outline political declaration we have agreed sets out the basis for these negotiations, and we will negotiate intensively ahead of the European Council to turn this into a full future framework.
The declaration will end free movement once and for all. Instead we will have our own new skills-based immigration system, based not on the country people come from but on what they can contribute to the UK. The declaration agrees the creation of a free trade area for goods, with zero tariffs and no fees, charges or quantitative restrictions, across all goods sectors. No other major advanced economy has such an arrangement with the EU and, at the same time, we will also be free to strike new trade deals with other partners around the world.
We have also reached common ground on a close relationship on services and investment, including financial services, which goes well beyond World Trade Organisation commitments. The declaration ensures that we will be leaving the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, so we will decide how best to sustain and support our farms and our environment, and the UK will become an independent coastal state once again.
We have also reached agreement on key elements of our future security partnership to keep our people safe. This includes swift and effective extradition arrangements, as well as arrangements for effective data exchange on passenger name records, DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration data. We have also have agreed a close and flexible partnership on foreign, security and defence policy.
When I first became Prime Minister in 2016 there was no ready-made blueprint for Brexit. Many people said it could simply not be done. I have never accepted that. I have been committed day and night to delivering on the result of the referendum and ensuring the UK leaves the EU absolutely and on time. But I also said at the very start that withdrawing from EU membership after 40 years, and establishing a wholly new relationship that will endure for decades to come, would be complex and require hard work. I know that it has been a frustrating process—it has forced us to confront some very difficult issues—but a good Brexit, a Brexit which is in the national interest, is possible.
We have persevered and have made a decisive breakthrough. Once a final deal is agreed, I will bring it to Parliament, and I will ask MPs to consider the national interest and give it their backing. Voting against a deal would take us all back to square one. It would mean more uncertainty, more division and a failure to deliver on the decision of the British people that we should leave the EU. If we get behind a deal, we can bring our country back together and seize the opportunities that lie ahead. The British people want us to get this done and to get on with addressing the other issues they care about: creating more good jobs in every part of the UK; doing more to help families with the cost of living; helping our NHS to provide first-class care and our schools to give every child a great start in life; and focusing every ounce of our energy on building a brighter future for our country.
So the choice is clear: we can choose to leave with no deal; we can risk no Brexit at all; or we can choose to unite and support the best deal that can be negotiated—this deal. It is a deal that ends free movement; takes back control of our borders, laws and money; delivers a free trade area for goods with zero tariffs; leaves the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy; delivers an independent foreign and defence policy, while retaining the continued security co-operation to keep our people safe; maintains shared commitments to high standards; protects jobs; honours the integrity of our United Kingdom; and delivers the Brexit the British people voted for. I choose to deliver for the British people. I choose to do what is in our national interest. And I commend this statement to the House.
I want to thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of her statement.
The withdrawal agreement and the outline political declaration represent a huge and damaging failure. After two years of bungled negotiations, the Government have produced a botched deal that breaches the Prime Minister’s own red lines and does not meet our six tests. The Government are in chaos. Their deal risks leaving the country in an indefinite halfway house, without a real say. When even the last Brexit Secretary, who, theoretically at least, negotiated the deal, says that
“I cannot support the proposed deal”,
what faith does that give anyone else in this place or in this country? The Government simply cannot put to Parliament this half-baked deal that both the Brexit Secretary and his predecessor have rejected. No deal is not a real option, and the Government have not seriously prepared for it. The Government must publish their full legal advice, the Treasury a full economic impact assessment of the deal and the Office for Budget Responsibility an updated economic forecast.
The withdrawal agreement is a leap in the dark—an ill-defined deal by a never defined date. There is no mention of the Prime Minister’s favoured term “implementation period” anywhere in the 585 pages of this document. And no wonder, as there is precious little new to implement spelled out in either the agreement or the political declaration. Article 3 of the agreement states that transition can be extended to end by “31 December 20XX”. Can the Prime Minister confirm that this permits an extension to be rolled on until 2099?
Can the Prime Minister confirm that if the UK Government cannot agree a comprehensive future relationship by January 2021, which few believe will be possible and which the last two years give us no confidence the Government can do, those negotiations would have to be put on hold, because the focus would then inevitably shift from negotiations on the future relationship to those on an extension of the transition period, including further payments to the EU? Article 132 sets out that process fairly clearly.
How confident is the Prime Minister that a deal can be done by the end of 2020, and can she confirm that if a new trade agreement is not agreed by 31 December 2020, article 132 will apply—meaning our paying a huge financial contribution to extend the transition period—if we are to avoid triggering the backstop, as the Prime Minister insists is her position? Should the backstop come into force, there would be no time limit or end point, and if either party requested a review and there was no agreement, it would go to independent arbitration. The backstop locks Britain into a deal it cannot leave without the agreement of the EU. Restrictions on state aid are hardwired into the backstop, with an arbitration mechanism, but no such guarantee exists for workers’ rights.
Can the Prime Minister confirm that the backstop applies separate regulatory rules to Northern Ireland, creating a de facto border down the Irish sea, as Northern Ireland would be subject to the customs union but the rest of the UK would not? That is despite the fact that the Prime Minister said this was something
“no UK Prime Minister could ever agree to”—[Official Report, 28 February 2018; Vol. 636, c. 823.]
It is another of her red lines breached. In fact, the list of EU measures that continue to apply to the UK in respect of Northern Ireland runs to 68 pages of the agreement. This affects VAT declarations and rules of origin checks.
Moreover, it is clear that the Prime Minister’s red line regarding the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice has also been torn up. By 2021, under the Prime Minister’s plan, we will either be in a backstop or still be in transition, continuing to contribute to the EU budget and to follow the rules overseen by the ECJ. It is utterly far-fetched for the Prime Minister to say this plan means we take control over our laws, money and borders.
After two years of negotiation, all the Government have really agreed is a vague seven-page outline of political declarations, which looks like a substantial dilution of the Prime Minister’s previously declared negotiating priorities. There is only the scantiest mention of workers’ rights, consumers’ rights and environmental protection; there is no determination to achieve frictionless trade, or even trade as frictionless as possible; and no ambition to negotiate a new comprehensive customs union that would protect trade, jobs and industry, so uncertainty continues for businesses and all those who work in them. That risks investment decisions being deferred even further, costing jobs and living standards. Many companies might decide that the lack of certainty simply means they themselves will Brexit. There is no clear plan to get a strong deal with the single market to ensure continued access to European markets and services, merely a vague commitment to go beyond the baseline of the World Trade Organisation. The First Ministers of Wales and Scotland made it clear to the Prime Minister that participation in a customs union to protect the economy and jobs was essential.
Likewise, there is no ambition to achieve continuation of the European arrest warrant or an equivalent, and no clarity on our status with Europol, Eurojust or even the Galileo project. There is no clarity either on a future immigration system between the UK and the EU. Following the Windrush scandal, many EU nationals here will have no confidence—no confidence at all—in the Government’s ability to deliver a fair and efficient system.
The Brexit Secretary promised a “substantive” document; he is obviously no longer here, so can the Prime Minister inform the House of when that detailed framework agreement will be with us?
This is not the deal that the country was promised, and Parliament cannot, and I believe will not, accept a false choice between this bad deal and no deal. People around the country will be feeling anxious this morning—about the industries they work in, the jobs they hold and the stability of their communities and their country. The Government must now withdraw this half-baked deal, which it is clear does not have the backing of the Cabinet, this Parliament or the country as a whole.
Let me pick up some of the points that the right hon. Gentleman made. First, he said that no deal was not an option, but then complained that we were not preparing for no deal. Actually, we have been preparing for no deal, and we continue to prepare for no deal, because I recognise that we obviously have a further stage of negotiation with the European Council and then, when that deal is finalised with the European Council, it has to come back to this House. So we will continue those preparations.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the withdrawal agreement is ill defined. Five hundred pages of detailed legal text on the withdrawal agreement is not an ill-defined withdrawal agreement. He complained that the withdrawal agreement does not refer to the implementation period. Of course, it does refer to the transition period, which is exactly the same period of time.
The right hon. Gentleman then talked about the whole question of the decision on the backstop and the implementation period as coming at the end of 2020. Well, if he looks again at the documents that have been produced, he will see that actually the decision will be taken in June 2020 as to whether it is likely that the future relationship will not be in place on 1 January 2021. At that point, it will be for the UK to decide whether it wishes to extend the implementation period for a limited period, or whether it wishes to go into the backstop.
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that we have not dealt with the issue of the border down the Irish sea. We have dealt with that, as I was clear in this House that we would. It took some considerable time to persuade the European Union to move from its proposal for a Northern Ireland-only customs territory to a UK-wide customs territory, but we have achieved that.
In relation to the question of workers’ rights, there is reference to non-regression.
The right hon. Gentleman says that the outline political declaration does not refer to what we are proposing in terms of a free trade area for the future; in fact, the protocol explicitly does reference that. It sets out very clearly that we will be creating a free trade area between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
I am really not sure what document the right hon. Gentleman has read, because he said that there were no references to extradition, but there are indeed references to extradition. He also said that there was nothing about Europol, whereas there is an express reference that we will be including in the future document:
“Terms for the United Kingdom’s cooperation via Europol and Eurojust.”
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that there is indeed a choice before Members of this House: it is a choice of whether or not we go ahead with a deal that does deliver on the vote while protecting jobs, our security and our Union. Of course, what he wants is for us to stay in the single market and the customs union. That would not deliver on the vote of the referendum. We are delivering an end to free movement, coming out of the common agricultural policy and out of the common fisheries policy, and we are taking back control of our money, borders and laws. That is the right deal for Britain, and it is the deal that we will be putting forward before this House.
It has always been a Brexiteer illusion that the country can leave the European Union treaties while selecting to retain all the benefits that we enjoy under the treaties and repudiating most, if not all, of the obligations. We have to face up to the fact that that is an illusion. Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that the biggest single economic benefit—in fact most of the main economic benefits—that we have enjoyed from our membership over the last decades flow from the completely open border between the whole of the United Kingdom and the rest of the European Union and that upon that have been based huge flows of inward investment, the creation of just-in-time lines of supply and very many thousands of jobs in this country? So will she undertake not to change the present basis of that, which is the single market and the customs union, until we know what we are changing to and until we are satisfied that any change will retain those benefits and keep us completely open from any delays and costs caused by regulatory differences or anything else that would be created by moving away from where we are now? The economic future of this country will be threatened very considerably if we just decide, unilaterally, to walk out, as some of my colleagues seem prepared to recommend.
We have indeed heard from business a very clear message about the importance of frictionless borders, which is precisely why the proposal that the United Kingdom has put forward to the European Union is based on that concept of frictionless borders. The free trade area that we have put forward is precisely in that frame. My right hon. and learned Friend talks about remaining in the single market and the customs union. I do not believe that that is right for the future of the United Kingdom, because I do not believe that doing those things would deliver on the vote of the British people. There are various things that underpinned the vote. An end to free movement was crucial among those, and remaining in the customs union does not enable us to have an independent trade policy. I believe it is important that we do have an independent trade policy once we have left the European Union. We are negotiating the basis of our future trading relationship, but it is based on the concept of a free trade area and precisely the point that he makes about being able to move goods seamlessly across the border.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement.
The Prime Minister comes before us today trying to sell us a deal that is already dead in the water. Not even her own Brexit Secretary could stand over it. Now, to lose one Brexit Secretary is one thing, but to lose two in a matter of months illuminates the chaotic nature of this Tory Government. The No. 10 front door has become a revolving one. The Prime Minister talks about taking back control. She cannot even control her own Cabinet. As I said yesterday, she is desperate and is increasingly looking defeated. What is absolutely shocking is that Scotland is not once mentioned in the document. Not once, Prime Minister, have the unique characteristics of Scotland’s devolved settlement been worthy of mention—[Interruption.]
Order. The Leader of the Scottish National party must be heard and heard with courtesy. [Interruption.] We are very grateful for your sedentary observations, Mr Graham, but I do not think that they greatly add to the quality of our deliberations. Everybody will be heard.
Not once have Scotland’s unique characteristics in the devolved settlement been worthy of mention. There are 100 mentions of Northern Ireland, mentions of Gibraltar, of Cyprus and of the Isle of Man, but no reference to Scotland. Utter contempt has again been shown to the Scottish Government, their Parliament and its people.
Differentiated deals for Northern Ireland means that Scotland can have its own differentiated deal. If Northern Ireland can stay in the single market, why not Scotland, Prime Minister? The Scottish Government have published compromise documents calling for just this and the Scottish Parliament has affirmed that position. Why does the Prime Minister ignore the democratically expressed position of the Scottish Government? What has happened to the claim of a partnership of equals? Why are the desires of Scotland being ignored, when we know that a differentiated settlement can be delivered? Why does the Prime Minister stand in the face of the legitimate demands of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament? [Interruption.] The Prime Minister can shake her head, but it is a matter of fact and a matter of reality. Show some respect to the devolved institutions. The price—[Interruption.] You can bay, you can shout and you can talk about it being dreadful, but why were the Scottish Government not consulted, as Gibraltar was, before the Prime Minister went to Cabinet yesterday?
The price that Scotland would be forced to pay is far too high, with lost jobs, household incomes slashed and our NHS under threat. Now is the time to get realistic and put sensible options back on the table, such as remaining in the single market—the only credible compromise, for which the SNP has consistently made the case. This deal is dead in the water. It is now clear that there is not a majority for this deal or a no deal. The Prime Minister must go back to Brussels, extend article 50 and tell Brussels that we must remain in the single market and the customs union. Anything else will lead to economic chaos and crisis. Prime Minister, do the right thing and we will work with you. Stop the clock and go back to Brussels.
May I pick up two key points that the right hon. Gentleman made? First, he made a reference to Scotland’s NHS being under threat. In fact, Scotland’s NHS depends on the Scottish Government, the SNP Government—determining the money—[Interruption.] It is no good him pointing his finger at me. We ensure that in the NHS settlement, the Barnettised settlement means that more money comes to Scotland, and Scotland has chosen not to spend it all on its NHS. That is an SNP decision. [Interruption.]
Order. A moment ago I protected the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), quite properly, when he was being brayed at in an unseemly manner. Let me say to Scottish National party Members that, having asked the question, they must hear the Prime Minister’s reply with courtesy. Don’t worry, everybody will get a chance, but the Prime Minister’s responses must be heard with a basic courtesy and respect.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was then going to pick up the points that the right hon. Gentleman made about Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is not staying in the single market. What is within the documents is that, in order to ensure frictionless trade across the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, Northern Ireland will be meeting those regulations specifically in the goods part of the acquis, but it is not remaining a member of the single market. He talks about Scotland being given the same treatment as Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has a very particular set of circumstances. It is the only part of the United Kingdom that will have a land border with a country that is continuing as a member of the European Union. That is why, together with our commitments in the Belfast agreement, Northern Ireland is dealt with separately in the withdrawal agreement.
Finally, much of the right hon. Gentleman’s question was a complaint that Scotland was not specifically mentioned in these documents. Scotland is not specifically mentioned; Scotland is a part of the United Kingdom.
I have always wished my right hon. Friend well, and my question is in this light. I have deep misgivings, on reading much of this document overnight, about the way that we will be treated with the backstop. When we read this, we realise that we are locking ourselves in to an arrangement from which we seem unable, therefore, to have the sovereign right to withdraw. That seems to me to be the biggest single issue here, which strips away the thing that we said when we wanted a vote to leave, which was that we took back control. I say to my right hon. Friend that my concern is that we have the sovereign right when we want to leave the UN; we have the sovereign right when we want to leave NATO; we have even the sovereign right when we want to leave the EU; but we do not have the sovereign right to leave this arrangement.
My right hon. Friend says that the references to the backstop raise some difficult issues. I fully accept that they raise some difficult issues. I fully accept that, across the House, there are concerns in relation to the backstop—indeed, I share some of those concerns. These have not been easy decisions to take. It has been necessary, as I explained, and it would be necessary in any deal that we struck for our future partnership with the European Union, to agree a withdrawal agreement. We wanted to commit to ensure that we delivered no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and it has been clear that that withdrawal agreement needed to include this insurance policy.
My right hon. Friend talks about being held in the backstop. First, the backstop is not necessarily what will happen because we want to ensure that the future relationship is in place before the backstop is necessary. Secondly, in the circumstance that a temporary interim period was needed before the future relationship came into place, we would be able to choose a preference between the backstop and the extension of the implementation period. There are pros and cons on both sides of the argument and there will be Members who believe that one is better than the other.
There is a mechanism for coming out of the protocol if the backstop is in place. My right hon. Friend is right: that mechanism does require mutual consent. It is for both sides to agree that—I make no bones about that. However, it enables the backstop to be replaced in a number of circumstances, first and crucially if the future relationship supersedes it. Originally, that was the only point at which it could be superseded; now, alternative arrangements could replace it. But I repeat what I have always said: it is my intention to work to ensure that such an arrangement is not necessary and we are able to go into our future relationship when we come out of the implementation period.
The Prime Minister rightly asserts that there are two alternatives to her plan: no deal and no Brexit. The Government are making considerable investment in contingency planning for no deal. What contingency planning is she doing for no Brexit, including, for example, advising the Commission that article 50 may have to be withdrawn, and she herself preparing for the fact—however much she hates it—that the House may instruct her to carry out a people’s vote?
If we took the best part of £39 billion over the next couple of years and spent it on public services and tax cuts, would that not be a wonderful boost to our economy and the public mood, and would it not be a better way of spending the money than buying 21 months—[Interruption.]
Mr Speaker, I was saying, would it not be a wonderful boost to our economy and our public services if we spent that money on ourselves, rather than on 21 months of delay, massive business uncertainty and something that would sour the political and the public mood for the whole period?
As I said at a very early stage of the negotiations, the United Kingdom is a country that meets its legal obligations. That says a great deal about the sort of country we are. There are legal obligations. As I said in my statement, the sum of money my right hon. Friend refers to is considerably less than the European Union was originally proposing we would be required to pay as part of the financial settlement. But I remain firmly of the view that we as a country should ensure that we continue to meet our legal obligations, and we will do so.
I could stand here today and take the Prime Minister through the list of promises and pledges that she made to this House, and to us privately, about the future of Northern Ireland in the future relationship with the EU, but I fear it would be a waste of time, since she clearly does not listen.
This House and every Member in it now has a clear choice. The House has been left in a position where the choice is subjection to the rules and laws of others who may not have our interests at heart. In terms of Northern Ireland and our precious Union, five who have resigned today have all talked about the threat to the integrity of the Union. I congratulate them on and praise them for what they have said and done, and their strong actions.
As has just been said, this is £39 billion for nothing. The choice is now clear: we stand up for the United Kingdom—the whole United Kingdom and the integrity of the United Kingdom—or we vote for a vassal state, with the break-up of the United Kingdom. That is the choice.
I will respond to the right hon. Gentleman. He is right that he and I have had many discussions on this issue, and I hope that we will continue to be able to have many discussions on this issue. We have ensured throughout the negotiations that the border in Northern Ireland has been one of the key issues that we have been addressing.
The right hon. Gentleman refers to the commitments I made in terms of Northern Ireland and the future relationship. Those commitments remain absolutely. We are looking to ensure that we have the frictionless trade across borders that will enable us to not only deliver on our commitment for Northern Ireland, but ensure that we have frictionless trade between the United Kingdom and the whole of the rest of the European Union. Many aspects of the deal that we have agreed actually ensure that we are preserving the integrity of the United Kingdom.
There has been significant focus on the question of the backstop. As I say, the backstop is something that neither side—neither the United Kingdom, nor the European Union—wishes ever to see being exercised. Indeed, as I have said, in circumstances where there needs to be a period before the future relationship is introduced, there are alternative routes that can be taken.
If the right hon. Gentleman says to me that he is concerned that we have not considered Northern Ireland throughout this process—
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for saying that he has not said that, because I have remained committed to delivering on three things for Northern Ireland: no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland; for us to continue to maintain and respond to our obligations under the Belfast agreement; and to ensure that we protect the integrity of the United Kingdom.
Nobody but nobody can doubt the Prime Minister’s absolute commitment and dedication to doing her duty and trying to deliver on the result of the EU referendum, but the harsh, cruel truth is that this is not the promised deal. The reason why the people of this country are so fed up is that they have been made so many promises, none of which has been delivered upon, because they cannot be delivered upon.
I agree with the Prime Minister that we face three choices: we accept this agreement, for which I respectfully suggest there is now no majority; we have no deal, which would be profoundly irresponsible and catastrophic for our country; or we have no Brexit and remain in the European Union—the best deal that we have with the European Union. On that basis, will she at least undertake today not to rule out taking this back to the British people and having a people’s vote?
I am afraid, on that particular issue, that I will disappoint my right hon. Friend. I am not going to change the position I have taken in this House and, indeed, more widely. I believe that it is the duty of Members of this Parliament to ensure that we deliver on the choice that was made by the British people—a choice that this Parliament overwhelmingly decided to give to them. That means that we will not be taking the option that she said of remaining in the European Union, but will indeed be leaving the European Union, and that will happen on 29 March next year.
The Prime Minister has once again told the House that we will be leaving the customs union, but the truth is that we will be remaining in a customs union, both in the transition and in the backstop arrangement, which can be ended only with the agreement of the EU. The truth is also that the only way to protect jobs, investment and an open border in Northern Ireland in the long term is to remain within it. Will the Prime Minister now look the British people in the eye and admit that remaining in a customs union is in our national economic interest, because without it we will be poorer as a country?
What is in our national interest is ensuring that we continue to have a good trading partnership with the European Union once we have left. That is why we have put forward a proposal, which is reflected in the outline political declaration, for a free trade area in goods. It is why we have also put forward a proposal that would ensure the frictionless trade of goods across the border. The right hon. Gentleman and I disagree. A customs union is not the only way to ensure that we continue to have a good trading relationship with the European Union. We have put forward a proposal that is reflected in the outline political declaration to achieve that, while also ensuring that we are able to take advantage of operating an independent trade policy.
These 585 pages are a testament to broken promises, failed negotiations and abject capitulation to the EU. Does my right hon. Friend understand that they represent a list of failures—on Northern Ireland, on ECJ issues, on indefinite extension of time, on customs, on full independence of trade and of fisheries and, above all, on our truly leaving the EU, because it will control our laws? Furthermore, there have been some very serious breaches of ministerial responsibilities, the ministerial code and collective responsibility.
What we are looking at here is a withdrawal agreement that determines the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union and a declaration that identifies the scope and structure of our future relationship. Our future relationship is one that will not see the European Union controlling our laws because, in those areas where we choose to align with the European Union, it will be for this Parliament to decide that, and that decision will therefore be taken here by the United Kingdom. There will not be European Court of Justice jurisdiction in the United Kingdom. That is what we have negotiated in the outline political declaration for our future relationship.
I recognise my hon. Friend as one of the Members of this House who has campaigned on this issue probably since the day—maybe even since before—he came into this House. He has continued to campaign on this issue with a passion, and I recognise the concerns that he has expressed. As Prime Minister and as a Government, it is our duty to ensure that we put together a deal that not only respects the vote of the British people—it does, in the ways that I have said, and it also ends free movement—but does so in a way that protects jobs. That is why I believe it is important not only that we take back control in the areas mentioned, but that we maintain a good trading relationship with the European Union, as well as having good trading relationships elsewhere. That is in our economic interest and in our national interest, and that is what we will deliver.
The political declaration includes passenger name records and the Prüm fingerprint database, but makes no reference to the crucial Schengen Information System II criminal database, which we check 500 million times a year, or to a replica European arrest warrant, and that is at a time when cross-border crime and security threats are at their highest ever level. The Prime Minister knows that these measures save lives, stop criminals and stop terrorists, so how can she of all people say, with her head and her heart, that this public safety downgrade is in the national interest?
First, of course, there is reference to us agreeing expeditious, swift and effective arrangements to enable the United Kingdom and member states to extradite suspected and convicted persons effectively and expeditiously. That will be part of the measure, and the instrument that is used will be part of further negotiations that will take place. The right hon. Lady is right to say that SIS II is important to us. There are two further areas of exchange of information that I and the Home Secretary believe are important—SIS II and the European Criminal Records Information System—and we will take those matters forward with the European Union in our further negotiations.
I greatly respect the Prime Minister’s efforts in seeking to achieve an agreement, but I do not believe that this is a good deal for Britain’s long-term future. She recognises that she has had to make unpalatable choices, and in reality, there are clearly three choices now ahead of our country, and they are crucial choices, especially for young people, who will have to live with them for the longest. The Prime Minister said that this is in the national interest, so why not allow people in our nation to have their say? If that was good enough before, why is it not good enough now?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) has already raised that issue, as have Opposition Members, but this House chose to ask the people of the United Kingdom whether they wished to remain in or leave the European Union. There was an overwhelming vote in Parliament to do that—[Interruption.] There was an overwhelming vote in Parliament: it was about 6:1, so anybody who says that it was not overwhelming is wrong. The British people exercised their vote in numbers that we have never seen before, and the result was that we should leave the European Union. With other European issues, I have seen other countries and member states of the European Union taking matters back to their populace and holding a referendum, and when the vote has gone against what the European Union wanted, there has then effectively been a second vote—a sort of “go back and think again” vote—but I do not think it is right that we should do that in this country. We gave people the choice; we should deliver on the decision they took.
We have been going for about an hour now and it is quite clear that not a single right hon. or hon. Member has supported the plans that the Prime Minister has set out. It is clear that she cannot command the House of Commons on these proposals. In fact, I am almost tempted to ask Conservative Members to put their hands up if they actually support the Prime Minister on this set of proposals. [Interruption.] Not one. In that case, she says that remaining in the European Union is an option, so how can the British people fulfil that choice, if that is what they choose?
My right hon. Friend—and she is unquestionably honourable—said that we would leave the customs union; annex 2 says otherwise. My right hon. Friend said that she would maintain the integrity of the United Kingdom; a whole protocol says otherwise. My right hon. Friend said that we would be out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice; article 174 says otherwise. As what my right hon. Friend says, and what my right hon. Friend does, no longer match, should I not write to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady)?
My hon. Friend refers to the articles that relate to the protocol in the withdrawal agreement. I have been absolutely clear that some difficult choices have had to be made in relation to that protocol. Those choices have been made because I believe—I strongly and firmly believe—that it is important that we ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. But as I have said before, and as my hon. Friend has heard me say before, it is not only our intention, but we will be working to ensure, that that protocol does not need to be put into place.
What we are negotiating, alongside that withdrawal agreement, is not something that will be of a temporary nature, but what will be a future relationship with the European Union that will last for decades to come. In that future relationship, we will no longer be a member of the customs union. We will no longer be a member of the single market. An end to free movement will have been delivered. The integrity of the United Kingdom will have been maintained. The jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the United Kingdom will end, and we will come out of the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy. So I ask my hon. Friend to consider the nature of the future relationship that we will be delivering with the European Union, which does indeed deliver on the commitments I have made.
With Northern Ireland potentially swimming in the deep end of the pool, can the Prime Minister confirm that, based on the British Government’s own logic, no economic border between Wales and England would arise should my country decide to front crawl down to them?
As we look at the proposals for the trading relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, I am conscious of the significant trade that takes place between Ireland and Wales, and the importance that that has for the Welsh ports. If we look at the future relationship, we have made a proposal for frictionless trade that would protect the business of the Welsh ports and ensure we have that as part of the good trading relationship for the future.
May I put it to my right hon. Friend that the majority in the country, in Parliament and in this party accept the result of the referendum?
We back my right hon. Friend in trying to get the sovereignty she has argued for, and the prospects of prosperity, security and a fruitful partnership across the channel, the North sea and across the world.
The alternatives, if we do not go through with this, are the probability of crashing out and the possibility of a Government led by the Leader of the Opposition, neither of which is a desirable alternative.
I believe, as I think my hon. Friend does, that it is important for us to move forward in not only delivering on the vote, but ensuring that we do so in a way that protects our prosperity, and people’s jobs and livelihoods for the future. But more than that, there are significant opportunities for this country, once we leave the European Union, to develop that brighter future with those further trading relationships around the rest of the world, while keeping a good trading relationship with our closest partners in the EU.
Will the Prime Minister now recognise that she made a catastrophic error when she decided to kowtow to the fantasy extremist beliefs of the Brexiteers in her own party, instead of bringing the country together? Their views are impossible to bring about, and they are now openly plotting against her after she has tried to do her best in the negotiation. Surely she now needs to listen to the fact that there is no majority in this House for the botched deal she has brought back. She should think again and see whether, in this House, there can be a consensual way forward that leaves her Brextremists out in the cold where they belong.