House of Commons
Monday 3 December 2018
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Online Child Grooming
Tacking online grooming is one of our highest priorities. We are increasing our investment in law enforcement and legislating on online harms to bear down on the threat. In November, I also co-hosted a hackathon in the United States, where tech companies developed an artificial intelligence product to detect online grooming, which will be sent out licence-free for all technology companies to use worldwide.
I was particularly impressed by the hackathon and the tools used. Will my right hon. Friend explain in more detail how what he saw in the US can be used here in the United Kingdom?
I gladly will. The hackathon event that I attended in the US involved the giant tech companies that we all know of. They worked together to develop a new artificial intelligence product that will detect online grooming; that is the intention. The technology showed the industry at its best and most creative, and it will help change people’s lives.
The Home Secretary will be aware that next Thursday we have a debate on the public health model to reduce youth violence. A key aspect of the public health approach is cross-departmental working, so will the Minister commit to inviting other relevant Departments next week so that they can listen, if not respond, to this important debate?
The hon. Lady makes a good point about serious violence. It is important to look carefully at this public health approach, which is why I have talked of it at length in the last couple of months and have already set out the Government’s intention to have a statutory duty on public bodies and agencies to work together on it.
On the wider issue of child grooming, does the Home Secretary agree that the delays by Telford and Wrekin Council in setting up an independent inquiry into the child grooming that has gone on in that borough is completely unacceptable and that it needs to get on with it for the victims and the victims’ families?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. It is very unfortunate that the inquiry has been delayed; it is very important in the interests of justice and especially for those victims and their families, and I hope the council just gets on with it.
I know that the Home Secretary takes child grooming online extremely seriously. I am sure he agrees, however, that there is a need to have better education for, and understanding among, young people so that they can see the signs and feel free to report when they are uncomfortable and concerned about what is happening, particularly on social media platforms. Will the Secretary of State set out what more he can do to make sure young people have that understanding and feel free to report when they are worried about what could be happening online?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that point, and the companies can do more to help young people to help themselves when online. When I was recently in the US, I met all the tech giants, and there are tools that they can roll out and they have promised to do just that, but there is also a role for parents in helping their children to be much more aware online.
What is the maximum penalty for online child grooming and how many convictions have been secured?
Sadly, the amount of abuse that we are seeing is increasing year by year. There was a 23% increase in all child sex offences in the year to March 2018 and a 206% increase since 2013. The good news is that much more work and effort is going into this; each month there are around 400 arrests and 500 children safeguarded.
Tackling online crime needs to be cross-border, yet the Government have failed to get the Schengen information system, or SIS II, and the European Criminal Records Information System included in the political declaration. They have also not identified exactly what our relationship with Europol and Eurojust will be going forward, and we have only vague promises on maintaining the benefits of the European arrest warrant. When will the Government act to stop this diminishing of our ability to tackle crime?
The hon. Gentleman will know from the information we have already published that we have reached a good agreement with Europe on future security co-operation, for example on passenger name records, DNA and other important databases. He mentioned the SIS II database, and there is also the criminal records database; we will continue to work together on those issues, and I am sure we can reach an agreement.
Child Sexual Exploitation
As the Home Secretary has made clear, tackling the abhorrent crime of child sexual abuse is a priority for the Government, and this is reflected in the fact that it is one of six national threats in the strategic policing requirement.
For victims of historical child sexual exploitation to come forward, they have to have confidence that their claims will be not only taken seriously but tackled with due urgency. A constituent of mine tells me that South Yorkshire police has recently merged its historical child sexual exploitation department with its violent crime department. This means that whenever a new violent crime comes in, victims of child sexual exploitation have to wait for their case to be dealt with. What can the Minister do to ensure that specialism and due urgency are brought to these cases?
I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that victims need to have confidence in the police system. That is why we have agreed to provide grants for specialist operations in a number of forces, including South Yorkshire police. Just as critically, we are investing in prevention and technology to identify online abuse.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) is absolutely right to make that point, but is the Minister aware that the chief constable of Staffordshire, Gareth Morgan, who chairs the committee of chief constables regarding this sort of offence, has told me that there is a growing trend for people accused of such crimes subsequently to wrongly accuse others of such a crime, so that that can be used as mitigation? In other words, they are saying, “Don’t blame me. I’ve already been attacked in this way.”
I thank my hon. Friend, but I cannot comment on the truth or otherwise of his contribution. However, I want to press on the House the Government’s commitment to bear down on this abhorrent crime, not least by providing the police with the support and resources they need in terms of investment and powers.
I commend the Home Secretary for his commitment to preventing all forms of child abuse, but he knows that it is not just the police who need resources; it is survivors as well. Many people come forward only in adulthood to report child abuse, but statutory support stops at the age of 18. Will the Minister make a commitment to provide support to victims and survivors regardless of their age?
The hon. Lady has represented her constituents extremely well, and she has extremely brave constituents who have stood up in this context. We already provide support for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, but I certainly take on board the point that she has made and I will be happy to discuss it with her personally.
If the leaks over the weekend are to be believed, the Government intend to deliver a real-terms cut in Government funding to our overstretched police for the ninth year running. Does the Minister not agree that passing the buck to local ratepayers is unfair to those forces that have cut the most and can raise the least, and that it fundamentally fails to meet the demand from legacy and current child sexual exploitation, and the enormous demand from cyber-crime and soaring violent crime?
The hon. Lady knows that I will not comment on leaks, but I would simply point out that this Government took the steps that resulted in an increase of £460 million of public investment in our police system this year, in a settlement that she and her colleagues voted against.
EU Settlement Scheme
The Home Office is putting in place a range of support for EU citizens applying to the EU settlement scheme, particularly for those who are most vulnerable. This includes assisted digital support for those unable to make online applications, a new customer contact centre and indirect support to be provided through organisations such as community groups and charities.
I am of course pleased that the Minister has made clear the Government’s commitment to European Union citizens living here, particularly because there are parties in this House who have spread fear and alarm among EU citizens by questioning the Government’s commitment to their status. Does the Minister agree that those Members who spread fear and alarm should set the record straight and reassure those in our communities who are from the EU that their rights are guaranteed?
My hon. Friend is right to point out the importance of sending a message of reassurance to EU citizens living here not only that they can stay but that we want them to stay and are taking steps through our settled status scheme to enable them to do so through a straightforward online digital process. I am sure my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that 95% of the people who have been through the first phase of beta testing of the settled status scheme found it very straightforward to use.
Some EU countries, including the Netherlands, have restrictions on holding dual nationality, which is leading to some Dutch citizens here having to choose between a UK or Dutch passport. What can the Minister do to reassure the Dutch diaspora in the UK that Brexit will not have an impact on their rights? Is she reaching out to her European counterparts to see what progress can be made in persuading other member states to loosen their restrictions?
The UK allows individuals to hold other nationalities alongside their British citizenship, and those with dual nationality already have the right of abode here and do not need to do anything. EU citizens do not need to obtain British citizenship in order to protect their status and can remain here indefinitely by applying to the settled status scheme, so there is no need for them to relinquish their current nationality. However, my hon. Friend makes a good point about reaching out to other EU member states. It is important that we continue that work, because they are vital partners when it comes to spreading the message to the diaspora communities about their right to stay.
The Roma are still among the most marginalised EU citizens in this country. Will the Minister say what special steps the Government are taking to reach out to Roma support groups to encourage their citizens to apply for settled status and to support those who have digital or English-language difficulties?
In October, we announced £9 million of grant funding to charities and other organisations so that they may assist people, particularly those in vulnerable groups, through the process of applying for settled status in this country. We want to ensure that the maximum number of people apply and that those requiring the most support can access it easily via assisted digital services or, in exceptional cases, face-to-face support. It is important that we acknowledge that many groups may face challenges, which is why the Government have made £9 million available to help.
Given the likely large number of applicants, has the Minister considered allocating specific funding to Citizens Advice?
As I mentioned in my previous answer, we are providing up to £9 million of grant funding, which will be made available to civil society organisations to mobilise services targeted at vulnerable EU citizens. We already work with a group of organisations, including local councils, to help them to help their residents, but the scheme will be open to applications from bodies exactly like Citizens Advice, and I hope that many such organisations will be prepared to play their part in helping citizens.
This country benefits enormously from the one million Poles who have settled on our island. Will the Minister assure me that she will do everything possible to engage with the Polish community in London? Perhaps she will join me at one of the Polish clubs, such as Ognisko or POSK, to take the message directly to the citizens?
Interestingly, one of my first meetings after becoming Immigration Minister was with the Polish ambassador. We recognise that many Polish citizens live in this country, and working through the embassy and with the diaspora community is one of the best ways of reaching out to them. I would be delighted to take up my hon. Friend’s invitation and shall very much look forward to it.
Statistics from the British Medical Association suggest that nearly four in 10 NHS doctors from the EU are blissfully unaware of the Government’s settled status scheme. Does the Department not need drastically to up its game in raising awareness and ensuring that as many of those who need to apply do apply?
We are already piloting the settled status scheme, and we have established a significant database of EU nationals with whom we correspond regularly via email through Home Office communications channels. Employers also have an enormous role to play. The hon. Gentleman highlights people working in the NHS, so I am delighted to inform him that NHS trusts are reaching out to their employees and working hand in hand with us through the second phase of piloting the settled status scheme.
We know that high-quality, insightful data is critical to tackling domestic abuse. We are using the domestic abuse statistical bulletin and the 3,200 responses to the domestic abuse consultation to develop an ambitious package of action to transform the Government’s response to domestic abuse, which will include the publication of the draft domestic abuse Bill in this Session.
Last week, in St Helens, a mother of two young children was stabbed to death in her own home. Although domestic abuse-related crime recorded by the police has increased by 23% in the last year, worryingly, in the same period, the number of prosecutions pursued has fallen not insignificantly. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the increasing number of victims who come forward, showing incredible bravery, can be confident that, in doing so, it will lead to their perpetrator’s conviction?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this. We are, of course, pleased that more victims are trusting the system and coming forward to report abuse. I am obviously very sorry to hear of the terrible case in his constituency. Interestingly, from the bulletin, we know that 77% of all referrals made to the CPS by his local constabulary have resulted in charges, which is higher than the national average, and 80% of all such prosecutions resulted in a conviction, which is again higher than the national average. But, of course, part of the purpose of the draft domestic violence and abuse Bill and the package of non-legislative measures is to ensure that everyone, both inside and outside the criminal justice system, knows what domestic abuse is and how we should tackle it.
The Government understand that police demand has changed and that there is increased pressure from changing crime. Taxpayers are investing an additional £460 million this year in the police system, including income from council tax precepts. We are reviewing police spending power ahead of the provisional funding settlement to be announced later in December.
I am surprised that the Minister has grouped these questions together, as my question is about Bedfordshire. I am sure he will point to the additional funding provided for Operation Boson in this financial year, but does not the fact that the Home Office had to make that award demonstrate the scale of the problem of funding an urban area as a rural force? I have worked on a cross-party basis for the last eight years to try to get the funding formula fixed. Does he agree that the test of any future police settlement is whether it increases funding for Bedfordshire?
I am not entirely sure about that, and I think other MPs would also disagree. There is a clear Bedfordshire issue, which has been reflected in representations from MPs on both sides of the House. In recognition of some of the exceptional pressures it faces, not least through gang activity, Bedfordshire police has, as the hon. Gentleman notes, received an exceptional grant of £4.6 million. The funding settlement for next year will come shortly, and following that will be the comprehensive spending review.
I spent a night shift with Oldham police officers Josh and Ryan the other week, and our first call was to a threatened suicide. With Greater Manchester police’s budget cut by £215 million since 2010, and with 2,000 fewer officers, how sustainable is it for the police to be the default service in such cases because mental health and social services do not have the resources?
I hope the hon. Lady will welcome the £10.7 million increased investment in Greater Manchester policing this year. I hope she also welcomes the increased funding for mental health services in the Budget. I am absolutely determined, and I hope she shares that determination, that part of the dividend from that increased investment is reduced demand on the police.
In the past four years, recorded crime in Avon and Somerset has risen by 40%, with violent crime rising by over 75%. In contrast, the number of charges brought has fallen by 26%. When is the Minister going to listen to police and crime commissioners and chief constables and give the forces the funding they need so they can actually tackle crime in our constituencies?
I was in Bristol last week talking to the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable, as well as visiting the Home Secretary’s former manor. I hope the hon. Lady will welcome, although she voted against it, the additional £8 million that has gone into Avon and Somerset policing, and I am sure she will look forward to the police funding settlement shortly.
West Midlands police has had the second highest funding cut in the country. Our chief constable has said:
“I think criminals are well aware now how stretched we are.”
And we have the rising levels of violent crime to prove it. Will the Minister now confirm that he will give our police the funding they need from our national Budget and spending settlement and not push the pressure downstream to local budgets, which will hit the poorest hardest and will not provide all the money that is needed?
With respect to the hon. Lady, I am not going to take any lessons on progressive taxation from the party that doubled council tax when it was in power. I am sure that, even though she voted against it, she will welcome the almost £10 million of additional investment in west midlands policing this year and will look forward to the funding settlement, which is imminent.
Northumbria’s police force has had its funding cut by more than a quarter since 2010 and has lost more than 100 officers in the past year alone. This is the largest cut of any force in England, yet crime and antisocial behaviour are on the rise. Why will the Minister not accept any responsibility for this situation, which is making it harder for police officers to do their jobs and keep our communities safe?
I am not sure the hon. Lady was listening; the Government absolutely accept that there is increased pressure on the police, as demand rises and crime becomes increasingly complex. That is why we took the steps in the police funding settlement for 2018-19 that resulted in an increased investment of £5.2 million in Northumbria police, with more to come I hope in the police funding settlement.
First, let me thank the Minister for the extra £4.6 million that he gave us last week. But does he agree that Bedfordshire has been underfunded since damping was introduced in 2004 and that part of what we need to do is refocus the police’s priorities on the bread and butter crime issues, which perhaps involves getting others to take more responsibility for missing children and mental health issues?
I thank my hon. Friend for his assiduous campaigning on behalf of Bedfordshire police, and I am delighted that we were in a position to make that exceptional grant. He will know that there is a lot more to do in the funding settlement and the comprehensive spending review to come. I also entirely agree with him that we need to do more, working with our NHS partners, to help reduce the demand on the police.
Funding has rightly been directed towards cyber-crime, counter-terrorism and other new threats, but I know the Minister recognises the importance of neighbourhood policing. What plans does he have to support the police in managing crimes such as theft, antisocial behaviour and drug use, which can make residents feel unsafe in their communities?
One of the Home Secretary’s and my priorities is increasing activity in relation to crime prevention, and good neighbourhood policing is at the core of that. More investment is going into the police system. Just as importantly, the police are developing guidelines on best practice on good neighbourhood policing, which is being rolled out across the country.
I represent the furthest south-west constituency in the country, and what I hear from people is that they just do not feel we are getting a fair share of the money available. So what can the Minister do to make sure that funds are available, and that they are evenly distributed across the country so that my constituents have the safety and security they need?
The Government recognise that there is additional pressure on the police and we recognise the need to increase their capacity. Additional money has been put into Cornwall police this year, which I hope my hon. Friend welcomes. I am sure he will look forward, like the rest of the House, to the details of the police funding settlement, which is imminent.
Like Bedfordshire, Oldham and other force areas, Sussex has faced severe pressures in funding its police numbers, so our police and crime commissioner bravely urged a high increase in the police precept in order to recruit 200 additional officers each year for the next four years. That amount has been wiped out by the reassessment of the pension requirement over the next few years, such that we will not be able to recruit any more without digging into reduced funds. How are we going to get extra police officers?
I join my hon. Friend in saluting the leadership of Katy Bourne, who, like most PCCs, is either protecting or increasing the number of police officers as a result of the settlement we took through Parliament this year. We have debated the issue of the increase in pension costs. The Treasury has made it clear that it is going to contribute to part of the cost. The rest of the solution will be evident in the police funding settlement.
I, too, pay tribute to the Sussex PCC, Katy Bourne, who has successfully recently bid for almost £1 million of youth intervention funding. That is really important for my Crawley constituency, which has seen an increase in drug and knife-related crime. May I have an assurance that this partnership-working with the Home Office will continue to tackle this issue?
I assure my hon. Friend that partnership-working is absolutely at the heart of this Government’s approach to tackling serious violent crime and the running of drugs outside our major cities. Everything we have learnt from the examples elsewhere shows that effective multi-agency partnership works, and government is actively supporting that through funds such as the early intervention fund.
The Minister deliberately and consistently confuses money raised locally by the precept with money from central Government, but he will be aware that the Select Committee on Home Affairs, the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have all sounded the alarm about inadequate central Government funding. Most recently, the Mayor of London has said that London police numbers will plummet without increased funding. When will the Minister stop blurring the facts and make sure our police get the money they need?
I am not blurring any facts. What I am doing is challenging a deception carried out by the Labour party on the British public: that somehow someone else will always pay. The Government have no money: every pound that we spend is raised in tax or borrowed, meaning that the taxpayer pays interest on it. That is the fact. If we want more investment in policing—and we do—we have to pay.
Further to the Minister’s answer on police pensions, does he accept the estimate by Chief Constable Thornton that the changes will cost the police service more than £420 million, or the equivalent of 10,000 police officers? Will he explain why that will not be met in full?
We will set out the details in the funding settlement, later. The Treasury has made quite clear its intention to fund most of those costs. The rest will be clear in the police funding settlement.
This year, the Government took through a police funding settlement that resulted in an additional £460 million of public investment in policing. Most police and crime commissioners are either maintaining or increasing the number of police officers.
One of the casualties resulting from the cut of 21,000 police officers since 2010 has been the safer neighbourhood team in Mitcham town centre. The consequence has been an increase in drug dealing, street drinking, fighting, antisocial behaviour and men urinating in the street, which has meant that women do not want to take their children into the town centre. When will the Home Office accept the correlation between visible policing and crime, so that we can afford to have enough police to put more bobbies back on the beat in Mitcham and every town centre?
Speaking as a London MP and the Minister for London, I hope the hon. Lady will welcome the fact that the Met commissioner is actively recruiting an additional 1,000 officers, on top of the 1,000 the Met needs to recruit to stand still.
I shall certainly do that, not least as I have had similar experiences in my own constituency.
This morning, I learned that a café in my constituency had been broken into for the third time this year. This is not an isolated incident: burglary in Nottinghamshire is up this year, as it was up last year. How much more evidence do we need to get more police on the streets?
In the police settlement that the hon. Lady voted against, additional funding has gone into policing, and, as I said, most police and crime commissioners are actively recruiting additional officers. I hope she welcomes that.
Police numbers depend, of course, on the entry routes. Does the Minister agree that it is right that we not only encourage more graduates to become police officers but preserve the entry route for non-graduates? Does he further agree that it is important that that is a ministerial decision, not one for the College of Policing?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising an extremely important point. At a time when we are increasing investment in policing and the police are actively recruiting additional officers, who comes into the police force is critical. The police apprenticeship route, to which my hon. Friend refers, is a hugely important introduction and a hugely attractive opportunity for young people to learn and earn in a valuable and exciting job, without the burden of student fees on their neck.
Rent for Sex
Offering accommodation in return for sex is illegal, and those who do so can face up to seven years in prison. The Minister for Policing has committed to engage with technology companies, including craigslist, and to press them to meet their responsibility to provide their services safely and to prevent them from being used for criminal activity.
When sexual exploitation occurs on the streets of this country, the police act, yet craigslist is facilitating and profiting from sexual exploitation through sex for rent, and nothing is happening whatsoever. They are acting like pimps; why are we not treating them like pimps?
That is a very strong message to craigslist and one that the Government are happy to engage with it on and ask what is going on with its website. One only has to look at some of the adverts to see the coded and yet all too obvious messages they contain. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the work that he is doing on this, but the difficulty, as he knows, is that the evidence for victims is pretty difficult to get hold of because, understandably, people can be reluctant to give evidence. One of the first jobs on our to do list is to speak to craigslist and other tech companies to tackle this.
Earlier today, Housing Women Cymru launched its “not a landlord” campaign, which aims to end the growing problem of sex for rent in Wales. Offering free and reduced accommodation in return for sex is illegal, and it is facilitated by online platforms. Those advertising are not landlords; they are criminals. What more will the Government do to review the laws around this to ensure better enforcement and to put an end to this sickening exploitation?
First and foremost, we should look at what is happening on the online platforms, which is why the conversations with craigslist and others are so important. As the hon. Lady knows, we are investing £150,000 in research into what prostitution in the 21st century looks like, and I very much hope that that research will look at this important subject, because we know that, sometimes, people who are extremely vulnerable are being exploited by their landlords, and that is simply unacceptable in this day and age.
The Government are considering a range of options for a future immigration system. Any decisions taken in respect of our future system will be based on evidence and extensive engagement. We will publish a White Paper on the future border and immigration system soon.
As my right hon. Friend will know, the science and research community thrives on international collaboration, which brings great benefits to the UK and helps us to maintain our position as a science superpower. However, technicians, scientists and researchers are not always the most highly paid individuals who visit the UK. Will he therefore confirm that any future immigration system will recognise the skills that an individual brings, not just their level of pay?
Britain is at its best when we are open to talent from across the world. I can confirm to my hon. Friend that we will take into account what he has said. I agree that mobility is vital for research and innovation in particular, and I want Britain to remain at the forefront of these vital industries.
The Home Secretary told the Home Affairs Committee that the immigration White Paper would be published certainly in December. He will know that there is obviously concern about the delays to the White Paper. Will he tell us now whether it will still be published in December and, if so, why it will be published after the meaningful vote?
All I can say at this point is that the White Paper will be published soon—I wish that I could say more than that. It is worth keeping in mind that this is the biggest change in our immigration system in four decades. It is important that we take the time and that we get it right.
As well as control, fairness as a principle and treating people equally regardless of where they come from in the world was right at the heart of why so many people voted to leave. What consideration is being given to that principle of fairness as we design a new immigration system?
One of the lessons from the Brexit vote was that people wanted to see control of our immigration system—one that is designed in Britain for our national interest, and that is certainly what we will be setting out. We want a system that is based on an individual’s skills and on what they have to contribute, not on their nationality.
Question 13 in the name of the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) is certainly germane to the question with which we are dealing and therefore—it is not obligatory—if she wishes to rise to her feet now and give the House the benefit of her thoughts we will be happy to hear them.
I recently made a statement to this House where I accepted much of what was in the Shaw review, including alternatives to detention, particularly detention of women. We are looking at piloting different approaches. We are in discussions at the moment, but we will be setting out more shortly to the House.
Is it not time that the Home Secretary showed some leadership and that he joined the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government in his endeavours—the two Ministers working together to show the innovation, skills and creativity that immigrants bring to this country? Would not the Mayflower’s 400th anniversary celebration in 2020 be a wonderful hook to hang that on—celebrating what immigrants bring to this country?
I very much agree with hon. Gentleman’s sentiments about the importance of immigration. We are a much stronger country because of immigration and immigrants have contributed to every part of British life—not just our economy, but our families and communities. We should always be looking for opportunities to celebrate just that.
The Prime Minister is selling her Brexit deal by telling the country that it ends free movement of labour. Does the Home Secretary realise that it is completely unacceptable to have the meaningful vote without the White Paper having been published?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that, deal or no deal, there will be an end to free movement of labour.
At last Tuesday’s Select Committee on Home Affairs, the Home Secretary said that it was correct for colleagues from Northern Ireland to highlight particular regional concerns about immigration, and stated:
“It is still possible to design a system that takes into account some regional difference.”
Does he agree that the same is true for Scotland?
I am a little surprised by that question, on the basis that under the current immigration system, regional difference regarding Scotland is recognised, with the shortage occupation list, for example. I agree with the premise of the hon. and learned Lady’s question—that, although the immigration system will be a national one, we should look at any regional requirements.
I am delighted to hear that the Home Secretary accepts that the need for regional variation in Northern Ireland is mirrored by a similar need in Scotland, although I would underline that Scotland is a nation, not a region. If he is prepared to accept that, will he give me an undertaking that when the White Paper comes out, he will consult with all stakeholders in Scotland—including the Scottish Government and Scottish employers—and be open to the need for regional variation in Scotland, such as reintroducing the post-study work visa?
The commitment that I am very happy to make to the hon. and learned Lady is that we will consult extensively when the White Paper is published, and that of course includes with our friends in Scotland.
In a week’s time, MPs will be asked to make a decision in potentially the most important vote on our country’s future. Are we to do so without any idea of what our post-Brexit immigration system will be?
The hon. Gentleman said “without any idea”. We have already set out the principles of what a post-Brexit immigration system will look like; for example, there will be no freedom of movement and it will be a skills-based system. As I made clear in response to an earlier question, whether there is a deal or no deal, there will be a new immigration system.
Asia Bibi: Asylum
Our primary concern is for the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family, and we welcome a swift resolution to the situation. A number of countries are in discussions about providing a safe destination once the legal process is complete, and it would not be right for me to comment further at this stage.
May I congratulate the Home Secretary on his very brave personal testimony about what happened to him at school years back?
The Catholic Church in England and Wales, and the Catholic Church in Scotland, have both said that they will contribute to secure Asia Bibi’s safety. As I chair the Catholic Legislators Network, will the Home Secretary meet me and other colleagues to discuss the issue?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise concerns about Asia Bibi, and I am sure that those concerns are shared by all Members of the House. It is not appropriate for me to talk about a particular case, especially if there is a risk that it might put the individual or their family in some kind of further risk, but I assure him that my first concern is the safety of Asia and her family. We are working with a number of countries and I will do anything I can to keep her safe. I will happily meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the matter.
Will the Minister meet me to discuss the case of my constituent, Mohammed Al-Maily, a Saudi national with indefinite leave to remain who has been told that he is liable for removal from the UK despite living in the UK for 28 years with his wife? The reason the Home Office has stated is that it shredded the archives detailing whom it had granted indefinite leave to remain to, and the Saudi embassy claims to have lost his passport evidencing his right to leave to remain in the UK.
That is what I would describe as illegitimate shoehorning. It is quite common for colleagues to seek to shoehorn into another question their own preoccupation. To do so so nakedly by advertising another case is a trifle cheeky on the part of the hon. Gentleman, but in observation of and tribute to his ingenuity, as well as to his cheek, perhaps the Secretary of State can be allowed to answer.
The Home Office will take a closer look at that case.
I think the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) should be well satisfied with that.
I appreciate the comments that the Home Secretary has already made about Asia Bibi, but of course there are many, many Christians in Pakistan who live under constant threat of persecution. Will the he work with his Home Office colleagues to make sure that their cases for asylum are treated in a sympathetic manner?
The hon. Lady is quite right to draw attention to that. We believe that there are currently some 40 individuals in Pakistan on death row because of blasphemy offences. That highlights perfectly her concerns. I am sure that the whole House shares those; we will always do what we can to help.
Disclosure and Barring Service
The Disclosure and Barring Service is undertaking a major change in its IT services and has concluded that its R1—release one—system is not suitable for further roll-out. The DBS will be procuring a new supplier to deliver these IT services and has agreed a short contract extension with the current provider to enable a smooth transition so that all operational services are protected.
Does the Minister believe it is appropriate to waste yet more public money by continuing to outsource that vital project? Does she agree with the Public and Commercial Services Union that it should be brought in-house, providing proper accountability and better value for money?
I do not agree with the idea that it should be taken, wholesale, in-house. The DBS has taken full account of the findings and recommendations of the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee reports earlier this year, and, using its review, has decided to procure new providers to ensure delivery of services. We want to do this in as short and as frictionless a way as possible, which is why a short extension has been granted.
I recently announced that 29 projects endorsed by police and crime commissioners across England and Wales will receive £17.7 million of funding to divert children and young people away from violent crime. I published the Government’s new strategy for tackling serious and organised crime and pledged at least £48 million for 2019-20 to target illicit finance. I have been to America to convene a “hackathon” where industry experts work together to develop tools to detect online child grooming. All this work is designed to keep our people safe.
Fruit growers in my constituency welcome the seasonal agricultural workers scheme pilot, although they are concerned that 2,500 workers will not be enough. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that during the implementation period under the proposed withdrawal agreement, EU workers will be able to continue to come to the UK to work on fruit farms in my constituency? Will he advise on whether he has plans to expand the pilot?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s interest in this pilot scheme for agricultural workers. I can assure her, first, that it will be carefully evaluated, and if we need to expand it, we will do that. I can also confirm that workers from the EU will still be able to come and work in the UK during the implementation period.
The Prime Minister has told us that austerity is over and that we are going to save millions from her Brexit deal, and the Minister regularly blames Labour for austerity. We should remember, though, that the Government have given tax cuts to the very wealthy and big corporations: it would seem that the country can afford those. The evidence of cuts is clear—12,000 fewer firefighters and rising response times. The blame cannot be put on local government and fire services. In the light of the Prime Minister’s comments, and if austerity really is over, when will the Minister commission a review of fire service funding—and will he recognise, rather than ignore, the difference between allocated, as opposed to unallocated, reserves?
Our firefighters do an incredibly important job. They have been well supported by the Government, with stable funding over the last comprehensive spending review period, in return for efficiency plans. We are conducting a demand review, to ensure that as we go into the next comprehensive spending review, our fire service gets the support it needs.
The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) is looking remarkably stoical, in the light of his team’s two-goal defeat by four goals to two at Arsenal yesterday.
I could suggest that we proscribe Arsenal, Mr Speaker, but I am not sure how well you would take that.
It is clear that Hezbollah has engaged in and promoted terrorist activity around the world. That is why we have already proscribed its military wing, but I am aware that Hezbollah leaders have themselves cast doubt on the distinction between the military and political activities, so I understand why my hon. Friend asks that question. It is not Government policy to comment on proscription without coming properly to the House, but I assure him that we are keeping this under review.
I thank the FBU for both questions. The truth—and it is always ignored in questions about firefighters from those on the Labour Front Bench—is that the underlying demand for the fire service has fallen, in terms of the number of primary fires and fatalities arising from fires. Under those circumstances, stable funding over the last CSR period was a good deal for the fire service. We are very serious about ensuring that the fire service has the resources it needs, with a proper understanding of the demand and risks it faces over the next few years.
rose— [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Seen but not heard is the role of the Security Minister.
The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which is currently transiting through the House of Lords, includes new measures to ensure that our statute book reflects 21st-century threats. That is why we have increased sentencing. New offences around online harm and extraterritorial reach of some existing offences will ensure that our law and order and intelligence services have the tools they need.
The hon. Lady raises an important issue. I quite agree that we want to make this scheme as easy and simple as possible. I want all 3.5 million EU citizens to feel that they can stay as easily as possible. I want them to stay, and I can give her that confirmation.
In Chelmsford, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and youth offender programmes occasionally have recommended that a youth offender has a curfew, in order to safeguard them from being further targeted by gangs, but the magistrates are often not aware of all the information and overturn that. Will the Minister’s team work with Justice Ministers on better sharing of information with magistrates, so that the full intelligence picture is taken into account?
Very much so; my hon. Friend has hit on the point that the children coming before the youth justice system are very often themselves the victims of horrendous crimes. That is why, in the serious violence taskforce, we are bringing all Government Departments together to spread the message about data collection and sharing, which will then be disseminated nationally through local agents.
We work very closely with the Treasury. That is why the Chancellor has personally turned up to hear the hon. Gentleman’s question; the hon. Gentleman must have given him advance notice. He will have to wait for the police settlement, which is not too far off, but he should question why he voted against the police settlement last year.
The Children’s Commissioner estimates that at least 46,000 children in England have been targeted by drug gangs and coerced by intimidation, violence and criminal incentives into the so-called county lines system of selling drugs across the country. What work is being done by my right hon. Friend’s Department to address this appalling exploitation of children and young people?
As my hon. Friend and other colleagues who work so closely on this will know, county lines are the dissemination of violence and drugs from our major urban centres into rural and coastal areas. Just one of the many pieces of work arising out of the serious violence strategy is the setting up of the national co-ordination centre, where law enforcement agencies work together to share intelligence and advice so that we get to the real criminals behind this practice, and also help to support the children who are being exploited.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, which I know he raised at the Home Affairs Committee last week and again with me in Westminster Hall last week. Both the Home Secretary and I have undertaken to raise that with the Chancellor, who is obviously, as the hon. Gentleman will have noticed, on the Front Bench this afternoon.
Last month, I attended the Centre for Action on Rape and Abuse “Reclaim the Night” march in Colchester, along with hundreds of my constituents, in protest against sexual violence against women. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that the police have the resources they need both to prevent these crimes and to bring those who commit these horrific offences to justice?
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. It is about resources—that is why we saw an increase in police resources last year; and there will be a police settlement statement soon, which will look at resources going forward—but it is also about powers, and I remind him that we will shortly be bringing forward a draft domestic abuse Bill.
We have an agreement with the EU—a draft agreement that this House can vote on—which gives us a very close relationship with the EU on security and co-operation, and it includes considering membership of Europol.
Ah, Mr Courts, we have not heard from you. Let us do so.
What steps are Ministers taking to create an open and global immigration system?
It is very important that we remain open and global with our new immigration system and that we also make the best use of new technology. My hon. Friend will have heard the Chancellor announce in the Budget that we will be expanding e-gates to five other countries—the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan—and we will now also be adding Singapore and South Korea to that list.
As I said earlier, the White Paper will be published soon, but it is important for people to keep in mind that this is the biggest change to our immigration system in 45 years, and it is important that we get the detail right; then we can evaluate it together, properly.
For many victims of burglary, the intrusion into their home, personal space and life is tantamount to an assault. Is it not time that steps were taken to ensure that domestic burglaries are effectively treated as crimes of violence, in terms of police resourcing and priority, and sentencing?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right: the intrusion into a person’s home in a domestic burglary can completely undermine their feeling of safety at home. That is why we continue to ensure that the police have the resources that they need to cut crime and keep our communities safe, and of course make sure that police and crime commissioners—for example, in London—set the policing priorities for their area.
I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome the additional public investment of just under £11 million that has gone into Greater Manchester police this year, and I hope that she will support us on the police funding settlement, which is imminent.
Today is the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities. On this day, we celebrate the contributions made by disabled people, and call for our rights to be realised. In the last year, hate crime towards disabled people has risen by 33%. The UN has warned the Government that statements about disabled people have encouraged negative attitudes, which leads to the rise in hate. On this day, what action are the Government taking to tackle the rise in hate crime against disabled people?
We must of course—all of us, in every Government Department—do all we can to help vulnerable people, including disabled people. That includes addressing hate crime against disabled people, which is of course completely unacceptable. We refreshed our hate crime action plan recently. We are always looking to see what more we can do.
Succinctness personified: Mr Gavin Robinson.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Will the Home Secretary, in developing a new immigration system, support on Wednesday the ten-minute rule Bill in the name of the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), which would end a ridiculous situation in which terror suspects have better detention rights than those seeking to make the UK their home?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue; I will take a close look at that Bill.
The Home Office asylum guidance for Afghan Sikhs is in desperate need of updating. I genuinely fear for the life of Afghan Sikhs sent back to Afghanistan because of the dangerous situation facing the Sikh community there. I am sure that the Minister is aware of the murder of 12 Sikh leaders only this July. Will she please meet me and Afghan Sikh representatives to discuss updating the Home Office guidance?
I thank the hon. Lady for the question. She makes a really important point, particularly in the light of the murder of 12 Afghan Sikhs back in the summer. I would of course be delighted to meet her, and will make sure that my office makes the necessary arrangements.
Will the Home Secretary intervene personally in the case of my constituent Mariya Kingston, who has been in dispute with the Home Office for two years? Her mother died on Friday, and she would like to attend the funeral in Uzbekistan. Will the Home Secretary please facilitate that?
I am very sorry to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s constituent’s family bereavement. I will take a closer look at that case.
The Home Secretary will be aware that West Midlands police force has lost 2,000 officers since 2010. He may not be aware that last week, a Conservative councillor in my constituency, which is next door to his, suggested that the response to rising crime should be for local communities to have a whip round to fund private security patrols. Does that represent Government thinking?
Recognising the police’s need for resources, we increased funding this year by £460 million in total; that includes almost £10 million for the hon. Gentleman’s force. The most interesting question is why he voted against that increased funding.
With permission Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the G20 summit in Argentina. Before I do so, I would like to put on record my thanks to President Macri for hosting such a successful summit. This was the first visit to Buenos Aires by a British Prime Minister, and only the second visit to Argentina since 2001. It came at a time of strengthening relations between our two countries, when we are seeking to work constructively with President Macri.
As we leave the European Union, I have always been clear that Britain will play a full and active role on the global stage as a bold and outward-facing trading nation. We will: stand up for the rules-based international order; strive to resolve, with others, challenges and tensions in the global economy; work with old allies and new friends for the mutual benefit of all our citizens; and remain steadfast in our determination to tackle the great challenges of our time. At this summit, we showed that the international community is capable of working through its differences constructively, and the leading role the UK will continue to play in addressing shared global challenges. We agreed, along with the other G20 leaders, on the need for important reforms to the World Trade Organisation to ensure it responds to changes in international trade. We pursued our objective of making sure that the global economy works for everyone and that the benefits are felt by all. We called for greater action in the fight against modern slavery and tackling climate change, and I held discussions with international partners on security and economic matters, including on the progress of our exit from the European Union and the good deal an orderly exit will be for the global economy. Let me take each of these in turn.
At this year’s summit, I came with the clear message that Britain is open for business and that we are looking forward to future trade agreements. Once we leave the EU, we can and we will strike ambitious trade deals. For the first time in more than 40 years we will have an independent trade policy, and we will continue to be a passionate advocate for the benefits open economies and free markets can bring. We will forge new and ambitious economic partnerships, and open up new markets for our goods and services in the fastest growing economies around the world. During the summit, I held meetings with leaders who are keen to reach ambitious free trade agreements with us as soon as possible. This includes Argentina, with whom I discussed boosting bilateral trade and investment, and I announced the appointment of a new UK trade envoy. I also discussed future trade deals with Canada, Australia, Chile, and Japan, with whom we want to work quickly to establish a new economic partnership based on the EU-Japan economic partnership agreement.
On the global rules that govern trade, we discussed the importance of ensuring an equal playing field and the need for the rules to keep pace with the changing nature of trade and technology. There is no doubt that the international trading system, to which the United Kingdom attaches such importance, is under significant strain. That is why I have repeatedly called for urgent and ambitious reform of the World Trade Organisation. At this summit, I did so again. In a significant breakthrough, we agreed on the need for important reforms to boost the effectiveness of the WTO, with a commitment to review progress at next year’s G20 summit in Japan.
On the global economy, we recognised the progress made in the past 10 years, with this year seeing the strongest global growth since 2011. However, risks to the global economy are re-emerging. In particular, debt in lower income countries has reached an all-time high of 224% of global GDP. I called on members to implement the G20 guidelines on sustainable finance that we agreed last year, and which increase transparency and encourage co-operation. At this year’s summit, I continued to pursue our mission to make the global economy work for everyone, and the need to take action, in our own countries and collectively, to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are felt by all.
Around the world, we are on the brink of a new era in technology which will transform lives and change the way we live. This has the potential to bring us huge benefits, but many are anxious about what it means for jobs. That is why in the UK, alongside creating the right environment for tech companies to flourish through our modern industrial strategy, we are investing in the education and skills needed so that people can make the most of the jobs and opportunities that will be created. We made strong commitments to improving women’s economic empowerment, and alongside that I called on G20 leaders to take practical action to ensure that by 2030 all girls, not just in our own countries but around the world, get 12 years of quality education.
To build fair economies and inclusive societies, we must tackle injustice wherever we find it. Around the world, we must all do more to end the horrific practice of modern slavery, and protect vulnerable men, women and children from being abused and exploited in the name of profit. Two years ago, I put modern slavery on the G20 agenda at my first summit, and this year, I was pleased to give my full support to the G20’s strategy to eradicate modern slavery from the world of work. I announced that next year, the Government will publish the steps we are taking to identify and prevent slavery in the UK Government’s supply chains in our own transparency statement. This is a huge challenge. Last financial year, the UK Government spent £47 billion on public procurement, demonstrating just how important this task is. I urged the other leaders around the G20 table to work with us and ensure that their supply chains are free from slavery, as we work to bring an end to this appalling crime.
On climate change, I made clear the UK’s determination to lead the way on the serious threat that this poses to our planet. We need a step change in preparing for temperature rises, to cut the cost and impact of climate-related disasters, and to secure food, water and jobs for the future. As a UN champion on climate resilience, the UK will continue to pursue this agenda at next year’s UN climate summit. Nineteen of us at the G20 reaffirmed our commitment to the Paris agreement, but it remains a disappointment that the United States continues to opt out. I also announced that the UK will be committing £100 million to the Renewable Energy Performance Platform, which will directly support the private sector in leveraging private finance to fund renewable energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa.
This summit also gave me the opportunity to discuss important matters directly with other leaders and raise concerns openly and frankly. In that context, I met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, first to stress the importance of a full, transparent and credible investigation into the terrible murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and of those responsible being held to account—a matter which I also discussed with President Erdogan—and secondly, to urge an end to the conflict in Yemen and relief for those suffering from starvation, and to press for progress at the upcoming talks in Stockholm. Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is important to this country, but that does not prevent us from putting forward robust views on these matters of grave concern. I also discussed the situation in Ukraine with a number of G20 leaders. The UK condemns Russian aggression in the Black sea and calls for the release of the 24 Ukrainian service personnel detained and their three vessels.
At this year’s summit, we reached important agreements, demonstrating the continued importance of the G20 and international co-operation. It also demonstrated the role that a global Britain will play on the world’s stage as we work with our friends and partners around the world to address shared challenges and bolster global prosperity. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of her statement. This G20 summit met 10 years after the global financial crash, and the 20 nations that control 85% of the world’s GDP have been too slow to reject the failed neoliberal economic model that caused the crisis in the first place, but there are signs of change. On Saturday, I attended the inauguration of a G20 leader, President López Obrador of Mexico, who has won a significant mandate for change to the corruption, environmental degradation and economic failure of the past.
Of course, some G20 countries have no such democratic mechanisms, so while economics are important, our belief in universal human rights and democratic principles must never be subservient to them. The Prime Minister—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister told the media she would—[Interruption.]
Order. Do be quiet, it is awfully boring and terribly juvenile—[Interruption.] Order. The Prime Minister was heard, and overwhelmingly with courtesy. The same will apply in respect of the Leader of the Opposition. It does not matter how long it takes; I have all the time in the day. That is what will happen. Please try to grasp this rather simple truth.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister told the media she would sit down and be robust with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the chief architect of the brutal war in Yemen, which has killed 56,000 people and brought 14 million to the brink of famine. The Crown Prince is believed to have ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Rather than be robust, as she promised, we learn that she told the dictator, “Please don’t use the weapons we are selling you in the war you’re waging,” and asked him nicely to investigate the murder he allegedly ordered. Leaders should not just offer warms words against human rights atrocities; they should back up their words with action. Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and others have stopped their arms sales to Saudi Arabia. When will the UK do the same?
On Ukraine, as NATO has said, we need both sides to show restraint and to de-escalate the situation, with international law adhered to, including Russia allowing unhindered access to Ukraine’s ports on the sea of Azov.
Britain’s trade policy must be led by clear principles that do not sacrifice human rights. The International Trade Secretary claimed last summer that a trade deal between the UK and the EU would be easiest in human history, but all we have before us is 26 pages of vague aspirations. It seems that neither has he got very far on the 40 trade deals he said he would be ready to sign on the day we leave next year, unless the Prime Minister can update us in her response. In the light of last week’s report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, how does she intend to ensure that the 240 export trade negotiators she promised by Brexit day will be in place, given that the Government have had two years and only 90 are currently in post?
Did the Prime Minister speak again to President Trump at the G20? He seems to have rejected her Brexit agreement because it does not put America first. The International Trade Secretary claimed that bilateral US and UK trade could rise by £40 billion a year by 2030,
“if we’re able to remove the barriers to trade that we have”.
She claims that under her deal we can and will strike ambitious trade deals, but this morning we learned that Britain’s top civil servant in charge of these negotiations wrote to her admitting that there was no legal guarantee of being able to end the backstop.
It is clear, however, that some in the Prime Minister’s Government do want to remove barriers. Just this weekend the Environment Secretary said, with regard to the Brexit deal and workers’ rights, that
“it allows us to diverge and have flexibility”.
Our flexible labour market already means that the UK has the weakest wage growth of all the G20 nations. Did the Prime Minister ask the other leaders how they were faring so much better?
UK capital investment is the second worst in the G20. The previous Chancellor slashed UK corporation tax to the lowest level in the G20, telling us—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] In doing so, he told us it would boost investment. It did not. Did the Prime Minister ask other G20 leaders why, despite having higher corporation tax, they attracted much higher investment?
Given that the G20 is responsible for 76% of carbon dioxide emissions, I welcome the fact that building a consensus for a fair and sustainable development was a theme of the summit. Why then did her Government vote against Labour’s proposal to include the sustainable development goals as a reference point when the Trade Bill was put before Parliament earlier this year? If present trends continue, many G20 nations will not meet their Paris 2015 commitments, so I am glad that the Government will be pursuing this agenda at next year’s UN climate summit, and I hope that they will also pursue it this week in the talks in Katowice, Poland.
Given that climate change is the biggest issue facing our world, it is imperative that a sustainable economic and trade model be put forward that puts people and planet over profit. Our country has the lowest wage growth in the G20, the lowest investment and poor productivity. Ten years on from the global financial crisis, this Prime Minister and too much of the G20 have simply failed to learn the lessons of that crash.
The right hon. Gentleman ranged over a number of issues. Let me pick out some key ones.
First—as I have made entirely clear in my conversations with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in the Foreign Secretary’s conversations with King Salman himself, in my conversations with King Salman, and in other interactions with Saudi Arabia, we have been absolutely robust in our response in relation to the terrible murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and very clear about the need for those responsible to be held to account.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the war in Yemen. I might remind him that the coalition intervention in Yemen was actually requested by the legitimate Government of Yemen, and has been acknowledged by the United Nations Security Council.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether I had spoken to President Trump. I did speak to President Trump in the margins of the meeting. I was clear with him that we can indeed do a trade deal with the United States of America with the deal that is on the table with the European Union. We recognise that the working group that exists between the UK and the USA, which is looking at trade arrangements for the future, has been making good progress.
The right hon. Gentleman made various other references to issues relating to trade. Yes, I did discuss trade with a number of the other leaders I met. Prime Minister Abe of Japan made it very clear that he looked forward to being able to discuss the United Kingdom’s possible membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, and, indeed, that was echoed by others with whom I spoke at the G20 summit.
I am very interested that the right hon. Gentleman made so many references to trade. Of course, he used to want to do trade deals with other countries, and he put that in his manifesto, but just last week he said that he did not want to do trade deals after all. Trade deals will be important to the economy of this country in the future, and we are certainly committed to those trade deals around the rest of the world.
The right hon. Gentleman then talked about corporation tax. I might remind him that yes, we have cut corporation tax, which has been of benefit to businesses, employers and jobs in this country, and guess what? We cut corporation tax, and we are raising more money from it. We have employment at record levels, and we are the first choice in Europe for foreign direct investment.
One thing that I omitted from my statement was that during some of the other conversations that I had with leaders of countries in South America, they were reflecting on the migration problem that is being caused by the terrible situation of the economy in Venezuela.
As the Prime Minister apparently did discuss with President Trump the question of future trade arrangements with America, will she tell us whether the President indicated any area of the American market, such as public procurement or financial or other services, that he might be considering opening up to us? If he repeated his request that we should open ourselves up fully to food imports, did she explain to him that we are unwilling to abandon the European standards that we have developed over the years to accept lower standards set by Congress, as he wishes, and that he really must adjust to the fact that we cannot forfeit all our other overseas markets in order to allow him to export food to this country?
My right hon. and learned Friend has raised two aspects of a potential trade deal with the United States of America. I have made it very clear to a number of people, in relation to the issue of agricultural products, that this is not a question of our membership of the EU or our adoption of EU standards, but will be a question for everyone in this country about the standards that we want to continue to have in relation to those products in the future.
As for the issue of opening up the American market for public procurement and financial services, the working group that exists between us and the United States is looking at exactly that.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement, and join her in congratulating President Macri on Argentina’s presidency of the G20. It is pleasing to hear that President Macri and the Prime Minister had productive talks on trade and investment; perhaps she will share more details of their content with the House.
Given the current strains on international diplomacy, it is welcome that the G20 was able to come together and deliver a joint statement of endeavour. The communiqué itself is clearly a compromise agreement, but it falls short in a number of areas. In particular, the pledge to look at WTO reform requires further explanation from the Prime Minister on what reform she believes is needed and why. Also, on the refugee crisis and our responsibilities, it seems that the communiqué has the bare minimum commitment rather than real ambition. That is particularly shocking given that this weekend marks the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport—the journey of children who fled the Nazis. We should still have the same generosity of spirit towards refugees in this country today. I do, however, agree with the Prime Minister’s sentiments about the importance of the G20 to international economic co-operation, and I welcome the fact that commitments have been made to work together on economic opportunities and the greatest threat to our generation, climate change.
However, I note that in her press release the Prime Minister exclaimed that the summit gave her the opportunity to update leaders on her Brexit plans. Did the Prime Minister share with world leaders any concern that her deal is a lame duck? There are many questions for her to answer. Will she explain how she was discussing trade agreements when she will not be able to strike any deals until after the transition? Furthermore, can she explain how any of these discussions can take place when the backstop comes in, as she confirmed in the House last Monday that the UK will not be able to have any independent trade deals?
Does the Prime Minister see the direct contradiction in her claims of working in collaboration and partnership to deliver economic prosperity when her Brexit deal rips economic stability and opportunity from beneath our feet by taking us out of the European Union? I can see her shaking her head, but that is the reality: young people are going to be denied the opportunities that our generations had.
At the summit, did the Prime Minister use her time to discuss pressing human rights issues? What discussions did she have, and did she raise the matter of Khashoggi’s death with Mohammed bin Salman?
Finally, will the Prime Minister share with us an update on her Government’s actions over the past two years to tackle climate change, or has she been too distracted to get on with the job of government?
The right hon. Gentleman asked me about WTO reform, so let me give him a couple of the issues I raised in relation to that—I think from conversations with others that it is recognised that it needs to be addressed. One is the dispute resolution mechanism, which everybody recognises is too slow. If people are to be able to have faith in the rules set by the WTO, there needs to be a dispute mechanism in which they can have faith as well. Another key area of concern is the very slow progress the WTO has made on the digital economy and looking at the whole area of e-commerce. Those are just two of the issues that will be referenced in relation to WTO reform.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about trade deals and said—I was listening carefully—that we would not be able to strike trade deals until after the transition or implementation period. That is not correct: during that period we will be able to negotiate, sign and ratify trade deals, which can then come into operation at the end of the implementation period.
I hope we will all welcome the growing and developing bilateral relationship between the UK and Argentina, and when I was there I was pleased to be able to welcome the extra flight that will now take place from the Falkland Islands via Cordoba to São Paulo.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether any pressing human rights issues had been raised. I specifically referenced in my statement a human rights issue on which this Government have been leading the world: modern slavery.
It is true, through the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and I am pleased to say that the Australians are now introducing legislation that mirrors ours in relation to supply chains. I encourage other countries around the world to do the same.
What was quite striking for many people when they saw the photograph was that, apart from Christine Lagarde, the chief of the International Monetary Fund, the Prime Minister was the only woman in the photograph, given that Mrs Merkel’s plane did not quite make it. The lack of women as leaders is really striking. The Prime Minister rightly says that since we put modern slavery on the G20 agenda two years ago, part of the purpose of the G20 is to build fair economies and inclusive societies, and in doing that we must tackle injustice. What does she hope to achieve to tackle the injustice of there not being enough women involved at all levels of government in the G20, but especially at the top?
My right hon. Friend and I share the desire to encourage more women to come into politics, and not just here in the UK. We want to see more women able to take senior positions in the political world in other countries as well. We have a good overall record on women’s employment here, but there is still more for us to do to encourage women to see politics as a career that they want to come into. To do that, we need to tackle some of the problems that have arisen, such as the harassment and bullying that women politicians sometimes receive, particularly through social media. Until Chancellor Merkel arrived, I was the only female Head of Government there, and the lack of female leaders sitting around the table was raised not just by Christine Lagarde but by other leaders around the table as well.
Will the Prime Minister undertake to build on her role as a candid friend to Prince Mohammed and the Saudi regime by making an appeal for clemency on behalf of 12 men who currently face imminent execution, after torture, for the crime of practising a different religion?
We regularly raise individual cases with the Saudi Arabian Government, and we talk about human rights issues every time I meet them, but I am sure that the Foreign Office will look at the particular case that the right hon. Gentleman has raised.
Did my right hon. Friend gain the impression from the G20 that beyond the European Union there is a big wide world waiting and wanting to do business with the United Kingdom? Contrary to the impression given by the spokesman for the Scottish National party, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), will it not be perfectly possible under the withdrawal agreement for us to strike and sign deals, ready for immediate implementation at the end of the transition period?
I am able to give my hon. Friend the confirmation that he seeks in relation to those issues. On his second point, it is absolutely the case that during the implementation period—the transition period—we will be able to negotiate, sign and ratify trade deals with other countries around the world. Indeed, there may be aspects of those trade deals that we will be able to bring into practice.
As the Prime Minister knows, this year is the 10th anniversary of the Climate Change Act 2008. I welcome what she has said about providing a leadership role at the UN climate summit next year, but our own country is not on track to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, so what are we going to do to provide real leadership on these issues at the G20 and to get back on track to meet those important carbon budgets?
The first thing is to lead by the example that we have set. As the hon. Lady says, the Climate Change Act came into place 10 years ago, and that was an important step that showed leadership here in the UK. We must continue to do that, but another aspect that we are also leading on is encouraging the greater development of resilience to climate change. As we look around the world, we see many people, particularly in the Pacific islands, who will be significantly affected by climate change. Helping those people and others—in the Caribbean, for example—to build their resilience is also important.
Will my right hon. Friend elaborate on what executive actions, beyond condemnation, the G20 partners agreed in response to Russia’s blatant and wholly unacceptable piracy in the sea of Azov and the wider Black sea?
As my right hon. Friend has indicated, the G20 was clear in its condemnation of this action. There was discussion among the G20 leaders on condemnation of the action, but of course one of the G20 leaders is President Putin. That is why the question of executive action is one that I think we will be taking up in other forums. We, the UK, have been one of the leaders in pressing in the European Union for sanctions against Russia for activity in Ukraine, and we will continue to do so.
Speaking today at the UN climate summit, Sir David Attenborough told world leaders that the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world are on the horizon, which is a stark warning. I welcome the Government’s contribution to the renewable energy platform, but will the Prime Minister explain why they are refusing to engage in the important fossil fuel subsidy peer review process, which is being led by the G20, despite the UK handing out billions to dirty energy every single year?
We recognise the significance of climate change, but—the hon. Lady referenced a quote from David Attenborough—we also recognise the importance of action in other areas, such as the protection of species around the world. That is why we held a conference here in October on the international wildlife trade, which is another aspect of the future of our world. As for energy sources, we believe in having a mixed economy, but we are of course a member of the Powering Past Coal Alliance and we are encouraging others to become members.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the Government’s support for Ukraine in the face of increased Russian aggression. Will she look at ways of stepping up pressure on Russia to release not just the 24 sailors, but the 68 other Ukrainian political prisoners held in occupied Crimea and in Russia, and to cease the blockade of Berdyansk and Mariupol in the sea of Azov?
As my right hon. Friend points out, recent events in Ukraine are not the only example of Russian aggression, and in fact they fit into a pattern of Russian behaviour. We will continue to press for appropriate action to be taken in these matters. As I said in response to a previous question, the UK has been leading in the EU in pressing for sanctions, and we will continue to do so. I look forward to discussing with EU leaders the further steps that can be taken.
Members from across the House campaigned for a Magnitsky Act to deal with human rights abusers in Russia and other countries, and we were delighted when such measures made their way into the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. However, the Foreign Office is dragging its heels and has not yet implemented any of them. Will the Prime Minister please chivvy along the Foreign Secretary to ensure that we get them in place as soon as possible? That is something we could do now.
I will of course ensure that the Foreign Office is looking at this issue. Along with the Dutch, we are encouraging others to take on the concept of a human rights-related Magnitsky Act, but until we leave the European Union there is a limit to what we can do when it comes to the individual imposition of sanctions.
I thank the Prime Minister for pointing out that an orderly exit from the EU will benefit the entire world’s economy. In the backstop, the UK will have tariff and quota-free access to the entire single market, but we will not be paying contributions to the EU budget or following EU rules on free movement. Who should be more uncomfortable about that: the UK or the EU?
It is precisely because, should that circumstance come into place, we would have access without paying and without free movement that the EU is uncomfortable about the prospect of the UK being in the backstop.
The Prime Minister mentioned that she spoke to President Trump on the margins of the summit about trade policy. Is she aware that the summit did not look that inspirational back home? Did she have any good informal talks with European allies? Did she get any really good bonuses out of those conversations?
I had a number of discussions with European allies, but I focused my meetings at this G20 summit on those to whom I do not normally get the opportunity to speak. That was why I was pleased to have bilaterals with Prime Minister Trudeau, Prime Minister Abe, President Erdoğan, President Macri of Argentina and the President of Chile, and I have referenced the particular issues taken up with Saudi Arabia.
The Prime Minister continues to show commitment to the world’s poorest nations. In her ongoing discussions with G20 allies, will she urge them to step up to the plate and ensure that next year’s replenishment round for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is full and effective so that the world can take another step forward in fighting these killer diseases?
I am very happy to take up the issue my right hon. Friend refers to. There was recognition of the issues around HIV and AIDS, and of course one of the days of the summit was World AIDS Day. This is one of those issues where everybody around the table recognises that there is still work for us to do.
When the Prime Minister was discussing the brave new world of post-Brexit free trade deals with world leaders, did any of them point out the supreme irony that her own Treasury forecasts show those deals can be achieved only by reducing the amount of free trade we do with our nearest market of 500 million people and by losing access to 36 other free trade deals that our membership of the European Union currently gives us?
As the hon. Lady will know, we are working on the continuity arrangements for the trade deals that currently exist between the EU and various countries around the world. It is not right to say that it is only by not having that trade relationship with the EU that we can have trade relationships around the rest of the world. There is a recognition, both in the political declaration and in the Government’s own proposals, that we can have a good trading relationship with the EU and good trading relationships, different from those that currently exist, with other countries around the world.
The Prime Minister’s mention of the World Trade Organisation reminds me that the Chancellor, in his Budget, wisely allocated £3 billion to £4 billion for practical preparations for exiting the EU on a WTO basis. Has each Government Department now received its allocated share of those funds? If not, why are they being held back?
The funds are not being held back, and Government Departments will receive notification of the allocation of the funds in the next few days.
The Yemen data project has reported that 42 airstrikes happened over the course of 10 days, of which 62% hit civilian targets. Did the Prime Minister discuss with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman how the bombs she sold him will be used in the coming months?
What I discussed with the crown prince was the need to find a political solution to what is happening in the conflict in Yemen. This is very important, and talks are due to take place in Stockholm. I have encouraged all parties to take part in those talks. The way to resolve the issue in Yemen is through a long-term political solution.
The Prime Minister has twice given assurances to the House today that we can, indeed, do trade deals and that those deals can be signed and ratified, but not implemented until we have left the transition period. Can she confirm what the status of those trade deals would be should we go into the backstop period?
The backstop would require some restrictions in relation to trade deals—notably, we would be applying the common external tariffs—but there would be some freedom for us in relation to trade with other countries around the world. I am glad my hon. Friend has repeated the confirmation I have given that it would be possible during the transition period to ratify, negotiate and sign up to trade deals. Of course, it is the intention of the Government, and the clearly stated intention of the European Union, that at the end of that implementation period we will be in a position to operate those trade deals.
The Prime Minister has referred to a pattern of Russian behaviour, and she has also condemned the Russian aggression in Ukraine. Did she also have an opportunity in her conversations with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or with President Erdoğan to talk about Syria and the continuing crimes being carried out by Russia and its Iranian and Hezbollah allies there?
We regularly raise the issues around Syria with other partners in a variety of ways. We recognise the continuing problems in relation to Syria. Of course, again, a long-term solution in Syria can only come with a political solution. It is good that we have seen some limitation of the action taking place in certain parts of Syria in recent months, but obviously we have sadly also seen continuing action against people in Syria.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement that the Government will be taking steps to eradicate slavery in their supply chain, as that was an issue I highlighted in a private Member’s Bill a couple of years ago. Does she agree that everyone in this House should be able to be united on this issue?
It is absolutely the case that this eradication of modern slavery is an issue that everybody across the whole House should be working towards, and they should be supporting the Government’s efforts in this area. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was an important step, but there is much more for us to do, which is why we are continuing to press forward on further action on this.
The high five between President Putin and Crown Prince bin Salman may have seemed jovial, but the undertone of geopolitically significant relationships comes with it. Did the Prime Minister have any discussions with our NATO allies on supporting the international rules-based order, which she mentioned, not only through encouraging compliance, but perhaps through coercing it?
I certainly had a number of conversations about exactly the point of maintaining the international rules-based order. We recognise that in a number of different areas this is under significant pressure, but we have been leading in some areas to ensure that it continues, not least, of course, in the work we have done in the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Among the members of the G20 are some countries that were in crushing poverty only a few decades ago. Will the Prime Minister reject the calls to move away from liberal free market economics and instead promote that as an agenda, removing tariff barriers imposed by wealthy countries and using free trade to lift other poor nations and people around the world out of that poverty?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; it is trade that develops economies, helps to lift poor countries out of their poverty and helps to provide for people in those countries. One of the points I made at the summit was that the increasing protectionism we see—the increasing pressure on the rules-based international order in relation to trade—will only hit the poorest hardest.
The Japanese Prime Minister clearly does not want Japanese companies such as Honda and Nissan to face friction at the UK-EU border. When will our Prime Minister be clear that there is a trade-off between retaining the frictionless access to EU markets we currently enjoy but which will not be in place after the transition period in her deal and striking free trade deals with other countries around the world?
First, the hon. Lady has made an assumption about the political declaration. If she looks at it, she will see the ambition that is there on our future trading and relationships with the European Union. Yes, there is a balance for us in that relationship with the EU between an acceptance of rules and standards, and the checks that take place in relation to frictionless trade. The Government have recognised that—we did that when we published the White Paper in the summer—but that does not mean we cannot sign trade deals with the rest of the world. We will be able to sign those trade deals around the world.
The Prime Minister referenced her deal with the EU. Before she embarked on the negotiations with the European Union, what were the top three successful negotiations she had negotiated?
I will tell my hon. Friend one of the negotiations I successfully negotiated. When I became Home Secretary, I was told that the exchange of passenger name records across the European Union would be very important in improving our security against terrorists and organised criminals. I was also told that we were the only country that wanted it and therefore it could not happen inside the European Union. What do we now see? By painstaking work, because I refused to accept that view, we have a passenger name records directive.
There is a time in politics when words are not enough; 56,000 people have been killed and 14 million are living through a humanitarian crisis in Yemen—what is the Prime Minister’s price to ensure that human rights are more important than blood money from the sale of arms?
The question of providing for those people who are suffering terribly in the Yemen today is about ensuring that there is a political solution in the Yemen. We believe that there is an opportunity for that now and that is what we have been encouraging all the parties to come together for. That is why the talks that are going to take place in Stockholm over the coming days and weeks are so important.
While the G20 were meeting in Buenos Aires, the COP24 conference was gathering in Poland. Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm our commitment to maintaining our world-leading position on climate change resilience, and our commitment to meet our obligations as agreed in Paris three years ago, no matter what the position of our closest ally, the United States, or our future relationship with the European Union?
I am happy to give our continued commitment to the obligations that we signed up to. In fact, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, in her previous ministerial role in energy, was a leading figure in helping to ensure that the Paris accord came together. We remain committed to it.
Let me return to the Japanese Prime Minister. He asked our Prime Minister to rule out no deal. Will she?
I have negotiated a good deal for the UK with the European Union.
I hope that during the course of the summit the Prime Minister managed to speak to the Brazilian President, Mr Temer, about his successor, Mr Bolsonaro, who takes over on the 31st of this month and whose virulent homophobic remarks during the election campaign were unacceptable and unconducive to good relations with the United Kingdom.
Of course, the incoming President who made those remarks was not there at the G20 summit; as my hon. Friend said, it was the current President, Mr Temer, who was there. We will continue to be clear with all countries around the world about the importance that we attach to equal rights and human rights.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on all the air miles she has clocked up recently on our behalf? I urge her Government not to forget their promises on anticorruption. The G20 declaration commits leaders to tackling
“vulnerabilities in the financial system”.
What with the National Crime Agency—which the Prime Minister had a hand in setting up, as she reminded us—estimating that hundreds of billions of pounds are currently being laundered through the UK, will she give us a date for when the commitment to consult on the creation of a criminal offence for corporations of failure to prevent money laundering will materialise, so that we can practise what we preach?
I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks. I did set up the National Crime Agency and it is doing important work in this area. The new economic crime centre has been set up, and that is an important step in dealing with these issues. We continue to look at the powers that are necessary to deal with money laundering, but we have already introduced new powers that enable us to take action against those involved in these matters.
I refer my right hon. Friend to what she said about renewable energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa. How will that support the 30% renewable energy target in Nigeria, a country that cannot provide electricity to half its population?
I thank my hon. Friend for pointing that out. The point of the intervention we are making and the money that we are making available is that it will help to leverage private finance. It is through Government working together with private finance that we will be able to ensure that projects can come on board in a number of countries in Africa.
If the Prime Minister’s Brexit proposals are implemented, the trade deals that she talks about will have to concentrate primarily on services, as opposed to goods. Will she therefore make a commitment to rule out using public services as a bargaining chip?
We have always been clear in relation to public services. The economy of the United Kingdom relies significantly on services—it is one of the areas in which we are particularly leading across the world—and I expect that we will be able to ensure that the trade deals that we do around the world incorporate those aspects of services in which we are leading.
If I might return to the subject of the sixth replenishment of the global fund to continue the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, will my right hon. Friend confirm from her engagement with the US Administration that the United States, currently the biggest donor to the fund, shares her commitment?
I am very happy to say to my hon. Friend that, obviously, as he has said, we restated the commitment to ending HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The G20 is an important venue for doing that and, indeed, in one of his interventions at the summit, President Trump made reference to the need for the work that continues to be done in terms of HIV.
The Prime Minister understands the supreme importance of cross-border and national security. She also understands how difficult and how long a process it inevitably is to agree and ratify new treaties. Will she level with this House and the public that there is actually very little chance of being able to agree and then fully ratify a new security treaty by the end of the transition period?
I have a different opinion from the hon. Gentleman. We have a clear structure within the political declaration in relation to that. I simply say to him that the December joint report on withdrawal was 16 pages. Within less than a year, we have negotiated 585—nearly 590—pages of legal text. The political declaration is, I think, 26 pages. It is perfectly possible to negotiate on all aspects of that within the two years available.
Next week, in Marrakech, a UN conference on migration takes place, yet there are considerable concerns among some G20 and EU member countries—Italy for example—about its provisions. Was that discussed at the G20 summit and what is the position of Her Majesty’s Government on this?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right—[Interruption.]
Order. This is rather unseemly. I am bound to say that the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) was entitled to a somewhat more respectful welcome. His constituents were entitled to hear him heard with greater courtesy. Now that the Prime Minister is replying, this great hubbub of voluble and unnecessary noise should cease. Let us hear her reply.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. With the launch event of the Global Compact on Migration next week, it is absolutely right that migration is being discussed in a number of forums, including, obviously, the references that we saw in the communiqué that came out of the G20 summit. That Global Compact is one way in which we can bolster international co-operation in these areas, because it does set out an approach to reduce irregular or illegal migration while improving regular and managed migration. It enables all states effectively to manage their borders. This issue is recognised across the G20 as one that needs to be addressed.
When the Prime Minister met the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, did she discuss with him the 11 exchanges that our American allies said that he had had with the leader of the hit squad who murdered and dismembered Mr Khashoggi at around the time of those events? If so, is she happy still to be described as she was by the leader of the Liberal Democrats as a “candid friend” of the Saudi crown prince?
The point that I made to the Saudi crown prince was very simple: everybody needs to be absolutely confident that the Saudi Arabian investigation is full, proper, credible and transparent. We are encouraging Saudi Arabia to ensure that it does that, and I also discussed the nature of the investigations with President Erdoğan.
It is the rise of technology that will change more lives across the G20 than any other factor. Will the Prime Minister restate her commitment to increase our spending on research and development so that we in this country make the most of the opportunities?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have a firm commitment as a Government to increase the percentage of GDP being spent on research and development to 2.4%—that is both public and private sector investment. This is the way that we can ensure that we are investing in the jobs of the future.
Today is International Disability Day. With more than 1 billion disabled people worldwide—and that number is set to increase—was the equality and empowerment of disabled people discussed at the G20 and, if not, will the Prime Minister commit to discussing it at a future meeting?
What was discussed was the importance of ensuring that economic development benefits all people, including those who currently feel that they are not benefiting from it and obviously including disabled people. A number of events around the margins of the G20 also addressed a number of these issues.
The Prime Minister mentioned in her statement the importance of securing free trade deals around the world, yet some Members of this House are proposing the so-called Norway-plus option—membership of the single market and the EU customs union, most likely with a backstop. Does she agree that that would prevent free trade deals from being done, that we would still be paying money in and that there would be unlimited free movement, and will she join me in saying that would be an extremely bad choice for our country?
I am happy to confirm what my hon. Friend has said. That option would indeed mean that we would continue to pay and would have to accept free movement; the Norway-plus model also has the issue of the customs union. We have negotiated a deal that is right for the United Kingdom.
I am pleased that the Prime Minister recognises the importance of an equal playing field with respect to trade. Will this also apply to the contract for the fleet solid support ships, and can the Prime Minister assure our UK shipbuilders that foreign Government-sponsored bids will be ruled out?
The hon. Lady will be aware that we have developed a national shipbuilding strategy. This is an important step forward that will support shipbuilders around the UK.
By 2030, each girl is guaranteed 12 years of education. Will the Prime Minister confirm the commitment from the G20—and particularly this country—to achieve this target by 2030?
We are already one of the countries that is putting significant funds from its international development funding into the whole question of girls’ education, and we will continue to do so.
Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Position
It is very good of the Prime Minister to warm up for me today.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement to the House. I should make clear the context in which I consider that I am to do so today; my statement is intended to inform the debate that is shortly to commence on the motion to approve the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration on the future relationship concluded with the European Union by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
It is important to understand how the Law Officers habitually give their advice, which may be a mixture of oral and written communications given at different times during fast-developing events. Ministers are advised by their own departmental lawyers, and the points that arise for consideration of the Law Officers are invariably limited to the relatively few of particular importance to the policy decision of the Government. Therefore, my statement today is complemented by a detailed legal commentary, provided for the purpose of the debate and published this morning, that analyses the effect of the agreement as a whole. That legal commentary has been produced with my oversight and approval, and I commend it to the House as both an accurate examination of the provisions of the agreement and a helpful exposition of some of the salient issues that arise from them.
There is, of course, no want of other sources of helpful commentary available to the House, and in making this statement in these unusual circumstances and in answering any questions that hon. Members may have, I consider that I have a solemn and constitutional duty to this House to advise it on these legal questions objectively and impartially, and to place such legal expertise as I have at its disposal. The historical precedents strongly support that view. The House may be sure that I shall discharge this duty with uncompromising and rigorous fidelity. If this agreement is to pass this House, as I strongly believe it should, I do not believe that it can or should pass under any misapprehension whatsoever as to the legal matters on which that judgment should be based.
It is important to recall that the matters of law affecting the withdrawal can only inform what is essentially a political decision that each of us must make. This is a question not of the lawfulness of the Government’s action but of the prudence, as a matter of policy and political judgment, of entering into an international agreement on the terms proposed. In the time available to me, it is impossible to have covered each of the matters of law that might arise from 585 pages of complicated legal text, and no Attorney General—certainly not this one—can instantly possess the answers to all of the pertinent questions that the skill and ingenuity of hon. Members may devise.
However, I am aware that there are certain parts of the agreement the meaning of which attracts the close and keen interest of the House, and it is to some of these that I now turn: first, the Northern Ireland protocol and some of the other provisions of the withdrawal agreement relevant to it. The protocol would come into force, if needed, on the conclusion of the implementation period on 31 December 2020 unless, pursuant to article 132 of the agreement, both the UK and the EU agreed to a single extension for a fixed time of up to one or two years. By article 1, the protocol confirms that it would affect neither the constitutional status of Northern Ireland nor the principle of consent as set out in the Belfast or Good Friday agreement. The statutory guarantee that a majority in Northern Ireland would be required to consent to a change in its constitutional status as part of the United Kingdom and the associated amendment to the Irish constitution to remove its previous territorial claim remain in place.
Once in force, by article 2.1 of the protocol, the parties would be obliged, in good faith, to use their best endeavours to conclude by 31 December 2020 an agreement that supersedes it. There is a separate but closely related duty on the parties under article 184 to negotiate expeditiously and use best endeavours in good faith to conclude an agreement in line with the political declaration. Having regard to those obligations, by article 1.4 of the protocol, it is expressly agreed not to be intended to establish a permanent relationship but to be temporary. That language reflects the fact that article 50 of the Treaty on European Union does not provide a legal basis in Union law for permanent future arrangements with non-member states.
If either party did not comply with its obligations of good faith after the implementation period, it would be open to them to bring a complaint under the dispute settlement provisions set out in articles 164 to 181 of the agreement. These include independent arbitration. Clear and convincing evidence would be required to establish a breach of that obligation. If the protocol were to come into force, it would continue to apply in international law unless and until it was superseded by the intended subsequent agreement which achieved the stated objectives of maintaining the necessary conditions for continued north-south co-operation, avoiding a hard border and protecting the Belfast agreement in all its dimensions.
There is therefore no unilateral right for either party to terminate this arrangement. This means that if no superseding agreement can be reached within the implementation period, the protocol would be activated and in international law would subsist even if negotiations had broken down. How likely that is to happen is a political question, to which the answer will no doubt depend partly on the extent to which it is in either party’s interests to remain indefinitely within its arrangements.
Under the protocol, the UK would form with the EU a single customs territory for goods for fiscal or tariff purposes. Accordingly, Northern Ireland would form part of the same customs territory as Great Britain, with no tariffs, quotas or checks on rules of origin between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. However, Northern Ireland would additionally apply defined aspects of the EU’s single market rules relating to the regulation and control of the supply of electricity on the island of Ireland; goods, including cross-border VAT rules; and the EU customs code. Those rules would be enforced as they are now, including preliminary references from Northern Ireland courts to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
By those means, the need for any hard border would be avoided, and goods originating in Northern Ireland would be entitled to free circulation throughout the EU’s single market. In all other respects of its regulatory regime, Northern Ireland would follow the applicable UK legislation, save where those were devolved. By article 7, a Northern Ireland business would also enjoy the same free circulation of its goods throughout the United Kingdom, while its EU competitor—whether situated in the Republic of Ireland or elsewhere in the single market—would not.
I turn to the role of Union law and the CJEU under the withdrawal agreement and within the dispute settlement provisions. It is important to place these provisions in the context of the objectives of the agreement, which is the orderly exit of the UK from the EU for our citizens and businesses. To that end, following the implementation period, the agreement provides for the continued application of Union law in defined and strictly limited respects, where it is necessary or desirable for legal certainty to do so.
Although we will legally leave the EU and cease to be a member state on 29 March 2019, part 4 of the agreement provides for an implementation or transition period of 21 months, which is designed to enable our people and our businesses to adjust to the changes that are coming. During that implementation period, so as to give the time, predictability and continuity that is needed, it is provided that Union law should continue to apply, and the laws, systems and institutions of the EU will have the same role and functions as before.
But on the conclusion of that period, on 31 December 2020, that will come to an end. Thereafter, Union law and the Court of Justice will possess a relevance in the United Kingdom only in so far as it is necessary, in limited and specific areas, for the winding down of the obligations of our relationship of 45 years. For example, the rights of our own citizens living in EU member states and of EU citizens in the United Kingdom are created and defined by Union law. If they are to be preserved in equal measure and with the necessary consistency and certainty, it is inevitable that the mutually protected residence and social security rights of those particular groups of people must continue to be defined by reference to that law. Those rights are provided for in part 2 of the agreement.
Our citizens living in member states throughout the EU will continue, as is natural, to depend for their ultimate protection on the CJEU, while EU citizens living in the United Kingdom will look to the UK independent monitoring authority set up under article 159 and to the UK courts. But they will no longer be able, as now, to require our Supreme Court to refer a question of interpretation of their rights under Union law to the CJEU where the determination of such a question is necessary to resolve a dispute.
Instead, pursuant to article 158, the UK courts, for a fixed period of eight years only, may refer—I repeat, may refer—to the CJEU a question of interpretation of part 2 of the agreement in the interests of achieving consistency in the enforcement of the rights of citizens while the new system is established. After that time, our courts will, pursuant to article 4.5, continue to interpret concepts and provisions of Union law in the areas in which the agreement applies it as they always have, and to have due regard to relevant post-implementation case law where, for example, it may be required for the practical operation of the agreement, such as in regard to the co-ordination of social security rights for the protected EU and UK citizens.
Part 3 deals with the lawful conclusion of judicial and administrative proceedings, transactions, processes and other matters that have arisen or commenced under Union legal frameworks before the end of the implementation period, and to which Union law and the role of institutions must continue to apply for their orderly disposition. It allows a four-year limitation period on the power of the Commission to refer to the Court an alleged breach of an obligation incurred prior to the end of the implementation period.
Part 5 deals with our agreed financial obligations. It provides, under article 160, for Union law and the jurisdiction of the Court to apply beyond the implementation period only for the time and purpose of closing out the UK’s financial obligations and entitlements incurred under Union law, again prior to the end of that period.
All of these are inherently time-limited functions, and once they are at an end the Court will have no jurisdiction in relation to disputes involving citizens and businesses in the United Kingdom. A dispute between the EU and the UK about the systemic operation or interpretation of the agreement may be referred by either side to an independent arbitration panel in which the Court has no automatic role, but if the panel needs to and a question of interpretation of Union law is relevant to the dispute, it can ask the Court to resolve that question. It is then for the panel to apply that interpretation to the facts of the dispute, and thus decide how the dispute should be resolved.
The divorce and separation of nations from long and intimate unions, just as of human beings, stirs high emotion and calls for wisdom and forbearance. It calls also for calm and measured evaluation by the House of the terms of the separation agreement in the light of the complexity and difficulty of the task it is intended to achieve. The gradual loosening and removal of the legal ties that have bound us to the European Union for 45 years will take time to work out. This agreement and the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, already passed by the House, allow for the necessary time and legal means for that process to unfold in a peaceful and orderly way.
I am at the disposal of the House to answer questions, in so far as I can, on these and other legal matters. I commend this statement to the House.
I am of course grateful to the Attorney General for his statement, and for advance sight of it, but all Members who are asking questions are at a major disadvantage, because they have not read the legal advice on which the statement is based. That is totally unacceptable when aspects of the Attorney General’s advice have been selectively leaked to the press over the weekend. For example, it has been reported that in a letter to Cabinet Ministers last month, the Attorney General said, in respect of the backstop arrangement,
“The protocol would endure indefinitely”
if trade talks broke down. In his statement, the Attorney General talked about political factors that might, in his view, make the backstop temporary, but in reality, that is not the legal position. Perhaps he can confirm that the legal position is as set out in the letter—that the protocol will “endure indefinitely” if the trade talks break down.
On 13 November in this House, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer)—the shadow Brexit Secretary—and I were very clear on what was being sought: the final, full advice provided by the Attorney General to the Cabinet on any completed withdrawal agreement should be made available to all MPs in good time for the vote on the deal. Offers short of that, including of the Attorney General’s statement today and of a summary made by the Government, were rejected, and the House unanimously passed a motion to that effect. [Interruption.] “Playing games,” shouts the Chancellor. On 13 November, the Conservative party could not get one of its MPs to vote against the motion—not one.
The document that has been produced is, in the Attorney General’s own words, a legal commentary, produced with his oversight and approval. It is not the final legal advice to the Cabinet. Frankly, the explainer produced alongside the withdrawal agreement was longer and more detailed than this document. Is not the reality that the Government do not want MPs to see the full legal advice, for fear of the political consequences?
There is no point whatever in trying to hide behind the Law Officers’ convention. The “Ministerial Code” and “Erskine May” are very clear: Ministers have the discretion, under that convention, to make advice available in exceptional circumstances. What circumstances could be more exceptional than these? The economic, political and constitutional integrity of our country is at stake.
I quote paragraph 82 of the legal commentary:
“The Agreement does not contain any provision on its termination. In the absence of such a provision, it is not possible under international law…to withdraw from the Agreement unilaterally.”
A straight question to the Attorney General: can he direct me or the House to any other international treaty to which the UK is party that it has no unilateral right to terminate? Can he even name one?
Furthermore, articles 1.4 and 2.1 of the backstop protocol are clear that its provisions
“shall apply unless…they are superseded, in whole or in part, by a subsequent agreement.”
[Interruption.] No, the “in whole or in part” bit was not commented on in the statement, actually. Put simply, that means that parts of the backstop could become permanent, even in the event of a trade deal being agreed. I ask the Attorney General directly: what is his view on which parts of the backstop arrangement in this protocol are most likely to become permanent?
May I raise with the Attorney General the issue of the impact on the Good Friday agreement? Page 306 of the withdrawal agreement refers to the need for the protocol to be implemented so as to
“maintain the necessary conditions for continued North-South cooperation,”
including the conditions for possible new arrangements in accordance with the 1998 agreement. So can the Attorney General tell the House, in his view: first, which new arrangements he believes would be in accordance with the 1998 Good Friday agreement; and, secondly, which arrangements he believes would not be in accordance with it?
In the first instance it will be for you, Mr Speaker, to rule on whether there has been an arguable case of contempt for what we on the Opposition Benches believe to be a failure to comply with the motion of 13 November. For the sake of our economy, our jobs and our futures, all possible information should be made available to Members of this House. The Government should do the right thing and make the full advice available. With so much at stake for all our constituents and with eight days to go before the vote on the deal, this House and this country deserve better from this Government.
First, let me say to the hon. Gentleman that he has far better than any advice I may or may not have given to the Government: he can ask me. All he has to do is ask and he will receive, because I will give him a frank answer. [Interruption.]
Order. I know the Attorney General is very well able to—[Interruption.] Order. Members must calm themselves. I know the Attorney General is very well able to look after himself, but I simply and gently counsel Members—gently, at this stage—not to yell from a sedentary position in that way. The right hon. and learned Gentleman would not, I am sure, be accustomed to such treatment in a court. If he were subject to it, I think the judge would take a very dim view. [Interruption.] Order. He is entitled to a courteous reception. As the House knows from experience, I will want to hear everyone who wishes to question him. But in the first instance, be calm and behave.
It is very rare for the Attorney General to appear to answer questions in the House on matters of law. I am doing so, so that Opposition and Government Members can have a full, frank and thorough opportunity to ask me, as the Government’s chief legal adviser and as an adviser to the House on constitutional and legal matters, what our legal position is. I assure the House that if questions are asked, I shall answer them candidly.
The hon. Gentleman told me that I had not said anything about the subsistence of the Northern Ireland protocol. Let me make no bones about the Northern Ireland protocol: it will subsist. We are indefinitely committed to it if it comes into force. There is no point in my trying or the Government trying to disguise that fact. The truth, however, is this: what is the political imperative of either entering into it or not entering into it? That is a calculated equation of risk that each Member of this House is going to have to weigh up, and do so against different alternatives.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned that I should answer whether other treaties are permanent. Hundreds of treaties throughout the world are permanent—treaties on borders, treaties on rivers; the Vienna convention has entire sections on permanent treaties. If the hon. Gentleman wants me to enumerate some, I will write to him with them—I am afraid I do not have them to hand. There is an entire section of the Vienna convention on permanent treaties. The question whether we have a right to terminate under the convention is a matter of construction. Let me make it plain: there is no such right to terminate if the Northern Ireland protocol comes into force. The question of how likely it is to remain in force is a political judgment to be based on factors largely relating, as I have said, to in whose interests it would be to remain in it for longest. [Interruption.]
I call Mr Kenneth Clarke—[Interruption.] Order. It is rather unseemly for people to yell out, “Is that it?” The Attorney General, to be fair, has given a very full response—[Interruption.] Order. Members can make of it what they will, but in any case, everybody should cheer up now, because we are about to hear from the Father of the House.
Whether that will cheer people up or not, I have no idea.
First, I sincerely congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General on his masterly exposition of the facts and the law, which put paid to quite a lot of the paranoia and conspiracy theories that have been running around all too often in our European debate.
Secondly, does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that it was central to the Good Friday agreement—the Belfast agreement—that both sides committed themselves timelessly to an open border, and that will be all wrapped up if we ever move to the Northern Ireland protocol? It would be quite shameful if the European Union, the Republic of Ireland or the United Kingdom were given the right unilaterally to terminate that arrangement at a time of their political choosing, so this is perfectly sensible. Does he also agree that both the United Kingdom and the European Union will have reasons to hesitate before going into the protocol—they may prefer to extend the transition agreement—and that neither of the parties will have any political motive for staying indefinitely in that protocol?
In his exposition, I think my right hon. and learned Friend has done what he was trying to do: got rid of all these theories about the ECJ still being involved, as it obviously will have to be, in the rights of British citizens after we leave, and enabled the House to get back to the real political debate that we have to have in the next few days.
I am most grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his question. The truth of the matter is that the Northern Ireland protocol would represent a solemn commitment to the people of Northern Ireland that this Government will honour and respect the Belfast agreement. I make no bones about it: I would have preferred to have seen a unilateral right of termination in the backstop. I would have preferred to have seen a clause that allowed us to exit if negotiations had broken down irretrievably, but I am prepared to lend my support to this agreement because I do not believe—[Interruption.] I am most grateful for those cheers of applause. I do not believe that we are likely to be entrapped in the backstop permanently. I can give reasons why I say that, but my right hon. and learned Friend has foreshadowed them. So I agree with him: this represents a sensible compromise. It has unattractive and unsatisfactory elements for us, but it is for the House to weigh it up against the potential alternatives and to assess whether it amounts to a calculated risk that this Government and this House should take in these circumstances, weighed up against the realities of the alternatives.
The binding motion passed by this House on 13 November ordered the production of any legal advice in full, including that provided by the Attorney General, and with a particular focus on the Northern Ireland backstop—not a commentary, but the legal advice in full. The House did not divide. The Government effectively conceded that these were exceptional circumstances and that the normal, very important convention would not apply, so that ship has sailed.
The Attorney General and I are both senior lawyers in our own jurisdictions, so I am sure that he will not want to insult my intelligence or that of the House by pretending that this Command Paper reflects in any way the nuanced advice that he will have given to the Cabinet, focused on particular questions such as those that we saw leaked over the weekend. For example, he just said that it is not his belief that we will be trapped in the backstop permanently, but this House, which has to take the final decision—not the Cabinet—is not interested in his belief; it is interested in his legal opinion. Can he confirm, as a matter of law, that there is nothing to prevent the backstop from becoming the permanent UK-EU relationship in the event that the two sides cannot agree a future economic relationship? That is a matter of law.
Will the Attorney General acknowledge something else? He is a democrat, the Government are democrats; they have gone on incessantly about the will of the people for the last two years and profess to believe in parliamentary sovereignty. We sitting in this House are the representatives of the people, and we voted to see his advice in full, not his commentary, so will he undertake to produce that advice—the sort of nuggets that were leaked over the weekend, but in full—before the rise of the House today, and before tomorrow’s debate, or is he prepared to run the risk of being found in contempt of Parliament merely to protect the Conservative and Unionist party against further internal strife?
I have the greatest respect for the hon. and learned Lady. She has put her case rationally and reasonably, and I will deal with her points one by one. She asked whether there was anything to prevent the protocol from becoming permanent in the event of no agreement. As a matter of international law, no there is not—it would endure indefinitely, pending a future agreement being arranged—but that does not exhaust all the matters of law. As a matter of EU law, it would, in those circumstances, be highly vulnerable to legal challenge. It is widely accepted, including by the EU Commission and taskforce 50, that article 50 is not a sound legal foundation for permanent arrangements between states. If negotiations irretrievably broke down, the protocol would de facto become permanent and therefore seriously challengeable in the Court of Justice of the European Union for being invalid. That legal uncertainty by itself is sufficient to promote to the EU the need to do a deal with us. It would be profoundly detrimental to thousands—indeed millions—of traders throughout the single market. That is one factor that convinces me that this is a risk worth taking.
I start by welcoming without reservation my right hon. and learned Friend to his position. He knows that I have believed for many years that he should have filled this post.
I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s statement. Page 6 of his document refers to what is defined as “good faith”. He mentioned the International Court of Justice, so I hope he will not mind if I quote from one of its judgments referenced in footnote 8. He talked about how long the backstop should last and what defined “good faith”. The judgment states that
“the failure of the Parties to reach agreement, 16 years after the conclusion of”—
“does not itself establish that either Party has breached its obligation to negotiate in good faith.”
As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, his right hon. Friends on the Front Bench one by one have used good faith as their defence for being locked into this problem of the backstop and as their explanation of how we will get out. As a matter of law, is good faith required for best endeavours?
The duty of good faith and to use best endeavours is a legally enforceable duty. There is no doubt that it is difficult to prove—[Interruption]—as I hear from a sedentary position, but that is not to say that it has not been proven. The case reports of the International Court of Justice, as well as arbitral tribunals throughout the world, have recorded decisions where tribunals have found breaches of good faith duties. There would need to be clear and convincing evidence that the breakdown of communication was due to bad faith—I fully accept that—but if the EU refused to engage with us, strung out negotiations in a thoroughly unreasonable way or failed to observe reasonable time limits, those would be hallmarks of a possible case of breach of good faith. It is a meaningful legal obligation.
I remind the House that we are dealing here with the United Kingdom on one hand and the European Union on the other. Their reputations in international forums, and their reputations as a question of international law, are at stake. If you put your name to a solemn legal obligation to negotiate something in good faith within a certain time limit, it is a very serious obligation of which to acquit yourself: it cannot just be played fast and loose with.
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, I have the utmost and deepest respect for him in relation to his approach to these issues and the discussions that we have had, but he has said himself that the whole business is deeply unsatisfactory and unattractive, which makes me wonder why he is recommending the agreement. It seems to me that we are now reliant on our learned friends to take cases in international courts, rather than this sovereign Parliament being able to decide when we can get out of these backstop arrangements.
Can the Attorney General confirm what he said—that this is an indefinite arrangement that can be permanent in law, despite what some of his Cabinet colleagues are saying? I do not have time to go into all of this, because, as other Members have said, we need to see the actual legal advice as requested by the House—that must happen—but can he also confirm that under article 15 of the Northern Ireland protocol, the Northern Ireland customs arrangements mean that Northern Ireland will form part of the EU customs territory and not the United Kingdom’s, although “a single customs territory” is established between the UK and the EU? Will he confirm that under article 4 of the protocol, there is a new right under international law—one that is not in the Belfast agreement of 1998—for the EU to oversee certain aspects of the implementation of that 1998 agreement?
I have added those detailed points, which I will follow up with the Attorney General in later discussions, but the overall context is, as he has said, a deeply unattractive, unsatisfactory agreement. Rather than recommending it, he needs to recommend that it be rejected.
The right hon. Gentleman has thrown down the gauntlet in asking me to re-examine my support for the agreement. I do not mind confessing to him that I have wrestled with this question, because I am a Unionist and dislike any divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom; but I have had also to take into account first that this is an arrangement that we can avoid, and secondly that if we were in it, it would be as much an instrument of pain to the European Union as it would be to the United Kingdom.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to think of what the European Union is now accepting. It accepts that Northern Ireland can have free circulation of its goods not only into the single market, but to Great Britain. No other single market trader will have that advantage. Hundreds of single market traders throughout the European Union are going to resent the fact that the goods of a Northern Ireland business situated one mile north of the border can flow smoothly into the single market and smoothly into Great Britain, while theirs cannot. So there are real reasons, which the right hon. Gentleman and I can discuss at greater length, why I do not believe that this will become a permanent solution.
Let us suppose, however, that those negotiations broke down, or took an unreasonable length of time. All around the European Union there will be single market traders seeing the benefits that Northern Ireland can have, who will be induced by those benefits to ask, “Should we go on putting up with this uncompetitive arrangement?” And what are they likely to do? Why, they are likely to beat a path to the door of the Commission and the Court, and there to say, “Didn’t you say that article 50 is not a sound legal foundation for this arrangement?” And I tell you frankly, Mr Speaker, they are likely to win.
On the issue of precedents, there are five—[Interruption.]
Order. I understand that the House is mildly animated, but we must hear what the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee wants to say.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
There are five precedents over the past 40 years of full disclosure being made of an Attorney General’s advice for compelling and exceptional reasons in the public interest. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that he can—as in my view he should—consent on his own independent account as Attorney General under the ministerial code to the full publication of his legal advice given that, as cited in the Queen’s bench division in July 2009, the then Attorney General’s advice on the seminal Factortame case was disclosed, which dealt with the incompatibility of the European Communities Act 1972 with an Act of Parliament, the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, which was then struck down in the courts, analogous to the legal status of the withdrawal treaty in relation to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act passed by this House in 2018, and with which that treaty is incompatible?
This is not a question of the lawfulness of the Government’s action, as it was in the publication of Lord Goldsmith’s advice; this is simply a view on the legal effects of a particular agreement. There are hundreds of lawyers throughout the United Kingdom, I am delighted to say, who could offer a perfectly competent view on this agreement. I cannot see why there is anything exceptional about the current circumstances and about my advice. But let us suppose there were something exceptional about my advice; well, I am here to be asked any question that the Government have also asked, so all that the hon. and right hon. Members opposite have to do is ask and I will give them a frank answer.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledge frankly to this House that publishing this paper on the legal position on the withdrawal agreement and his statement to the House today does not represent compliance with the motion of this House that was passed unanimously on 13 November, and does that not represent the following fundamental point of constitutional principle? It would be serious for any Minister to resist a motion of the House, but it is more so for it to be the Attorney, going along with Government defiance of the House, when his very office is about our constitution—when he is the person in Government whose job it is to make sure the rest of them stay within the rules. How can he do that if he himself is acquiescing in breaking them? He has in his statement rightly acknowledged that he has a duty to this House as well as to the Government and that his duties involve giving legal advice to the House. It is in our Standing Orders that he is legal adviser to the Privileges Committee. So how can we have a situation where the Attorney allows the Government to openly defy the will of the House? The Government have a choice: they can either comply with the motion of the House or seek to change it, but they cannot remain in defiance of it. It is the Attorney General’s responsibility to tell them that; will he?
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for that question. The truth is that I am caught in an acute clash of constitutional principle. A Minister is obliged to have regard to the public interest and the national interest. Let us suppose I had given any such advice that has been requested by the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), and let us suppose that that advice had covered all sorts of matters, including our relationships with foreign states and including arguments that might be deployed in the future—and their strengths and weaknesses—and including matters of acute importance to this country; would it be right for the Attorney General, regardless of the harm to the public interest, to divulge his opinion? I say to the right hon. and learned Lady that it would not. There is no procedure by which this House can have redactions or entertain circumstances in which it could weigh the competing public interest against the interest in disclosure, as a judge would do. She knows what I mean. Therefore, I cannot take a step that I firmly and truly believe would be contrary to the public interest. I ask the House to understand that it is only that consideration that is motivating me and this Government in declining at this stage to break the convention that applies to both sides of the House when they are in government. There is nothing to see here. [Interruption.]
Order. I gently appeal to colleagues to lower the decibel level. You do not have to look into—[Interruption.] Order, Mr Russell-Moyle. You do not have to look into the crystal ball when you can read the book. The evidence is that I always call colleagues to ask questions, and the Attorney General has indicated his readiness to take those questions, as indeed he must. So you will all get a chance, but please let the answers be heard.
I ask the right hon. and learned Lady to accept that I will give this House a stark, uncompromising and completely frank view on any relevant point of law. I suggest that, if I had given advice, there would be no real significance in that advice being disclosed, because this House has the opportunity to ask me directly.
My right hon. and learned Friend is to be commended for his statement, and also for the document that has been produced, which I have to say from my own experience is rather fuller than any advice he might ever have been called upon to produce. It might be helpful to the House if he could take this opportunity to confirm that there is nothing in this document that is incompatible with any advice that he gave to the Government? I would not expect him to be in a position to endorse any such document if it were at variance in that way. Secondly, turning away from that first principle to the content, might he also wish to comment on the provisions specific to Northern Ireland in paragraphs 25 to 29, which appear to show quite clearly that under the protocol it would be possible to end up with a situation in which there were in fact checks and controls on good passing between Northern Ireland and the rest of Great Britain?
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. He will understand that if I were to make that express confirmation, I would by that means be disclosing what advice, if any, I had given. I hope that the House will understand—unless it is to be supposed that I would tailor my advice according to my audience, which I assure the House I would not do—that there is no matter on which hon. Members could ask me a question on which I am likely to have given a different answer to any other party who might have asked me about it in the course of these negotiations. In all candour, therefore, I can say that all the House has to do is ask.
In relation to my right hon. and learned Friend’s second question, it is true that there would be regulatory divergences—as there are within sovereign states throughout the world—between one part of the sovereign territory of the United Kingdom and another, but those divergences could be kept to a minimum. They involve, on my investigation, some 15 forms of product in respect of which checks might have to be carried out at the border. Those 15 forms of product are largely phytosanitary goods in respect of which checks are already carried out in many cases at the ports of Northern Ireland. Therefore, while that border would exist—I find that distasteful myself—the issues are nevertheless mitigable, and the question again is whether that feature should lead us to decline this deal, which I firmly believe is the best way of ensuring that we leave the European Union on 29 March. That is the solemn responsibility that this side of the House—and some on the Opposition side—believed that we had. This is the deal that will ensure that that happens in an orderly way and with legal certainty.
I say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there is something to see here. If the Government can decide which votes of the House of Commons to respect and which to ignore—as you said when ruling on a point of order on 13 November, Mr Speaker, it was not the opinion of the House of Commons that it wanted the full legal advice to be released, but the will—what does democracy mean in this place?
Now, I have a question for the Attorney General on which I want his legal advice. As he will be aware, the withdrawal agreement is legally binding, but the political declaration is not. Can he draw to the House’s attention a single example in international law of when a failure to act in good faith has successfully compelled one party in a negotiation to reach an agreement as extensive as the one that the Government hope to achieve and which is set out in the political declaration covering trade in goods and services, security, foreign policy, broadcasting, data and co-operation on a wide range of matters? If there is such an example, I would very much like to hear about it.
The right hon. Gentleman points out that we are in a unique situation. There has never been a case in which a country has seceded from the European Union, and there has never been a case in which 45 years of legal integration of a state the size of the United Kingdom has been untangled. That will take time, and it must be done in an orderly way. I will write to the right hon. Gentleman if there are any specific examples to assist me, but the fact of the matter is that I doubt it, which is the frank answer, because we are in this extraordinary and unique situation.
To address the first part of the right hon. Gentleman’s question, I will repeat myself: what does he expect us to do? When he was a member of the Cabinet, if he believed that to take an action would be fundamentally contrary to the public interest of this country, I suspect that he would find that a difficult situation to resolve. The House’s resolution is entitled to the greatest of respect, and the Government and I are inclined to do as much as we can and to go as far as we can, which is why I have come to the House today—it has barely happened more than a few times in the past 50 or so years—to answer the House’s questions. However, I cannot take a step that I believe in conscience would be against the public interest and potentially seriously harmful to a fundamental constitutional principle and the temporal interests of this country in the midst of a negotiation.
I welcome the Attorney General’s transparency both in his oral statement to the House and in the Command Paper. First, will he confirm that the article 20 review mechanism necessitates that the EU agrees to the UK exiting the backstop even if the negotiations have dragged on for many years or, indeed, have broken down? Secondly, while the article 50 basis for the backstop is meant to be temporary, it might well take some 10 years for it to be struck down by the European Court of Justice. If he thinks that that is too long, will he give the House his best estimate?
Article 20 permits both sides to consider, even when no final agreement has yet been reached, whether alternative arrangements might suffice to protect the stated objectives of the Northern Ireland protocol. If they do, both sides could agree to put in place those alternative arrangements before any final agreement had been reached.
It is important to remember that, when one says final agreement, it is of course possible, indeed likely, that it may be a series of agreements reached at different times. My answer to my right hon. Friend is that article 20 creates that ability, but it is not a unilateral right of termination. It does not give us a right to walk away. It creates a procedure and obliges the European Union to consider alternative arrangements that are not part of a final deal.
I think my right hon. Friend went on to ask me about article 50 and the time it might take. The period of years he mentions is probably far too long, but it is impossible to say. What one can say is that, long before any case is brought, the pressure bringing those cases to the Court would be telling upon the Governments of the member states and upon the European Union. The legal uncertainty would be intense, and it is a real factor that this House must weigh up in considering whether the protocol is something that it wishes to support.
I am trying to understand the Attorney General’s arguments in answer to earlier questions. He seems to be saying that the Northern Ireland protocol, including the close relationship with the single market and membership of the single customs territory, is such a good deal for UK businesses that EU member states would hate it and would be desperate to bring it to an end as soon as possible. Is that his view? Is that the Government’s view? If so, is he now arguing for us to stay in a single customs territory indefinitely and to keep a close relationship with the single market?
What I do say is that the customs arrangement under the backstop produces the following advantages. We pay not a penny and our goods have free access, in fiscal and tariff terms, to the European Union, yet the regulatory framework that we have to observe is dealt with by way of non-regression clauses that are not enforceable either by the EU institutions or by the arbitration arrangements under the withdrawal agreement. They are policed solely by British courts and British authorities.
In those circumstances, what does it mean? It means that they have split the four freedoms. They have created a situation where we can have the regulatory flexibility that they cannot. They have granted access to the single market for no contribution, without free movement, without signing up to the common fisheries policy and without signing up to the common agricultural policy. For all those reasons, what I say to the right hon. Lady is that if it is painful to us, it will be as painful to them. Where we want to end up is an arrangement that suits us both. This suits neither.
With regard to the Northern Ireland protocol and paragraph 11 of the Attorney General’s helpful annex, will he advise us on what might constitute “a clear basis,” as he puts it, for a finding of a breach of duty of good faith?
Evidence of wilful intransigence, evidence of refusal to engage, evidence of refusal to entertain alternative proposals or alternative means of achieving the outcomes that both share: that type of evidence, cumulatively, could amount to a case of bad faith, but each situation is facts-specific. It is not possible to identify beforehand, but those are the kinds of things that would be relevant.
The Attorney General has been very honest about the downside of this backstop, and that is even without the legal advice, so we dread what we would actually see in the legal advice, if we could see it.
On Sunday, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland told Northern Ireland’s “Inside Politics” with Mark Davenport that even if the backstop kicks in, Great Britain will stick to the same rules as Northern Ireland. Will the Attorney General have a word with her? She is going around Northern Ireland on a tour and saying some things that are actually not accurate, giving the people of Northern Ireland a very wrong impression about what this agreement means.
The regulatory regime in Great Britain will be a matter entirely for the Government of the United Kingdom. It is permitted and agreed under the protocol that they can maintain their regulatory regime in the way they choose, in which case they could choose to maintain, as I have no doubt they would wish to do, regulatory parity with the position in Northern Ireland. That is all the Secretary of State is saying, and I see nothing controversial in that.
I commend my right hon. and learned Friend on the statement he has made. Does he agree that in international law concepts of good faith and of using one’s best endeavours are very important, because right at the heart of international law is the idea of a rules-based system which good countries aspire to? Does he agree that it is therefore important both to the UK and to the EU that they should show good faith and should use their best endeavours? Does he also agree that if they did not do so when it came to the point that has just been raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon) about paragraph 11 in the references to the protocol, it would be an absolute disaster for either the UK or the EU to be found not to be in good faith?
I do agree with that; the duty of good faith is a very solemn, well-understood one in international law. It would be an astonishing thing if the EU were not to negotiate in good faith, particularly after the act of good faith that this country, in concluding this agreement, will have committed itself to. So this is not something that can simply be ignored, but I fully accept that it is not a unilateral right of termination and it would not be easy to establish “bad faith” against an organisation of the type of the EU. It would never happen, because I do not believe that the European Union would descend to the kind of behaviour necessary for a bad faith claim to be brought successfully.
On 13 November, did the Attorney General advise the Chief Whip that Government Ministers should vote against the motion—and if not, why not?
I only wish I had the influence that the hon. Lady believes I have. I did not advise the Chief Whip, and I do not suppose he would have taken the advice even if I had given it.
I am about to attempt to achieve the ambition of a lifetime and get a one-word answer out of a lawyer. Is it possible that the UK could find itself locked in backstop forever, against our will?
Does the Attorney General agree that a motion such as the one I have tabled on the Order Paper would give this House sovereignty on when we should leave the backstop, should we enter it, and that as a country we would have a degree of certainty, which he has been able to supply today? If the Government go down in defeat next week, would he suggest that that should be top of the Prime Minister’s negotiating list with the European Union?
I have enormous respect for the right hon. Gentleman and his suggestion, and I realise that other right hon. and hon. Members are considering similar things. I simply say this: what we cannot do is anything that is incompatible with our obligations under the withdrawal agreement. Any amendment to the meaningful vote that would introduce a qualification to our obligations under the agreement would be likely to be viewed by the European Union as a failure to ratify it and would justify non-ratification on its part.
But if you fail to get it through the House?
We will be plunged into such great chaotic disorder in the circumstances that the right hon. Gentleman suggests that I very much hope the House will think and reflect carefully before doing that.
My right hon. and learned Friend has pointed out that the best-endeavours clauses in the withdrawal agreement impose a duty on both sides to proceed with the utmost good faith in seeking to achieve an agreement at some time in the future. He has said also that these are obligations that are judiciable and enforceable. As a practical lawyer advising the House, as he has kindly offered to do, will he tell the House whether this is a matter about which the House should be relaxed? Or should we proceed at our peril?
As my right hon. Friend knows, the job of any lawyer for any client is generally to assist the client to make decisions as to the balance of risk in any decision that they are about to take. There is no question but that the absence of a right of termination of the backstop presents a legal risk. The question of whether it is one this House should take is a matter of political and policy judgment that each one of us must grapple with. The House has heard and, for reasons that I am not going here to expatiate upon, I have taken the view that compared with the other courses available to the House, this one is a reasonable, calculated risk to take. Other Members of this House must weigh it up, but that is my view.
In response to some questions from Members of this House today, the Attorney General has asserted that in his view it would not be in the public interest to meet the terms of an effective resolution that was passed unanimously by this House. Can the Attorney General really take that view? Was it not incumbent upon him and the Government to vote against that resolution if he thought that it would be against the public interest to publish his advice, as he has asserted today?
I fully understand the hon. Lady’s understandable indignation, because the truth is that we are now in a curious situation in which no vote was passed against that motion. I ask her to reflect on this: let us suppose that the Government had voted against it and lost. What position would that place us in? It would place me in exactly—[Interruption.]