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Volume 652: debated on Wednesday 9 January 2019

I am sure that the whole House would like to join me in paying tribute to Lord Paddy Ashdown who sadly died last month. From his service in the Royal Marines through to his time in this House and then as High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, he served his country with passion and distinction and he will be sorely missed.

In recent days, we have seen instances of threats of violence or intimidation against Members of this House, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), and members of the media. I know the whole House will join me in condemning those threats. Politicians and the media should be able to go about their work without harassment and intimidation.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

I echo the Prime Minister’s comments on Lord Paddy Ashdown and, of course, on the disgraceful behaviour and threats to politicians and journalists going about their business.

Like those in the rest of the UK, 235,000 EU nationals in Scotland were treated to a Christmas removal threat via social media from the UK Home Office telling them to register if they want to stay in the UK after December 2020. Friends, neighbours, colleagues—people vital to the Scottish economy—were shamefully told to pay to stay in their own homes. Will the Prime Minister confirm what will happen to those not registered by December 2020? Does she realise that, for those affected, this feels less like a hostile environment and more like a xenophobic one?

We recognise the huge contribution that EU citizens have made to our economy and our society, and we want them to stay. The EU settlement scheme will make it simple and straightforward for them to get the status that they need. EU citizens have until June 2021 to apply and the cost of applying is less than the cost of renewing a British passport, but if the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the interests of EU citizens, he can back the deal, which enshrines their rights.

Q3. The Govern- ment’s commitment to the armed forces covenant is commendable, as is their focus on reducing reoffending. Care after Combat is doing remarkable work in this area, and its veterans have a reoffending rate of 8% compared to a national average of 45% on leaving prison, saving the Government £20 million. Will my right hon. Friend therefore convene a cross-Government effort not only to shore up Care after Combat’s work, but to look to expand it nationally? (908400)

My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. I pay tribute to those who have served in our armed forces for their courage and commitment. I also pay tribute to the vital work undertaken by Care after Combat; my hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. We have a range of measures in place to support those who have served in the armed forces who then find themselves in the criminal justice system, and prisons tailor rehabilitative work to individuals’ needs, helping to reduce the risk of reoffending when they are released from prison. The point that my hon. Friend makes about the excellent record of Care after Combat is a good one, and I am sure that a Minister from the Ministry of Justice will be happy to meet him to discuss the matter further.

I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Paddy Ashdown, who was elected to Parliament at the same time as me in 1983. He was a very assiduous constituency MP and a very effective Member of Parliament, and he and I spent a lot of evenings voting against what the Thatcher Tory Government were doing at that time.

I agree with the Prime Minister on the point that she made about the intimidation of Members of Parliament and representatives of the media outside this building, as happened a few days ago when the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and Owen Jones of The Guardian were intimidated outside this building. I send my support and sympathy to both of them. We also have to be clear that intimidation is wrong outside this building as it is wrong in any other aspect of life in this country, and we have to create a safe space for political debate. [Interruption.] You see what I mean, Mr Speaker; I am calling for a safe space for political debate.

Order. We have a long way to go. The questions will be heard and the answers will be heard. No amount of heckling or noise will make any difference to that simple fact.

I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing a speedy recovery to the two British soldiers who were injured in Syria last week.

The Prime Minister scrapped the Brexit vote last month, and promised that legally binding assurances would be secured at the December EU summit; she failed. She pledged to get these changes over the recess; she failed. Is the Prime Minister not bringing back exactly the same deal that she admitted would be defeated four weeks ago?

First, I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is no place for intimidation in any part of our society. Politicians do need a safe space in which to express their opinions, many of which are passionately held. I hope that he will now ask his shadow Chancellor to withdraw or apologise for the remarks that he made about the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey).

Let me update the House on the matter of Brexit. The conclusions of the December European Council went further than before in seeking to address the concerns of this House, and they have legal status. I have been in contact with European leaders since then about MPs’ concerns. These discussions have shown that further clarification on the backstop is possible, and those talks will continue over the next few days, but we are also looking at what more we can do domestically to safeguard the interests of the people and businesses of Northern Ireland. That is why this morning we published a package of commitments that give Northern Ireland a strong voice and role in any decision to bring the backstop into effect.

We have also been looking at how Parliament can take a greater role as we take these negotiations on to the next stage. So I can tell the House that, in the event that our future relationship or alternative arrangements are not ready by the end of 2020, Parliament will have a vote on whether to seek to extend the implementation period or to bring the backstop into effect. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will be saying more about this during his opening speech in the forthcoming debate.

No amount of window-dressing is going to satisfy Members of this House. They want to see clear legal changes to the document that the Government presented to this House.

The Foreign Secretary said that the Prime Minister has not been asking for anything new in her discussions with the EU. Does not that tell us that the Prime Minister has been recklessly wasting time, holding the country to ransom with the threat of no deal in a desperate attempt to blackmail MPs to vote for her hopelessly unpopular deal?

The right hon. Gentleman can say what he likes about no deal, but he opposes any deal that the Government have negotiated with the European Union. He opposes the deal—[Interruption.] He opposes the deal that the EU says is the only deal, and that leaves him with no deal. The only way to avoid no deal is to vote for the deal. If the right hon. Gentleman is uncertain about what I am saying, perhaps I can give him a tip—he might like to use a lipreader.

The Prime Minister says that it is the only deal available. If that is the case, why was it not put to a vote on 11 December in this House? Why has there been a delay of five weeks on this?

The Prime Minister said she hopes to get “written assurances” before the vote next week, so can I ask her this: will the changes she is looking for be made to the legally binding withdrawal agreement itself?

As I said earlier in my remarks and I have said previously, there are three elements that we are looking at. One is the undertakings and assurances that we are looking for from the European Union, and we intend that those will be available to the House before the House votes at the end of the debate. We are also looking at what more we can do domestically. I have set out, and the Secretary of State will set out more clearly and in more detail, what we are going to do in relation to the powers for Northern Ireland and on the question of the role of Parliament for the future. We are also looking to ensure that we can provide the assurance and confidence that this House needs on the question of the backstop which has been at the forefront of Members’ concerns. We put a good deal on the table, but yes, we are looking for those clarifications—clarifications which I am sure will ensure that Members of this House know that the backstop need never be used and that if it is used it will be only temporary.

Well, in the midst of that very long answer I did not hear the words “legal changes to the document”. That was my question.

The Environment Secretary has said that no deal would damage the UK farming sector. The Foreign Secretary has said that no deal

“is not something any government”


“wish on its people”,

and £4.2 billion of public money is being wastefully allocated to no-deal planning. Will the Prime Minister listen to the clearly expressed will of the House last night, end this costly charade, and rule out no deal?

I have made it clear to the right hon. Gentleman that if he wants to avoid no deal, he has to back a deal, and back the deal. He stands there and complains about money being spent on no-deal preparations. Today, Wednesday, he is saying that we should not be spending money on no-deal preparations; on Monday, he said that no-deal preparations were “too little, too late.” He cannot have it both ways: either we are doing too much or we are doing too little. So perhaps he can break his usual habit and actually give us a decision—which is it?

This is the first time since 1978 that a Prime Minister has been defeated on a Finance Bill in the House of Commons. Last night, the House made it clear, in supporting the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), that no deal should be ruled out. That is the position of this House.

The UK automotive industry wrote to the Prime Minister in December asking her to take the no-deal option

“off the table or risk destroying this vital UK industry.”

Given that this House has now rejected no deal, will the Prime Minister protect thousands of skilled jobs in the automotive industry and others and rule out no deal?

I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman welcomed the leadership given by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford on that issue. I want to be clear that that amendment does not change the fact that the UK is leaving the European Union on 29 March, nor does it stop the Government collecting tax.

The right hon. Gentleman asks once again about the question of no deal and protecting jobs. We have negotiated a deal with the European Union that protects jobs. What is raising concerns, he says, is the prospect of no deal. It is absolutely sensible for this Government to prepare for no deal, and those preparations are even more important given the position taken by the right hon. Gentleman. With an Opposition Front-Bench team who are opposed to any deal the Government negotiate with the European Union, it is even more important that we prepare for no deal. The deal protects jobs and security and delivers on the referendum, and he should back it.

Instead of backing industries in this country and protecting thousands of jobs in manufacturing and service industries, the Transport Secretary is awarding millions of pounds of contracts to ferry companies with no ferries, to run on routes that do not exist and apparently will not even be ready by the beginning of April. That is the degree of incompetence of this Government in dealing with the whole question of relations with the EU.

The Prime Minister has spent the last week begging for warm words from EU leaders and achieved nothing. Not one single dot or comma has changed. She has already squandered millions of pounds of public money on last-minute, half-baked planning for no deal, which was rejected last night. If her deal is defeated next week, as I hope and expect it will be, will the Prime Minister do the right thing—let the people have a real say and call a general election?

No. We have put a good deal on the table that protects jobs and security. I noticed in all of that that we still do not know what Brexit plan the right hon. Gentleman has. I was rather hoping, as he went through, that he might turn over a page and find a Brexit plan. What do we know about the right hon. Gentleman? He has been for and against free movement. He has been for and against the customs union. He has been for and against an independent trade policy. He was a Eurosceptic. Now he is pro the EU. He wanted to trigger article 50 on day one; now he wants to delay it. He did not want money spent on no deal; now he says it is not enough. The one thing we know about the right hon. Gentleman is that his Brexit policies are the many, not the few.

Q4. The NHS long-term plan is hugely welcome, particularly its recognition that GPs are the bedrock of the NHS. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is vital that we do all we can to support GPs in staying in general practice, and that the education and training budget be urgently prioritised, to enable a wide range of healthcare professionals to support GPs in their practices? (908401)

My hon. Friend raises an important point about GPs. If he looks at the long-term plan for the NHS, which was launched on Monday and is being made possible by the £20.5 billion extra that we will be putting into the NHS by 2023-24, he will see that support for the workforce, including GPs, is a very important part of that plan. Indeed, a greater focus on primary care, which will help to keep people out of hospital—at any point in time, 20% to 30% of people in hospital do not need to be there—is an important part of the plan. GPs are an essential element of that, and I assure my hon. Friend that they will be part of that important workforce planning.

I concur with the Prime Minister in her remarks on Paddy Ashdown. I make the point that all of us collectively have a responsibility to make sure that there is no intimidation in our public life.

The Prime Minister delayed the doomed Brexit vote last year on the promise of written concessions from Brussels. Prime Minister, where are they?

I set out the position in my first response to the Leader of the Opposition. I suggest the right hon. Gentleman should have listened to it.

We are used to not getting an answer, and there we have it again. What the Prime Minister promised was that we would get written concessions, and that Parliament would have the opportunity to vote on them; nothing has materialised. A month has passed, and nothing has changed.

Last night, the Prime Minister suffered another humiliating defeat. When will the Prime Minister face the facts? There is little support for her deal or no deal in this House. The new year began without concessions; the Dublin talks failed without concessions; the debate on her deal restarts today without concessions. The Prime Minister is frozen in failure, asking MPs to write a blank cheque for her blindfold Brexit. MPs should not be debating without the full facts. Is it this, or will there be the concessions, not just clarifications? When will the Prime Minister guarantee that the House will see the full details before we start the debate this afternoon?

As I said in response to the right hon. Gentleman’s first question, I set out the position earlier. I referenced, as he will know, the conclusions of the December European Council, which went further in relation to the issues that I have raised with the European Council than they had gone before, and those have legal status, but we are of course working further on those issues.

The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away from the fact that if he wants to avoid no deal, he has to be willing to agree a deal. The deal that is on the table, which the EU has made clear is the only deal, is the one that the United Kingdom Government have negotiated with the European Union. If he really wants, and is concerned about ensuring that we can look ahead to, a bright future across the whole of the United Kingdom, he should back that deal.