The Prime Minister was asked—
Mr Speaker, I join you in welcoming the United States ambassador to see our deliberations today in Prime Minister’s questions.
I recently announced at Prime Minister’s questions that I would be chairing a serious violence summit, and I can inform the House that this will take place next Monday. The summit will bring together Ministers, community leaders, agencies and experts to explore what more we can do as a whole society to tackle the root causes of serious violence, as well as intervening with those most at risk. Following the initial summit, Cabinet Ministers will be hosting a series of roundtable discussions with national leaders and those on the frontline. This will complement the recent announcement of a £100 million violence reduction fund targeted at hotspot areas, along with the £200 million youth endowment fund being established this week.
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 wish the Prime Minister well with the serious violence discussions she is having. However, Brexit is already costing the UK around £1 billion a week in lost growth, and we know that 80%-plus of the public are unhappy with the way in which this has been handled. This is not the fault of Guy Verhofstadt, Michel Barnier, Donald Tusk or any MP in this House voting according to their conscience; that fault lies with the Prime Minister, who is the architect of the withdrawal deal. So can she finally concede to the House that she is liable, responsible, culpable for the chaos that is the Brexit debacle and say when she will be resigning?
The Brexit deal delivers on the result of the referendum. The hon. Gentleman has a different view from me: I know he does not want to deliver on the result of the referendum. He wants to try and keep the United Kingdom in the European Union; 17.4 million people voted to take us out of the European Union and that is what we are going to do.
This chaotic and incompetent Government have driven our country into chaos. We know the scale of the crisis when the TUC and the CBI are united in writing to the Prime Minister saying:
“A Plan B must be found—one that protects workers, the economy and an open Irish border”.
My question on Monday went unanswered, so will the Prime Minister now say what is her plan B?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are continuing to work to ensure that we can deliver Brexit for the British people and guarantee that we deliver Brexit for the British people. We have a deal that cancels our EU membership fee, stops the EU making our laws, gives us our own immigration policy, ends the common agricultural policy for good and ends the common fisheries policy for good. Other options do not do that. Other options would lead to delay and uncertainty, and risk never delivering Brexit.
The only problem with the Prime Minister’s answer is that her deal has been twice defeated in this House, in one case by the largest ever majority by which a Government have lost a vote in our recorded parliamentary history. Reports today suggest that a former Conservative Prime Minister is telling Conservative MPs that pursuing a customs union with the EU is the best way to get Brexit over the line. Does she agree with him, and will she be supporting any motions for a customs union this afternoon?
The Government’s deal that we have negotiated with the European Union delivers the benefits of a customs union, while enabling us to have an independent free trade policy and to negotiate free trade agreements in our interests and not rely on Brussels to negotiate them for us. The right hon. Gentleman used to stand up for an independent trade policy; now he wants to have a customs union and to throw away the idea of an independent trade policy and leave Brussels negotiating for us. We want to negotiate our trade in our interests and the interests of people across this country.
The Prime Minister knows perfectly well that our policy is for a customs union to protect jobs and society. She will also know that the TUC and the CBI have called for a customs union as part of a deal. In fact, the letter they wrote to all MPs yesterday said that
“a deal that delivers a customs union and strong alignment with the UK and the EU rules is the preferred outcome for the business community”.
It is a bit strange when a Conservative Prime Minister says she does not want what the business community wants. These are indeed strange times. Can she say why she will not include a customs union in the options that will be discussed today?
May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he does not just read the question that he had thought of previously but listens to the answer that I gave to his previous question? I will repeat it. He stood on a platform to enable us to do independent trade deals and have an independent trade policy and to deliver Brexit. His policy on a customs union breaks the first promise. He has never explained why he wants to abandon an independent trade policy, and his policy on a second referendum breaks his second promise. Whatever happened to straight-talking honest politics?
The Prime Minister does not seem to realise that she does not have a deal that has been supported by this House. Our proposals for a customs union give us alignment on workers’ rights, consumer standards and environmental protections; they do not begin with a race to the bottom, which is what she and many of her Front Benchers actually want. Earlier this week, the Business Minister resigned from the Government saying that the Government’s approach to Brexit was
“playing roulette with the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of people in this country”.
Why is she prepared to carry on risking jobs and industry in another attempt to yet again run down the clock and try to blackmail the MPs behind her into supporting a deal that has already been twice rejected?
We have been negotiating to protect jobs. What the right hon. Gentleman says about a race to the bottom is wrong, as he well knows. We have been working across this House and it is absolutely clear in the political declaration that we agree to not falling back on workers’ rights. Also, we are the Government who have enhanced workers’ rights—[Interruption.] This is the problem. The Labour party can never stand it when they are told that Conservatives have stood up for workers, but that is what the Conservative party does. We have enhanced workers’ rights. We stand up for workers with our tax cuts and our national minimum wage and with higher employment.
In answer to a straight question to the Prime Minister, she was unable to guarantee what is called dynamic alignment with European standards. She knows full well that Labour’s proposals are to use EU standards as a baseline from which we would improve them, including giving workers full rights at work from day one of their employment, ending zero-hours contracts and many other things.
In the former Business Minister’s resignation letter, he also said to the Prime Minister that he hoped that she would
“now act in the national interest and enable Parliament this week to find a consensus… negotiating position”.
If today or on Monday a consensus alternative plan emerges across the House, will the Prime Minister accept that decision of the House and accept it as the basis for the UK’s negotiating position with the EU henceforth?
The objective that we should all have is being able to guarantee delivering Brexit to the British people. The right hon. Gentleman stands there and raises workers’ rights. We have been very clear about non-regression on workers’ rights and environmental standards—[Interruption.] He shakes his head, but it is in black and white in the political declaration that has been agreed. He ends his question—[Interruption.] The shadow International Trade Secretary is shouting from a sedentary position about listening to Parliament. What we are going to do on workers’ right is say that, no, we will not simply automatically accept what the European Union does; we will listen to Parliament and give Parliament a say in that. I thought the Leader of the Opposition wanted Parliament to have a say in these things.
That sounds awfully like a recipe for regression away from those standards and for damaging workers’ rights.
After the two largest defeats in parliamentary history, surely the Prime Minister should be listening to Parliament. She did not answer my question about whether an agreement reached in this House would become the Government’s negotiating position. I think that the House and, perhaps more importantly, the whole country deserves to know the answer to that question.
This country is on hold while the Government are in complete paralysis. The vital issues facing our country, from the devastation of public services to homelessness and knife crime, have been neglected. The Prime Minister is failing to deliver Brexit because she cannot build a consensus and is unable to compromise and reunite the country. Instead, she is stoking further division and is unable to resolve the central issues facing Britain today. She is, frankly, unable to govern. The Prime Minister faces a clear choice—the one endorsed by the country and many in her party—which is either to listen and change course or to go. Which is it to be?
The right hon. Gentleman asks about the indicative votes tonight, but I actually answered that question in this House earlier this week. He might want to talk to his shadow Brexit Secretary, who made it clear that the Labour party will not commit to supporting the result of any of the indicative votes tonight. The Leader of the Opposition then talks about what is happening in this country, so let us just look at what is going to happen in this country next week: nearly £1 billion extra for the police, £1.4 billion more for local councils, £1.1 billion extra for our schools, another fuel duty freeze, another rise in the national living wage and another tax cut. That is happening under the Conservatives. What would Labour give us? He wants to scrap Trident and pull out of NATO. Labour would give us capital flight, a run on the pound and a drop in living standards. The biggest threat to our standing in the world, to our defence and to our economy is sitting on the Labour Front Bench.
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. Like the traditional paper petition system, we need to strike a balance in the e-petition system between allowing people to easily register their support for issues that are important to them while discouraging dishonesty. I have been assured that the Government Digital Service has been constantly monitoring signing patterns to check for fraudulent activity. I am sure she will understand that I cannot comment in more detail on the security measures that are taken, but petitions are subject to checks as part of due diligence.
I am sure the House will want to join me in welcoming the members of the 6th Royal Scots Reserves who are joining us in the Gallery today and in thanking them for their service.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the cost this Prime Minister will pay to force her disastrous deal through is the price of her departure. Yet again, another Tory Prime Minister is willing to ride off into the sunset and saddle us with a crisis in the UK and an extreme right-wing Brexiteer coming into Downing Street. Does she feel no sense of responsibility for what she is about to do?
Let me help the Prime Minister. She can still change course; it is not too late. On Saturday I joined Opposition leaders and 1 million people to demand a second EU referendum, and 6 million people have signed an online petition demanding that the Prime Minister rethinks her strategy. Today this House will give her a way out, a chance to prevent disaster. Will she finally respect the will of Parliament, or will she continue to allow Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom to be held hostage by the extreme right wing of the Tory party and the DUP?
I am interested that the right hon. Gentleman joined the march for a second referendum. Last week his policy was revoking article 50, and now his policy is having a second referendum. Let us look at what the Government are doing: the Government are delivering on the vote of the 2016 referendum. What the right hon. Gentleman wants to do is to stay in the EU. [Interruption.] All the Scottish nationalists nod their heads and say they want to stay in the EU, and what would that mean? It would mean staying in the common agricultural policy—not in the interests of Scottish farmers. It would mean staying in the common fisheries policy—not in the interests of Scottish fishermen. It is Scottish Conservatives who are standing up for the interests of Scotland’s farmers and fishermen.
May I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the Government’s record in helping more disabled people get into the workplace? We do want to tackle the injustices that face disabled people and, as he says, if we are to enable disabled people to go as far as their talents will take them, we need to ensure that they have access to work and are able to travel to work easily, conveniently and confidently, as everybody else does.
Our Access for All programme has an additional £300 million of funding to upgrade historical station infrastructure. I understand that Ledbury station is being considered for part of that funding, and we expect to make an announcement shortly.
First, let me say to my hon. Friend that I congratulate Gunner Lopresti on, and commend him for, the service he is giving to our country. We have been clear, in looking at the issue of Northern Ireland and the legacy there, that the current system is not working well for anyone. On that specific matter, we recognise that about 3,500 people were killed in the troubles, the vast majority of whom were murdered by terrorists. Many of those cases do require further investigation, including those relating to the deaths of hundreds of members of the security forces. That system does need to change, to provide better outcomes for victims and survivors of the troubles. But we are working on proposals across government to take those proposals forward and of course we are looking constantly to make sure that we can give maximum confidence to our brave servicemen and women, who, day in, day out put their lives on the line for us.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the nature of crime is changing—or we are seeing new types of crime being introduced. The police need to have the ability and resources to deal with those, and the understanding of how best to do so. I do not think we need a royal commission to do that; one of the things I did as Home Secretary was to set up the College of Policing, and one of the points of that college is to ensure that it is identifying new types of crime and identifying how best to deal with all types of crime, so that we have the confidence that our police are using the best tools available to them.
My hon. Friend has raised an important issue, and safety in aviation is absolutely paramount. I understand that she has raised this issue directly with the aviation Minister, who is looking at it carefully as a matter of urgency. We are hoping for a positive resolution for all parties involved. The Minister will be writing to my hon. Friend as soon as possible, but I also know that the CAA has been in contact with all parties involved. She is right to raise this important issue and urgent action is being taken.
I am a little disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not give me another invitation to come to a hotel in his constituency, but there we are. I thought perhaps I might have been able to look at the spaceport from the hotel windows. He raises an important point, and the development of this spaceport is significant. It will indeed be good for local business and local jobs—skilled jobs in an important area of employment—but as the hon. Gentleman says it will also give opportunities for the UK to offer services to other countries throughout Europe that are not able to provide those services for themselves. It is good for our economy, for the hon. Gentleman’s local economy, for his constituents and for the UK as a whole.
Unlike most professions, those in the armed forces do not get to choose where they are stationed, but those in Scotland are undoubtedly delighted to serve there. More than 7,000 of our armed forces personnel in Scotland are penalised by Nicola Sturgeon’s high-tax agenda. In my view, that is simply unfair. Will the Prime Minister commit to extend for another year the compensation that the UK Government paid last year to armed forces personnel based in Scotland? We need to send a clear signal that the Scottish Government are prepared to penalise those in our armed forces, while it is this Conservative UK Government who will always ensure that those who put their life on the line for our country will come first.
First, I pay particular tribute to everyone stationed at RM Condor in my hon. Friend’s constituency. She is absolutely right about those brave men and women across our armed forces who put their lives on the line for us. She is also right that both this year and next the SNP’s tax hike unfairly hits a majority of our brave and loyal service personnel based in Scotland. That leaves thousands of them out of pocket, and that is wrong, so we will again be providing financial mitigation payments to those negatively impacted for the tax year 2019-20 by these Scottish income tax hikes that mean Scottish income tax is higher than the UK’s. A single financial mitigation payment will be made retrospectively in 2020. The Scottish Government may ignore our armed forces; we stand by them.
I was absolutely clear when I became Prime Minister that we want a country that works for everyone. Our modern industrial strategy is exactly aimed at ensuring that we are developing across parts of the country that need it and that perhaps feel that they have been left behind. The hon. Lady talked about investment in the north and the northern powerhouse. The northern powerhouse is not stalling. We have made significant investment into the northern powerhouse and into infrastructure in the north, and into the deals that we have negotiated across the north, to ensure that the benefits of the economic prosperity under this Government are felt across every part of our country.
A very large number of my constituents voted to remain in 2016, many voted to leave and some were not old enough to take part—they all have a view. They and their MP now overwhelmingly want to leave the EU with a deal, so that we exit in a safe way that protects our economy and their jobs and just lets us move on. In the long term, we want a deep and special relationship with the European Union, while embracing the opportunities of the 168 countries that are not part of it. Just so I am clear before I vote this evening, will the Prime Minister confirm—just between us, if she likes—that none of that is contrary to the manifesto that she and I stood on two years ago?
First, I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent work as a Minister. He was an exemplary Minister, and I am sorry that he felt it necessary to resign from the Government. We do indeed want a deep and special partnership with the European Union. We also, as he says, want to embrace the opportunities of the 168 countries that are not part of it, by having an independent trade policy. That is precisely what is delivered by the deal that the Government have negotiated with the European Union. We can guarantee our leaving the European Union with a deal and in a safe way by ensuring that the deal is supported, so that we leave the European Union, as set out by the EU Council, on 22 May.
If the hon. Lady wants to ensure that we are able to deliver on the overall vote of the referendum in a way that protects jobs, our Union and our security, and in a way that is orderly and guarantees Brexit for the British people—she said that she did not want a second referendum—I suggest that she gets behind the deal.
Two days ago, I asked the Prime Minister if, as absolutely required under the ministerial code and the Cabinet manual, she sought the Attorney General’s advice on her authorisation of the extension of the exit date, and whether she would publish that advice. She refused to answer. Distinguished lawyers and former judges are convinced that the so-called international agreement is unlawful; I sent her a letter about that yesterday. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has not yet considered the regulations at all. The motion to approve the regulations will come before the House this evening. The European Scrutiny Committee and the Joint Committee will need to see the advice of the Attorney General before the end of the day, when the motion will be received by the House. Where is the advice of the Attorney General? Will she produce it and withdraw the motion?
It is a matter of international law that the date of the UK’s exit has been changed. The purpose of the SI this evening is to reflect that change in domestic law. Should the SI not pass, there would be severe uncertainty for citizens and businesses, and contradictory provisions between EU rules and UK rules, but it would be clear that the date of our exit had changed. The House of Commons voted to seek an extension to article 50, and an agreement was reached with the European Council in relation to that. My hon. Friend has raised the question of the commencement order with me previously. The commencement order is due to come into effect on the date that we leave the European Union. I know that he wants to leave the European Union, and we can of course leave the European Union. Dare I suggest to my hon. Friend that, if he cares to back the deal, we could guarantee leaving?
The Conservative party has a complaints process that deals with complaints of Islamophobia and of any other sort against councillors or other members of the party. It is absolutely clear that discrimination or abuse of any kind is wrong. We take action where there are cases of discrimination or abuse. The hon. Gentleman says that we have not acted since he raised this issue in 2018. We have acted on cases. The party chairman takes very seriously any allegations that are brought before the party and we will continue to do so.
Most of us would prefer a good deal to no deal at all, but may I urge the Prime Minister to ignore the dire forecasts about what would happen should we leave on World Trade Organisation terms? It is the same people who predicted doom and gloom in 2016 if we voted to leave. Since then, we have had record low unemployment, record high investment and record manufacturing output. Those people were wrong then. They are wrong now. We could be leaving as per the legal default position of article 50, which is without a deal.
My hon. Friend references leaving on WTO terms. Of course, what I want—what I think is right and what the Government consider right for the United Kingdom—is for us to be able to negotiate trade agreements with countries around the world that give us a better operation with those countries, rather than just the WTO basis. But I also want us to be able to negotiate a good trade deal with the European Union. We want a good trade deal with our nearest trading neighbours, and opportunities for good free trade agreements around the rest of the world.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue. He mentioned the number of his constituents who are living with dementia. Across all our constituencies, there are increasing numbers of people living with the condition. That is why we have committed to delivering our dementia 2020 challenge in full. The challenge supports research into dementia, which he specifically mentioned. The UK research community is playing a significant role in the global effort to find a cure or a major disease-modifying treatment by 2025. We have committed to double spending on dementia research by 2020—the equivalent of around £60 million per annum—and we are on track to meet that commitment. As he referenced, much of this investment is for research to better understand the nature of dementia, to inform the development of future treatments and to find ways to prevent the onset of the condition. Preventing the condition is of course the best route to take. Meanwhile, we look to provide better treatment for those with the condition.
Thirty years ago, Margaret Thatcher told the UN General Assembly that the threat from global warming needed an equivalent response from the whole world. What progress is being made on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute towards man-made climate change?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this very important issue. He has also reminded people that it was a Conservative Prime Minister who was one of the first world leaders to raise the issue of climate change and to put it on the international agenda. He asked about some of the changes that have taken place. Between 2010 and 2017, we reduced the UK’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 23%; in 2018, nearly 50% of UK electricity came from low-carbon sources; and UK CO2 emissions have fallen for six years in a row. That is just a few of our achievements. That is our record as a Government. But of course we continue to work internationally to help to deal with this issue, and that is why we believe it is so important to adhere to and remain part of the Paris climate change agreement.
I am sure the Prime Minister will join me in welcoming the signing yesterday of the heads of terms—the agreement—on the Belfast city regional deal, the first city deal in Northern Ireland, which it is estimated will bring about 20,000 new jobs, £350 million of investment by the Government, and a lot of extra investment by local councils and the private sector. Will she confirm that she will do everything in her power, in the absence of devolved government—the civil service signed on behalf of Northern Ireland—to ensure that there will be no impediment to the good progress of that city deal, which has been welcomed right across the community in Northern Ireland?
The right hon. Gentleman raises a very important point about the considerable benefits that these city deals can bring in bringing together provision by both government at all levels and the private sector. I absolutely take his point that in the absence of devolved government we need to make sure that there is no impediment to moving ahead with this city deal as fast as possible and commit to ensuring that that does indeed take place.
The Prime Minister knows of the huge improvements to the quality of clinical care brought about by the Getting It Right First Time programme authored by Professor Tim Briggs, who I brought to see her, and indeed to see Gordon Brown as well. Given the importance our constituents place on a good service from their local GP practice, will she ensure that the general practice roll-out of Getting It Right First Time is speeded up so that the excellent practice in places like Worksop, Whitstable and Peterborough can be made available to all our constituents?
I thank my hon. Friend not only for his question but for bringing Professor Tim Briggs to see me. When Professor Briggs came to see me, he did raise this issue of spreading the concept of getting it right first time beyond hospital consultants and into GP practices. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we should make sure that we do that. We want to make sure that absolutely the best practice is adopted by GP practices across the whole country—that is for the benefit of all our constituents.
Skin cancer is on the rise in the United Kingdom. As many Members know only too well, it can kill, though when detected very early, or early enough, the NHS is able to perform absolute miracles—thank God. Is it not time, though, in the UK in particular, that we had a major public health campaign to persuade people to check out their body to see whether they have any suspicious moles, to take those suspicious moles to the doctor, to avoid the sun in the midday heat, to cover their children with at least factor 30, and to make sure that we can save lives—because if people are in doubt, they should check it out, and if they do, we can save lives?
The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important point, and he speaks on this issue from personal experience. He is absolutely right. We need to ensure that people are aware of the dangers, aware of the signs that they need to take notice of and aware that they need to take them to their doctor, because lives can be saved. The Health Secretary has heard the passionate case that the hon. Gentleman has made in relation to public health information on this, and I am sure that he will be happy to meet him to discuss this further.
I hope that the American ambassador is enjoying his visit here today as much as he enjoyed his visit to north-east Lincolnshire last Friday, when I was able to join him at Young’s Seafood in Grimsby, where we enjoyed some of the finest seafood possible. Does the Prime Minister agree that Brexit increases the opportunity to build on our existing trading relationship with the United States?
I assure my hon. Friend, having recently visited north-east Lincolnshire, that we all enjoy our visits there and seeing the many opportunities across the economy. He talked about seafood and fishing opportunities. He is absolutely right: ensuring that as we leave the European Union we have the ability to have our own independent trade policy means that we will be able to have free trade agreements around the world, including with the United States. As we have heard on many occasions, we are keen on both sides of the Atlantic to be able to pursue that free trade agreement.
One of the many tragedies associated with this Brexit chaos is the huge distraction it is from other key priorities such as the climate catastrophe. Just this week, we learned that global climate emissions have hit their highest ever level. In the Prime Minister’s answer to the hon. Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood), she only gave half the story. The other half is that the UK is way off track to meet our long-term climate targets, and our consumption emissions are down just 4%. Will she support growing calls for a green new deal—a green transformation of our economy, creating hundreds of thousands of good-quality jobs in constituencies up and down this country?
First, the hon. Lady should do more to welcome the action that this Government have taken on that issue. Secondly, she will have noted that clean growth is one of the challenges we have set in our modern industrial strategy. For a long time, people used to say that it was not possible to deal with climate change and environmental issues without damaging the economy. That is absolutely wrong. Actually, clean growth is a very good opportunity for us to take economic benefits. When I visited north-east Lincolnshire, I went to Ørsted and saw the work it is doing on offshore wind farms, which is making a huge impact on renewable energy in the United Kingdom. I am pleased that this Government are looking at the opportunity of hosting COP 26 in the UK.