House of Commons
Tuesday 3 September 2019
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
May I start by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt) for the exceptional job he did as Foreign Secretary, and for the professionalism and integrity with which he conducted himself?
We are concerned about the situation in Kashmir. I spoke to Foreign Minister Jaishankar on 7 August. We want to see a reduction in tensions in Kashmir, respect for internationally recognised human rights and steps taken on all sides to rebuild confidence.
Doctors have warned that the political situation in Kashmir is leading to a shortage of medicines and that hospitals are being left unable to provide treatment for patients. This is because Kashmir receives over 90% of its medical supplies from India. If this situation is not resolved, Kashmir faces the real risk of a major public health crisis. What steps will the Government take to sort it out?
The hon. Gentleman is right to talk not just about the theoretical nature of the dispute, but about what it means for communities in Kashmir. It is important that internationally recognised human rights are fully respected, and the way through the tensions is with a constructive political dialogue. The dispute between India and Pakistan in relation to Kashmir is fundamentally for them to resolve, as recognised in UN Security Council resolutions and the Simla agreement.
The Kashmiri community in Stockton South are understandably concerned about the safety and human rights of the people of Kashmir. Does the Secretary of State believe that there is a role for the United Nations or other independent parties to monitor and report on the alleged human rights abuses to ensure that the Kashmiri people are protected?
The hon. Gentleman will know that there have been UN Security Council resolutions on the situation in Kashmir in the past, and that this is something that the General Assembly has looked at. Fundamentally, though, the UN also recognises that the dispute over Kashmir between Pakistan and India is for them to resolve. The hon. Gentleman makes the point—as others will and have—that there are internationally recognised human rights at stake. They are duties owed to the international community at large, and we will certainly be scrutinising the situation carefully to see that those rights are respected.
In Sheffield on Saturday, there was a big protest of people who felt that the Foreign Secretary’s response to the crisis has not been good enough. Will he therefore commit to working through the United Nations and the Commonwealth to strengthen international pressure on India to restore Kashmir’s special status, and to working with both India and Pakistan to secure a long-term solution based on the 1948 UN resolution, so that there can be a plebiscite for the people of Kashmir to determine their own future?
The hon. Gentleman expresses his concerns powerfully and I understand how keenly they are felt. I have already referred to the UN Security Council resolutions and to the Simla agreement. It is not correct to say that we have not been seized of this issue. The Prime Minister spoke to the Indian Prime Minister, Prime Minister Modi, on 20 August and the Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, on 7 August. I raised concerns about the situation with Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar on 7 August. We will obviously be monitoring the situation carefully and talking to international partners in relation to it.
The large Kashmiri community in Glasgow Central are deeply concerned about their friends and relatives in Kashmir, particularly given the media blackout and the curfew that has been imposed. What has the Secretary of State done to raise both those issues, and what does he intend to do to ensure that the Kashmiri people have the right to self-determination?
On the issues of detentions, potential mistreatment and communications blackouts that the hon. Lady has raised, I have raised those issues with the Indian Foreign Minister. The Indian Government have made it clear that the measures are only temporary, as strictly required, and we of course want to hold them to that undertaking.
Events in Kashmir are of the most profound and immediate importance to thousands of my constituents, because British Kashmiris often have family and friends on not one but both sides of the line of control, and they are in frequent FaceTime, email and Skype contact, just like anybody else, even to the second and third generations of migrant. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in such circumstances they must have active representation not just from their MPs but from the Government? Will he therefore join me in saying that the time has come to reassure them on the human rights of their families and friends and to ask for independent observers in Kashmir?
I know the scale of the community that my hon. Friend has in Wycombe—I believe it is over 10,000. I understand how keenly this is felt among Kashmiris in Wycombe but also right across the country. The issue of human rights is not just a bilateral, or domestic issue for India or Pakistan—it is an international issue. He is absolutely right to say that we should, with all our partners, expect internationally recognised standards of human rights to be complied with and respected.
Following the action by the Indian Government in Kashmir, on 15 August, Indian independence day, a group of British Indians gathered outside the Indian high commission in London, but they were attacked by members of another community. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the violence and abuse targeted towards the British Indian community on that occasion are completely unacceptable, as they would be against any community on the streets of the UK?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Any violence is deplorable. It should not be conducted in this country, or anywhere else for that matter, against any individual communities. We now need to try to reduce these tensions but also, on a positive side, to build confidence-building measures to allow proper dialogue between the communities in Kashmir but also between India and Pakistan.
I have met my Pakistani and Indian communities, who are very concerned about the Kashmir situation. The revocation of article 370 of the Indian constitution without involving the Kashmiri people was particularly heinous. If Amnesty International is to be believed, and I think it is, we should have learned from the Rohingya crisis to know that this is another crisis emerging now. We must take the firmest steps to condemn it and do what we can.
We are aware of the implications of the revocation of article 370, which has caused interest and concern not just within India and Pakistan but among communities throughout the UK and internationally. It is a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan but also an international issue, given the human rights at stake.
It has been a long-standing policy of the Government that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is a bilateral issue. It has also been this House that stands up for human rights and the protection of minorities. Therefore, does my right hon. Friend agree that the abolition of article 370, which discriminates against women and minority religions, is to be welcomed?
My hon. Friend makes the point that there are different sides to this. But the reality is that there have been widespread reports and concerns about detentions, mistreatments and the communications blackout. There was a UN Security Council discussion on Kashmir on 16 August. As well as wanting to respect the constitutional arrangements within India and in relation to Kashmir, there are implications internationally, particularly as they touch on internationally respected and recognised human rights.
I refer Members to my registered interest.
For over four years, I have stood in this place and warned Members of the ongoing persecution, oppression and injustice that the sons and daughters of Kashmir face daily. That situation has now escalated as a result of the revocation of articles 370 and 35A, and the humanitarian situation as a result of the blockade. The reality is that we see up to 10,000 people arrested without due process, and food and medicine shortages. This is a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations Security Council meeting and not even agreeing a condemnation is not something that this House should welcome. What is the Minister doing to end the draconian blockade, at the very least?
I think it would be obvious to the hon. Gentleman that, as much as I sympathise with his concerns and understand the heartfelt way in which he makes his points, we cannot alone end that blockade. There has been a discussion about it within the UN Security Council. All and any allegations of human rights violations are deeply concerning, and they must be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently.
Textbook brevity from Dame Cheryl Gillan.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), I have many constituents who are highly concerned about this. The revocation of article 35A affects property ownership and rights in Jammu and Kashmir, and many of my constituents are very frightened that this could lead to a dramatic transformation from majority Muslim to majority Hindu. The new Prime Minister is famed for being robust. Can he now be robust in defending the rights of these people and their families?
My right hon. Friend raises the issue that others have raised, but in a particularly poignant way. The reality is that we have raised the issues around human rights. We have been clear both in our direct dealings with the Indian Government and at the international level that any reports or allegations concerning human rights must be dealt with transparently, thoroughly and rigorously, and human rights standards must be respected.
Alongside the revocation of article 370, the Indian authorities have detained more than 4,000 Kashmiris without charge in the last month—not just political activists, but ordinary civilians. There are widespread allegations of torture, and many families do not know where their loved ones are being held. This is no way for the largest democracy in the world to behave, let alone a member of the Commonwealth. Can the Secretary of State tell us what protests he has made to India about those detentions?
As I explained to the House—I am happy to repeat it—the concerns and issues that the hon. Lady has raised are very serious, and I raised them directly with Foreign Minister Jaishankar on 7 August.
To answer the shadow Foreign Secretary’s question, yes, specifically the issue of detentions, as well as the blackouts. We have made clear our concern and the fact that we need to see—particularly in a great democracy, as the hon. Lady says—internationally recognised human rights respected.
Amazon Forest Fires
On 27 August, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Brazilian Foreign Minister, Mr Araújo. I will also be seeing the Brazilian ambassador, Mr Arruda, tomorrow, to reaffirm our commitment to working in partnership with Brazil on a range of issues, including the environment. In response to the very serious fires, the Prime Minister announced at the G7 £10 million for protection and restoration of the rain forest. That is in addition to the £120 million of funding we provide through our other programmes.
While we welcome the £10 million that the UK Government have committed to help to restore the Amazonian rain forest, it is paltry compared with the amount spent on advertising for the Brexit debacle. Can the Foreign Secretary tell me whether the money is spent by local partners in a way that ensures that indigenous people will take charge of the process to reforest their homes and protect our planet? What further funding is he willing to pledge today?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s passion for the issue. I can confirm that we spend £120 million through our international climate finance programme. That goes to help to tackle deforestation and to help sustainable farming, and it complements the trading activities that we have with Brazil, which ensure that the Brazilian economy grows and prospers, including for those farmers, who are part and parcel of the problem, burning some of the rain forest.
Over 120,000 people have already petitioned this Parliament, urging trade sanctions to be used against Brazil to put pressure on it. Given that a Minister was in Brazil recently, what pressure was put on by this Government?
The Minister of State, Department for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), was there as part of our international trade obligations, to ensure that we build trade with our strategic partners, such as Brazil. I will be seeing the Brazilian ambassador tomorrow and making clear that we want to help Brazil with its difficulties in these terrible fires, but also that we want to trade with it, because that is a way of building its economy and ensuring that the sorts of fires that are currently raging are put out and stay out.
Last week, both the Taoiseach and French President said that they will attempt to block the Mercosur trade agreement if Brazil does not honour its environmental commitments. Does the Minister agree that the burning of the Amazon is a human and environmental tragedy that requires a global solution and this is no time for fragile male egos or social media spats? What steps has he taken to ensure that situations such as these receive an urgent and immediate multilateral response now and in the future?
I hope that the hon. Lady will not think that my response is in any way macho. My concern is to make sure that the trade with our two countries prospers and that the Mercosur arrangement succeeds. It will result in the removal of something like 91% of present tariffs. That can only be to the benefit of Brazilian farmers and to the benefit of the Brazilian economy. If we help to ensure that these sensible trade arrangements are made, those fires can be put out and they will stay out.
It has been suggested that changes to trade flows between the US and China may be fuelling some of the Amazon forest fires. Does my right hon. Friend agree that all leading nations should be working together to stop that devastation? What conversations are taking place with other leading countries?
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met other Foreign Ministers at Gymnich earlier in the week. He has made clear the concern that we have about those fires. He has also made absolutely clear the importance that we believe trade has to building economies in South America and in the far east, which encourages a better response to such tragedies.
Deforestation in the Amazon is indeed a catastrophe of global and generational proportions. We must of course do the right things about it and I very much welcome the pressure that the Minister has described, but is he not also aware of the fact that the deforestation of the Amazon has decreased quite considerably over the last 20 years, and that while it was very, very bad, it is very much less bad than it was; and equally that the level of decrease, therefore, in the size of the forest has been reduced? Does the Minister therefore agree that this is a domestic matter for the Brazilian Government, and that we must persuade them to do the right thing, rather than confronting or berating them?
I certainly think it is better to talk than to engage in megaphone hectoring. Deforestation has increased over the last few years. It has in fact been increasing in Brazil since 2015—some time before the present Government took office. I think it is right that we engage with them—that we try to persuade them to use sensible methods to reduce and stop this problem. It is an international concern, and that is why we have raised it, and will continue to raise it, with the Brazilian authorities.
I have spent some of the summer in the Ecuadorian rain forest —part of the same Amazon rain forest that we are talking about. What other countries have made representations to Brazil about the damage that it is doing to the world, not just to Brazil?
The fires that are currently raging do not just affect Brazil; they also affect, for example, Bolivia. Bolivia is concerned about this, as is Venezuela, Peru and Colombia. So I think an international response is helpful. Certainly, those neighbouring countries that can help Brazil with its difficulties should be encouraged to do so.
The fires have affected 650 million acres of Amazon rain forest. In his answer just now, the Minister revealed that he did not understand that the problem with the Mercosur trade deal is that cutting beef tariffs incentivises destruction of the rain forest. What proposals will the Government be putting forward at the Chile conference on climate change in November?
As the hon. Lady should know, high agricultural tariffs hurt the poorest. That will only encourage them to do the easy thing, which is to burn land, rather than to farm it sustainably and protect the rain forest. Mercosur is a sensible free trade agreement which should be encouraged, and I trust that in the fullness of time we also will undertake a free trade deal with Brazil—more details of that, I am sure, are to come.
We are seriously concerned, and increasingly concerned, about the situation in Hong Kong. Of course we condemn any violence, but we absolutely support the right to peaceful and lawful protests on Hong Kong. The route to resolution through the current situation is via meaningful political dialogue, taken forward under the high degree of autonomy that Hong Kong has under the model of one country and two systems.
I welcome the new Foreign Secretary to his position and congratulate him on taking up the role at a time of such calm. I asked his predecessor in June whether he would extend an invitation to any Hong Kong citizens at risk of persecution. Will the Secretary of State do his moral duty under the 1984 joint declaration?
I thank the hon. Gentleman and respect the fact that he has a longstanding interest in this issue. Under the one country, two systems model, and its manifestation through the joint declaration signed by the UK and China, which has treaty status, we gave a range of residents in Hong Kong British National (Overseas) status. The importance of that is that we do not want to unpick, at least at this time, one part of the one country, two systems model. If we do that, we risk its not being respected on the Chinese side.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his position. I was pleased to hear his comments about the UK Government’s steadfast support for the joint declaration and the one country, two systems principle. Will he make sure that we continue to reiterate that very strongly, because that is a mechanism for driving peace in the solution?
My hon. Friend is right. I raised those issues with the Chinese Foreign Minister, State Councillor Wang Yi, on 31 July. I also spoke to the Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, on 9 August. We support the one country, two systems model. It is important, as reflected in the joint declaration and the treaty-binding obligations that have been made, including to the people of Hong Kong—and including to respect the right of lawful and peaceful protest—that that is adhered to on all sides.
I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to his position. The Hong Kong police recently made further arrests, including of a 12-year-old girl. Violence is escalating, with reports that police are now using live rounds in conjunction with tear gas and water cannons. What representations has he made to the Chinese Government to ensure that violence is met with a proportional police response, and that minors caught up in the protest movement are adequately safeguarded?
My hon. Friend is right. I have raised those issues with both the Chinese Foreign Minister and the Chief Executive. In relation to the conduct of the police, let us recognise some of the violence on the ground that they have to deal with, but in relation to disproportionate actions and overreactions it is very clear: the Independent Police Complaints Council is carrying out an inquiry. The point that I have made is that it has to be credible, and has to command the trust of the people of Hong Kong. That is what international observers will look to see.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments on the Sino-British joint declaration and how he is using it to engage with his counterparts in China. Can he give the House any information on whether international forums can be used to support the case that we are making that China should uphold its obligations to the people of Hong Kong, with the one country, two systems approach?
I share my right hon. Friend’s concern. The route through this is to de-escalate the tensions and to respect the one country, two systems model. At the international level, more and more interlocutors are expressing their concern about this matter. It is not just an issue for the people of Hong Kong, or for us, given our historical relationship with China and Hong Kong; it is now an issue of widespread international concern.
Will the Foreign Secretary update the House on whether in his conversation with Ms Lam on 9 August he specifically raised the question of moving towards universal suffrage to elect the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council members?
I talked to Ms Lam about our short-term concerns about violence and protecting internationally recognised human rights standards, which are of course, as the hon. Lady knows, reflected in the joint declaration. We also had an exchange of views about the fact that there are such widespread protests in Hong Kong that they cannot be put down to a small number who are engaged in violence. There needs to be meaningful political dialogue that touches on people’s deeper concerns about the autonomy of Hong Kong being respected.
The demonstrators have acted largely peacefully, but everyone in the House will have seen the footage of the police acting in an unjustified and extremely violent manner. With that in mind, will the Foreign Secretary commit to ensuring that the UK is not exporting crowd control equipment—water cannons, tear gas and so on—until that independent inquiry has been carried out and adequate safeguards have been put in place, and will he encourage our international partners to do the same?
This is something we are now discussing more and more with our international partners in all parts of the world. It is not just a European issue; transatlantically there are concerns, too. We have raised the issue, to which the hon. Gentleman refers, of a disproportionate response. We also recognise that there has been violence. The answer and the solution is to reduce tensions and to respect the lawful and peaceful right of protest of the people of Hong Kong, but also to have moves and stepping stones towards the dialogue that will actually resolve the issue.
My hon. Friend is very knowledgeable in this area and I respect the fact that he has huge expertise. It is not clear, in truth, what the position in Beijing is. Actually, if we look at all its public statements, we see that it sticks and adheres to the position of one country, two systems. That provides the model that can resolve this situation, but we need to have respect for the lawful right of protest. We need to have stepping stones to build confidence towards a track of political dialogue. That is the route through the current situation and to avoid it escalating any further.
We are gravely concerned at the heavy-handed response to protests in Harare on 16 August, and the recent arrest and abductions of Opposition figures. President Mnangagwa must hold to account those responsible for human rights violations. We have made our position clear to the Zimbabwe Government that UK support depends on fundamental political and economic reform. Zimbabwe must now translate its commitment into actions.
Does my hon. Friend agree that President Mnangagwa and his Administration have been a grave disappointment to this country and indeed to their own countrymen? Does he nevertheless also agree that the aid we give to Zimbabwe, particularly the DFID aid that goes into education, is absolutely vital and plays an extraordinarily good role in Zimbabwean education? Will he assure me that at the same time as keeping up the pressure on human rights and making absolutely clear our horror at the behaviour of President Mnangagwa and his gang of thugs, we will continue to support the education system in Zimbabwe?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. The UK provided £94 million of aid to Zimbabwe in 2018-19. None of that money is channelled through the Zimbabwe Government. I reiterate the point that the UK’s ongoing support through our DFID work depends on fundamental political and economic reform in Zimbabwe.
Does the Minister agree that any semblance of the rule of law has now broken down in Zimbabwe? We saw that just last week when a peaceful protest was banned at the very last minute by Mnangagwa. What more are Her Majesty’s Government doing to get the Southern African Development Community and the African Union on board to make their views known about the appalling way that Mnangagwa is treating the people of Zimbabwe?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I know she has considerable expertise as the chairman of the all-party group on Zimbabwe. We are very concerned about the current human rights issues in that country. The violations, such as those seen in January and August 2019, have no place in a democratic society. We will continue to work with all international partners to ensure that those responsible are held to account.
Leaving the EU: Gibraltar
I have spoken to the Chief Minister, Mr Picardo, by phone on a number of occasions in the past month and I will speak to him again later this afternoon. We have regular ministerial contact, including through the Joint Ministerial Council with Gibraltar, which has met nine times since its formation three years ago. Ministers and officials across the Government are working closely with the Government of Gibraltar in preparation for Brexit. Gibraltar is and will remain a vital part of our family, whatever the shape of our exit from the EU on 31 October.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I welcome my right hon. Friend to his post and his early engagement with Her Majesty’s Government over Gibraltar. Will he bear in mind and make it quite clear that we fully support Gibraltar politically and in practical terms as we leave the European Union? In particular, will he deal with the practical measures relating to the vast number of foodstuffs and the workforce that currently come across the border, which must be resolved before we leave?
No one is more doughty in his championship of Gibraltar than my hon. Friend, and I am grateful for his kind words. Let me assure him—as the Prime Minister has assured the Chief Minister—that the United Kingdom will protect Gibraltar’s interests as we leave the EU. From 1967 to 2002, at all points in between and since, we have said that Gibraltar is going to remain a vital part of our family. The Government of Gibraltar are responsible for their own contingency planning, but, as I have said, the UK Government regularly speak to and meet Ministers to ensure that their robust plans are in place.
Is the Minister not aware that whether it is Gibraltar, Hong Kong or Zimbabwe, people are struggling for the rights that they thought they had and that they find common cause with people in the United Kingdom who are struggling to get the political rights that they thought they had in this country? Is it not about time that we showed as an example that we believe in parliamentary and political democracy in this House?
That was quite a wide-ranging question. Let me put it to the hon. Gentleman in this way: this Government are standing up for the rights of people—the 17.5 million people of our country who voted to leave the European Union—and respecting those that did not. We will make sure that we leave—no ifs, no buts—on 31 October.
What assurances has the Minister sought from the Spanish Government that they will respect Gibraltar’s territorial waters both before we leave and after?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We reject and object robustly to all incursions into Gibraltarian waters. I think that since the start of this year, there have been 499 such incursions and we have made 499 objections. He can be confirmed in his belief that we will support the people of Gibraltar.
The Minister, I believe, supports a no-deal Brexit. How will the Minister assure the people of Gibraltar that there will be no disruption of the supply of goods, including food and medicine? News about delays of four hours at the border, resulting in huge economic loss, has leaked in the Yellowhammer document. If the Minister believes that the Yellowhammer document is outdated, what is the updated solution?
The hon. Gentleman is misinformed. I do not support no deal; I want a deal with the European Union that works for Britain and for Gibraltar, but I am prepared to leave with no deal if we cannot get the deal that is good for us by 31 October. We engage regularly with the Spanish Government. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to Foreign Minister Borrell very recently about this matter. As I said, I engage regularly with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar. He assures me that Gibraltar is ready. We will make sure that Gibraltar is ready and that we continue the dialogue with the Spanish Government to ensure that there is a free flow of traffic, people and goods across the border after we leave.
Leaving the EU: Diplomacy
Last week, I attended the Gymnich meeting of EU Foreign Ministers. I met the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, Cyprus and Finland. We discussed Brexit but also the wide range of international foreign policy issues on which we will continue to co-operate beyond 31 October, from Hong Kong to Iran.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary to his place. Will he confirm whether the 90-strong negotiation unit has been disbanded? If that is the case, with regard to our foreign resources and diplomats what more is being done across the EU27 member states for us to get a deal to leave the European Union?
We have actually strengthened and increased the resources in Brussels and across capitals to make sure we are going to the EU with a clear and reasonable ask, backed up by the commitment and resolve to leave at the end of October, and with the staff and personnel to navigate the nuances and explain our message very clearly to our EU friends.
Does the Secretary of State agree that trust is critical to international diplomacy? If so, does he agree that by threatening a catastrophic no deal and non-payment of the EU divorce bill, instead of a global player on the world stage, he paints us as a dishonest and disreputable nation—much like his Prime Minister?
Let us agree on trust and the importance of being very clear with our international partners on both our reasonable ask and our commitment to leave the EU at the end of October. Trust with the voters of this country is also important. Both Labour and the Conservatives said they would respect the referendum, and on our side we are serious about fulfilling that promise.
Nobody voted to leave with no deal, and the very threat of no deal is leading the pound to tank to historic lows, which is nothing to be proud of. Is it not the case that if we crash out without a deal, as the Government seem to want, it will diminish the United Kingdom economically, culturally and diplomatically?
I respect the hon. Gentleman’s views. I think he would say the same whatever the Government’s position. I would point him, for example, to the views set out on the BBC, on the “Today” programme, by Mervyn King, a former Governor of the Bank of England. He is not known to be in hock to the Tories or Brexit, but he said very clearly that we should get on with it, that the short-term risks were manageable and that there were also opportunities. That is the approach we take.
I will welcome the Foreign Secretary to his place—for now, of course. Has he discovered that, as well as being particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing, we are also reliant on good relations with our other European partners? What impact will no deal have on our relations, and will he reassure our partners that this Government still respects the rule of law?
Yes, I can reassure the hon. Gentleman on all counts. As well as making the reasonable offer that replaces the backstop, which would allow us to get a deal that is acceptable to this country, we have made the point to our EU partners that we are willing to co-operate on all the no-deal planning and preparation to reduce the risk on all sides. Of course, however, that will require the EU to engage to the same level.
I am glad the Foreign Secretary says he will respect the rule of law and any legislation passed in this place, but there is no mandate for a no-deal Brexit. He himself was among those who told us these deals would be really easy to sort out, and a no-deal Brexit, which he never mentioned, as Channel 4 found out, was never on the cards. So it is clear, is he willing to do this damage to our relationships with our closest partners? The Prime Minister, the Brexiteers and the Foreign Secretary have no idea what they are doing.
It is the usual froth and frenzy from the hon. Gentleman. The reality is that no deal was debated on both sides, including by me, during the referendum—and it has been sourced—and that it was an in/out referendum. We remain committed to a deal with the EU, but the one thing that would undermine our prospects of getting a deal would be passing the Bill proposed by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). It would undermine our chances at this critical moment of the negotiations.
I welcome the new Foreign Secretary to his position, and indeed his seemingly entirely new team—it is certainly position churn—and pay tribute to his predecessor, who served for 12 months with a concern and diligence that had been so sorely lacking for the previous two years. I hope the new Foreign Secretary will follow the right example.
The Foreign Secretary will be aware of the concern of people across the country with health conditions such as schizophrenia and epilepsy for whom, as the Yellowhammer leaks reveal, it will not be possible to stockpile medicines. They will be left exposed and at grave risk because of the shortages that will follow a no-deal Brexit. Can I ask him a simple question? Have the Government asked for legal advice on how coroners would be expected to record the deaths of anyone who loses their life after 31 October as a result of the entirely preventable medicine shortages?
I thank the shadow Foreign Secretary for her generous welcome to the Dispatch Box. On no deal and medicines, the UK has a long-standing relationship with pharmaceutical companies, through the NHS, involving hundreds of vaccines and medicines, whereby we do stockpile, without any context of Brexit, but in the ordinary course of events. Both the Health Secretary and the head of the NHS have made it clear that the plans and arrangements are in place to make sure that people can receive their medication supplies in all circumstances. I am sure she will not want to engage in irresponsible scaremongering. It is very important that this be a fact-driven risk analysis.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his answer, but the truth is this: the whole point of the Yellowhammer leaks is that some essential medicines—the ones about which I am asking—cannot be stockpiled, which is why there is genuine concern for these individuals.
As a lawyer, the Secretary of State knows his case law as well I do. He will know that if dependent individuals are denied their medicine and die as a result, their cases may meet all the tests in the watershed cases of Jamieson, Khan and Staffordshire and justify a coroner’s finding that they died as a result of neglect. I will submit a freedom of information request today to obtain the advice that the Government have been given to that effect.
Is it not a shameful disgrace that, in 21st-century Britain, we are having to talk about people who are denied their medicine, and about people having access to “adequate’” supplies of food—the Foreign Secretary’s own words—so that this shameless, shameful Government can play games of brinkmanship with Brussels and generate the pretext for a general election? This is no way in which to run a country.
Let me gently say to the shadow Foreign Secretary that what is shameful is to take a potentially vulnerable group in our society and scaremonger in such an appalling way. I think that she should listen to what the Health Secretary and Sir Simon Stevens have said, and take into account the reassurances that medical supplies will be protected in any scenario.
I will allow the next question—on the grounds that extreme brevity is required.
Defence and Security Equipment International Exhibition
No Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers are currently scheduled to attend the exhibition. However, FCO officials will attend. The Export Control Joint Unit will be on hand advise companies on the United Kingdom’s export licensing procedures, which, as the right hon. Lady will know, are among the most rigorous in the world.
I wish that that were true, but it is not.
I note that Saudi Arabia has been invited to the arms fair once again. Will the Minister tell the House whether the Government are now reviewing all current arms licences to Saudi Arabia following the recent judgment by the Court of Appeal, which instructed them to determine the likelihood of the use of that equipment in serious violation of international humanitarian law, given past violations?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her question. The UK Government have sought leave to appeal, and have been granted it. We disagree—with respect—with the court in its determination, and note the lower court’s determination that the process was “rigorous”, “robust” and “multi-layered”. The right hon. Lady will, I believe, understand that our processes in this country are among the most robust in the world. I am proud of them, and she should be too, because of the Export Control Act 2002 and the statement made on 26 October 2000, which underpinned the licensing process that we have—under, of course, a previous Government.
Since my appointment as Foreign Secretary, I have visited six countries and met 46 Foreign Ministers. In Helsinki last week, we discussed with our EU partners the middle east, cyber-threats and the challenges relating to Iran. In Thailand, Canada, the United States and Mexico, I have set out our vision for a global Britain as we leave the EU: strong, independent, and a force for good in the world.
What actions are the Government taking, both unilaterally and in partnership, to stop the Brazilian Government wiping out their indigenous peoples, as well as poisoning the world’s environment?
We recognise the concerns about the rain forest. I have spoken to the Brazilian Foreign Minister, and the vice-president will be here soon. We will look into supporting Brazil by taking measures to ensure that the rain forests, which rightly attract international interest, are protected in a way that works for the world—[Interruption]—but also—I say this in response to the shadow Foreign Secretary—does not undermine the economy and the poorest people in Brazil.
We were given clear assurances that the oil and the tanker would not, in breach of sanctions, reach Syria and we expect those undertakings to be complied with. We want Iran to come in from the cold; the only way it can do that is by respecting the international rule of law, whether on freedom of navigation, the nuclear deal or indeed the treatment of our dual nationals.
Can the Minister of State tell me what clause in UN resolution 2216 provides for Saudi Arabia to bomb captive inmates in a Houthi-run prison in Yemen or for the United Arab Emirates to kill forces loyal to the President that their own coalition is supposed to be there to reinstall? If the answer is that there is none, is it not time for him to bring forward a new UN resolution to replace 2216, demanding an immediate ceasefire by all parties across the whole of the country of Yemen?
This country will always stand up for the rule of law in Yemen, in Saudi Arabia and throughout the middle east. I hope very much that the hon. Gentleman understands that this country is the champion of international humanitarian law, especially in relation to Yemen, where he knows full well we are the pen holder. In my recent visit to the middle east, including to discuss Yemen, that came across loud and clear; I made it clear to my interlocutors that we will continue to hold them to account for activities in Yemen.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and will know that the 2016 London anti-corruption summit agreed new commitments on ownership transparency. He will also be aware of the leadership we have shown on things like beneficial ownership, unexplained wealth orders, the seizure of criminals’ money from bank accounts and new powers to tackle onshore and offshore tax evasion. The UK is absolutely at the forefront of tackling these things and my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that.
I totally share the hon. Lady’s concerns. We will be looking to ensure internationally respected human rights are respected; they have been raised in this Chamber already in relation to detention and mistreatment but also to communication blackouts. We will also be looking to see generally on all sides a de-escalation of tensions and positive measures to build up confidence; that is the only way this issue will be resolved and calmed down.
To be very specific on the understandable question my hon. Friend asks, we have added over 100 diplomats as well as 140 locally engaged staff across capitals as well as in Brussels, and I hope that shows the seriousness with which we are approaching negotiations to get a deal.
We are committing £120 million to international climate finance, and on top of that we are committing £10 million extra. This all helps to avoid and stop deforestation; it helps the sustainable agriculture of Brazil.
The failures of the Maduro regime and of Hugo Chávez have led to what is probably the largest displacement of people in south American history. We need a peaceful transition to democracy through free and fair presidential elections. In the meantime, the UK is providing more than £14 million in aid, and £10 million of that will go to countries around Venezuela that are seeing an increase in Venezuelans fleeing the country.
I hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman, with whom I served on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, that we will raise human rights issues wherever they lie, whether in relation to Iran, to China or to Zimbabwe. We will be unflinching in doing so, even with partners with which we want to have a positive relationship.
One sentence each, please. There are lots of Members trying to get in.
Will the Foreign Secretary consider the early-day motion tabled by 25 parliamentarians today calling on our Government to seek agreement with other Commonwealth countries to offer Hong Kong citizens second citizenship and a place of abode? Could this be applied for as an agenda item at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting?
As I have made clear to the House, we want to see the one country, two systems model respected. Under those arrangements, reflecting the joint declaration, we have committed to the British national (overseas) status and I think it is important, for now, to stick with that.
In line with the recommendations in the Bishop of Truro’s report, are the Government prepared and ready to impose sanctions on the perpetrators of freedom of religion or belief abuse?
I thank my hon. Friend for consistently raising this topic. As he will know, the Government have accepted all the recommendations in the report and work is under way to take them forward. We have established an implementation team and allocated £200,000 this year to look at concrete actions that the UK can take.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I am pleased to have taken over consular services, which assist British nationals travelling, living and working overseas. I appreciate her expertise as chair of the all-party parliamentary group, and I would be delighted to meet her to discuss this further.
We need five more sitting days for parliamentary approval of the accession of the Republic of North Macedonia to NATO. Will this be achieved before the next slightly premature recess?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, but I think that it is probably one for the Leader of the House.
Natalie Jackson has not seen or had any contact from her son Dylan, who is 11, in more than a year because her ex-partner has not returned him home after a summer holiday in 2018. The High Court has made Dylan a ward of court and ordered his immediate return, but his return was denied by the Turkish courts. I have written to the Secretary of State about this. Please will he answer, and meet me urgently so that we can deliver Dylan back to his mother?
Given the urgency of this matter, I will of course meet the hon. Lady.
As the Foreign and Commonwealth Office reconfigures its global representation by beefing up embassies and opening other embassies post-Brexit, will my right hon. Friend undertake to conduct an audit into other Government Departments that are represented abroad to ensure that they are all brought under the ambassador or high commissioner in that country?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s expertise in this area. He is absolutely right to stress that when we speak internationally, we do so with one voice.
With climate change becoming increasingly evident and important, what progress has been made in tackling climate change through international co-operation?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We are absolutely clear that a global Britain would pursue international issues such as climate change. We are seeking to host COP 26 in 2020, which shows the leadership that we intend to take in this area.
For one sentence—in hope, not expectation —I call Alistair Burt.
Following Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif’s visit to the G7 summit, will my right hon. Friend bring me up to date on what the United Kingdom is currently doing to try to ease tensions with Iran, bearing in mind that that may have provided an opportunity?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and his expertise in this area. Our approach to Iran is simple: we want it to de-escalate tensions and to come in from the cold. The Iranians can do that by respecting internationally recognised rights for consular nationals, the nuclear deal, and freedom of navigation in the strait of Hormuz.
The following Member took and subscribed the Oath required by law:
Jane Dodds, for Brecon and Radnorshire.
Before I begin my statement, I am sure that the whole House will join me in remembering that this country entered the second world war 80 years ago today. It is of course true that the horror of that conflict surpasses all modern controversies. It is also true that this country still stands—then as now—for democracy, for the rule of law, and for the fight against racial and religious hatred, and I know that this whole House is united in defending those values around the world.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement about the G7 summit in Biarritz. As I speak, vast tracts of the Amazon rainforest are on fire, free trade is in retreat, 130 million girls worldwide are not in education and our oceans are being foully polluted, so it has never been more important for a global Britain to use our voice as an agent for change and progress. It is only by exerting our influence at a global level and only by sticking up for our values and beliefs that we can create the international context for Britain to prosper and to ensure that this is the greatest place on earth to live, work, start a family, open a business, trade and invest. So at the G7, I made the case for free trade as an engine of prosperity and progress that has lifted billions out of poverty, yet the reality is that trade, as a share of the world economy, has been stagnant for the last decade. In the leaders’ declaration, the G7 unanimously endorsed open and fair world trade and was determined to reform the World Trade Organisation and to reach agreement next year to simplify regulatory barriers.
Britain is on the verge of taking back control of our trade policy and restoring our independent seat in the WTO for the first time in 46 years. Our exports to the United States—[Interruption.] I wish my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) all the best. [Interruption.]
Order. I ask the House to have some regard to how our proceedings are viewed by people outside the Chamber. I will always facilitate the expression of opinion by this House. [Interruption.] Order. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is making a statement. That statement should be heard, and he will be heard, as will every other Member. End of subject.
Britain is on the verge of taking back control of our trade policy, as I said. [Interruption.] On the verge. We could achieve even more in our trade with the United States by using the powers we will regain to do a comprehensive free trade deal—a deal in which both President Trump and I have agreed that the NHS is not on the table. Unlike some in the House, I consider the United States to be a natural ally and a force for good in the world, and I recoil from the visceral, juvenile anti-Americanism that would do such profound damage to this country’s interest.
I know the whole House will share my concern about the gravity of the situation in Hong Kong. As a nation with a deep belief in freedom of expression and assembly, we stand firm in upholding Hong Kong’s way of life, guaranteed by one country, two systems. I welcome the unwavering support of my G7 counterparts on this vital matter. The UK is at the forefront of a new campaign to end the tragic loss of species around the world. We cannot bequeath a planet where the Sumatran tiger and the African elephant, and entire ecosystems like the great barrier reef, live in the shadow of destruction, so I am delighted that the G7 accepted UK proposals for more ambitious targets to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity. Britain is responsible for 2.6 million square miles of ocean, the fifth largest marine estate in the world. Our blue belt programme will ensure that marine protected areas encompass 1.5 million square miles and, at the G7, I announced a further £7 million for this vital effort.
I also announced another £10 million to protect the rainforest in Brazil, where 41,000 fires have raged so far this year—more than twice as many as in the same period in 2018. Britain is bidding to host the UN’s 26th climate change conference next year. If we succeed, we shall focus on solutions that harness the power of nature, including reforestation. There is one measure that would address all those issues. [Interruption.] If Opposition Members think that is a waste of money, it tells us all we need to know about the modern Labour party.
One measure that will address all those issues is to ensure that every girl in the world receives the education that is her right. That would not only curb infant mortality, eradicate illiteracy and reduce population pressures but would strike a blow for morality and justice. In Biarritz the G7 therefore endorsed the UK’s campaign for 12 years of quality education for every girl in the world, and I announced £90 million of new funding so that 600,000 children in countries torn by conflict, where girls are twice as likely as boys to be out of the classroom, get the chance to go to school.
As well as my G7 colleagues, I was delighted to meet other leaders, including President Ramaphosa of South Africa, Prime Minister Modi of India and Prime Minister Morrison of Australia, who, heroically, masked his emotions in the face of the historic innings of Ben Stokes. In every conversation, I was struck by the enthusiasm of my colleagues to strengthen their relations with this country, whether on trade, security and defence, or science and technology. I was also able to use the G7 to follow up my conversations in Berlin and Paris with Chancellor Merkel and President Macron on Brexit, as well as with Prime Minister Conte, Prime Minister Sánchez and President Tusk. I have since spoken to Commission President Juncker and many other leaders. I was able to make it clear to them all that everyone in this Government wants a deal. [Interruption.] We do. We do. But it is a reality that the House of Commons has rejected the current withdrawal agreement three times, and it simply cannot be resurrected. [Interruption.] And that is why I wrote to President Tusk—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Sheerman, I look to you as a senior and distinguished elder statesman in the House to set an example of good behaviour, analogous to the Buddha-like calm of the Father of the House, which is exhibited at all times.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
That is why I wrote to President Tusk on 19 August to set out our arguments why any future agreement must include the abolition of the anti-democratic backstop. [Interruption.] Which, by the way, is opposed on all sides of the House. We have also been clear that we will need changes to the political declaration, to clarify that our future relationship with the EU will be based on a free trade agreement and giving us full control over our regulations, our trade, and our foreign and defence policy. This clarity has brought benefits; far from jeopardising negotiations, it is making them more straight- forward.
In the last few weeks, I believe that the chances of a deal have risen. This week, we are intensifying the pace of meetings in Brussels. Our European friends can see that we want an agreement and they are beginning to reflect that reality in their response. President Macron said—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, Opposition Members don’t want to hear the words of our counterparts across the channel. They don’t want to hear about any progress that we might be making. [Interruption.] They don’t. [Interruption.]
Order. I want to hear everything said—
I have never had any difficulty hearing the Prime Minister, but if it is necessary for him to speak up, I am certain that he will overcome his natural shyness in order to do so.
Mr Speaker, I think they are wilfully closing their ears to the reality that our friends and partners are increasingly seeing the possibilities of an agreement. Again, I quote President Macron of France, who said:
“If there are things which, as part of what was negotiated by Michel Barnier, can be adapted and are in keeping with the two objectives I’ve…mentioned, stability in Ireland”—
which we all support—
“and the integrity of the single market—we should identify them in the coming months.”
Is that the negative spirit of those on the Opposition Benches? No, it is not. And speaking in Berlin of possible alternatives to the backstop, Chancellor Merkel of Germany said:
“Once we see and say this could be a possible outcome, this could be a possible arrangement, this backstop as a sort of placeholder is no longer necessary.”
That is a positive spirit, which we are not, I am afraid, hearing echoed on the other side of the House today. I believe there are indeed—[Interruption.] Opposition Members are fleeing already. There are indeed solutions—they don’t want to hear about solutions. They don’t want to hear about any of them. There are practical arrangements that we can find which avoid anyone putting infrastructure on the Irish border—I say that to the departing back of the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), and he knows it well. These have been well worked out and involve measures such as trusted trader schemes, transit provisions, frontier zones, reduced bureaucracy for small and local traders, and many others.
In particular, we recognise—[Interruption.] I advise Opposition Members to pay attention to what is being said. We recognise that for reasons of geography and economics, agri-food is increasingly managed on a common basis across the island of Ireland. We are ready to find a way forward that recognises this reality, provided that it clearly enjoys the consent of all parties and institutions with an interest. We will discuss that with the EU shortly, and I will discuss it with the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, when I see him in Dublin on Monday.
It is simply wrong to say that we are not making progress. There is a lot to do in the coming days, but things are moving. A major reason for that is that everyone can see that this Government are utterly determined to leave the EU on 31 October, come what may, without a deal if necessary. That is why over the summer my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has been leading the Government’s efforts, seven days a week, to accelerate our national preparations for that possibility. He will make a statement on that subject shortly. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has made all the necessary funds available. We have already reached agreements with our partners to roll over trade deals worth around £89 billion of exports and imports. We have secured air services agreements around the world. We have increased the capacity of our Border Force, strengthened the resilience of our ports, bolstered our freight capacity and worked in meticulous detail to ensure the uninterrupted supply of critical goods, including medicines. We will be ready.
I returned from the G7 with real momentum in the Brexit discussions. I want to return from next month’s European Council in a similar way, with a deal that this House can debate, scrutinise and endorse in time for our departure on 31 October. But there is one step that would jeopardise all the progress that we have made in the G7 and around the capitals of Europe, and that is if this House were to decide that it was simply impossible for us to leave without a deal and to make that step illegal. [Interruption.] That is what they want—to undermine our negotiations; to force us to beg for yet another pointless delay. If that happens, all the progress we have been making will have been for nothing.
Yesterday, a Bill was published—a Bill that the Leader of the Opposition has spent all summer working on. It is not a Bill in any normal sense of the word: it is without precedent in our history. It is a Bill that, if passed, would force me to go to Brussels and beg for an extension. It would force me to accept the terms offered. It would destroy any chance of negotiation for a new deal. It would destroy it. Indeed, it would enable our friends in Brussels to dictate the terms of the negotiation. That is what it would do. There is only one way to describe the Bill: it is Jeremy Corbyn’s surrender Bill. That is what it is. It means running up the white flag—the Bill is shameful. I want to make it clear to everybody in this House: there are no circumstances in which I will ever accept anything like it. I will never surrender the control of our negotiations in the way that the Leader of the Opposition is demanding. [Interruption.]
Order. People must not keep ranting from a sedentary position. However long it takes, the statement will be heard and the response to it will be heard. That is the reality and nothing can gainsay it.
We promised the people that we would get Brexit done. We promised to respect the result of the referendum, and we must do so now. Enough is enough. The country wants this done and it wants the referendum respected. We are negotiating a deal, and though I am confident of getting a deal, we will leave by 31 October in all circumstances. There will be no further pointless delay. This House has never before voted to force the Prime Minister to surrender such a crucial decision to the discretion of our friends and neighbours overseas. What this Bill would mean is that, unless we agreed to the terms of our friends and partners, they would be able to keep us in the EU for as long as they want and on their terms. I therefore urge this House to reject the Bill tonight, so that we can get the right deal for our country, deliver Brexit and take the whole country forward. I commend this statement to the House.
Order. For the avoidance of doubt, there is no vote on a Bill tonight. There is a vote on a motion, and if that motion is successful there will be a Bill tomorrow. [Interruption.] Order. I say this simply because the intelligibility of our proceedings to those observing them is important, and I am sure that everybody from all parts of the House will recognise that fundamental truth.
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of his statement. I join with him in recognising the great human suffering of world war two and the great human bravery that took place during that awful conflict that began 80 years ago, which was essential in defeating the disgusting ideology of the Nazis and of fascism at that time.
The Prime Minister met EU leaders over the summer and EU Council President Tusk at the G7 summit. After those meetings, the Prime Minister struck an optimistic note, saying that the chances of a deal were, in his words, “improving”. His optimism was not shared by those who had been at the same meetings. The Prime Minister may claim that progress is being made, but EU leaders report that the Government have so far failed to present any new proposals. Can the Prime Minister clear this up? Can he tell us whether the UK has put forward any new proposal in relation to the backstop? If it has, will he publish them so that these proposals can be scrutinised by Parliament and by the public?
It is becoming increasingly clear that this reckless Government have only one plan: to crash out of the EU without a deal. The reality is exposed today in the in-house journal of the Conservative party—otherwise known as The Daily Telegraph—which reports that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff has called the negotiations “a sham”, that the strategy is to “run down the clock”, and that the proposal to alter the backstop is “a complete fantasy”—and those are the words of the Attorney General.
No deal will mean food shortages, reduced medical supplies and chaos at our ports. It is not me saying that; it is the Government’s own leaked analysis that says that, and it warns of chaos across the board. Today, we had expected the publication of the Government’s no deal preparations. The Government are hiding from scrutiny and hiding from the people and they are trying to hide us from their true intentions. This is not just a Government in chaos, but a Government of cowardice. Thankfully, some in Whitehall are putting those vital documents into the public domain, but we should not have to rely on sporadic leaks. Will the Prime Minister set out today when these documents will be published so that the people and Parliament can scrutinise and debate them? Many on the Government Benches would relish a no deal. They see it as an opportunity to open up Britain to a one-sided trade deal that puts us at the mercy of Donald Trump and United States corporations and that will increase the wealth of a few at the expense of the many.
When it comes to the crunch, too many on the Government Benches who once opposed a no-deal outcome are now putting their own careers before the good of the people of this country. Just look at all those Tory leadership candidates who said that it would be wrong to suspend Parliament in order to make no deal more likely, but who sit passively as their principles of just a few short weeks ago are cast aside—I do not know what they were doing over their summer holidays, but something has changed. And it gets worse, because not only have they all stood by while the Prime Minister launches his latest attack on democracy, but some have repeatedly refused to rule out the possibility of the Government ignoring any law passed by Parliament that attempts to stop a no-deal Brexit. Will the Prime Minister therefore take this opportunity, when he responds in a moment, to assure the country that his Government will abide by any legislation passed by Parliament this week?
The attack on our democracy in order to force through a disastrous no-deal Brexit is unprecedented, anti-democratic and unconstitutional. Labour will do all we can to protect our industry, protect our democracy and protect our people against this dangerous and reckless Government.
I condemn the rhetoric that the Prime Minister used when he talked about a “surrender Bill”. I really hope that he will reflect on his use of language. We are not surrendering because we are at war with Europe; they are surely our partners. If anything, it is a no-deal exit that would mean surrendering our industry, our jobs, and our standards and protections in a trade deal with Donald Trump and the United States.
The UK should be using its position in the G7 to promote policies to tackle the climate emergency. The climate emergency is real, but instead of standing up to President Trump, it was in fact agreed this time, in order to save his blushes, that there would be no joint communiqué on this at the G7. That is not leadership; that is fiddling while the Amazon burns. The situation across the Amazon should be a wake-up call to the Prime Minister, who once described global warming as a “primitive fear…without foundation”. As we watch fires rage, and not only across the Amazon but in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, does he stand by those sentiments?
While funds to protect and restore the Amazon rain forest are welcome, the Prime Minister knows that this is merely a drop in the ocean, so will more money be pledged for the Amazon, and are additional funds being made available to tackle fires in sub-Saharan Africa? Will he be introducing measures to stop UK companies aiding, abetting and profiting from the destruction of the Amazon rain forest, and indeed rain forests in west Africa? On 1 May the UK Parliament became the first state Parliament anywhere in the world to declare a climate emergency, and I was proud to move that motion. We must continue to show global leadership on the issue.
On Iran, it is notable that the Prime Minister fails to condemn President Trump’s unilateral decision to tear up the internationally agreed Iran nuclear deal, creating a crisis that now risks a slide into even deeper conflict. Does the Prime Minister plan to work with European partners to restore the Iran nuclear deal and de-escalate tensions in the Gulf? We are clear that in government Labour would work tirelessly through the UN for a negotiated reinstatement of the nuclear deal, and to defuse the threat of war in the Gulf. Effective diplomacy, not threats and bluster, must prevail. Will he call on the Iranian authorities to end the unjust detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and what actions has he taken so far to ensure her release from the terrible situation that she has been plunged into?
We are all concerned about the situation in Hong Kong. No Government anywhere should get to shut down rights and freedoms, or to pick and choose which laws they adhere to. Will the Prime Minister urge the Chinese Government to stick to the joint declaration of 1984 and stand up for the rights of citizens in Hong Kong?
Later today, this House has a last chance to stop this Government riding roughshod over constitutional and democratic rights in this country, so that a cabal in Downing Street cannot crash us out without a deal, without any democratic mandate and against the majority of public opinion. The Prime Minister is not winning friends in Europe; he is losing friends at home. His is a Government with no mandate, no morals and—as of today—no majority.
The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that this country has engaged actively with our European friends and partners to make sense of the Iran nuclear deal and to ensure that that deal continues. He will know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary continues to work actively not only to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, but on all the very sad consular cases that we are currently dealing with in Iran. I pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary and the work of all his officials.
I am glad for what the right hon. Gentleman said about the importance of preserving democracy in Hong Kong, and he will observe the strength of the G7 statement on that matter. But quite frankly, when it comes to the Bill that he is assisting to bring forward tomorrow, with the procedure that is coming forward tonight, let us be in no doubt that this man is a former Bennite. In fact, I believe that he is still a Bennite. He voted against every single piece of EU legislation. He voted against Maastricht. He voted against Lisbon. Time and time and time again, he has said that we must uphold the result of the EU referendum. Time and time again, he has said that he is on the side of democracy and vindicating the will of the people. And what do we see now? He has been converted—with his hordes of Momentum activists trying to take over the streets—into the agent of those who would subvert democracy and overturn the will of the people. That is what he wants to do. He wants to entrust the decision about how long this country remains in the European Union to our friends and partners in Brussels, and not to this House. That is not democracy.
I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman, inadvertently or not, has become the agent of further delay, further confusion and further uncertainty for business in this country and abroad. That is what he is prescribing. That is what he stands for. That is the result of his policy. I urge everybody on all sides of the House not to support his approach. Let us go forward, and not back with the right hon. Gentleman.
It seems to me that the Prime Minister’s extraordinary knockabout performance today merely confirms his obvious strategy, which is to set conditions that make no deal inevitable, to make sure that as much blame as possible is attached to the EU and to this House for that consequence, and then—as quickly as he can—to fight a flag-waving general election before the consequences of no deal become too obvious to the public. Perhaps my right hon. Friend would let me know whether that clear explanation of his policy is one that he entirely accepts. Does he also accept that if he gets his way and gets no deal, we will then have to begin years of negotiations with the Europeans and the rest of the world about getting new trade, security and other arrangements in force? Does he seriously think that this approach will obtain from any other country in the world a free trade arrangement that is half as good as the Common Market that Conservative Governments have helped to put together over the years?
As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, I am a keen fan and a lifelong fan of —[Interruption.]
Order. I want to hear what the Prime Minister has to say in response to the question, and that response must be heard.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. As the Father of the House knows, I am a long-standing admirer of his. Indeed, I was the only member of the 2001 intake to vote for my right hon. and learned Friend as leader of the Conservative party. [Interruption.] I was—a fact that I do not think he much thanked me for at the time. I have long been a fan of his, and indeed in many ways we are ad idem in our views. I agree with him—I do not want an election. We do not want an election. I do not think the Leader of the Opposition wants an election, by the way, as far as I can make it out. We do not want an election; we want to get the deal done, and the best way to get a deal is to support the Government in the Lobby tonight.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement.
My goodness—this is the second time the Prime Minister has been at the Dispatch Box, and this must be the shortest-lived honeymoon in parliamentary history; you simply have to look around his Benches. He may say that he does not want an election, and his colleagues certainly do not want one, but I will let him into a secret: we do, because we want the people of Scotland to be able to have their say on this shambolic Government. The Leader of the House talks about the strategy of the Prime Minister. We hear use of the words “collaborators” and “surrender”; the Prime Minister really should have some dignity and show some respect for the office he —temporarily—holds.
Of course, one of the most remarkable things that took place during the statement was to see the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) cross the Floor. Prime Minister: you have lost your majority.
Over the weekend, we saw commemorations across the world to mark the 80th anniversary of the second world war, when brave citizens came together and stood together against tyranny. My thoughts and those of my party are with those who suffered, the veterans and their families. We should also recognise that the European Union is the legacy of two world wars that had ripped Europe apart. The European Union has been an important vehicle for peace and stability in Europe.
Turning to the G7 summit, I wish to express my shared concern at the unrest in Hong Kong. I also associate myself with the actions on climate change and on protecting the Amazon rain forest. But I take issue with President Trump’s comments in relation to Russia. It is not acceptable to condone Russia’s military and cyber aggression around the world. Furthermore, while the summit declared its support for progress in Ukraine, the President of the United States failed to challenge Russia’s violation of international law in Ukraine—another utterly disgraceful lack of leadership from the President of the United States.
Following the summit, the Prime Minister displayed his own lack of leadership by moving to prorogue Parliament and strip power away from elected representatives—closing down Parliament by sending three Privy Counsellors to instruct the Queen to sanction the closure of Parliament. Three Privy Counsellors acting on the instructions of the Prime Minister to shut down Parliament: where is the democracy in that? While he can dance around and profess to speak for the people, we all know the truth—he is in fact doing the opposite. By proroguing Parliament, the Prime Minister is robbing the people of power; robbing them of a say over their future.
In true Trumpian style, the Prime Minister is acting more like a tinpot dictator than a democrat. He talks of the will of the people—but what about the will of the people of Scotland? Prime Minister, the Scottish people did not vote for Brexit. The people of Scotland did not vote for a no-deal Brexit. They did not vote for the Tory party and they certainly did not vote for this Prime Minister. The people of Scotland voted to remain in the European Union. The Scottish people voted overwhelmingly against the Tory party and this Government. The people of Scotland made their choice, and they chose that the SNP should be their voice. So I ask the Prime Minister: are you a democrat, or not; do you respect the will of the Scottish people, or not? Will you, Prime Minister, if you believe yourself not to be the latter, then give the people back their say: allow Parliament to have its say; respect the will of Parliament in stopping a no-deal Brexit—a no-deal Brexit that would be devastating for jobs and communities?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a serious point about the US’s attitude towards Russia. May I gently remind him that, when it came to the Skripal poisonings in Salisbury, the United States expelled 60 diplomats in support of the UK, in solidarity with the UK and to show their revulsion at Russian behaviour? As for whether or not it is right to have a Queen’s Speech, the Opposition have been calling for a Queen’s Speech just about every week—finally they get one, and they protest.
On the EU, it remains the policy of the Scottish nationalist party once we have come out of the European Union on 31 October—it is their avowed policy; they are inevitably committed to this by logic—to go back into the EU. That is what they say they want to do if they were to achieve independence: to submit to the whole panoply of EU law, to scrap the pound in favour of some unknown currency hitherto unbaptised—the Salmond, the Sturgeon or whatever it happens to be—and, above all, to hand back control of Scotland’s fisheries to the EU, just as they have been reclaimed by this country. What an extraordinary policy!
Will the Prime Minister confirm that, from 1 November, it will be the UK Government and authorities in control of our ports such as Dover? Will he confirm that it will be the Government’s policy to ensure the smooth transit of food, pharmaceuticals and other goods into our country, as today, so that there will not be shortages?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I can confirm that that is exactly what the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and others have been preparing for months and that those measures are now well in train.
The Prime Minister has lost his majority, with my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) joining the Liberal Democrats. Doctors like him tell me that they want to stop Brexit because it will plunge our NHS into deep crisis, haemorrhaging vital staff and threatening access to life-saving medicines. When will the Prime Minister stop playing with people’s lives and stop Brexit?
I am glad that the hon. Lady has given me occasion to remind the House that there are now in fact 700 more doctors in the NHS since the vote to leave the EU. Just in the last six weeks, we have been able to announce another £1.8 billion going to 20 new hospital upgrades around the country, in addition to the £34 billion extra that the Conservative Government are putting into the NHS. I am grateful to her for allowing me to point that out.
My right hon. Friend has assured me that he is very keen to get a deal with the European Union, but last Friday Chancellor Merkel of Germany observed somewhat acerbically that nine days into the 30 days that the Prime Minister had requested during his visit to Berlin, she had not yet seen any proposals from the United Kingdom. Could the Prime Minister now make a commitment to publish this afternoon the UK’s proposals, so that those of us who are considering what to do later today can have had the benefit of seeing them? Will he further commit to transmitting those proposals without delay to the European Union?
Actually, as I told my right hon. Friend this morning, Chancellor Merkel was making an elementary point, which is that we could easily do a deal within 30 days, and we certainly shall. What she also said is that there is no point—[Interruption.] What my friends across the EU have said is that there is no point in having a negotiation or beginning formal talks as long as there is a risk that Parliament will make that negotiation impossible by taking away the ability of this country to negotiate. So every time we set out ideas, the first thing they ask is what Parliament will do.
So I urge my friends tonight, I urge colleagues tonight, to give us the leeway to get the deal that we need. It is very, very clear: the outlines of the deal that can be done are very clear. If Members had been listening earlier, they would have heard in my statement the rough shape of what that deal can be, both in getting the alternative arrangements and in solving the problems of the Irish backstop. I am afraid that, by their actions—I must regretfully say this to the House—they are making that deal less likely. We are working flat out to secure it, but the measures, if passed tonight, would make our prospects of success much less likely.
It is not just Chancellor Merkel who has confirmed that no substantive proposals have been put forward. Last weekend, the Irish Deputy Prime Minister said that
“nothing credible has come from the British government”
on alternatives to the backstop. It is also reported that the Attorney General told the Prime Minister at the beginning of August that, if he insisted on the removal of the backstop, it would inevitably result in no deal. Is that true? If it is true, can the Prime Minister try and persuade the House why it is credible to argue that progress is being made in the negotiations, because a growing number of Members have come to the conclusion that what he really wants is a no-deal Brexit, and that is why many of us will try, over the next two days, to prevent that from happening—in the national interest.
The sad truth is that there are many Members in this House, I am afraid including the right hon. Gentleman, who simply want to block Brexit. That is the truth. That is the reality, and they are using the discussion of a so-called no-deal Brexit to conceal their real intentions. By their measures tonight and tomorrow, they would be fatally undermining this Government’s ability to negotiate a deal. That is the reality.
We can get a deal. We can remove the backstop. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well what this country needs to do, because it is agreed on all sides of the House. The problem with the withdrawal agreement is not just the political declaration; it is the backstop. That makes agreement impossible on both sides of the House. But as long as this House is proposing motions such as the ones tonight and tomorrow, I am afraid we have no chance of getting progress from our EU friends.
What discussions has my right hon. Friend had about the green climate change fund and what progress has been made? Will he give us an update?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are indeed, as I said at the G7—if my memory serves me correctly, we are making a contribution of another £1.4 billion to the green climate fund and it is a high priority of this Government.
I welcome what the Prime Minister has said about the backstop because he knows, as the entire House knows, that that is one of the fundamental reasons why the withdrawal agreement could not get through this House. Not only is it anti-democratic in the sense that laws would be made for the economy of Northern Ireland and nobody in Belfast or London would have any say at all in the making of them, or even ask questions about them, but it is contrary to the principles that people say they believe in, in the Belfast agreement and the St Andrews agreement, which requires the consent of both communities, and no member of any Unionist party in Northern Ireland supports the backstop.
I also welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to a deal, because we are committed to getting a deal—a good deal for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. When he meets the Irish Prime Minister on Monday, which I welcome, can he convey to the Prime Minister, as we have tried to convey to him, that it would be entirely sensible and reasonable for him to sit down with us, and other representatives of Unionists in Northern Ireland, for direct discussions, which would be very helpful in the current atmosphere, but which the Irish Government have consistently—amazingly—refused to do, while at the same time preaching to others about the need for conciliation and movement and progress? So I appeal to the Prime Minister, on behalf of everyone in Northern Ireland, to try to get some momentum into the discussions between the Irish Republic and Unionists in Northern Ireland on this vital issue.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support. He perfectly understands the issues, and knows that he and I are at one in seeking to get rid of the backstop. I believe that we can get rid of the backstop, and we can—[Hon. Members: “How?”] You see—they do not want to. They do not want to do it. We can make progress, but not if we take away the possibility of no deal, which is what the Leader of the Opposition is proposing to do, and not if we give the power infinitely to extend UK membership of the EU to Brussels, which is what his Bill would do.
Will the Prime Minister reflect on the fact that when the House of Commons debated the European Union Referendum Act 2015 it was passed by a majority of six to one and that, when the House debated the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017, it was passed four to one by this House? What does he think a further three or six-month delay would achieve, other than betraying those people, and those votes that we have already had?
I passionately agree with what my right hon. Friend has just said. I ask all those thinking tonight and tomorrow of voting to extend again, beyond 31 October, exactly what they are seeking to do in that interval, and what the purpose of that extension would be. Believe me: the people of this country want to get on with it and want to come out.
I am sure completely inadvertently the Prime Minister failed to answer a question that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition put to him earlier: if a Bill passes that makes it illegal to leave without a deal, will he and his Government abide by the rule of law?
We will of course uphold the constitution and obey the law.
Given the huge amount of political repression going on in Russia at the moment, does my right hon. Friend agree with President Trump that now is the right time to bring Russia back into the G7?
No, and I made that point very clearly at Biarritz.
It is good to hear the Prime Minister say that he will uphold the constitution and the rule of law, because of course it is essential that the United Kingdom upholds the rule of law for effective working with the G7 in future. Will he give the House his word that he and his Government will respect legislation passed by this House and decisions made by the two legal jurisdictions in this Union—the jurisdiction in Scotland and the jurisdiction in England?
I refer the hon. and learned Lady to the answer that I gave just a moment ago.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm his determination to keep up the pressure on Russia, which continues to illegally occupy Crimea, and whose involvement in the occupied territories in east Ukraine led to further deaths this weekend? I strongly welcome his statement at the Dispatch Box that he agrees that it is not appropriate for Russia to rejoin the G7. Will he continue to give every support to the newly elected President Zelensky and the members of the Ukrainian Parliament?
I know the great interest that my right hon. Friend has taken in Ukraine and the fortunes of that wonderful country. I assure him that President Zelensky rang me before the G7 particularly to insist on his continued concerns about the Russian activities. I am sure that those concerns are shared across the House.
In the Prime Minister’s answer to the former Chancellor of the Exchequer he referred only to the “rough shape” of an alternative deal. Does he have any detailed proposals, and can he confirm that he has not sent any detailed proposals to the EU?
We have been in extensive talks. As the right hon. Lady will appreciate, it does not make sense to negotiate in public, but it has been clear from what I have said already that the backstop is unacceptable and so is the political declaration as currently written. We have detailed proposals of how to address both issues and we are making progress. I say respectfully to friends on both sides of the House that now is the time to allow UK negotiators to get on with their job.
In the Prime Minister’s discussions with the German Chancellor and the French President, was there discussion on the need for compromise? After all, the issue of the backstop is resolvable with compromise on all sides and there are many people in this House—moderate Brexiteers and remainers—who want to compromise. When it comes to a solution, if the EU will not change the deal and if this House will not pass the present deal, will the Prime Minister reflect on the Vienna convention and the conditional unilateral declaration, which would allow us to unilaterally state our determination to exit from the backstop?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has pursued this line of thinking for many months. I must say that I think there is a better and more elegant way of doing this. We can excise the offending bits of the treaty. We can make a great deal of progress. We can have a new treaty. It will be a vast improvement. I think that Opposition Members should look forward to that and should be encouraging and supportive of this Government’s efforts in getting us out of the EU in a way that they voted for time and time and time again.
The Prime Minister insists the UK will be ready for no deal, while at the same time duplicitously using threat to force the European Union to cave in to his non-existent alternative arrangements. Will he admit that a no-deal scenario would be catastrophic, or will he continue to face both ways—deceive the public and use no deal for his own electoral gain?
I am afraid I do not agree with what the right hon. Lady said about no deal. As I said on the steps of Downing Street, I think there will be bumps on the road, but this is a very great country and a very great economy, and we will get it done. I am afraid that the most fatal thing to getting a deal is for this country to show that it is so apprehensive about coming out on other terms as to accept anything that the EU prescribes. That is, I am afraid, the course down which the right hon. Member for Islington North is beckoning us to go. That would be a disaster.
I warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement at the G7 to give more money to Education Cannot Wait and the leadership he has consistently shown on the importance of girls’ education around the world. Will he commit to continuing to champion this cause and seek for more of our aid budget to be spent on global education?
I thank my hon. Friend for everything she has done, both on the development front and in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to champion female education around the world. I believe that 12 years of quality education is the single most effective policy for solving most of the ills of the world.
The Prime Minister has made a number of wild and unsubstantiated claims about the negotiations. Can I ask him directly: did the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, Frost, in a Tuesday 27 August EU subcommittee meeting, link the rationale for talks with the EU article 50 taskforce to “domestic political handling reasons”? Yes or no?
I do not comment on leaks. Even if I did, I have got no idea, quite frankly. I think it is highly unlikely.
The Prime Minister will be aware that many of us are concerned that we are currently on course to leave the European Union without a deal on 31 October, and that we will not have time to negotiate and legislate for a new deal. Those concerns were not allayed by reports in The Daily Telegraph this morning which suggested that in a strategy meeting on 29 July it was stated that the Government were going to run down the clock. Nor are our concerns allayed by the suggestion that the Attorney General, on 1 August, said that removing the backstop altogether would mean that we would not be able to reach a deal. Are those reports accurate?
I do not comment on leaks—[Interruption.] Even in pages as hallowed as the ones described. What I can tell my right hon. Friend—he asked me exactly the same question this morning—is that we are working for a deal, and I believe that we will get a deal. It should be a deal that I think everybody in this House would want to support and which, above all, their constituents would want to support. They want and we want this business to be over and for us to leave the EU on 31 October.
Further to the question asked by the right hon. Member for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Gauke), will the Prime Minister confirm that Dominic Cummings described the renegotiations as a “sham”? Will he also tell the House—a simple yes or no will do—whether it is true that he rang the editor of The Daily Telegraph and remonstrated with him about those reports, of which we have all now heard? Yes or no, Prime Minister—did you ring him up?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, but I do not comment on leaks. As I say, I saw the story on the front of the Telegraph this morning. It seemed to me wholly implausible, but—I can happily answer her question on that—I have not seen fit to ring any journalist today on any matter, because as you can imagine, I have been working flat out to get out of the EU on 31 October.
When it comes to alternative arrangements to the backstop, the commission that I co-chair is making real progress. Yesterday, we published a revised withdrawal agreement and a political declaration. We are hosting a conference in Dundalk next week, bringing together parliamentarians from across these islands. I thank the Prime Minister for the meetings that I have had with his team and I assure him that our proposals are in very good shape going forward.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the fantastic work that he has done with many colleagues to prepare for the alternative arrangements that really do hold out the prospect of a solution to the problem of the Northern Irish border—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman would care to study the report, he might elucidate himself on that matter. There are a number of proposals that have been made, and indeed, many others, that hold out real hope of progress, but those are not the only areas in which we are making progress. There are several areas in which we are now discussing how the UK can retire whole and perfect from the EU while retaining the integrity of the market in Ireland. That is a hard thing to achieve, but it can be done.
First, I apologise to the Prime Minister because I did explode a little when he said something about loyalty and I thought about the loyalty that was sometimes deficient when we had a different Prime Minister—the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). My apologies for that, but the one thing that I really welcome out of the G7 statement he made is what he said about girls’ education. My daughter was a special adviser to a former Foreign Secretary. Will he tell me whether it is right that a special adviser could be treated like the young woman was in No. 10—to be sacked on the spot and marched out of No. 10 by an armed police officer? Is that the way to treat women in work, or is it not?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the support that he gives to our campaign and the UK cause of 12 years of quality education for every girl in the world, and indeed, I thank members of his family for what they have done to support that campaign. On staffing matters, I will not comment, as he would expect.
Most of us in this place would prefer a good trade deal to no deal at all, but will the Prime Minister reflect on the fact that of the top 10 of the EU’s trading partners, half trade on WTO no-deal terms? Will he therefore continue to put to the sword this ludicrous suggestion that Britain would be incapable of trading on such terms? We would prosper.
My hon. Friend is totally right. There is a huge opportunity for the UK to recover its standing, which it used to have before 1973, as a great individual actor and campaigner for global free trade. That is what we are going to do, not just with a great free trade deal with our EU friends, which of course will be the centrepiece of our negotiations, but with free trade deals around the world.
Ten million pounds to protect the rain forest is welcome, but far more effective would be to stand up to President Bolsonaro, who is deliberately accelerating and encouraging these fires to open up more of the Amazon, threatening indigenous communities and accelerating the climate crisis. Will the Prime Minister do the right thing and refuse any future trading arrangements with Brazil unless and until high environmental and human rights standards are properly and fully enforced?
I would be reluctant to encourage any measure now that did anything to reduce free trade around the world. It would be much better to support the reforestation of Brazil in the way we are. We have a campaign to plant 1 trillion trees.
As the Prime Minister knows, my constituents are passionately pro-deal, and I think he is too; in fact I know he is—he has told me that personally and he has told the House many times. But can I bust one of the most dishonest myths of all, which is that one cannot respect the referendum result and be in favour of leaving with a deal? That is where I and, I think, all my constituents are. The Prime Minister has said today that the chances of a deal have increased and that things are moving. What evidence of progress can he put before the House before the vote this week? It could be critical to where people such as me go.
I would just make one point: before we began our efforts, it was common ground with the EU27 that every dot and comma of the withdrawal agreement was immutable and could not be changed, but that is no longer the case. We are already shifting them, in Ireland, in Berlin and in France. Progress is being made, and now is not the time to slacken that work.
Ruth Davidson walked last week, the Prime Minister’s majority in this place has gone this week, and he might even expel his hero Churchill’s grandson from his own party. I do not care what he does to his own party, but I take exception to the impact of his policy on Scotland. Would Scots not be better to vote for independence so as to maintain our place in the EU?
Scots did not swallow that argument in 2014—[Interruption.] No, they rejected it by a thumping majority. They could see that they were better off together with the rest of the UK, and so it remains.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the last thing we hear about in this place is the democratic will of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU? Make no mistake: the motion, if passed tonight, and the Bill on Wednesday, would mean nothing less than revocation of article 50, because they would bind his hands to the point that we would never ever be able to leave?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. I am afraid that too many people who want to vote for the motions tonight and tomorrow really seek to frustrate the will of the people and to overturn and cancel the result of the referendum.
Did the Prime Minister have an opportunity at the G7 to discuss the steel industry? I ask this on behalf of the 380 employees of Cogent Orb in Newport who yesterday received the devastating news that Tata is to close its plant. It is tragic for them, and tragic as it is the only plant in the UK that produces electrical steel that could, with Government encouragement, be a part of the supply chain for electric vehicles.
A huge amount of work is going on at the moment in respect of the Tata investments. The hon. Lady will have seen what was achieved recently with British Steel in Scunthorpe and Skinningrove. I thank my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary for that, and indeed the previous Business Secretary for his work in getting the deal done. We will indeed ensure that British steel—UK steel—is used in the supply chain for electric vehicles.
Canada is in the Commonwealth, and is a close friend, ally and defence to trade. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the nature of his discussions with the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Biarritz?
My discussions with Prime Minister Trudeau were extremely friendly. We look forward to rolling over the comprehensive economic and trade agreement—the free trade deal—with Canada, and taking our relations to new heights.
Once again we have heard bluff and bluster from the Prime Minister, after a summer during which he found a veritable forest of magic money trees. Can he tell me where he will find the money—or has he found a pot of gold?
May I invite the hon. Lady to listen to the Chancellor’s spending review statement tomorrow? If she is seriously opposing this spending on schools, hospitals and police when it is well within the limits of fiscal prudence—if that is really what the Labour party is all about now—I think she should say so.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, during his various conversations over the past few weeks, he has made it absolutely clear to all our neighbours and partners that we will establish complete sovereign control over our exclusive economic zone from 1 November, and that we will negotiate, like a perfectly normal, independent maritime nation, reciprocal arrangements with our neighbours? In that context, has he already begun negotiations with our Nordic neighbours, given that arrangements with them would normally be settled over the coming few weeks with a view to a 1 January start?
I can certainly confirm that we will be out of the common fisheries policy by 2020. We will take back control of our fisheries—unlike the Scottish National party, which, in a supine and invertebrate way, would hand them back to Brussels.
I beg the Prime Minister to answer the question that I am going to ask, rather than just saying “No comment” as if this were a magazine interview.
Along with others, I have filed papers for a legal case against the prorogation of Parliament, because I do not want the Domestic Abuse Bill—for which so many people in this House have worked so hard—to fall. I signed my witness statements yesterday. I had to go to my mother-in-law’s to print them, because I do not have a printer, but I think that they probably have one at No. 10.
Is it true that senior civil servants have refused to sign witness statements for ongoing legal proceedings relating to the prorogation? Were the director of legislative affairs and the Cabinet Secretary asked to do so, and did they agree? I signed mine; did they?
As the hon. Lady would imagine, the proper processes were gone through to ensure that we were able to announce a Queen’s Speech. Opposition Members have been calling for a Queen’s Speech for week after week, and the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) has demanded one. [Interruption.] She has. We will also ensure that the Domestic Abuse Bill, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill and other Bills receive proper consideration and are rolled over.
This is, of course, a G7 statement, and the Prime Minister is a celebrated internationalist, but may I make a local point? The people of Shropshire, in five constituencies, voted overwhelmingly for Brexit. Can my right hon. Friend make a slight departure from great matters of state, and reassure the good people of Shropshire that Brexit will be delivered?
I can, and the surest way to deliver Brexit with a deal is to vote with the Government, both tonight and tomorrow.
For automotive manufacturers in my constituency and beyond, the WTO tariffs that would apply in the case of a no-deal Brexit would not only wipe out their profits but often exceed them. Why should anyone take what the Prime Minister says about jobs and investment seriously when he has been so reckless with people’s livelihoods?
We are working with all sectors, including automotive supply chains, to protect their interests, but of course the best way to ensure that we do not have a no-deal Brexit is to support the Government and to oppose the measures that the Leader of the Opposition is putting forward.
May I thank my right hon. Friend for mentioning Ben Stokes in his speech? I was lucky enough to be there that day, and it reminded me that sometimes even the most difficult of challenges can be achieved. I do believe it will be possible to achieve an agreed negotiation with the EU, although it is difficult. If it is achieved on 17 October, is there sufficient time for this House to approve all the necessary legislation before the end of that month?
Yes, indeed there is time, and we have gone over that thoroughly. I am delighted by my hon. Friend’s confidence; she speaks as someone well-acquainted with the ways of Brussels and the EU, and she will know that the deals are always done, as it were, on the steps of the court in the final furlong. That is where we will get the deal.
Can the Prime Minister completely set the record straight on this? If Parliament passes legislation requiring him to request an extension of article 50 beyond 31 October, will he abide by the law?
I have answered this question twice before. We will abide by the law, but I have to say I think it is a quite incredible thing to propose, deleterious to the interests of this country and this Government, and which will make it impossible for us to get the deal this country needs.
Will my right hon. Friend explain in greater detail the steps taken at the G7 to protect endangered species?
I can indeed explain. My hon. Friend will recall that under the Kyoto protocol, targets were set for the reduction of greenhouse gases; what the world now wants to see is specific targets—quanta—for the protection of endangered species, whether flora or fauna. It is a tragedy that the number of elephants in the wild is down now to about 300,000 and the number of lions down to perhaps 15,000; we are seeing the tragic reduction of species around the world, and the world needs to work together to prevent that loss of habitat and loss of species, and that is what we agreed to do at G7. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) does not care about it, but, believe me, the people of this country care passionately—they care passionately about what is happening to animals around the world. She is totally indifferent to it, but my constituents certainly are not.
The Prime Minister tells us he is going to Dublin on Monday to see the Taoiseach where no doubt he will be asked, as he has been asked today, about his proposals for the backstop, so may I ask if he has seen the comment from former Member of this House Gavin Barwell, who says that he has
“had same reports re ‘sham negotiations’ from multiple govt sources”
and that if it is not true, the Government should publish their proposals to replace the backstop? Why will he not do that?
We do not negotiate in public, but I think I have given the House quite a lot already about what we want and what we want to do. The one thing that will stop us achieving this is if our negotiating ability is neutralised by this House of Commons.
In order to get the leverage to get this great deal through that the Prime Minister is working on, he has said that any Member on these Benches who does not vote tonight in support of the Government will lose the Whip and indeed not be able to stand again as a Conservative MP. Working on that basis, in the event that a deal is reached, which I very much hope it will be, will that treatment apply to those MPs who do not vote for his great deal?
I think my hon. Friend can take it that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Your argument seems to be that you have a plan but that you just cannot share it with the House, or indeed with Chancellor Merkel, and that we just have to trust you; and that Parliament, which has a mandate—unlike your Government, who no longer have a majority—should not legislate against a no deal because that would somehow scupper your plans, which nobody knows. Prime Minister, why should we trust that you have a plan and, indeed, that you can deliver it?
I will tell you why, Mr Speaker. It is because the alternative is more delay, more chaos, more confusion and uncertainty for British business, and the infinite protraction of UK membership of the EU at the behest of the EU itself. That is what the Leader of the Opposition is proposing.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the leaders of Europe are willing to give the Government time to bring forward new proposals for leaving the EU with a deal, ahead of the crucial summit on 17 October, so should this House?
My hon. Friend is completely right. We need time to get this deal over the line. The crucial summit will be on 17 October—that is when the deal is generally expected to be done—and I would kindly ask the House not to fetter the ability of our negotiators to do that deal.
In response to the suggestion by Chancellor Merkel that a deal could be done in 30 days and that alternative proposals could be put forward, the Prime Minister said:
“You rightly say the onus is on us to produce those solutions…You have set a very blistering timetable of 30 days—if I understood you correctly, I am more than happy with that.”
Given that the Prime Minister accepted the 30-day challenge, and said that the onus was on this place and this country to come up with solutions, why will he not answer the question from the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine)? [Interruption.] Wait for it, Prime Minister! That is the question that we are all asking: where is the evidence that, halfway towards his own deadline, he has done anything at all?
I really think that the hon. Lady should learn to count. The 30-day timetable may have begun, but it has not elapsed. What our friends and partners want to see is that the House of Commons is not going to block Brexit. They are not going to make a concession to this side, to our country, until they know that the House of Commons is not going to block Brexit. We will be bringing forward our proposals in due time, long before the 30 days are up, but what we want to see is that the UK Parliament stands behind our negotiators. And that is what they want to see in Brussels.
I voted for the withdrawal agreement three times, so I am pleased to hear that the Prime Minister expects to make progress throughout September and October. He will know that it was the policy of the previous Prime Minister to keep this House regularly updated. For those of us who are considering how to vote tonight, were he to reconsider his decision and make statements throughout the whole of September and October, that would be a material factor.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend; we have battled together on many fronts. I can commit, of course, to updating the House regularly on this matter. It is highly unlikely that you could keep me away—when the House is sitting—and that is what I will do. Indeed, my hon. Friend can expect a statement right now from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, so he does not have to wait until September.
The Prime Minister has described the consequences of a no-deal exit as a few “bumps in the road”. If that is the case, is not the right time to have a general election after his few bumps in the road have been implemented, when he can fully own the consequences, rather than relying on making statements about them before they have actually happened?
I do not want an election; I want to deliver Brexit on 31 October, and I think that that is what the people of this country want.
The United Kingdom already has close links with India, not least because of the valuable contribution made by the 1.6 million who make up the British-Indian diaspora. What discussions did my right hon. Friend have at the G7 with Prime Minister Modi of India about strengthening those ties post-Brexit?
I did indeed have an extremely good conversation with Prime Minister Modi, and we agreed to strengthen our co-operation not just on the security side, where clearly the UK and India stand shoulder to shoulder in the fight against terror, but on military co-operation in the Asia-Pacific region, where we share many interests, and, of course, on free trade as well—doing a big free trade deal with India. I thank my hon. Friend for everything he does to promote that incredibly important relationship.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. The G7 has delivered great things for the Global Fund’s fight against AIDS, saving an estimated 27 million lives worldwide, but does the Prime Minister agree that its primary function is to see countries come together for mutual benefit? What benefit does the Prime Minister believe the 2019 G7 summit brought to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
As I said in my statement, the UK depends on a global trading system that is open. One of the most important things agreed at the G7—in the face of rising tensions between China and America—was to support the WTO and the rules-based international system. I was delighted that Washington actually made a commitment, which I hope will be followed through, to return their member to the appellate body of the WTO in Geneva, which is important for global free trade.
Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), when the Prime Minister brings this deal to us next month—I very much hope and I am sure he will—will he explain whether plans are in place to pass all the legislation between 19 October and 31 October? That seems an awful lot to do in that time, so it is vital that we get that assurance.
Of course. Other hon. Members have asked exactly the same question today. I can certainly make this offer: we would be very happy to brief my hon. Friend on exactly how that can be done. We are sure it can be done.
When there is a conflict between what the people of this country voted for after being asked a question by this Parliament and the many Members in this Parliament who seem to want to stop the people’s decision being implemented, whose side is he on?
The hon. Lady has been very valiant on this issue for many years, and I support and agree with her. After 45 years of EU membership—the institution has changed radically since the British people were last consulted—it was right to ask people whether they thought that their future belonged in that federalising, tightly integrating body, because that went to the questions of their identity, their future and what they thought of their country. When they returned their verdict, it was absolutely right for us to agree with and implement that verdict, and this House of Commons has promised many times to do so. I hope we now get on and do it.
My constituents, 68% of whom voted to leave, are incredibly dismayed about what they see as shenanigans in Westminster to try to stop Brexit. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we do not deliver Brexit by 31 October, constituents in Harlow and across the country will have incredible mistrust in our Parliament and our democracy?
My right hon. Friend puts his finger on the issue. If we fail to deliver Brexit, we risk incurring a fatal lack of trust not just in the major parties—in all parties—but in our democracy itself.
I think the Prime Minister owes the people of Northern Ireland some explanation of why he and his Government have treated the Good Friday agreement—the Belfast agreement—in such a careless and cavalier manner. That agreement has kept stability and peace in Northern Ireland since it was signed 21 years ago.
It is reported that the Crown Solicitor’s Office in Belfast has advised the Government that a no-deal Brexit would be in contravention of the Good Friday agreement, so I call upon the Prime Minister to publish today, in full—he owes that to the people of Northern Ireland, and certainly to this House—any legal advice he has received from the Crown Solicitor’s Office about how a no-deal Brexit would contravene the agreement.
I thank the hon. Lady, and I know she has been a long-standing campaigner for peace in Northern Ireland. However, I must respectfully say to her that, actually, it is the backstop and the withdrawal agreement itself that undermine the balance of the Good Friday agreement because, in important matters, they give a greater preponderance to the voice of Dublin in the affairs of Northern Ireland than they do to the UK—the UK having left the EU. That is a simple fact, and I do not think it is widely enough understood. That is one of the reasons the withdrawal agreement itself is in conflict with the Good Friday agreement.
As for the advice the hon. Lady asks about, I have not seen any such advice.
I once took a train to Manchester to negotiate the price and purchase of a Morris Minor, having purchased only a one-way ticket. It was not a sensible negotiating strategy, was it?
No, it was not. I do not know what happened to my right hon. Friend and his Morris Minor, but we intend to do a much better deal in Brussels over the next few weeks.
The Prime Minister admonishes this House that the EU is looking to see whether we will block Brexit, but he is almost oblivious to the fact that he twice voted against the deal that the EU signed off. Why is it okay for him to vote against it, but not us?
I think what everybody in this House wants to do—I hope it is what they want to do—is to bring Brexit to a conclusion and to get this thing done. If the hon. Gentleman wants to deliver Brexit with a deal, the best thing he can do is support the Government tonight and tomorrow.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to getting us out of the EU on 31 October, for which 62% of my constituents in Redditch voted. Does he agree that the greatest damage to our democracy, in the eyes of the silent majority of our constituents out in the country, is to fail to honour that promise?
I could not have put it better myself. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend.
If a police officer in Tonypandy or Maerdy arrests a suspect, he or she can immediately, and in real time, consult all the EU databases of criminality, which is essential to being able to send criminals to prison. Border officers can also consult those databases when a person hands over their passport. If we leave without a deal, as the former Prime Minister rightly said, there will be no deal on security. How will we make sure that the people are safe if we leave without a deal on 31 October?
I have no doubt that we will continue bilateral arrangements with our EU friends to ensure that both of our populations are protected, but I am glad that the hon. Gentleman gives me the opportunity to remind the House that we are recruiting another 20,000 police officers to make this country safer and one of the safest in the world.
Order. Statement, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. [Interruption.] I am sorry. We have heard 53 Back Benchers, and we must move on to the next statement.
Leaving the EU: Preparations
This is the first time I have appeared at the Dispatch Box since I moved on from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the superb team of civil servants at that Department, who do so much to improve the lives of so many across this country.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about preparations for our departure from the European Union. More than three years ago, in the biggest exercise in democracy in our country’s history, the British people voted to leave the EU, but so far this Parliament has failed to honour that instruction. Now, our Prime Minister has made it clear that we must leave by 31 October, and so we must. Trust in this House depends on it and trust in our democracy depends on it.
Of course, this Government are determined to secure our departure with a good deal, one that paves the way for a bright future outside the single market and the customs union, and the response the Prime Minister has received from European leaders shows that they are ready to move—they want a deal, too. And they are moving because the Prime Minister has been clear that matters must be resolved by 31 October. If we drift, the incentive on them to deliver will quickly dissipate, so I hope that my colleagues in the House of Commons will give the Prime Minister the time and the space he needs to pursue the opening he has secured and to get a good deal that we can all support.
But of course we must be prepared for every eventuality; the European Union may not change its position sufficiently before 31 October, and it may be that a deal is not secured. So we must be ready to leave without a deal on 31 October. Leaving without a deal does not mean that talks with our European partners end altogether. In those circumstances, after we depart without a deal in place, we will all want to discuss how we can reach new arrangements on trade and other issues. But while those conversations go on, we must ensure that we are ready for life outside the EU as a third country, trading on World Trade Organisation terms.
There has been extensive speculation about what leaving without a deal might mean for businesses and individuals. Moving to a new set of customs procedures, adjusting to new border checks and dealing with new tariffs all pose significant challenges, and nobody can be blithe or blasé about the challenges we face or the scale of work required. But provided the right preparations are undertaken by government, business and individuals, risks can be mitigated, significant challenges can be met and we can be ready. Leaving without a deal is, of course, not an event whose consequences are unalterable; it is a change for which we can all prepare, and our preparations will determine the impact of the change and help us also to take advantage of the opportunities that exist outside the EU.
We have, of course, to prepare for every eventuality, and that is the function of Operation Yellowhammer. It is an exercise in anticipating what a reasonable worst-case scenario might involve and how we can then mitigate any risks. Operation Yellowhammer assumptions are not a prediction of what is likely to happen; they are not a base-case scenario or a list of probable outcomes. They are projections of what may happen in a worst-case scenario, and they are designed to help government to take the necessary steps to ensure that we can all be ready in every situation.
Since the new Government were formed, at the end of July, new structures have been put in place to ensure that we can be ready in every situation and that we can accelerate our preparations for exit. Two new Cabinet Committees have been set up—XS and XO—to discuss negotiating strategy and to make operational decisions about exit respectively. XO meets every working day to expedite preparations for exit, and we are in regular contact with our colleagues in the devolved Administrations, including the Northern Ireland civil service, and thousands of the best civil servants across the UK are working to ensure the smoothest possible exit.
We have all been helped by the Chancellor’s move to double Brexit funding for this year, announcing an additional £2.1 billion, on top of expenditure already committed. So £6.3 billion in total has been allocated to prepare for life outside the EU. That money is being used to provide practical help to businesses and to individuals.
Guaranteeing the effective flow of goods across our border with the EU is, of course, central to our preparations, and that will require action by business, to adjust to new customs procedures, and intervention by government, to ensure the freest flow of traffic to our ports. That is why Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has announced an additional expenditure of £16 million to train thousands of customs staff, traders and hauliers, so that trade with the EU continues as smoothly as possible. It is also why today we are announcing £20 million more to ensure that traffic can flow freely in Kent and trucks arriving at Dover are ready to carry our exports into the EU.
On business, we have automatically allocated an economic operator registration indicator—EORI—number to 88,000 companies across the UK, and businesses can also register for transitional simplified procedures to delay the submissions of customs declarations and postpone the payments of duties. New transit sites have been built in Kent to smooth the flow of goods into the EU, and we are recruiting 1,000 new staff to help to maintain security and to support flows at the border.
The Government will do all that they can to support businesses to get ready, but many of the steps required to ensure the smooth flow of trade fall to business. We will provide advice, finance and flexibility over how revenue payments may be settled, but it is important that businesses familiarise themselves with the new requirements that exit will involve. That is why we have launched a public information campaign, “Get ready for Brexit”, to give everyone the clear actions that they need to prepare. As well as TV and radio advertising, there is now a straightforward, step-by-step checker tool, available on the Government’s website at gov.uk/brexit, so we can all identify quickly what we may need to do to get ready.
The Government have also acted to provide assurance that business and individuals can have the maximum level of confidence about the future. We have signed continuity agreements with countries, covering more than £90 billion in trade. We have replacement civil nuclear energy trading agreements with Canada, America, Australia and the International Atomic Energy Agency. We have secured aviation agreements with 14 countries, including the US and Canada, and we also have arrangements with the EU on aviation, roads and rail to ensure smooth travel between the UK and European nations. We also have arrangements on education exchanges, social security, fisheries, climate change and a number of other areas. Agreements are in place covering financial services, so that transactions can continue to take place and financial and market stability can be underpinned. Of course, we have a robust legal framework in place: six exit-related Bills that cater for different scenarios have been passed, and the Government have also laid more than 580 EU-exit secondary instruments.
Of course, the Government are determined to ensure that we protect the rights both of UK nationals in the EU and of EU citizens in the UK. I personally want to thank the more than 3 million EU citizens who live and work here for their positive contribution to our society: you are our friends, family and neighbours—we want you to stay and we value your presence. Under the EU settlement scheme, more than 1 million EU citizens have already been granted status. Let me be clear: EU citizens and their family members will continue to be able to work, study and access benefits and services in the UK on the same basis as now after we exit the EU.
The Government will of course do everything in our power to make sure that UK nationals can continue to live in the EU as they do now, but the Government cannot protect the rights of UK nationals unilaterally. We welcome the fact that member states have drafted or enacted legislation to protect the rights of UK nationals; today, we call on member states to go further and fully reciprocate our generous commitment to EU citizens, so that UK nationals can get the certainty they deserve.
There are other decisions that the EU and member states have said they will take that will have an impact on us all if we leave without a deal. The EU’s commitment that we will be subject to its common external tariff in a no-deal scenario will impose new costs, particularly on those who export food to Europe. Indeed, the EU’s current approach to the rules of the single market will, as things stand, require the Republic of Ireland to impose new checks on goods coming from Northern Ireland. For our part, we will do everything that we can to support the Belfast agreement, to ensure the free flow of goods into Northern Ireland and to mitigate the impacts on Northern Ireland, including by providing targeted support for our agriculture sector and for Northern Ireland’s economy.
Although there are risks that we must deal with, there are also opportunities for life outside the EU. We can reform Government procurement rules, get a better deal for taxpayers and forge new trade relationships. We can innovate more energetically in pharmaceuticals and life sciences, develop crops that yield more food and contribute to better environmental outcomes, manage our seas and fisheries in a way that revives coastal communities, and restore our oceans to health. We can introduce an immigration policy that is fairer, more efficient and more humane, improve our border security, deal better with human trafficking and organised crime, open new free ports throughout the country to boost undervalued communities, and support business more flexibly than ever before.
There are undoubted risks and real challenges in leaving without a deal on 31 October, but there are also opportunities and new possibilities for our country outside the EU. It is my job to mitigate those risks, overcome those challenges and enable this country to exploit those opportunities and extend to every citizen those new possibilities. That is why I commend this statement to the House and why I am confident that as a nation our best days lies ahead.
This is the first opportunity that I have had to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment. He may regard it as a poisoned chalice, but no doubt the Prime Minister thought it appropriate that he took it.
I thank the Minister for his courtesy in providing advance sight of the statement—it was rather vacuous, but we did have a good chance to study it carefully. He makes much of the work that has been carried out by civil servants who have been working under intense pressure preparing businesses, individuals and wider society for Brexit. We acknowledge the very hard work of all those civil servants and thank them for their service, and we welcome the work that the Government are doing in that respect. However, the truth is that £6.3 billion is being spent on Brexit preparations, yet it is too little now, because it is too late. Even if all the preparations had been carried out in time and in a more comprehensive way, the country would still have no idea whether we will leave with a deal or with no deal.
Let me come straight to the point, because there are significant omissions in the Minister’s statement. There is no mention, for example, of medical supplies, but in the past 24 hours serious-minded health leaders have warned that no deal could result directly in medical shortages, affect treatment for UK nationals in Europe and exacerbate the already difficult NHS crisis. It has been reported that the Government are now stockpiling body bags because of concerns that there may be an increase in the mortality rate. Will the Minister assure the House that that is not the case, but if it is, will he explain what he is doing about it?
The statement mentions that 1 million EU citizens have been given settled status. We welcome that, but there are more than 3 million here. The Government’s prevarication over time and their inadequate preparations right from the beginning have caused great anxiety and left millions of people who live here, pay taxes here, have made their lives here and have their children here wondering what their future holds. It is a mark of the slow progress that is being made that the Government still have not resolved the status of UK citizens who are living in Europe, as the Minister said.
The Secretary of State talks about getting businesses ready, yet it is only a few weeks ago that these serious-minded business leaders demanded an independent inquiry into what a no-deal Brexit would consist of, amid accusations that vital information about potential problems was deliberately being held back by the Government—that was from the business community itself.
In the early part of his statement, the Minister made much of trust—trust in this House and trust in democracy—but the truth is that the Government are playing fast and loose both with democracy and with the House. I say that because of the proposal that the House be prorogued, and because the Prime Minister’s staff are now hinting at a possible cynical general election, which we are ready for. One way or another, the Government are set on closing down the House of Commons for weeks when the country is facing one of the most difficult times in our recent history. If there is an election—this is a very important point—the direction of the country and its relationship with the EU will be hotly debated. We and the country will need full access to all the relevant information. The Minister’s statement conceals more than it reveals, but can he confirm that, during an election period or a prorogation period, whichever it is, civil service preparations for Brexit will continue through the election purdah if necessary? Can he confirm whether, during the purdah, Ministers will continue to provide political guidance to civil servants on Brexit? I give notice now that the Opposition will seek immediate access to the civil service and ask to be kept fully informed, as is the convention, of all the information that the House and the country have been denied about all developments. That request must be responded to the minute the election is called.
Just eight weeks ago, the current Prime Minister told his party and the country that the chances of a no-deal Brexit were a million to one against. Yet this morning, the former Chancellor, who is no longer in his place, stated that no progress has been made and that there are no substantive negotiations going on. Is that true? The two positions cannot be easily reconciled. Either there is progress or there is not. Having heard the Prime Minister in the Chamber just now, it is clear that most people still have no idea.
To most informed observers, however, it appears that the Government’s favoured deal—whatever they say—is no deal, so let us listen to the Minister’s own words from earlier this year. He said:
“Leaving without a deal…would undoubtedly cause economic turbulence. Almost everyone in this debate accepts that.”
He went on to say:
“We didn’t vote to leave without a deal”.
That was from the man who led the whole campaign to leave the European Union. He was for May’s deal and against no deal, but now he is the Minister for no deal. How does he reconcile the progress of his career?
The House must be allowed to see the detailed assessments contained in the Yellowhammer dossier. The truth is that the Minister is hiding it, but why? The media are reporting that the Yellowhammer papers—even the watered-down versions that he is working on—paint such a disastrous picture of the country after no deal that the Government dare not publish them. Yet shockingly, leaked excerpts talk of potential shortages, delays and even protests on the streets.
Is it not a disgrace that the Government intend to close Parliament down for five weeks without allowing the House to scrutinise their detailed preparations for no deal? Members have a right to know what those preparations are, as has the country. After all, it was this Minister who said:
“We are a parliamentary democracy, and”—
listen to this—
“proroguing Parliament in order to try to get no deal through…would be wrong.”
Those were his exact words. But that is precisely what the Government are now trying to do. How can he justify the amount of resources being spent on preparations for no deal without any scrutiny or accountability to this House? It is simply unacceptable.
Under normal purdah rules, the Select Committees looking at Brexit preparations and Yellowhammer could also be suspended, leaving absolutely no scrutiny by Members of the Government’s plans. When it comes to Yellowhammer, the media appear to be better informed than the House, so let me briefly ask the Minister some questions.
Order. The hon. Gentleman, who is well in excess of his time, can ask two or three questions, but they need to be in a sentence or two.
What assessments has the Minister received about disruption at the ports? What assessments have been made and reported to him about the situation in Ireland? What assessments has he received about the impact of no deal on food prices? All these matters must be addressed by the House, so let him place the documents in the Library so that we all can explore them.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his questions. I am also grateful to him for asking me how I reconcile the progress of my career—it is a question my wife asks me every night, so I am grateful to him for repeating it. I have enormous respect and affection for the hon. Gentleman. We both represent constituencies that voted to leave the European Union, and both of us are impatient to see us do so. When a Brexit delay was suggested in January 2019, he said that it
“sounds like the British establishment doing what it always does, which is ignoring the views of millions of ordinary folk, and that I am not prepared to tolerate.”
Comrades, neither am I, which is why we have to leave on 31 October.
The hon. Gentleman said that civil servants are doing a fantastic job in the preparations, and I join him in paying tribute to them for their work. He asked about medical shortages. Sadly, medical shortages sometimes occur, whether we are in or out of the European Union, as we have seen recently with the hormone replacement therapy shortages, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is doing so much to help counter. But that is a shared issue for all of us. Two thirds of the medical supplies that reach the Republic of Ireland pass through the narrow straits. That is why it is so important that we secure a deal, not only to safeguard our superb NHS, but to help citizens in Ireland, who are our brothers and sisters too.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the EU settled status scheme. He made the point that 1 million people have received the status so far, and he asked about progress. Every day, 15,000 more people are applying. The settled status scheme is working. He is absolutely right that now is the time for our European partners to extend the same generosity to UK citizens as we are extending to EU citizens.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the money being spent. At the beginning of his questions, he said that £6.3 billion was too little, too late, but subsequently at the end of his statement he asked how we can justify such expenditure. I think that is the fastest U-turn in history, in the course of just six minutes. He also talked about our contemplation of a “cynical” general election. I thought it was the policy of the Opposition—certainly the Leader of the Opposition—to welcome a general election at the earliest possible opportunity. [Interruption.] I see the Leader of the Opposition seeking guidance on this question from Mr Speaker.
Order. I know the Minister will not want to mislead the House. The Leader of the Opposition was simply alerting me to his experience of visiting Romania, which is somewhat tangential to—indeed, entirely divorced from—the Minister for the Cabinet Office’s ruminations and lucubrations, which we do not need.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. We all know how much the Leader of the Opposition enjoyed seeing Celtic play in Romania.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) asked me about the extent of our negotiations, and they are extensive; the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Prime Minister’s sherpa have been visiting every single European capital to ensure that we can advance our negotiations. But one thing is critical: if we are to succeed in these negotiations, we need to get behind the Prime Minister. If the motion before the House is passed tonight and the legislation that it gives effect to is passed tomorrow, we will be allowing the European Union to dictate the length of any extension and to put any conditions it wishes to on that extension. That would totally undermine the Government’s capacity to negotiate in the national interest.
It has been said of some in the past that they sent out the captain to the wicket and broke his bat beforehand. Well, Labour’s approach to negotiations is not just breaking the bat; it is blowing up the whole pavilion. It is no surprise that Labour Members want to sabotage our negotiations, because they also want to sabotage their own negotiations. Labour’s policy on negotiation is to have an infinitely long extension, to negotiate a new deal with Europe, to bring it back to this country, and then to argue that people should vote against that deal and vote to remain. How can we possibly have confidence in the Leader of the Opposition to negotiate in Europe when his own party does not have confidence in him to secure a good deal for the British people?
Those of us who live in east Kent, where the efficient operation of the Dover-Calais route is essential for the smooth running of our entire road network, have a particular reason to wish my right hon. Friend well in his new task, particularly if we end up with the very undesirable outcome of a no-deal Brexit. In that spirit, I welcome the extra £20 million that he has announced today to ensure the increasingly smooth running of the road network, but can he tell the House what arrangements Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has put in place for customs clearance of lorries coming into this country? Specifically, where is that going to happen?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. There are two aspects to this issue: lorries coming into this country and lorries leaving this country. When it comes to lorries coming into this country, thanks to the application of transitional simplified procedures, any duty that needs to be paid can be deferred. Of course, we will be prioritising flow over revenue, which means that we will not be imposing new checks, certainly in the first months after any no-deal exit. I agree with my right hon. Friend that a no-deal exit is undesirable. For lorries that are leaving the country, there will be six new transit sites—five in Kent and one in Essex—to ensure that hauliers leaving the UK can take advantage of the common transit convention and its provisions.
May I put on record my thanks to the officials who have been given the impossible task of trying to make sense of this Government’s plans and to do something that they should never have been asked to do when it comes to no deal? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) may laugh, but these officials are working incredibly hard because of the Government’s ineptitude.
Today in Holyrood, we see a tale of two Governments. Today, the Scottish Government have set out their programme for government to tackle a climate emergency, improve public services and introduce a fairer economy. Yet here we debate food shortages, medicine stockpiling, price increases and job losses; the height of Government ambition is hoping that it will not be as bad as the experts tell them it will. The Minister talked about a general election. We would welcome a general election. In fact, I am going to take the unusual step of inviting the Minister to come and campaign in my constituency. I would love him to do that, so that people could ask him why he is putting them out of work, why he is hitting our food and drink industry and why he is hitting our university sector. This is the height of political failure. It was only apt that the Minister quoted Geoffrey Howe earlier, who of course was attacking his own Prime Minister during an ongoing Tory civil war. I notice that nobody is arguing that this is a good idea any more. This is a Government who have no idea what they are doing and making it up as they go along. No wonder they want to duck, dive and dodge any kind of scrutiny whatsoever.
We were warned before that Parliament would need to sit. Does the Secretary of State agree with the Health Secretary that prorogation goes against everything that the men who waded on to those beaches in Normandy fought and died for? The Secretary of State likes to quote others; does he still agree with that?
On food prices, what will the impact be on food banks—on the most vulnerable, already hit by austerity from this disastrous Tory Government? What level of medicine shortages is acceptable to the Government? On the £6.5 billion, from which public services is that to be taken? Finally—I cannot quite believe I am asking this question—does the Secretary of State still believe in the rule of law, and will he accept laws passed by this Parliament?
May I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position? May I also say that I am very grateful for his invitation to campaign in his constituency at the next general election? Given that he has a majority of just two, he is a brave as well as a principled man.
I think my hon. Friend is right. In Crail and Anstruther, as well as in St Andrews, I think people are looking forward to Conservative representation in North East Fife in due course.
The hon. Gentleman talks about a tale of two Governments. Even as the Scottish Government are unveiling their programme today, they are doing so, after 10 years in government, with education standards declining and the number of people in the health service, including doctors, declining—and unfortunately, as the recent “Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland” figures show, Scotland, were it an independent country, would have the biggest deficit of any nation in Europe. That is hardly a record of success.
The hon. Gentleman asks about prorogation. Prorogation is necessary before every Queen’s Speech. One can no more be against prorogation in order to ensure a Queen’s Speech than one can be against the functioning of this Parliament, properly constituted.
The hon. Gentleman asks about food prices. Of course food prices fluctuate—some go up and some go down—but the temporary tariff schedule that we have put in place will protect consumers and ensure that in many cases food prices are either stable or drop.
Ultimately, the problem for the hon. Gentleman is that Scottish National party Members may talk about democracy, but we have had two major referendums in this country, both of which they seek to overturn. They want to ignore the vote to stay in the United Kingdom and they want to ignore the vote to leave the European Union. Their policy is take us back into the EU. That would mean abandoning the pound, abandoning coastal communities in Scotland, and once more recognising that the Scottish National party wants separatism and Brussels rule ahead of a strong United Kingdom and the benefits that it brings to the citizens of the whole UK.
Does the Secretary of State agree that trust—trust in this Parliament and trust in politicians—is the most important thing in any democracy, and that any party that goes out on a manifesto saying that it wants to leave the European Union and does not honour that cannot be trusted ever again in government?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. The Labour party said on page 24 of its 2017 manifesto that it was committed to leaving the European Union and respecting the referendum result, and the overwhelming majority of Labour Members—not all—voted for article 50, which set this year as the legal default date for departure from the European Union. I absolutely respect the rule of law, and so should the Labour Members who voted to leave the EU.
There are widespread reports that the Secretary of State is seeking to sanitise the Operation Yellowhammer documents. Can he confirm that any ministerial demand that civil servants water down Operation Yellowhammer would break the ministerial code, that no civil servants risk being disciplined if they refuse to undertake this work, and that they will be covered by whistleblower legislation?
Of course we want to make sure that any documents we publish accurately reflect the range of possibilities that leaving the European Union might entail. Thousands of pages of information were published in the technical notices that were published by my right hon. Friend the Brexit Secretary. It is also the case that on gov.uk/brexit there is much information about what leaving the European Union would entail. The right hon. Gentleman specifically refers to the Yellowhammer document. The point about the Yellowhammer document is that it is an aid to Ministers in order to ensure that we can deal with the reasonable worst-case scenario. Of course, the assumptions in the Yellowhammer document are arrived at independently by civil servants, and rightly so.
The BBC is constantly engaging with Polish diaspora groups in this country to accentuate potential problems over the EU resettlement scheme. Could the Secretary of State give me an assurance of what money has been afforded to ensure that the maximum number of EU citizens are processed as quickly and efficiently as possible in the event of no deal?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. He is a consistent champion for the rights of Polish people in the UK and elsewhere. The largest single community of EU citizens in our country is comprised of Polish citizens. We were remembering earlier the anniversary of the second world war. We honour the sacrifice of those Polish soldiers, airmen and sailors who fought alongside us for democracy, and it is our moral duty to ensure that Polish citizens in this country are given the opportunity to stay and to enjoy the rights of which we are all proud and for which their forebears fought so proudly.
A no-deal Brexit, according to Government messaging, is something we can completely prepare for as long as we spend enough money on advertising, while at the same time so crucial and fundamental that it must be kept on the table as part of the negotiations. It cannot be both. Which is it?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The legal default position is that we leave on 31 October. If the EU will not move and we do not secure a good deal, we need to be prepared for that eventuality. That is the necessary outworking of article 50, for which I think the hon. Lady voted, along with many other colleagues across the House.
If she did not, I can only apologise. I think a majority of her Labour colleagues did, but I salute her independence of mind on that issue.
The broader point I would make is that, because it is an eventuality for which we have to prepare, it is prudent that we should prepare, but one thing that I think the hon. Lady and I agree on is that it is infinitely preferable that we leave with a deal. That is why we should give the Prime Minister the space and time to negotiate, which is why I hope that she, along with me, will decline to vote for any motion today that would fetter the Prime Minister’s discretion.
Last week I visited a logistics business in my constituency that sends parcels to the Republic of Ireland, and I heard about the concerns of its customers about the need for paperwork. The business has offered to do it and charge for the time spent—about 20 minutes per form—but I understand that many businesses simply will not bother, which will lead to a loss of valuable export sales. Clearly the best thing is to keep the existing arrangements, but what further advice can my right hon. Friend give to my constituent and his customers?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. There are some specific proposals that help to deal with parcels of a lower value and can facilitate their flow across borders, but I suggest that his constituents contact gov.uk/brexit—the Government Digital Service website—or, indeed, HMRC. If he would care to write to me, I can ensure that all the facilitations and easements available are in place for his constituency’s firms and employees.
Why should anyone believe Government claims that meaningful talks are taking place in Brussels to avoid no deal when the rest of Europe flatly denies that and the Prime Minister’s own chief of staff has said that that claim is a deliberate sham to run down the clock to a no-deal Brexit?
I have huge respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but if he were to look at the number of air miles clocked up by my right hon. Friend the Brexit Secretary and talk to those involved in the negotiations with the Brexit Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister’s official negotiator, David Frost, he would see that there has been intensive negotiation with our EU partners. It was the case, for example, that the Prime Minister just last week spent five days in France talking to not only Emmanuel Macron but other European leaders in order to ensure that we can leave with a deal.
As 36,000 delegates gather in Aberdeen to discuss and debate the future of the energy industry, can my right hon. Friend confirm that plans will be put in place in the event of no deal to maintain our just-in-time customs model, on which that industry and so many others in Scotland depend?
My hon. Friend is a brilliant advocate for the oil and gas sector, which does so much to ensure that the north-east of Scotland is an economic powerhouse. It is the case that we are working intensively with those in the energy sector and elsewhere to ensure that their business models can be robust for the future.
It was reported yesterday that analysis done for the Department for Transport in the last fortnight says that in the worst case, the average delay for lorries and freight at Dover would be one and a half days, and in the best case, there would be a wait of two to three hours—either of which would cause chaos. Can the Secretary of State confirm for the House that the Government have received that analysis? What has the freight industry had to say to him about it? It has been warning for some time that they do not think the Government are prepared.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that representatives of the freight industry have asked us to accelerate preparations for no deal. That is something that I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport have done. On Friday, I had the opportunity to visit Calais to talk to Ministers and the president of the regional assembly. Both of them said that they proposed to take a pragmatic approach in order to ensure the maximum flow, and we shall be revisiting those assumptions in the light, not just of those talks, but of the other steps we are taking.
Farming and the food and drinks manufacturing sector matter to the economy of C