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.
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?
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.
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 such situations 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.
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 respect 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.
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 we 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 Departments that are represented abroad to ensure that they are all brought under the ambassador or high commissioner in that country?
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 rain forest 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 rain forest 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.]
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.]
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.]
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 outcome. 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, 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?
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?
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 to 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.
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?
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?
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 (Jeremy Corbyn) 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 sub-committee meeting, link the rationale for talks with the EU article 50 taskforce to “domestic political handling reasons”? Yes or no?
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 that suggested that it was stated in a strategy meeting on 29 July 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 that, 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?