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Volume 666: debated on Wednesday 23 October 2019

The whole House will be shocked by the appalling news that 39 bodies have been discovered in a lorry container in Essex. This is an unimaginable and truly heartbreaking tragedy, and I know that the thoughts and prayers of all Members are with those who lost their lives and their loved ones. I am receiving regular updates. The Home Office will work closely with Essex police to establish exactly what happened, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will make an oral statement immediately after this Question Time.

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

I completely associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks about the tragedy in Essex—I do not normally do that, but on this occasion I am completely with him.

It is good to see the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Question Time. Until today, I think he had only ever done one—in 100 days. We all know that he has a long list of shortcomings, so could he—[Interruption.] Will he do something about one that he does have some control over and get rid of Dominic Cummings?

I will try to reply with the generosity of spirit that the hon. Lady would expect from me and just say that I receive excellent advice from a wide range of advisers and officials. It is the role of advisers to advise and the role of the Government to decide, and I take full responsibility for everything the Government do.

Q4. My right hon. Friend achieved what many said was impossible and negotiated a new Brexit deal, which passed through the House last night. Does he share my regret that many in the Labour party, including the Leader of the Opposition, voted once again to delay our leaving with a deal on 31 October, not least given that he told the House on 22 February 2016 that his party welcomed the fact that it was now up to the British people to decide if we remained in the European Union? (900073)

As so often, my right hon. Friend has spoken with complete good sense. I do think it was remarkable that so many Members of the House were able to come together last night and approve the Bill’s Second Reading. I think that it was a great shame that the House willed the end but not the means, but there is still time for the Leader of the Opposition to do that and to explain to the people of this country how he proposes to honour his promise—which he made repeatedly—and deliver on the will of the people and get Brexit done. Perhaps he will enlighten us now.

I join others who have expressed their deep sadness at today’s news that 39 people have been found dead in a lorry container in Grays. Can we just think for a moment about what it must have been like for those 39 people, obviously in a desperate and dangerous situation, to end their lives suffocated to death in a container?

This is an unbelievable human tragedy, which happened in our country at this time. We clearly need to look at the whole situation and look for answers to what has happened. I do, however, also pay an enormous tribute to those in the emergency services who went to the scene to deal with it. All of us should just think for a moment about what it is like to be a police officer or a firefighter and about what it was like to open that container and have to remove 39 bodies from it and deal with them in an appropriate and humane way. We should just think for a moment about what inhumanity is done to other human beings at this terrible moment.

Yesterday, before the Prime Minister decided to delay his own withdrawal Bill, he promised to maintain—[Interruption.] Let me finish. Before he decided to delay his own withdrawal Bill—[Interruption.] If Members care to look at Hansard, they will see what it says. The Prime Minister promised to maintain environmental, consumer and workers’ rights. Why, then, did he have those commitments removed from the legally binding withdrawal agreement?

I do not think we could have been clearer yesterday in our commitment to the highest possible standards for workers’ rights and environmental standards. Indeed, I think that one of the things that brought the House together was the knowledge that, as we go forward and build our future partnership with the EU, it will always be open to Members in all parts of the House to work together to ensure that whatever the EU comes up with, we can match it and pass it into the law of this country. That, I think, commanded a lot of support and a lot of assent across the House.

I must say that I find it peculiar that the right hon. Gentleman now wants the Bill back, because he voted against it last night, and he whipped his entire party against it. I think it remarkable that the House successfully defied his urgings and approved that deal. What I think we would like to hear from him now is his commitment to getting Brexit done. That is what the public want to hear, and I am afraid they are worried that all he wants is a second referendum.

The Prime Minister does not answer the question that I put to him, which was about environmental, consumer and workers’ rights. I am not surprised, because he once said that “employment regulation” was “back-breaking”, and he voted for the anti-Trade Union Act 2016, which stripped away employment protections. The provisions in the Bill offer no real protection at all.

Yesterday, during the debate on the Bill, the Prime Minister pledged that the NHS was safe in his hands. If that is the case, will he be backing our amendment in the Queen’s Speech debate tonight, which would undo the very damaging privatisation of so much of our NHS?

The right hon. Gentleman is showing complete ignoratio elenchi—a complete failure to study what we actually passed last night in that historic agreement. It is very clear that it is open to the House to do better, where it chooses, on animal welfare standards or social protections, as indeed this country very often does. We lead the way: we are a groundbreaker in this country. I am afraid to say that the right hon. Gentleman has no other purpose in seeking to frustrate Brexit than to cause a second referendum.

As for the NHS, this is the party whose sound management of the economy took this country back from the abyss and enabled us to spend another £34 billion on the NHS—a record investment—and, as I promised on the steps of Downing Street, to begin the upgrade of 20 hospitals, and as a result of the commitments this Government are making, 40 new hospitals will be built in the next 10 years. That is this party’s commitment to the NHS. [Interruption.]

Order. Mr Russell-Moyle, you are an incorrigible individual, yelling from a sedentary position at the top of your voice at every turn. Calm yourself man; take some sort of soothing medicament from which you will benefit.

Two questions and we are still waiting for an answer, although we could do with a translation of the first part of the Prime Minister’s response.

I hate to break it to the Prime Minister, but under his Government and that of his predecessor, privatisation has more than doubled to £10 billion in our NHS. There are currently 20 NHS contracts out to tender, and when he promised 40 hospitals, he then reduced that to 20, and then it turns out that reconfiguration is taking place in just six hospitals. So these numbers keep tumbling down for the unfunded spending commitments that he liberally makes around the country.

The Prime Minister continues to say that he will exclude our NHS from being up for grabs in future trade deals. Can he point to which clause in the withdrawal agreement Bill secures that?

The right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong in what he says about privatisation of the NHS, and I must resist this, because those 40 new hospitals and those 47,000 extra clinical staff, including 17,000 nurses, were not paid for out of private funds; they were paid for by the NHS, and the reason we are able to pay for them is because the Conservative party and this Government believe in sound management of the economy—not recklessly putting up corporation tax, not recklessly wrecking the economy and renationalising companies in the way that he would do.

The right hon. Gentleman asks about the NHS in any future free trade deal, and I understand his visceral dislike of America and his visceral dislike of free trade.

I actually asked the Prime Minister which clause in the Bill protects our NHS, and obviously there is time for him to help us with an answer on that. He should also be aware that no public capital allocations have been made for the funding commitments that he has announced; all he said is that there is seed funding. I am not sure what seed funding is, but it does not sound like the commitment we were seeking, and it sounds awfully like private finance going into the NHS to deal with the issues it faces.

Less than one year ago, the Prime Minister said that any

“regulatory checks and…customs controls between Great Britain and Northern Ireland”

would damage

“the fabric of the Union”.

Given that this deal clearly does damage the fabric of the Union, does he still agree with himself?

I know that this was raised many times in the House yesterday, and I believe that the Union is preserved, and indeed we are able to go forward together as one United Kingdom and do free trade deals in a way that would have been impossible under previous deals. This is a great advance for the whole UK, and we intend to develop that together with our friends in Northern Ireland. But I must say to the right hon. Gentleman and indeed his colleagues on the Front Bench that I think it is a bit rich to hear from him about his sentimental attachment to the fabric of the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland when he has spent most of his political lifetime supporting the IRA and those who would destroy it by violence.

The Prime Minister has a habit of not answering any questions put to him. Northern Ireland will remain on single market rules within the EU on goods and agricultural products, and the rest of the UK will not. As the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) pointed out yesterday, that will create a very real border down the Irish sea, which the Prime Minister told a DUP conference, in terms, he would never do—and it was not that long ago; it might have been when he was trying to become the Tory party leader.

The Prime Minister told the House on Saturday there would be no checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, yet yesterday the Brexit Secretary confirmed to the Lords European Union Committee that Northern Irish businesses sending goods to Britain would have to complete export declaration forms. Is the Prime Minister right on this, or is the Brexit Secretary right? They cannot both be right.

Let us be absolutely clear that the United Kingdom is preserved, whole and entire, by these arrangements, and indeed the whole of the UK will be allowed to come out of the European Union customs union so that we can do free trade deals together. There will be no checks between Northern Ireland and GB, and there will be no tariffs between Northern Ireland and GB, because we have protected the customs union. This lachrymose defence of the Union comes a little ill from somebody who not only campaigned to break up the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland by his support of the IRA but also wants to spend the whole of the next year not just on a referendum on the EU but on another referendum on Scotland. That is what he wants. This is the threat to our United Kingdom—on the Labour Front Bench.

I really do wonder whether the Prime Minister has read clause 21 of his own Bill. The Good Friday agreement was one of the greatest achievements of this House, led by a Labour Government at that time. The Prime Minister unlawfully prorogued Parliament. He said he would refuse to comply with the law. He threw Northern Ireland under a bus. He ripped up protections for workers’ rights and environmental standards, lost every vote along the way and tried to prevent genuine democratic scrutiny and debate. He once said that “the whole withdrawal Bill, as signed by the previous Prime Minister, is a terrible treaty”, yet this deal is even worse than that. Even if he is not that familiar with it, does the Prime Minister accept that Parliament should have the necessary time to improve on this worse-than-terrible treaty?

It is this Government and this party that deliver on the mandate of the people. I listened carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman just said, but has he said it before. They said we could not open the withdrawal agreement, and we did. They said we could not get rid of the backstop, and we did. They said we could not get a new deal, and we did. Then they said that we would never get it through Parliament, and they did their utmost to stop it going through Parliament, but we got it through Parliament last night. This is the party and this is the Government that deliver on their promises. We said we would put 20,000 more police officers on the streets of this country, and we are. We said we would upgrade 20 hospitals, and we are. We said we would upgrade and uplift education funding around the whole country, and, even more than that, we are increasing the minimum wage, the living wage, by the biggest amount since its inception. This is the party that delivers on Brexit and delivers on the priorities of the British people.