With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the result of the EU referendum.
Last week saw one of the biggest democratic exercises in our history, with more than 33 million people from England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar all having their say. We should be proud of our parliamentary democracy, but it is right that, when we consider questions of this magnitude, we do not just leave it to politicians but listen directly to the people. That is why Members on both sides of the House voted for a referendum by a margin of six to one.
As I have mentioned the House, let me welcome the new hon. Member for Tooting (Rosena Allin-Khan). I advise her to keep her mobile phone turned on: she might be in the shadow Cabinet by the end of the day. [Laughter.] And I thought I was having a bad day.
Let me set out for the House what this vote means, the steps we are taking immediately to stabilise the UK economy, the preparatory work for the negotiation to leave the EU, our plans for fully engaging the devolved Administrations, and the next steps at tomorrow's European Council.
The British people have voted to leave the European Union. It was not the result that I wanted, or the outcome that I believe is best for the country I love, but there can be no doubt about the result. Of course, I do not take back what I said about the risks. It is going to be difficult. We have already seen that there are going to be adjustments within our economy, complex constitutional issues, and a challenging new negotiation to undertake with Europe. However, I am clear—and the Cabinet agreed this morning—that the decision must be accepted, and the process of implementing the decision in the best possible way must now begin.
At the same time, we have a fundamental responsibility to bring our country together. In the past few days, we have seen despicable graffiti daubed on a Polish community centre, and verbal abuse hurled against individuals because they are members of ethnic minorities. Let us remember that these people have come here and made a wonderful contribution to our country. We will not stand for hate crime or attacks of this kind. They must be stamped out.
We can reassure European citizens living here, and Brits living in European countries, that there will be no immediate changes in their circumstances; nor will there be any initial change in the way our people can travel, the way our goods can move, or the way our services can be sold. The deal we negotiated at the European Council in February will now be discarded and a new negotiation to leave the EU will begin under a new Prime Minister.
Turning to our economy, it is clear that markets are volatile and that some companies are considering their investments; we know that this is going to be far from plain sailing. However, we should take confidence from the fact that Britain is ready to confront what the future holds for us from a position of strength. As a result of our long-term plan, we have today one of the strongest major advanced economies in the world, and we are well placed to face the challenges ahead. We have low, stable inflation. The employment rate remains the highest it has ever been. The budget deficit is down from 11% of national income and forecast to be below 3% this year. The financial system is also substantially more resilient than it was six years ago, with capital requirements for the largest banks now 10 times higher than before the banking crisis.
The markets may not have been expecting the referendum result but, as the Chancellor set out this morning, the Treasury, the Bank of England and our other financial authorities have spent the last few months putting in place robust contingency plans. As the Governor of the Bank of England said on Friday, the Bank’s stress tests have shown that UK institutions have enough capital and liquidity reserves to withstand a scenario more severe than the one the country currently faces; and the Bank can make available £250 billion of additional funds if it needs to support banks and markets. In the coming days, the Treasury, the Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority will continue to be in very close contact. They have contingency plans in place to maintain financial stability and they will not hesitate to take further measures if required.
Turning to preparations for negotiating our exit from the EU, the Cabinet met this morning and agreed the creation of a new EU unit in Whitehall. This will bring together officials and policy expertise from across the Cabinet Office, the Treasury, the Foreign Office and the Business Department. Clearly this will be the most complex and most important task that the British civil service has undertaken in decades, so the new unit will sit at the heart of government and be led and staffed by the best and brightest from across our civil service. It will report to the whole Cabinet on delivering the outcome of the referendum, advising on transitional issues and objectively exploring options for our future relationship with Europe and the rest of the world from outside the EU. It will also be responsible for ensuring that the new Prime Minister has the best possible advice from the moment of their arrival.
I know that colleagues on all sides of the House will want to contribute to how we prepare and execute the new negotiation to leave the EU, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin), will listen to all views and representations and make sure that they are fully put into this exercise. He will be playing no part in the leadership election.
Turning to the devolved Administrations, we must ensure that the interests of all parts of our United Kingdom are protected and advanced, so as we prepare for a new negotiation with the European Union we will fully involve the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Governments. We will also consult Gibraltar, the Crown dependencies and overseas territories, and all regional centres of power including the London Assembly. I have spoken to the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, as well as the First and Deputy First Ministers in Northern Ireland and the Taoiseach, and our officials will be working intensively together over the coming weeks to bring our devolved Administrations into the process for determining the decisions that need to be taken. While all the key decisions will have to wait for the arrival of the new Prime Minister, there is a lot of work that can be started now. For instance, the British and Irish Governments begin meeting this week to work through the challenges relating to the common border area.
Tomorrow I will attend the European Council. In the last few days I have spoken to Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande and a number of other European leaders. We have discussed the need to prepare for the negotiations and in particular the fact that the British Government will not be triggering article 50 at this stage. Before we do that, we need to determine the kind of relationship we want with the EU, and that is rightly something for the next Prime Minister and their Cabinet to decide. I have also made this point to the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, and I will make it clear again at the European Council tomorrow. This is our sovereign decision and it will be for Britain, and Britain alone, to take.
Tomorrow will also provide an opportunity to make the point that although Britain is leaving the European Union, we must not turn our back on Europe or on the rest of the world. The nature of the relationship we secure with the EU will be determined by the next Government, but I think everyone is agreed that we will want the strongest possible economic links with our European neighbours, as well as with our close friends in North America and the Commonwealth and with important partners such as India and China. I am also sure that whatever the precise nature of our future relationship, we will want to continue with a great deal of our extensive security co-operation and to do all we can to influence decisions that will affect the prosperity and safety of our people here at home.
This negotiation will require strong, determined, and committed leadership. As I have said, I think the country requires a new Prime Minister and Cabinet to take it in this direction. This is not a decision I have taken lightly, but I am absolutely convinced that it is in the national interest. Although leaving the EU was not the path I recommended, I am the first to praise our incredible strengths as a country. As we proceed with implementing this decision and facing the challenges that it will undoubtedly bring, I believe we should hold fast to a vision of Britain that wants to be respected abroad, tolerant at home, engaged in the world and working with our international partners to advance the prosperity and security of our nation for generations to come. I have fought for these things every day of my political life and I will always do so. I commend this statement to the House.
First, I thank the British people for turning out to vote in the referendum in such high numbers. The vote was a reflection of the significance of the issue, but it was a close vote on the back of a campaign that was too often divisive and negative. The Opposition Benches put forward a positive case to remain part of the European Union and convinced more than two thirds of our own supporters, but the majority of people voted to leave and we have listened to and accepted what they have said. Many people feel disfranchised and powerless, especially in parts of the country that have been left behind for far too long—communities that have been let down not by the European Union but by Tory Governments. Those communities do not trust politicians to deliver, because for too long they have not. Instead of more extreme cuts to local services, which have hit those areas the hardest, the Government need to invest in those communities. Many such areas are deeply concerned about the security of pledged EU funding. That money is desperately needed, so can the Prime Minister give us any guarantees on those issues?
Secondly, there is the issue of trust. The tenor of the referendum was disheartening. Half-truths and untruths were told, many of which key leave figures spent the weekend distancing themselves from—not least the claim that a vote to leave would hand the NHS an extra £350 million a week. It is quite shameful that politicians made claims they knew to be false and promises they knew could not be delivered.
Thirdly, real concern exists about immigration, but too much of the discussion during the referendum campaign was intemperate and divisive. In the days following the result, it appears that we have seen a rise in racist incidents, such as the attack on the Polish centre in Hammersmith, to which the Prime Minister quite rightly referred, and sadly many other such incidents all over this country. I hope that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary will take all the action they can to halt the attacks and halt this disgraceful racist behaviour on the streets of this country.
As political leaders, we have a duty to calm our language and our tone, especially after the shocking events of 10 days ago. Our country is divided, and the country will thank neither the Government Benches in front of me nor the Opposition Benches behind for indulging in internal factional manoeuvring at this time. We have serious matters to discuss in this House and in the country—[Interruption.]
Order. I want to accommodate as many as possible of those colleagues who wish to question the Prime Minister. Matters are just slowed up if people make a lot of noise. I have plenty of time; I do not know whether other people have.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. It does appear that neither wing of the Tory Government has an exit plan, which is why we are insisting that the Labour party be fully engaged in the negotiations that lie ahead. We need the freedom to shape our economy for the future and protect social and employment rights, while building new policies on trade, migration, environmental protection and investment.
I fully understand that the Prime Minister is standing down in three months’ time, but we cannot be in a state of paralysis until then. He is meeting the European Council tomorrow, and I hope he will say that negotiations will begin, so that we know what is going on, rather than being delayed until October. We, as a House, have a duty to act in the national interest and ensure we get the best agreements for our constituents. Will the Prime Minister today confirm that, in the light of the economic turmoil, the Chancellor will announce at least a suspension—preferably, the termination—of his now even more counterproductive fiscal rule? What the economy needs now is a clear plan for investment, particularly in those communities that have been so damaged by this Government and that have sent such a very strong message to all of us last week. Will he specifically rule out tax rises or further cuts to public services, which were threatened pre-referendum?
I welcome the Prime Minister’s reassurances on the uncertainty felt by many EU nationals currently working in our economy, including the 52,000 who work so well to help our national health service provide the service we all need. It is welcome that the Prime Minister is consulting the leaders of the devolved Administrations, and I hope he will also be consulting the Mayor of London, a city for which the implications are huge. We must act in the public interest and support measures to reduce volatility. I welcome market protections, but what about protections for people’s jobs, wages and pensions? Can the Prime Minister make clear what plans are in place? The Chancellor spoke this morning to reassure the stock markets, though they clearly remain very uncertain. We understand that some measures cannot be discussed in the House, so will the Prime Minister give me an assurance that the Chancellor will provide private briefings to his opposite numbers on this matter?
Finally, on a personal note, may I say that although I have many fundamental disagreements with the policies of the Prime Minister and his Governments, as he announces the end of his premiership it is right to reflect that he led a Government that delivered equal marriage, against the majority of his own MPs, and he was right to do so. I want to thank him, too, for his response to the Bloody Sunday inquiry and how he reacted to the tragic murder of Jo Cox. We thank him for his service, although I am sure we will enjoy many more debates and disagreements while he continues as Prime Minister.
Let me agree with the Leader of the Opposition that it was positive that turnout was so high. I also agree with him that we need to reach out to those people who have not benefited from economic growth and make sure that they feel that their economic security is important to us as well. But I do not agree with him that it is right to start to try to refight the campaign all over again. All I know for my part is that I put everything I could into the campaign that I believed in—head, heart and soul—and I left nothing out, and I think that was the right thing to do.
Let me answer the right hon. Gentleman’s questions. On money that different areas of the country get, until we leave the EU none of those arrangements change; so what has been set out in the Budget, and payments and the rest of it, all continue. But as the negotiation begins properly for leaving, the next Government will want to set out what arrangements they will put in place for farmers, for local authorities and for regions of our country.
On intolerance and fighting intolerance, I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we must take all action we can to stamp this out. He asked about the Chancellor’s fiscal rule and future plans. What I would say is that we have not worked so hard to get the budget deficit from 11% down to below 3% just to see that go to waste, and we must continue to make sure that we have a sound and strong economic plan in our country. For the coming months that is my responsibility and the Chancellor’s responsibility, but in time it will be the responsibility of a new Government, and they will have to decide how to react if there are economic difficulties along the way.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether there could be private briefings for members of the shadow Front-Bench team with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As always in these arrangements, if shadow Cabinet members want those sorts of briefings, they can have them.
Finally, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks and the fact that he hopes we will be debating with each other for some weeks and possibly months to come.
When we acquire a new Government who have decided what they mean by leaving and draw up some detailed policy instructions for the committee of officials the Prime Minister has set up, a great deal of detailed legislation covering a whole variety of fields will be submitted to this Parliament. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we still have a parliamentary democracy and it would be the duty of each Member of Parliament to judge each measure in the light of what each man and woman regards as the national interest, and not to take broad guidance from a plebiscite which has produced a small majority on a broad question after a bad-tempered and ill-informed debate? [Interruption.] And does he agree that we will face months of uncertainty if we are not careful—[Interruption.]
Order. It is not acceptable for people to make that level of noise. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be heard and every Member of this House will be heard. Let us accord the right hon. and learned Gentleman the respect to which he is entitled.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as there is a risk of uncertainty for a few months, causing very considerable difficulty, he should consider the possible first step of joining the European economic area, which was designed in the first place for countries like Norway and Iceland, where the great bulk of politicians wished to join the European Union but could not get past the ridiculous hurdle of a referendum in order to get there? That could at least be negotiated, with modifications and changes if anybody can decide what they want once we get to that point, and it would give some reassuring order and stability to our economy and might begin to attract a little investment and future prospects for our country.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his remarks. My view is simple: this House should not block the will of the British people to leave the European Union, but of course we have now got to look at all the detailed arrangements, and Parliament will clearly have a role in that in making sure that we find the best way forward. That will be principally the job for the next Government, but I do believe in parliamentary sovereignty and the sovereignty of this Parliament. A lot of detail will have to be discussed and debated, but decisions such as whether or not to join the EEA must be for a future Government.
Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union. Sixty-two per cent. of voters cast their votes to remain in the EU, and every single local government area in the country voted to remain in the EU. In Scotland we voted to remain because it really matters that we are in the single European market, because we value the free movement of people, goods and services, and because our EU citizenship rights matter, as do our legal safeguards for workers, for women and for parents. In Scotland we voted to remain because we are a European nation, and it really matters to us that we live in an outward-looking country, not a diminished little Britain.
In Scotland we are now being told from Westminster that despite the majority against leave, we are going to have to do as we are told: we are going to be taken out of Europe against our will. Mr Speaker, let me tell this House and our friends across Europe: we have no intention whatsoever of seeing Scotland taken out of Europe. That would be totally democratically unacceptable. We are a European country and we will stay a European country, and if that means we have to have an independence referendum to protect Scotland’s place, then so be it. Thank goodness that we have a Scottish Government and a First Minister who are prepared to lead and seek to protect Scotland’s place, and it is very welcome that this approach is being supported by Opposition political parties across the Scottish Parliament.
Meanwhile, “Project Fear” has turned to “Project Farce”. Apparently those who propose that we should leave Europe have no plan. A senior leave MP said:
“There is no plan. The leave campaign don’t have a post-Brexit plan.”
The MP went on to say:
“No. 10 should have had a plan.”
Meanwhile, UK share prices are so volatile that some stocks have temporarily been suspended and sterling has hit a 31-year low.
On one thing I hope we are all agreed: that we take serious note of the very disturbing series of racist incidents directed against our fellow citizens who happen to come from other European countries. I hope that we all, on all sides, totally repudiate these despicable acts and encourage the police and prosecuting authorities to do all they can.
Given the economic damage and uncertainty that is currently being caused, may I ask the Prime Minister the following financial questions? We welcome the actions of the Governor of the Bank of England to help provide certainty in difficult times. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the Governor has no plans at present to change his forward guidance on interest rates? The SNP will continue to support any sensible measures to deliver stability and confidence in the UK economy at this time. However, we want to be explicitly clear that this will not be used to deepen further the programme of austerity.
In conclusion, the lack of leadership from Whitehall over the past few days has been unprecedented. We recognise that any further drift or vacuum simply exacerbates uncertainty. We know that the Prime Minister is planning to leave and we wish him well, but may we have an absolute assurance that his Government will finally start to take a firm grip of the situation in which we all, sadly, find ourselves?
First, our focus should be to get the very best deal for the United Kingdom outside the European Union, and that should be the very best deal for Scotland as well.
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the despicable acts of racism that have taken place. Let me reassure him as well that we will take every step that we can. He asked questions specifically about interest rates; that is a matter for the Governor of the Bank of England and the Monetary Policy Committee, and they set out their views in advance of the referendum. The right hon. Gentleman asked about budgets; that will be a matter for a future Government, but let me say this to him: Scotland benefits from being in two single markets—the United Kingdom and the European single market. In my view, the best outcome is to try to keep Scotland in both.
May I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for the dignity with which he addressed the nation from 10 Downing Street on Friday? Will my right hon. Friend take a positive and simple message to the leaders of the other 27 member states of the European Council tomorrow—namely, that the voters of the United Kingdom have demonstrated the value of that great principle, the principle of democracy, for which people fought and died?
Let me thank my hon. Friend for his comment. Of course, when I go to the European Council tomorrow, I will report directly on the result and the decision of the British people. No one should be in any doubt about that, but it is important that we set off on this path of exiting from the European Union by trying to build as much good will as possible on both sides.
May I pay tribute to the Prime Minister, following the announcement of his resignation on Friday? We have not often agreed, but his commitment to the historic bipartisanship during the coalition Government and his energetic commitment to the remain campaign contrast favourably with the tribalism of others. He has my respect and my thanks.
I respect the outcome of the referendum, but I still feel passionately that Britain’s interests are best served at the heart of Europe, in the European Union. I can accept defeat, but I will not give up. I have not changed my beliefs. With the promises of the leave campaign unravelling and no leadership being shown by the Opposition, will the Prime Minister confirm that free movement of people and access to the single market are paramount to the economic stability of Britain, and will he launch an investigation as to the whereabouts of the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and of the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice?
It is not up to me to ensure attendance in the Chamber—I have many responsibilities, but that is not one of them. Let me thank the hon. Gentleman for what he said about my leadership, and let me say how much I enjoyed appearing on a platform with him at the final rally, outside Birmingham University, which brought together him, me and Gordon Brown in a unique but obviously unpersuasive trilogy, although I have to say that he and Gordon Brown gave fantastic speeches.
The hon. Gentleman is right that the decision that we are going to have to take—and it will be for the next Government—about how we get the best possible access to the single market is going to be one of the single most important decisions that the Government will take on, because we must bear in mind the importance of safeguarding our economy, its trade links and its jobs. I think that will be a very serious consideration.
Much of the distress expressed by those who voted remain on Thursday has been about the fact that they believe that their country has turned its back on their values. Does the Prime Minister agree that they can be reassured that the tolerance, openness and western liberal internationalism that we supported in the European Union will continue to be the hallmark of the United Kingdom as we seek a new role in the world?
I very much hope my hon. Friend is right. Britain is at its strongest when we stand up for our values and work with others. Let me stress that, while we are leaving the European Union, we will still be full members of NATO, the UN Security Council, the Commonwealth, the G7 and the G20. Britain does best when we make our voice heard through these organisations, and we should continue to do so.
I never thought I would see the day when I wished a Tory Prime Minister would win a vote, but last Thursday I did, and I think the country will pay a bitter price for the fact that he lost this one. Leaving aside the constitutional turmoil, the damage to the economy and the uncertainty that hangs over Britain’s place in the world, the leaders of the Brexit campaign have engendered an atmosphere where some people believe it is open season for racism and xenophobia. Will the Prime Minister say very clearly that, when it comes to the difficulties of getting a job or problems with the NHS, housing or schools, those things are the responsibility of his Government to sort out and not the fault of migrants from the EU or indeed anywhere else?
May I first praise the right hon. and learned Lady for her decision to cross party lines and to appear with others on platforms to make the argument? She made it very persuasively, and I think it is right that she did. She is absolutely right that we must be very clear about our commitment to tolerance and diversity, and about our complete intolerance of racism and the hateful hate crimes that we have seen in recent days. I know that that is the view of hon. Members in this House, whatever side of the debate they were on, but that message needs to go out loud and clear.
Does the Prime Minister recall that, when we held the vote in September last year on the European Union Referendum Bill, not a single Conservative, and only one Labour Member, voted against it, so is it not a bit late now for people to talk about blocking the implementation of the result just because they disagree with it? Finally—it is always good to end on a positive note—would the Prime Minister care to bring in the vote on the Trident successor submarines before he leaves office?
It is very clear: when it comes to numbers, my right hon. Friend wants four submarines and one referendum—I have got the message very clearly. He makes a good point, which is that when the House voted on the referendum, it voted by a margin of six to one to hold that referendum. We will obviously be coming forward with our plan for all the other decisions that can be made during the remainder of this parliamentary Session, and I would hope that it would include the one he mentions.
I would like to add my thanks to the Prime Minister for his service to the nation as the Prime Minister of a stable, successful coalition Government for five years. Throughout that time, there were many things that he and I disagreed on, but I always appreciated his civility, his good humour—on display here again today—and his ability, which is rare in politics, to see politics from other people’s points of view. All those qualities ensured the stability that was so necessary as the country was recovering from the economic shocks of 2008, and, for that, he should be warmly thanked.
I have heard a lot about democratic principle. Would the Prime Minister agree that it surely cannot be right, as a matter of democratic principle, that only members of the Conservative party, constituting 0.003% of the total electorate, should have a say in electing a new Prime Minister of a new Government with new priorities utterly different from those he got elected on last year? Does he agree that there should be an early general election?
First of all, let me thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind words. We did work together very successfully. I know that he paid a very large personal and political price for the support he gave to that Government. That helped to deliver economic stability and make real progress in our country, and I thank him for it.
On the leadership election that will now take place and the other points the right hon. Gentleman put, all parties have their rules for electing leaders that are arrived at democratically; we have ours, and they will be followed. In the coalition agreement, we agreed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, which many of my colleagues have misgivings about. I happen to think it is a good measure, so as a result I think the right thing is for a new Prime Minister to take office, and it will be for them to decide whether to fulfil the terms of the Act or something else.
My right hon. Friend will know that a large number of people in my constituency work in the service industries, particularly financial services industries. This weekend they have seen jobs leave this country. They are worried about their future. They need not access to the single market but to be a participating part of the single market, and so does this country, as we currently have a £20 billion surplus. Will he ensure that that is given the highest priority, in the national interest, in our negotiations?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Let me stress that nothing changes in the UK’s trading relations with Europe until we actually leave the European Union, so there is a period when service companies—financial services—maintain the passport. One of the most important tasks for the new Government will be to negotiate the best possible arrangements with the single market, and that will be debated endlessly in this House. There is obviously a very strong case for trying to remain in that single market in some form, but that will be a decision for the new Government and for Parliament.
As the process of leaving the European Union unfolds, we will continue to face a large number of international challenges—the crisis in Syria, climate change, and the threat of terrorism among them—and yet we risk seeing our voice in the world diminished. Does the Prime Minister agree that in the negotiations every effort should be made to ensure that we continue to have practical co-operation with our European allies so that we can maintain the kind of influence in the world that is so important to our prosperity and our security?
The right hon. Gentleman and I agree on this issue, and we spent some time on the campaign discussing it. It is important to use all these forums to maximise Britain’s influence. We will obviously have to find a way, under the new Government, to work out how to work with the European Union to get the maximum effect for the British stance on climate change, on Syria, on how we try to prevent refugees from leaving Libya, and all the rest of it. Those will all be issues for a future Government. I know from all that happened in the campaign that this is not about Britain withdrawing from the world or playing less of a role in the world, and we will have to work out the way forward.
I would like to add my voice to the tributes to the Prime Minister from across this House. He is a true statesman who has made Oxfordshire proud, and we will miss him. Will he take this opportunity to reassure the science and innovation sector that the Government will fight to protect access not just to Horizon 2020 funding but to valuable research collaborations, and also to effective recruitment and retention of the brightest and best of EU researchers? They are essential to our knowledge economy and deserve to know that they will be a priority in ongoing negotiations.
I thank my hon. Friend for her kind remarks. It has been a great pleasure and privilege being her constituency neighbour and working together. How we maintain the advances in British science and competitiveness in our universities will be one of the issues that the EU unit will want to look at. Clearly we have done very well out of this bit of the European Union, and so it will be for the new Government to look at the evidence on that and how we can continue to move forward.
I commend the Prime Minister for the way in which he handled Friday and for the very diplomatic and kind speech he has made today. I ask him to continue to show that leadership over the next month or two, to ensure that some of the hysteria about what is going to happen to our country is kept under control. Will he also condemn very clearly those people who are almost implying that decent people all over this country who voted to leave the European Union are somehow closet racists?
I have been on the opposite side to the hon. Lady in this debate, but I know that it takes a lot of courage to stand out in the way that she has done. One of my first jobs in politics was as the Conservative candidate’s researcher in the Vauxhall by-election. If I had known then that the hon. Lady would be part of my nemesis, maybe I would have worked even harder. She is right: there are many people on both sides of this debate who have very strong views about tolerance, diversity and all the rest of it, and we need to make sure that that shines through in the coming days.
As the Prime Minister knows, I have not always agreed with him on issues, but, as he equally knows, I have always been very supportive of him personally and did not want him to make the announcement that he made last week. In saying that the country needs to come together—he is right to do so—does he accept that the first part of that is that everybody has to accept the result of the referendum, whether they like it or not, and that talk of a second referendum is for the birds? When he goes to see his European counterparts, will he pass on the message that the British people have said that we are very happy to continue with our £68 billion trade deficit with the European Union by trading with it, but in return for that we are not prepared to accept free movement of people or contributing to the EU budget?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we must accept the result—the Cabinet has and I think that everybody should—but what has to happen now is translating that result into action and choosing the correct pathway to leave the European Union and the correct relationship to have with it. That is going to take a lot of complex decision making by the new Government, and my hon. Friend obviously has a very clear view about what that should involve. It will involve a lot of separate and different decisions, but he is absolutely right to say that the decision must be accepted.
Many of my constituents are European citizens and they are fearful for their future. The Prime Minister has talked about a group of officials set up to determine what Brexit will mean. Can he give any comfort to these people? If not now, will he give a timetable for when they will know how they can apply to remain in the UK?
I think that many people will be watching this with exactly the same question that the hon. Lady has asked. The technically correct answer is that while we are members of the European Union there is no change in the rights or the circumstances of people coming to live and work in Britain, or in those of Britons going to live and work in other European Union countries. I would add to that that the leave campaigners were fairly clear that they wanted to protect the rights of people who are already here who have come to live, work and study, but obviously the final clarification of that and of the rights of British people living in other parts of the European Union will have to wait for the complex negotiations.
May I thank the Prime Minister for giving the British people the opportunity to vote on this issue for the first time in decades, and may I thank those who voted to leave for giving me a remarkable birthday present on Friday? I also welcome the establishment of the new unit under the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Does the Prime Minister intend to publish a White Paper on the next steps?
No, I do not think that will be possible. The new unit has to get up and running and go through all of the complex issues that need to be sorted out, whether they be agriculture payments, borders, the situation in Northern Ireland or which British laws need to be rewritten because they mention a lot of EU law and all the rest of it. What I envisage happening is a series of papers being worked through, being discussed by the Cabinet and being prepared for the new Government as they come in.
Given the enormity of this decision and the repercussions of the negotiation process, the arrangements that the Prime Minister has described sound extremely weak. He is effectively saying that Members of Parliament should just go and have an informal chat with the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin). The Prime Minister is leaving a dangerous political vacuum. I urge him to consider much broader arrangements to build a wider consensus, including setting up a cross-party Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament to look at wider arrangements to involve voices from all across the country in what the negotiations about our future Britain, alongside the EU, should be. Britain feels very divided now and all of us have a responsibility to build a new consensus for the future.
I do not disagree with a lot of what the right hon. Lady is saying. Obviously, Parliament and Select Committees will want to consider how they can best produce evidence and take research and interviews to add to this process. I see the role of the Government as this. It is clear that we are moving from one situation—membership of the EU—to leaving the EU. We need to describe in a dispassionate, neutral and objective way what all the different outcomes look like and what are the advantages and disadvantages of all the different outcomes—the trade deal like Canada, the situation like Norway, and the pros and cons of being in the single market or out of the single market—so that our constituents can see the disadvantages and advantages in each case. That is what the Government should do, but Parliament—the House of Commons—can also play its part.
May I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for giving the British people the chance to take this historic decision? I share his view that Britain will continue to be engaged with the rest of the world—I hope in a more positive fashion. May I also express the view that I am very disappointed that my right hon. Friend has decided to stand down? I wonder whether, at this difficult time, he might like to reconsider that decision. I say so because he is a star at the Dispatch Box and, furthermore, as he has demonstrated today, he will rather miss it if he is not here to do it.
I am sure there are many things that I will miss, and statements that go on for at least three hours are perhaps one of them. What on earth will I do to fill my time?
The reason for my decision to resign is that the country has made a very clear decision to go in a particular direction, and I really do believe it needs someone—fresh leadership, and a fresh pair of eyes—committed to that path and to getting it right for Britain. I think that does require change. That is why I made the decision I did, and I am certainly not changing my mind.
Talking of which, at 9 o’clock this morning, the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) welcomed the stabilisation of the pound. At lunchtime, sterling fell to a 31-year low against the dollar. If you break it, you own it, so who owns this particular adjustment? Is it the Prime Minister, who called the referendum, or the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, who exploited it?
I will be very frank. The Government were elected on a manifesto promise to hold a referendum. We have held that referendum, the country has made its decision and this Government are responsible now for setting out the steps that we need to take and for doing all that is necessary to stabilise the economy. We took a choice to ask the people this very big question, because I believe in our parliamentary democracy but when it comes to the very big decisions I think it is right to consult the people. But this Government take responsibility.
In respecting with dignity the wishes of the electorate, does the Prime Minister accept that he has an absolutely pivotal role to play in encouraging all sides to come together and talk the country up? Calm optimism is now required. We are a great country, and we have a very bright future ahead of us.
I certainly believe that we all have a responsibility to bring the country together and to make this new pathway work as well as it does, but we have to do it from a position of realism. We do not know exactly what some of the economic and other effects will be, so we are going to have to take great caution and care in the coming days and the coming weeks to respond to that, as well as coming together to get the best pathway for our country to leave this organisation.
On Friday, the Leader of the Opposition suggested we should rush to invoke article 50 renegotiations now. I disagree. I believe that it would be in good, sound order for our economy, to secure a stable transition, to make sure that article 50 is not triggered until at least the new year.
The triggering of article 50 is a matter for the British Government, and it is important we establish that. What matters is that we do as much work as possible to determine the best possible model that we want to try to negotiate for, which must be a matter for the new Prime Minister, and then he or she will make the decision to trigger article 50.
Boston in my constituency voted more than any other place in the country to leave the European Union, and it has seen the highest level of immigration from eastern Europe to this country. I am keenly aware that those migrants are my constituents too, but does the Prime Minister agree that we owe it to the will of the people who live in my constituency to deliver on the promises to reform immigration and increase spending on the NHS if we are to retain their faith in this place?
We must continue to enact our manifesto promises, one of which was to set up an immigration impact fund. We need to set up and establish that on, I hope, an all-party basis. We should continue to deliver for the NHS, as we promised in our manifesto and as we have done. Clearly, one of the key issues in this negotiation is how to balance the difficult decisions about access to the single market and better control of immigration, and I think that goes to the heart of what the country needs to do.
The Prime Minister and I were on different sides of this argument, but when he spoke on Friday, he did so with his dignity, his principles and his honour intact. I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for indicating that discussions will commence this week on the common travel area. May I, however, ask him to dismiss the notion that there could be a border poll in Northern Ireland, to dismiss the notion that the devolved institutions can wield a veto in this process and to resolve that only with the collective will to do what is in our national interest will we maintain this United Kingdom?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. He is right to say that it is important to get it right on the common travel area issues, which are complex and difficult, if Northern Ireland is going to be the frontier between the United Kingdom outside the European Union and the European Union. On the border poll issue, the rules are set out very clearly in the Good Friday agreement, and I do not believe they have been triggered. In terms of the decision to leave the EU and how we do it, that is principally a matter for this Westminster—the United Kingdom—Parliament.
The Prime Minister has shown the decency and courage that one of my predecessors, Harold Macmillan, would have respected. I think Harold Macmillan would have wept on the day this has happened and on the day the Prime Minister departs. Will the Prime Minister concede that it is very clear legally that article 50 is the only proper means of exiting the European Union and that any attempt to circumvent it would be wrong and would involve this country in a breach of its international obligations, which no decent leader of this country should ever contemplate?
Let me thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. He is right that the only legal way that has been set out to leave the EU is by triggering article 50. That is clearly what our partners want us to do, although not all of them believe that we have to do it immediately, which is why I believe we have some time to examine the right model we want to negotiate for and then to pull that trigger. As I understand it, that is the only legal way to get the job done.
During the campaign, we heard quite a lot of criticism about politicians, elites and experts, so may I ask the Prime Minister about a promise made by the leave side just this morning? The hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) has said that he wants to maintain full access to the single market. Can the Prime Minister name a country that has full access to the single market that does not also have to accept the free movement of people?
The technical answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question is that there are no countries today that have full access to the single market without contributing to the budget or accepting the free movement of people. Where we should try to seek some cross-party agreement is that I think it is in all our interests, whatever the eventual decision, to make sure we are as close as possible economically to our friends and partners in the European Union. That is obviously going to have to be negotiated, but my view is—the closer, the better.
As somebody of Polish origin, I am very proud of the contribution Poles have made to this country not just during the battle of Britain, in which the Polish 303 Squadron was one of the largest, but in recent years. As chairman of the all-party group on Poland, I have invited the chairman of the Polish Social and Cultural Association to the House of Commons to show solidarity with the Poles following that appalling attack, and I very much hope that the Prime Minister might be able to join us for that meeting.
I commend my hon. Friend for his work with the Polish community here in the United Kingdom and for furthering relations between Britain and Poland. I spoke to the Polish Prime Minister this afternoon to say how concerned I was about the terrible attacks that have taken place and reassure her that we were doing everything we could to protect Polish citizens in our country. Poland is a country that is very sad to see Britain leave the European Union because we are like-minded on so many issues, including open markets and enterprise, and the Atlanticist nature of the EU. We must make sure that we work for the strongest bilateral relationship between Britain and Poland in the years ahead.
May I commend the Prime Minister for the way that he has accepted the verdict of a United Kingdom-wide referendum? The rest of the House should accept that verdict in the way he has. As for implementing it, will he tell the House whether he intends to replace our commissioner, and to set up a special unit at UKRep?
First, I congratulate the right hon. Lady on the role she played in the campaign as a very key spokesman for that side of the argument. I pay tribute to Lord Hill, who worked incredibly hard in the European Commission; I am very sad to see him go. We should try to seek a replacement, because the fact is that we are a full, contributing and paying member of this organisation until we leave, and we should therefore have a commissioner, although I am sure that will be a challenge. UKRep in Brussels is ably led by Sir Ivan Rogers, who I hope will remain in place and continue to give the excellent advice that he has given to Ministers to date.
Although the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) is right, I make no apology for bringing my right hon. Friend back to the topic of the racism we have seen since Thursday. A tweet has been sent to a young black woman in London that says:
“Go home! #wevotedleave. Time to make Britain great again by getting rid of u blacks, Asians and immigrants”.
When such a tweet can be sent, it would appear that a genie has been let out of the bottle—unintended, I am certain, by both sides of the referendum campaign. May I ask my right hon. Friend first that the police and prosecuting authorities have the resources to bring cases against perpetrators of this vile racism and secondly that he use his good offices with the leaderships of both of the referendum campaigns to call out this abuse for what it is and bring a stop to it now?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is hideous language that we thought we had banished from our country and it is very important that everyone comes out and condemns it as strongly as possible. On his specific questions, the police have resources because we protected their budgets, and there are the necessary laws to prosecute hate crimes. As for the two campaigns, as far as I am concerned, they no longer exist; there is now one Government with one view, which is that we have to find the right path for the future. The sooner we can do that, the better.
I am proud to say publicly that I voted for Britain to remain in the European Union. I am sure the Prime Minister would, too. I also respect and recognise that people across this House voted differently. All of us now need to help those at the sharp end of the decision, so will he tell us specifically what measures his Government are going to put in place for all the small businesses that are now facing a loss of or a pause in contracts as a result of the decision on Thursday?
The Business Secretary consulted businesses throughout the campaign, but has obviously stepped that up and is having a very large meeting with businesses tomorrow, and I will be doing more of that later in the week. The true position is that as long as we are in this organisation—until we exit—all the rules about trade, services, financial passports and access to markets do not change. Now, informed by the work of the EU unit, we need to seek the very best possible deal to make sure that businesses can still benefit from access to European markets.
The Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Governor of the Bank of England have commendably acted swiftly to restore calm to the markets and confidence in our country and economy. However, the Prime Minister knows that many people are leading voters to believe that a second referendum is possible and could be run on different rules. What would he say to those people who are encouraging others to believe that that is a possibility?
People will not be surprised to hear that I am not planning a second referendum. We have to accept the result, and get on and deliver it. As we do so, we have to seek the best possible deal, and obviously this House should be involved in that process.
The scare stories about immigration that were spoken about by the people leading the leave campaign, and outriders, were frankly shameful, but we have a country that is divided between our cities and small town Britain, for which immigration was the No. 1 issue. Beyond an impact fund—which I support, although I was sorry to see it abolished some years ago—will the Prime Minister assure me that in the weeks before the House rises and over the summer, we will look more deeply into the pressures on our small town communities and different employment sectors, and into some of the abuses that are going on and the increased pressures on housing and rents? I also say gently that I am somewhat surprised by his statement that the new EU unit in Whitehall does not include the Home Office.
On that last point, the new EU unit will be working with every Department, because every Department is affected by this decision. The Home Office will play a leading role in trying to work out the options for leaving the EU but maintaining good levels of co-operation on crime, borders, information on terrorism, and all the rest of it. That useful work can be done before my successor takes office. I agree with the right hon. Lady that immigration was a key issue in the referendum, and we as a country must look at what more we can do to help people to integrate, and to examine the pressures on various public services. I made a series of suggestions about welfare changes that will not now be coming in, and I am obviously sad about that. We need to find some alternatives to those to reassure people that we can have a good, fair and managed system for immigration, from both outside and inside the EU.
All I would like to do today is thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for his years of service to the party and the country. Had the result been the other way round, I hope that my side would have behaved with the dignity and nobility that he has shown.
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks and for the spirit in which they were given.
The Prime Minister said that there is now collective Government and Cabinet responsibility. In that context, will he say on behalf of the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) and the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) that we will have a vote in this House before article 50 is triggered?
First, on a technical issue, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) is not a member of the Government—an important point. To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question directly, I cannot give that guarantee. The decision to trigger article 50 will be for the next Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the arrangements that are put in place must be for them to decide.
The Prime Minister is not responsible for the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), and he is probably quite pleased that he is not.
The Prime Minister must take great credit for delivering the referendum, for the way he campaigned—the remain vote was undoubtedly higher because of that—and for the way he reacted afterwards. We have been talking about collective responsibility, so will all Ministers now be behind the Prime Minister in leaving the EU? There is some talk today that the exit of the Prime Minister will now be earlier—sometime around the end of August. Will he comment on that?
I meant what I said about collective responsibility. It was suspended for this campaign, but it has now come back into place. Members of the Government and the Cabinet are of one view, which must be that we deliver the country’s will to exit the European Union, although the key decisions for that will be taken by the next Prime Minister. On arrangements for the leadership election in the Conservative party, all sorts of bodies—the 22, the party board, and all the rest of it—will make decisions. I am your servant, as it were. I want to ensure stability and continuity in the Government of this country and that we take the necessary steps to stabilise things. I know that the right thing to do is to hand over to a new team and new leader to take those issues forward.
I welcome the emphasis that the Prime Minister puts on coming back together as a community. There are people now living in fear in the way the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) described. It is down to us to put the decency back into our democracy. Does the Prime Minister understand the rage that many feel at what appear to be mistruths told about the virtues of coming out of the European Union, such as an extra £350 million a week for the national health service? May I press the Prime Minister on the answer he gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper)? We are about to go into some of the most dangerous waters this country has ever entered. It would be strange if we in this House carried on with arrangements as if business was going on as usual. Transparency is the best guarantee against any more mistruths. Surely our parliamentary arrangements must be strengthened to provide oversight of the right arrangements for leaving the European Union?
First, the right hon. Gentleman is right that we need to, as he put it, get the decency into our democracy. He is right that we must stamp out hatred and intolerance, but I do not believe we need to refight the referendum campaign. I will reflect on what he says and on what the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) said. There is a very big task for Government and Parliament to set out and examine, in an objective and fact-based way, the alternative models for leaving the European Union: what are the advantages, what are the disadvantages? This House has a big role in that. Whether it needs a new Joint Committee or whether it suits the existing Select Committees, I am very happy to receive advice and ideas from hon. Members. But certainly this House should play a proper role in informing the public and making sure we get the decision right.
The Prime Minister is absolutely right that all of us who voted remain must accept the referendum result and do our best to implement it as well as possible. The manner and tone of his resignation speech and statement today is absolutely in keeping with the unifying, one nation Toryism he has done so much to advocate.
Among the divisions left in the wake of the referendum, many young people feel let down by their parents and grandparents. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the weeks ahead the current Government should seize all opportunities to reassure young people that the opportunities and benefits that many of them see in Europe will still be available to them after the process of leaving the European Union?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We must accept the result. During this process of debate and discussion involving Parliament and Government, there will be many arguments that people will want to look at on how we exit the EU and the relationship we will have at the end. What will it mean for young people in terms of travelling, working and studying? Those are all questions. Now that we are not talking about theoretical alternatives to membership, but are talking about the actual alternatives to membership, we need the maximum amount of detail, transparency and debate so people can make their voices heard.
Several hon. Members rose—
I am keen to accommodate colleagues, but there is a premium on brevity—to be exemplified, as always, by Mr Douglas Carswell.
I applaud the Prime Minister and I welcome his statement. Now that withdrawal from the European Union is the policy of Her Majesty’s Government, will the Prime Minister confirm that some of the architects of the vote leave campaign, not just the Europhile mandarins, will be involved in the work of the new Cabinet Office unit?
First, the Government and the Cabinet include many people who were prominent in both campaigns. As I said, the campaigns are now over: there is one Government and one Government policy. Let me take issue with the hon. Gentleman about our civil servants. They are impartial. They are hardworking. They are the best of British. They do a very fine job and I am sure they will help us to deliver this incredibly important and difficult challenge.
Whatever the final form our exit negotiations from the European Union take, it is clear to everyone that we will need to strengthen our trading relationship with other economies around the world. The Prime Minister is right to set up the EU exit unit in the Cabinet Office, but what steps is he taking to supercharge the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, so that we can have a team of crack trade officials to start negotiating such trade agreements?
That is exactly the sort of issue that we will be considering. It may be the case that we have to negotiate our exit from the EU first before being able to make many of those arrangements, but we should certainly be doing the research and the work. The Foreign Office and the trade envoys can help with that as can the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
May I say to the Prime Minister that I saw very closely the work that he did during the riots and I am very grateful for that? He will recognise that some of my constituents are among the poorest in Britain. In these very tough economic times, it is the poorest who will suffer. Does he recognise that young people, poor people and many middle class people who voted for remain want a plan, and that lies behind the call for a second referendum on the detail?
As I have said, we need to set out the options for the model of leaving. The next Government will make those decisions and they will have to confront the issue that the right hon. Gentleman raises of how to involve Parliament in those decisions. That will be something for them and for Parliament, but not for me.
May I echo the comments of many of those who say that the Prime Minister has been a tremendous leader not just for this country, but for the party? If it was not for him, there would not be such a diverse field of Members of Parliament behind him. May I also say that, in my constituency and around Derby and Derbyshire, many businesses are concerned that trade missions abroad will be put on hold? Can we make sure that, in this period when we are still in Europe, those missions that were planned before can continue, because we must keep working for this country?
I thank my hon. Friend for her kind remarks. I can certainly give her the assurance that trade missions will continue. If anything, they need to be stepped up.
May I take the Prime Minister back to the resignation of our European commissioner? Given the importance of that role, can we expect him to make a replacement within days rather than months?
I am moving on that as fast as I can. Obviously, the process of getting the commissioner appointed includes hearings of the European Parliament and all the rest of it, but as a full-paying, full member, I think that we are entitled to have a commissioner.
May I put on record my sincere thanks to the Prime Minister for the support that he has given to BAE Systems and its 6,500 men and women, many of whom are apprentices and graduates, who work at its facility in my constituency? Such is the level of his dedication that he has visited that plant more often than all of his predecessors combined. May I ask him for his reassurance that the Government will continue to do everything they can to secure the futures of the people who work on the Typhoon Eurofighter and on pan-European projects?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I will continue to do everything I can to support BAE Systems. I enjoyed watching Typhoons fly over Cleethorpes on Armed Forces Day on Saturday. I will continue to work as hard as I can to ensure that we secure orders abroad.
The Mayor of London has rightly expressed his concern about the consequences that Brexit will have on the London economy, jobs and growth. Clearly, that is a concern for the whole country. Given that the financial sector relies on retaining passporting rights to the European market, will the Government guarantee that that will be a top priority for negotiations with the EU? Does the Prime Minister agree with the Mayor of London that London needs a seat at the table for the forthcoming negotiations with the EU?
As I said in my statement, the Mayor of London and the London Assembly should be involved. Financial services make up 7% of our economy. Two third of the jobs are outside London, and access to the single market is vital. I hope that they make their voice heard very strongly in making sure that we seek the closest possible relationship economically with Europe.
Our economic priority must be to settle short-term uncertainty and to position ourselves to make the most of opportunities in the long term. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while digesting the referendum result and commenting on a way forward, we should concentrate on our economy’s strong fundamentals and not talk our economy and our country down?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we must talk up our strengths—and they continue to be our strengths—but we do need to be realistic in meeting the challenges and difficulties that we face.
The Treasury Committee’s report on our membership of the European Union looked at the short-run risks of volatility, many of which are now manifesting themselves with sharp falls in sterling, the volatility on the stock exchange and Government bond yields falling to an all-time low. What actions are the Government taking now to protect British jobs, growth and living standards?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right: the Treasury Select Committee did look at that and warned about the volatility. We have seen a lot of that volatility and the reaction of the Bank of England and the Treasury to it. As well as the volatility, we have to look out for the dangers of uncertainty. The Government stand ready to help in any way they can. Part of this will be reassuring business that all the trading relationships continue while we are in this negotiation. The hon. Lady is right to say that there will be challenges ahead.
The right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) has only just started bobbing, but I think we should hear from him.
A double bob.
Indeed. I call Mr Dominic Grieve.
While we have to accept and must accept the referendum decision, is not the problem that, in the course of the campaign, statements were made by those advocating vote leave, which were, first, false and, secondly, in many cases unfulfillable? One thing that came out so clearly from this referendum campaign was the increasing disconnect between the public and those of us in this House who are, as the public would see it, in authority. What can we do and what should we do to restore that trust? My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has behaved impeccably in this matter and I would like to thank him for his long service to this country, but if we do not restore that trust, the role of this House will, it seems to me, be fatally undermined.
Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoken for his chum as well?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his kind remarks. He is right that one concern that came through in this referendum is that people are disaffected with politics and politicians, but with expert opinion as well. What we need to do now is to recognise that we are moving on from describing the situation that exists today and a number of hypothetical situations towards making real choices. Perhaps this House, the Government and all the rest of it can come into their own by setting out in a cool and neutral way what the alternatives are and the costs and benefits that apply to them. Then we might be able to restore some of the trust.
The Chancellor said this morning that action to address the referendum’s
“impact on the economy and the public finances”
will not be taken until the autumn. At a time of such risk and uncertainty and with continuing weaknesses in our economy, I find that staggering. Will the Prime Minister reconsider this decision and bring forward a proper plan, particularly to secure the private and public sector investment that our economy will need to weather the incoming storm?
I think the Chancellor was referring to the idea that fiscal measures might be necessary if the economic impacts of leaving prove to be as bad as some of the independent forecasters suggested. He was referring to the idea of having some form of Budget. The Government stand ready, with the Bank of England and others, to take any measures necessary to help to create the market stability that might be necessary.
I warmly thank my right hon. Friend for his statement today. I have long hoped for this day, ever since I stood right here on 24 October 2011 and first moved the motion that there should be a referendum on our membership of the European Union. What does my right hon. Friend think it says about the nature of the European Union that several member countries reportedly want to “punish” the UK simply because a majority of people had the temerity to vote to leave it?
Let me first congratulate my hon. Friend on his long campaign. I think that when we look at the reaction of the European Union to these events, we should be careful not to view it entirely through the filter of media outlets that want to see only one reaction. What I sense from the conversations I have had with the Germans, the French, the Poles, the Italians and others is that they are genuinely sad to see the United Kingdom go. They genuinely want to have a good and strong relationship with us when we leave. Obviously, however, they, like us, have to think of their own interests, just as we think of our own interests. The fact that the 27 member states will meet without the United Kingdom after the European Council should not be seen as surprising. In fact, many of us said that that would happen if we were to leave. We will fight like mad for our interests, but they will fight for theirs. We have to try to convince them and try to maintain in ourselves good, open and strong relations so that this becomes a dialogue leading to a mutually beneficial result rather than a war of words or something worse that then leads to a painful divorce.
The Prime Minister’s response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) was quite simply woeful. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union—62% of voters, and every local authority in Scotland. We value our EU membership. We are a unitary nation. What does the Prime Minister now say to the people of Scotland, who believe that we should remain within the European Union? What do we do now?
What we do now is make sure that we get the very best outcome from this negotiation, so that it is good for the United Kingdom and good for Scotland. It is all very well the hon. Gentleman waving his finger, but that is actually what matters most to the people of Scotland.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his leadership over many years, and thank him for it. I also pay tribute to the German Chancellor for her measured and wise words over the weekend, which I believe set a good tone for the negotiations. May I ask my right hon. Friend what measures are being taken to ensure that we strengthen bilateral relations, right now, between us and all the 27 other members of the European Union, given that we will not be dealing with them through the filter of the European Union in future?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. Obviously, one of the great roles of the Foreign Office will be to concentrate on those bilateral relations, even as we conduct this very complicated and difficult negotiation. We do have embassies in every single European country, and we do have strong bilateral relations. With my negotiation, I was the first British Prime Minister to visit some of the further-flung parts of the European Union, and I will certainly—in whatever capacity—do everything I can to keep those bilateral relations strong, because that will help our negotiation for our future in Europe.
I voted remain, but belatedly picked up a leaflet this morning in my London flat—the official leaflet of the leave campaign. It said that the NHS could receive an extra £350 million a week as a result of a vote to leave. Can the Prime Minister tell us when the NHS can expect to receive that money?
Obviously, until we leave the European Union we will continue our contributions to the European Union, and at that moment my successor will have to explain where the money is going.
The City of London boasts some of the best global lawyers in the world. May I urge the Prime Minister to speak to the Law Society of Scotland, the Law Society of Northern Ireland and the Law Society of England and Wales, to ensure that the very best British lawyers will undertake half the negotiation team’s efforts?
My hon. Friend has made an important point. I have talked about the EU unit, which will obviously contain the best and brightest from the civil service, but it is also important for us to secure the best and brightest from the private sector, whether they are lawyers, financial experts or trade experts. We want all that expertise to be involved in what will be a massive national endeavour.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I understand why there are courteous prefaces to many questions, and that, I think, is appreciated in the House, but it would now be really useful if we could have single, short supplementary questions, because the Prime Minister is giving admirably succinct replies.
This is a short, succinct question, Mr Speaker. Does the Prime Minister think that precipitating a collapse in the value of sterling, a fall in the value of our equities and a suspension of trading in our banks amounts to Britain taking back control?
As I think I have said, there are financial consequences that we need to manage in the days and weeks ahead.
Further to the question asked by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), does the Prime Minister accept that a very clear prospectus was sold to the electorate who voted to leave, which included an explicit promise to end unskilled migration from the European Union? That promise was explicit, and it is what those people voted for. Does the Prime Minister believe that it can be delivered?
As I have said, I think that one of the greatest challenges will be negotiating the best possible access to the single market, and balancing the issue of the best management and control of migration. That will be a decision for the future Prime Minister, and it will be one of the most important that he or she, and a Cabinet, will have to make.
The fact that 78% of the voters in my constituency voted to remain was in no small part due to the contribution the EU makes to higher education and to the large financial services sector in Edinburgh. What is the Prime Minister doing to reassure my constituents and others all over the country, given the uncertainty that he has created by calling this referendum, in the period up to article 50 being introduced in this House, as well as after article 50 and beyond Brexit? There is uncertainty, and people are worried about their jobs and livelihoods.
First of all, we have to respect the outcome of the referendum. I think it is right not to trigger article 50 because that will start a process that will have to result in an exit within two years. That could be an unmanaged exit if the process is started too soon. The people working in financial services, including the 100,000 who work in Edinburgh and Glasgow, form an important part of our economy—[Interruption.] And in Aberdeen. And in Aberdeen Asset Management; I shall give them a plug as well. We have to do everything we can to get the best possible access to the single market.
Several hon. Members rose—
A single eloquent sentence from an illustrious QC? I call Sir Edward Garnier.
In addition to the work that the unit of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be doing to look outwards to the European Union and our relations with it, will he also look at the preservation of the United Kingdom?
Like many others across the House, I have been saddened and deeply distressed to hear of some terrible racist and xenophobic incidents recently. In fact, during the course of this debate, I have been sent a message to say that a young lady in my constituency has been told to go “home”. This is her home, and she is very welcome here. Will the Prime Minister agree to convene an urgent meeting of a cross-party commission to look into race hate crimes and how we can eradicate this cancer from our society?
The hon. Lady’s point is absolutely right, and as for the organisation that she mentions, I shall look into it.
One of the greatest achievements of this Prime Minister has been to make the job of eliminating youth unemployment no longer an impossible dream but an achievable mission. Like him, I agree that that might become more challenging, but also like him, I agree that we must accept the outcome of this referendum. Does he agree that whoever his successor might be, he or she should ensure that the opportunities and life chances of young people are at the heart of our mission?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Whatever the challenges might be, and whatever route we take through the difficult pathway of access to the single market and the control of migration, one of the best ways to control migration is to increase the apprenticeships and opportunities available to our own young people in our own country to enable them to fill the jobs that our economy has created.
Key industries in my constituency, notably agriculture and fish processing, face challenging times because they rely on European market access and also depend quite heavily on migrant workers to meet labour shortages. The Scottish Government are already meeting stakeholders in an attempt to steer through these turbulent times, but what are this Government doing to shore up confidence in those sectors? Can the Prime Minister tell us when he will be in a position to say what the status of those EU workers will be?
In terms of reaching out to businesses in different sectors, my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary will be doing that. He is holding a large meeting tomorrow with businesses, and I will be doing the same later in the week. I am certainly happy to look at some of the interests that the hon. Lady has mentioned. In terms of the answer I gave on the rights of EU workers, they will continue until we leave the organisation, and if I have heard correctly what those who want us to leave have said, the rights of those who are already here—students and workers—will be protected.
I too pay tribute to the Prime Minister. Does he agree that in negotiating the exit, it will be crucial for each of the nations of the United Kingdom to be formally represented?
Yes, it is important that the negotiating mandate is drawn up with the involvement of all the constituent parts of the UK.
Can the Prime Minister tell us what justification the Leader of the House and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have given him for claiming that, should we leave the European Union, there would be £350 million a week to spend on the NHS?
I do not want to re-fight the campaign. Obviously, there was a disagreement about whether we would have less money with a smaller economy or whether we would have more money by leaving the EU. We are now putting that to the test and the results will be clear for all to see.
While I am pleased to hear that the new unit is being set up, can the Prime Minister assure us that resources will not be diverted from the life chances agenda, which he has been so instrumental in bringing in and which means so much to the people of Portsmouth, and that the agenda will continue with good pace?
I can certainly give that assurance. Obviously, the key European issues will be for the Foreign Office, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office. The agenda that my hon. Friend talks about will be important in the weeks ahead.
Given the disdain shown by many leading leave campaigners towards EU environmental protections, can the Prime Minister tell me what stance will now be taken as the EU looks at the fitness of the nature directives. Will we still be implementing the EU’s circular economy package?
We remain a full member of the EU and must meet our obligations as a member of the EU, including the existing directives. That is important, but such matters will then be for a future Government. In the meantime, we will carry on obeying the rules set out.
There is another group of people who are hurting since the result of Thursday’s referendum: the elderly. They have been told time and time again that they have let down Britain and the youth of this country. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the elderly are greatly valued in this country and that their voices are of equal merit to those of young people?
My hon. Friend is of course right. The key thing about a referendum is that every vote in every part of the country is worth the same.
The overwhelming majority of my constituents and, indeed, of Scotland voted to remain in the European Union. Does the Prime Minister agree that it would be a democratic outrage if we were now to be stripped of our European citizenship?
Obviously, what I want is the best possible outcome for the United Kingdom and therefore the best possible outcome for Scotland. That is what matters most.
I join colleagues in speaking out against racism and hatred. I actually voted for 16 and 17-year-olds to have a vote in the referendum, but I also have the utmost respect for people of all ages who voted, including pensioners and the elderly. Many of them served our nation in years of peril.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on speaking out against racism. We must all continue to do that. He is right that every vote counts the same.
Once the Government agree the terms of the negotiation, is that not when the House should make a judgment on whether the terms of the negotiation match up to the promises made by the leave campaign? This House should make that judgment before the negotiations go forward.
This House is sovereign. Under the reforms put through by the coalition Government, this House has all sorts of opportunities to take an issue unto itself and to vote on it. That now happens much more than when I first became a Member of Parliament when it was impossible to do that. My advice would be that the House must accept the will of the country. The next Government will have to bring forward their proposals on article 50 and the rest of it, and there will have to be discussions between the Government and the House about how that goes ahead.
Does the Prime Minister agree that it would make as little sense for us to put trade barriers between us and 44% of our market as it would for Scotland to put barriers between itself and 90% of its export market?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. As I said, Scotland benefits from two single markets, and I am keen to keep it in one and as close as possible to the other.
If the Prime Minister cannot guarantee today that there is £350 million a week for the NHS and all the other promises made, what does that do to trust in politics and what does it say about the fitness for office of the Leader of the House, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who has left the Chamber, the Secretary of State for Justice, and the former Mayor of London?
I do not propose to re-fight the campaign. The point is that the two sides had different arguments. One was that if the economy reduced in size, there would be lower tax receipts and less money available. The other side said that money will be available because we are leaving the EU. As we are now leaving the EU, we will be able to test, in time, which of those answers is the right one.
Succinct thanks to the Prime Minister, but what assessment has he made of the opportunities for preliminary negotiations before triggering article 50?
The assessment I have made is that it is a national sovereign decision to trigger article 50, so it is right for this Government to prepare the ground and for the next Government to choose the model they think is the right one to pursue, to hold some discussions and then to trigger the article 50 process. Just so the House fully understands, that has a two-year limit that can be extended only by a unanimous vote of all the other 27 members. At the end of that two-year period, if you do not have an arrangement, you then move to World Trade Organisation rules, so it is right that we go about this deliberately and sensibly, in order to get the best deal for our country.
Several hon. Members rose—
Another distinguished QC with a single-sentence question I feel sure—I call Joanna Cherry.
Thousands of my constituents are employed in Edinburgh’s financial sector, which is the second biggest in the UK. Can the Prime Minister give me his assurance that the UK Government will work with the Scottish Government to make sure that my constituents’ jobs do not face a similar threat to that faced by people in the City of London, where it is estimated that up to 70,000 jobs could go abroad in the next 12 months?
I can certainly give that assurance. This is an important industry for our country; it is 7% of the economy. The jobs in Scotland, in Bristol and in Bournemouth are just as valuable as the jobs in London, and I want to keep as many of them as possible.
One of my local councillors in Butetown was told this weekend to
“get out of the country”,
and a former Tory candidate, Shazia Awan, in Caerphilly, was told:
“I cannot wait to send you and the anti-white garbage that you stand for back to the third world dumps that you came from.”
Will the Prime Minister send a clear and unequivocal message from this House to that small number of people—and some leaders of other political parties—that if you indulge and stoke fear, you generate hate?
I would add to that: you not only generate hate, but you commit a crime and you can be prosecuted—and the police should not hold back.
With a volatile currency, there are fears that petrol prices could rise sharply as sterling falls faster than the oil price. Those fears are being heightened by the Chancellor’s threat, pre-referendum, of a punishment Budget. Will the Prime Minister assure motorists, and businesses such as Cadzow Heavy Haulage in my constituency, that the Government will not enforce a large hike on fuel duty?
Let me say now what I said at the time, which is that nobody wants to have an extra Budget or any difficult measures for taxes or spending, but, obviously, any Government have to react to the economic circumstances they face. Let us hope that the economic circumstances are not as bad as the experts predicted.
Over the next five years, the north-east was due to receive £726 million in EU funding. Will the Prime Minister give some much needed reassurance to the regions currently relying on hundreds of millions of pounds of EU funding that they will still receive the same amount from Whitehall?
Obviously, I cannot give that assurance today, but we heard during the campaign from those who were arguing we should leave that we ought to try to do everything we can to help disadvantaged areas of the country—those in receipt of grants, farmers and the rest of it—with the best situation we can. I am sure that that is what will happen.
There has been no mention of Wales yet in this debate and we have been speaking for one hour and 38 minutes. Will the Prime Minister agree to speak out for our future prosperity and commit, as best he can, to Wales’s place in the European economic area?
Certainly. I mentioned Wales in my statement, and I have spoken to Carwyn Jones, the First Minister. Indeed, I appeared on a platform with him and the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), but, sadly, that trio, brilliant though it was, was not enough to convince the people of Wales to vote to remain. It is important that we make sure that the Welsh voice is heard loud and clear. Wales has benefited from a lot of inward investment from companies that want to come to invest in Britain because we are in the single market. I would say to all those businesses that it is worth making sure that their voice is heard as we work out the best plan for the future.
As well as jobs in the ceramics industry, many of my constituents rely on the logistics sector—indeed, all our constituencies need that sector. Given that there has already been a lot of concern about what is happening in Calais to hauliers coming across, what assurance can the Prime Minister give to the haulage industry that the border will remain in Calais, and will not find itself in Folkestone or Dover?
We support continuing the treaty that was established that has the border in Calais, and we will do everything we can to persuade the French to keep to their side of the bargain and continue as we are.
The Prime Minister will no doubt have seen the First Minister of Scotland move quickly to reassure EU nationals living and working in Scotland that they are welcome and valued. In the highlands we need EU citizens: they are not only essential to our economy; they are our friends and neighbours. The Prime Minister said in his statement today—
Order. I am sorry, I am not prepared to have these speeches. [Interruption.] No, I am sorry—it is a speech. What I want is a one-sentence question. [Interruption.] It is no good gesticulating at me; the hon. Gentleman has got to do as he is asked to do—now. Please: one sentence.
The Prime Minister said in his statement to EU citizens today that there would be—
What is the question?
The Prime Minister said in his statement that there would be no immediate changes in their circumstances. Given that Scotland voted so heavily to stay in the EU, should it not be a decision for the people of Scotland if there is to be a change in their circumstances?
This decision is going to have to be made by the new Government as they negotiate our position outside the EU, but I very much hope that the rights and allowances given to EU citizens here now working and studying and contributing would continue.
I wonder whether the Prime Minister regrets not giving 16 and 17-year-olds the chance to have a say in the future of this country.
No, I have always believed that 18 is the right age to have that vote, and I have always voted accordingly.
This is a Government Scotland did not elect, we had a referendum that Scotland did not want, and now Scotland is being taken out of the EU against our will. Does the Prime Minister agree that there has been a fundamental change in circumstances from September 2014?
What we need to focus on now is getting the best deal for the UK and getting the best deal for Scotland. It is worth looking at the Daily Record poll today, which indicates that it is not necessarily the case that Scotland is looking for a second referendum. [Interruption.] Just because the right hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) does not like what he reads, does not mean he should not read it.
The Prime Minister keeps saying that our economic fundamentals are strong, but our membership of the EU was one of those economic fundamentals, so may I ask him to speak to the Chancellor, who has now fled this House, to set up a plan to counter the Brexit recession, including increasing capital expenditure in the north?
The Chancellor sat through a lot of this statement and the responses, so I do not think what the hon. Lady says is entirely fair. He made a very clear statement this morning, but the guarantee I can give her is that he and I will remain in our posts until a new Government arrive, and if there is action we need to take, if there are reassurances we need to give, if there are measures that are necessary, we will do all we can to make sure our economy continues to succeed.
European citizens living in my constituency are anxious because of the despicable messages of the leave campaign— horrible incidents since the referendum and a lack of clarity now. The Prime Minister has just said there will be no immediate change to their circumstances. Does he recognise how little reassurance this brings?
Let me try to reassure Members. The only reason I am saying “No immediate changes” is that I am just trying accurately to reflect the legal situation, which is this: for people who are free at the moment to come and live and work in the UK—let me repeat that if they come here and they cannot support themselves, we can ask them to leave; that is important and has been the case for some time—as long as we are members of the EU, that continues. At the point at which we go, a Government will have to make a decision about what to negotiate with the rest of Europe about the rights of Europeans to come and live and work here—whether there will be visas or work permits, or what have you—and then there will be consequences potentially for British citizens going to live and work in Europe. The House is going to be able to debate all these things, so Members will be able to contribute to all these discussions and conversations, but I must answer accurately from this Dispatch Box, and what I can say is that as long as we stay in the EU those rights are protected, and I have gone further than that and said that everything I have heard from those who were campaigning to leave is that those rights will be continued after we have left.
Does the Prime Minister accept that maintaining very strong UK participation in Europe-wide scientific research collaboration needs to be an important strand of the work he has described going forward?
I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman. This is an area where we have got more out of Europe than we have put in, and we will clearly want to safeguard that for the future.
Does the Prime Minister agree that if 55% of people in Scotland voting against independence was enough to keep Scotland in the Union, 63% voting to remain a member of the EU should be enough to keep Scotland in the European Union?
One could make the converse point, which is that if Scotland had voted to leave the United Kingdom, it would have left the European Union already.
Some discussion following the statement revolved around the response of Members of this House to the decision of last week. Throughout my experience during 24 years in this House, I have regarded my primary responsibility as being to the people of Lewisham West and Penge, who voted 2:1 for remaining in the European Union. Thus, I will oppose any measures that come before this House that would seek to undermine that.
Obviously, Members of this House have to vote as they see fit. My sense is that it would be wrong to disregard the clearly expressed will of the British people, but clearly in future this House will be confronted with all sorts of decisions about the nature of our relationship with Europe and the rules and regulations under which we are going to leave, and the House will be able to have its say.
If mechanisms, as yet unseen, were to emerge that would allow Scotland to remain in the European Union while allowing England and Wales to leave, would the Prime Minister facilitate such an approach or would he prefer to fuel the appetite of the Scottish people for their own self-government?
Obviously, I want Scotland to stay inside the United Kingdom, and it is a United Kingdom decision to leave the European Union, so what we should focus on is the best deal for the United Kingdom and the best deal for Scotland. That is the question. It is not “Could there be a referendum?”, but “Should there be a referendum?”
Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the more positive things he could do in the time left to him would be to ensure that this House has the opportunity to vote before the summer recess not just on the Trident successor programme but on the building of the third runway at Heathrow?
There are a number of decisions that we are going to have to look at in the light of the new circumstances with which we are faced. I will be doing that over the coming days. I want to make sure that this Parliament is still debating, discussing and deciding important issues, and I will set out in the days to come what I think those important issues should be.
Is this not the biggest foreign policy disaster for a Conservative Prime Minister since Eden and Suez? Specifically on the Scottish question, if the Scottish Parliament, backed by the Scottish people, calls for a referendum on Scotland’s independence in Europe, will the right hon. Gentleman leave a note for the next Prime Minister to say, “You must accede to the wishes of the Scottish people and allow that referendum”?
The question is not “Could there be a second referendum?”, but “Should there be a second referendum?” I do not believe there should be. That is the point that I would make. It is not clear from the Daily Record poll today that the Scottish people want a second referendum. They, like me, want to focus on getting the best relationship for the United Kingdom with Europe. Let us try and keep all these single markets together.
At the weekend I received an email from a teacher in my constituency saying that children from ethnic minority and EU heritage backgrounds
“were crying and telling me that they were going to have to leave. Other children told us that their parents were proud and said it was great.”
The teacher said that
“we reassured all of the children and talked about the fact that everyone here would be able to stay but our community was afraid.”
What guidance is the Prime Minister giving to teachers and head teachers? I am sure that my school was not the only one affected.
We should be very proud of our diversity in this country and of the welcome that we have given to immigrants and refugees coming to our country, and we are proud of the contribution that they make. That message needs to go out loud and clear. Just because we are leaving the European Union, it will not make us a less tolerant, less diverse nation. That needs to go out loud and clear from all of us, whatever side of the debate we were on and whatever we felt about the campaign and some of the posters in it.
During the independence referendum, Scottish people were told to vote no to preserve their place within the European Union, so will the Prime Minister now give Scotland an apology for that false promise?
Had Scotland voted to leave the United Kingdom, it would have been out of the European Union. One does not need to have many conversations with the Spanish Prime Minister to know how difficult it would have been to get back in.
I am a regular traveller between Cavan in the Republic of Ireland and County Fermanagh in the north of Ireland. I never thought I would see that border go, and I weep at the thought of it returning. It beggars belief that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland remains in post. What discussions has the Prime Minister had with the Taoiseach since Friday about Northern Ireland and the border?
Obviously, I have spoken to the Taoiseach, and I will be seeing him again tomorrow. He is taking an incredibly constructive and helpful approach. He is obviously very sad that Britain has decided to leave the European Union, but the relationship between Britain and the Republic is stronger than it has been for many, many years. What we have to do now is to sit down with officials in Northern Ireland and officials in the Republic to work out the best way of conserving all the parts of the common travel area that have been so beneficial and how we can do that in a world in which we are not in the European Union. It will be difficult, but we have to find a way through.
I fail to see how a Prime Minister who is working his notice can actually guarantee the continued involvement of the devolved Administrations for what is possibly a two-year period. However, can he confirm that the Scottish Government’s initial involvement will mean that they are able to represent the will of Scotland, which is to stay in Europe?
The Cabinet agreed this morning that there should be the greatest possible involvement of Scotland, Wales and the Government in Northern Ireland in drawing up and understanding all the challenges that we need to meet in this negotiation.
Has the level of lies, malice and exaggeration in both campaigns not degraded public discourse to a level where no one will believe politicians in the future? Is this not a threat to the whole status of politics and democracy?
I do not actually agree with that, and I think the turnout showed that people took this referendum campaign very seriously.
The complex negotiations prior to triggering article 50 will shape the future of Britain, so would it not be right for the British public, in the cold light of day, to have a referendum on the facts in front of them so that they can see the future, with a backcloth of being able to remain at home in Europe if they so wish?
We had a referendum on a very important, principled question about in or out. Now what needs to happen is that the different models of out need to be properly examined. Parliament should debate them, and the Government should make a decision. That is what needs to be carried out.
Why does the Prime Minister not just commit to match the money for Wales, the north-east and all the other places that currently receive EU funding? He has made lots of commitments already today, so he could certainly do that. I will do a deal with him: if he does, I will make a contribution towards building a statue of him somewhere in Wales.
I am so glad that my resignation has set off such a chain reaction, including from the hon. Gentleman. It has been like filling a leaky bucket—the more you pour in, the faster you have to go. I have forgotten what the question was now—[Interruption.] Oh, the money. Obviously, it is at the point at which Britain leaves the European Union that a future Government will have to make the decision on how to match the money for Cornwall, the money for Wales and the money for farming. That is not a commitment I can give now. I very much hope that a future Government will be able to do that, but it will depend on the economic circumstances and the decision at the time.
The constituency I represent voted by over 67% to remain, and in Scotland, of course, the figure was 62%. Can the Prime Minister understand the democratic deficit that exists in Scotland, where we are being dragged out of Europe against our will?
My constituency voted by a majority to stay in the European Union, as did most of Oxfordshire, I am pleased to report, but we are one United Kingdom, and we take this decision on a United Kingdom basis.
There are over 1.5 million 16 and 17-year-olds in the UK, and the referendum was won or lost, depending on your point of view, by 1.5 million votes. Does the Prime Minister still have no regrets about not allowing our 16 and 17-year-olds a say in their future?
I am sorry, but I do not think it would be right to change my mind about an issue simply because it would have helped my side in the debate.
You’ve done it before.
Quiet you at the back.
That is why I stuck to the view I have taken all along that 18 is the right age. I often find, going round secondary schools in the country and in my constituency, that when you ask sixth formers, there is quite strong support—sometimes majority support—for keeping the age at 18.
How does the Prime Minister’s devolution respect agenda apply to the 78% of constituents in Glasgow North who voted to remain? What is his message to one of my constituents whose parents live in Spain and are increasingly concerned about the impact that this vote will have on their healthcare in future years?
I would say, very respectfully, that we had a vote on Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom and we had the Edinburgh agreement which said that the result should be respected. That meant that Scotland was part of the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom has now had a vote on its membership of the European Union. That is how we do things.
Seven thousand people are employed in the ceramics industry across the city of Stoke-on-Trent. Fifty per cent. of their trade is with the European Union, and their employers are incredibly concerned about the future. What reassurances can the Prime Minister give that the industry is still safe outside the European Union?
The ceramics industry is a classic example of one that needs to make its voice heard. I will make sure that happens and that we get a good negotiation, because if, at the end of two years, Britain were to come out of the European Union without an adequate deal, we could be facing quite large tariffs on, for example, ceramic products. That is a very good argument for why we need to think this through carefully, then trigger article 50 and make sure, during that process, that we protect the access of those industries to this vital market.
Earlier in his statement the Prime Minister described the financial and economic reaction to Brexit as an “adjustment”. I presume that was a euphemism. Does he believe that trillions of pounds being wiped off the share value of global companies, the pound at a 31-year low, and the threat of tens of thousands of jobs moving to the continent is just an “adjustment”?
The reason I used the word “adjustment” is this: there are clearly short-term financial and volatility effects, as we have seen, but my worry is that there will be longer-term uncertainty effects. People and businesses will be concerned about the UK’s access to crucial markets, and so there might therefore be a more fundamental adjustment. Now that the decision has been taken to leave, we need to make sure that we get the best possible access to the market so that the adjustment is as small as possible.
What assurances can the Prime Minister give to businesses in my constituency on the future of regeneration projects that were funded through the EU and the jobs that are linked to them?
The budget money is set out from 2014 to 2020, and while we are members of the EU all that money will continue to be spent. The crucial decision will be for the next Government at the point of departure, which could be 2017, 2018, 2019 or later, then to give reassurances to the hon. Gentleman and his constituents about how that European money might be replaced with something else.
Several hon. Members rose—
If everybody is to get in, the questions now need to be much shorter. Otherwise, I warn people, they will not get in, and then they will be upset.
Does the Prime Minister agree that there are profound lessons to be learned at the Government Dispatch Box, and indeed at the Opposition Dispatch Box, about how we listen to and responsibly address the perfectly legitimate concerns that good, decent working-class people have about things like unskilled immigration, and the consequent self-evident alienation they feel from their current political leadership?
Immigration was a key issue in this campaign. I was hoping that the welfare restrictions I had negotiated would help to address that, because people in this country feel a very clear sense that someone should not have something for nothing—that people should pay in before they take out. But clearly that was not enough to reassure people. Also, there has been a lot of immigration from outside the EU over many, many years. People want to see the system brought under control and management, and that is what needs to happen. We need to have a rational debate about it—I think there is a quite a lot of common ground between the two parties—and that is what we should get on with.
The Prime Minister said that a leave vote was like putting a bomb under the economy. Is that part of his long-term economic plan?
Obviously, I said that I thought our economy would be better off if we stayed in. The British people have made a different decision. Now we need to make sure that we do our best to safeguard our economy in the new reality.
In the last debate that we had on the EU, the Foreign Secretary said that the problem for the UK was that we had no experienced trade negotiators left in the civil service. What are the Government now doing urgently to train up people so that they can negotiate on trade deals?
Obviously, we are going to be increasing our capacity in that vital area.
Earlier this year, Mr Speaker, you gave me and my community the great honour of commemorating the Clydebank blitz in your own home. Since that period in 1941, NATO and what became the European Union have delivered military and economic peace and prosperity for Europe. Do not the British Government, led by this Prime Minister, agree with my community that he has delivered us from peace into unparalleled chaos?
What this Government have delivered for Scotland is record rates of employment growth and business growth as part of a successful economy. The people of the United Kingdom have decided to take a different path with respect to Europe, but we must do all we can to continue to safeguard the economies of all the countries of the United Kingdom.
As anyone who played an active role in the remain campaign will know, immigration was the top concern for a huge number of people who voted leave because they believed that the renegotiation would lead to the ending of free movement. I regret that, but does the Prime Minister believe that if those who inherit this situation try to airbrush that out, it will end in tears?
As I have said, I think that one of the most difficult decisions for a future Government will be how to balance access to the single market—the best we can get—with decisions about immigration. I do not know what exact answer can be found. The answer I found was welfare reform, which was bold and brave because it meant reducing welfare payments to newly arrived migrants. Those changes will now not go ahead, so that extra draw will continue for the next couple of years, but we have to find an answer to that problem. In a way, that is the puzzle we have now been set by the British people, which is, “We want access to the single market and we recognise the economic argument, but you’ve got to do better when it comes to immigration.”
In response to repeated questions from Members on the SNP Benches, the Prime Minister has attempted to reduce one of the most ancient and proud nations on this planet to the status of an English shire county. May I suggest to him that if he is going to keep doing that, the Leader of the Opposition will have no need to find a shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, because there will be no Scotland Office to run in this place?
That is not what I was doing. Scotland is an incredibly proud part of our United Kingdom and I believe profoundly in the importance of the Scottish nation, Scottish nationhood and all that it brings to our United Kingdom. I was simply making the point that when there is a UK-wide decision, not everybody gets what they want. [Interruption.]
Order. The Prime Minister is very robust and perfectly capable of looking after himself, but I do think that when he addresses this House, very comprehensively, and attends to all our questions, he is entitled to a courteous hearing and not to be persistently heckled.
May I thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their condemnation of yesterday’s racist attack on the Polish Social and Cultural Association in my constituency, which I visited this morning? The centre was built almost 50 years ago by the same generation of Poles who fought for this country in the battle of Britain, Monte Cassino and the battle of the Atlantic. Will the Prime Minister express his solidarity with the Poles and all our migrant communities, which are, in the wake of last Thursday’s vote, feeling under threat?
I am very happy to do that. As someone who used to live in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, I know some of the Polish centres and restaurants quite well. They have made an amazing contribution to our country. He mentions the battle of Britain. We should always remember that—I do every time I go past the Polish war memorial—and we should say to those people, “You make a great contribution to our country. You are welcome and you can stay, and these attacks are hateful.”
Young people across the UK voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, so what specifically will the Prime Minister do to reassure and support young people now that the opportunities to live, learn and work across the EU have been taken away from them?
The point is that they have not yet been taken away from them. I urge young people to make their voice heard so that as we go into this negotiation to leave the EU, we try to get the very best arrangements for people’s ability to study, travel and work, and all the benefits that young people want.
Our great research institutions rely heavily on funding through the European Union. The Prime Minister suggests that nothing changes immediately, but for researchers the threat feels immediate and real. What support will he give to people to help them through these uncertain times?
The point I can add to what I have said before is that, of course, all contracts will be honoured, so if a British university has won a contract under the Horizon 2020 programme or whatever, that will continue during the life of that contract. Obviously, the key decision post-leaving will be about how we put in place arrangements to safeguard our excellent research facilities and universities.
The Prime Minister has rightly condemned the worrying wave of post-Brexit racism, so will he absolutely commit to the Prevent strategy and, indeed, to reviewing funding for community cohesion generally, to stamp on these emboldened xenophobes?
I certainly think we should continue with the Prevent strategy and I am very happy to look at any ideas for things that we can do to strengthen our attack on hate crimes.
The farming community will be affected by this vote almost more than any other. It, too, was promised a continuation of subsidies and support. What reassurance can the Prime Minister give it that this will indeed be the case?
I can say what I said during the campaign, which is that as far as I am concerned, I want a living, working countryside where we continue to support our farmers. That was guaranteed as part of the EU up to 2020. What is going to happen now is that those farm payments will continue up until we leave and, at the point at which we leave, a new Government will have to make a decision. Certainly, I will be pressing for continued support for agriculture because, as I say, our countryside is as it is because it is farmed, and long may that continue to be the case.
Devastated citizens are unimpressed by party leaders who simply say that they did their best in this campaign. Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity at the end of this long session to say sorry for what he has done?
I made a pledge to hold a renegotiation and a referendum. I kept that pledge, and we carried it through in this House. I am sure that we have all got lessons to learn, but all I can say is that I threw absolutely everything into that campaign. I believed head, heart and soul in what I was saying. I was absolutely convinced of the merits of my case, and I did everything I could to get it across. But, in the end, if you hold a vote like that and you lose, you have got to accept the view of the British people. In my view, accepting it means that you have also got to accept that it is time for someone else to take the leadership of this great country forward, and that is why I have done what I have done. We have all got, I am sure, lessons we have learned and all the rest of it, but I am proud of the action that I took and the fact that I fought as hard as I did.
Forty-eight per cent. of the country wake up sick at heart and angry every day. Now, large numbers of people who actually voted for Brexit are also waking up sick and angry when they find out they were lied to about money for the NHS and about immigration. How does the Prime Minister hope to build unity in this country with a Government who may well include people who misled the British public in this referendum?
We now have to come back as one Government who have accepted the will of the British people to leave the European Union, and we have to find the best way for our country as we do that. That should be the focus. There is no point refighting the campaign. We have had the campaign and we have had the decision, and now we have to make it the best we can for our country.
May I take this opportunity to thank the Prime Minister for attending the national armed forces event in Cleethorpes on Saturday? People were very appreciative, particularly after the events of the previous 48 hours, and it was particularly appreciated by the forces, both past and present.
Although the Prime Minister has clearly stated this, some of my constituents have nagging doubts about whether the Government will actually deliver Brexit. Perhaps it would be appropriate at the end for him to reaffirm yet again that that will happen.
First of all, I thank my hon. Friend for the warm welcome that he and the people of Cleethorpes gave me on Saturday. I have heard some of this stuff about hiding away after the referendum. I was on the stage on Armed Forces Day with representatives of our brave armed forces. There was an enormous crowd in Cleethorpes, a brilliant display and a very good fly-past, march-past and all the rest of it. A lot of people said, “You’ll never hold a referendum and you’ll never have a renegotiation; it will never actually happen.” All those things did happen, and now what needs to happen is that we obey the will of the British people. We are a democracy, and that is what we will do.
I thank all colleagues, but in particular the 110 Back Benchers who questioned the Prime Minister. Perhaps I can thank the Prime Minister for the enormous dignity, grace and good humour that he has displayed this afternoon in attending, in detail and at length, to our inquiries. I say very genuinely—I hope on behalf of the whole House—something that we do not say often enough: thank you.