With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on yesterday’s European Council. This was the first Council since Britain decided to leave the European Union. The decision was accepted and we began constructive discussions about how to ensure a strong relationship between Britain and the countries of the EU, but before the discussion on Britain there were other items on the agenda. Let me briefly touch on them.
On migration, the Council noted the very significant reductions in illegal crossings from Turkey to Greece as a result of the agreement made with Turkey in March, but it expressed continued concern over the central Mediterranean route and a determination to do all we can to combat people smuggling via Libya. Britain continues to play a leading role in Operation Sophia with HMS Enterprise, and I can tell the House today that Royal Fleet Auxiliary Mounts Bay will also be deployed to stop the flow of weapons to terrorists, particularly Daesh, in Libya.
On NATO, Secretary General Stoltenberg gave a presentation ahead of the Warsaw summit and the Council agreed the need for NATO and the EU to work together in a complementary way to strengthen our security.
On completing the single market, there were important commitments on the digital single market, including that EU residents will be able to travel with the digital content they have purchased or subscribed to at home. On the economic situation, the president of the European Central Bank gave a presentation in the light of the outcome of our referendum. Private sector forecasts discussed at the Council included estimates of a reduction in eurozone growth potentially between 0.3% and 0.5% over the next three years. One of the main explanations for that is the predicted slowdown in the UK economy, given our trade with the euro area. President Draghi reassured the Council that the ECB has worked with the Bank of England for many months to prepare for uncertainty and, in the face of continued volatility, our institutions will continue to monitor markets and act as necessary.
To return to the main discussions around Britain leaving the EU, the tone of the meeting was one of sadness and regret, but there was agreement that the decision of the British people should be respected and we had positive discussions about the relationship we want to see between Britain and our European partners and the next steps on leaving the EU, including some of the issues that need to be worked through and the timing for triggering article 50. Let me say a word about each.
We were clear that, while Britain is leaving the European Union, we are not turning our backs on Europe—and they are not turning their backs on us. Many of my counterparts talked warmly about the history and values that our countries share and the huge contribution that Britain has made to peace and progress in Europe. For example, the Estonian Prime Minister described how the Royal Navy helped to secure the independence of his country a century ago. The Czech Prime Minister paid tribute to Britain as a home for Czechs fleeing persecution. Many of the countries of eastern and central Europe expressed the debt they feel to Britain for standing by them when they were suffering under communism and for supporting them as they joined the European Union. President Hollande talked movingly about the visit that he and I will be making later this week to the battlefields of the Somme, where British and French soldiers fought and died together for the freedom of our continent and the defence of the democracy and values that we share.
Therefore, the Council was clear that, as we take forward this agenda of Britain leaving the European Union, we should rightly want to have the closest possible relationship that we can in the future. In my view, that should include the strongest possible relationship in terms of trade, co-operation and of course security, something that only becomes more important in the light of the appalling terrorist attack in Turkey last night.
As I said on Monday, as we work to implement the will of the British people, we also have a fundamental responsibility to bring our country together. We will not tolerate hate crime or any kind of attacks against people in our country because of their ethnic origin, and I reassured European leaders who were concerned about what they had heard was happening in Britain. We are a proud multi-faith, multi-ethnic society and we will stay that way.
I now turn to the next steps on leaving the EU. First, there was a lot of reassurance that, until Britain leaves, we are a full member. That means that we are entitled to all the benefits of membership and full participation until the point at which we leave. Secondly, we discussed some of the issues that will need to be worked through. I explained that in Britain there was great concern about the movement of people and the challenges of controlling immigration, as well as concerns about the issue of sovereignty. Indeed, I explained how those had come together. In turn, many of our European partners were clear that it is impossible to have all the benefits of membership without some of the costs of membership, and that is something that the next Prime Minister and their Cabinet are going to have to work through very carefully.
Third, on the timing of article 50, contrary to some expectations there was not a great clamour for Britain to trigger this straightaway. While there were one or two voices calling for this, the overwhelming view of my fellow leaders was that we need to take some time to get this right. Of course, everyone wants to see a clear blueprint in terms of what Britain thinks is right for its future relationship with the EU, and, as I explained in my statement on Monday, we are starting this work straightaway with the new unit in Whitehall, which will be led by a new permanent secretary, Oliver Robbins.
This unit will examine all the options and possibilities in a neutral way, setting out the costs and benefits so that the next Prime Minister and their Cabinet have all the information they need with which to determine exactly the right approach to take and the right outcome to try and negotiate. But the decisions that follow from this, including the triggering of article 50, are rightly for the next Prime Minister, and the Council clearly understood and, I believe, respected that.
I do not think it is a secret that I have, at times, found discussions in Brussels frustrating, but, despite that, I do believe we can be proud of what we have achieved, whether it is putting a greater focus on jobs and growth, cutting the EU budget in real terms for the first time, reducing the burden of red tape on business, or building common positions on issues of national security, such as sanctions to stop Iran getting a nuclear weapon, standing up to Russian aggression in Ukraine, and galvanising other European countries to help with the lead that Britain was taking in dealing with Ebola in Sierra Leone.
In all these ways, and more, we have shown how much more we have in common with our European partners as neighbours and allies and friends who share fundamental values, history and culture. It is a poignant reminder that while we will be leaving the European Union, we must continue to work together, for the security and prosperity of our people for generations to come. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for providing an advance copy of his statement. As he took part in what I assume will be his last ever EU Council summit, I was very pleased he took a more conciliatory tone in relation to our European neighbours than Nigel Farage did in the European Parliament yesterday.
As we negotiate our exit from the European Union, the British people are relying on the Government to facilitate as positive a transition as possible, and if we are to achieve this, we must proceed in a constructive and decent manner. I look forward to joining the Prime Minister, as I said at Question Time, at the commemoration of the Somme on Friday. He was right, too, to emphasise the role played by Britain in Europe in negotiating agreement with Iran and securing support for action to tackle the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. So I thank the Prime Minister for that.
Yesterday the Prime Minister said at the EU Council summit that in order to strike a new relationship between Britain and the EU, European leaders would have to offer the UK more control over immigration. The threat of losing access to the single market means we are already seeing a negative effect on investment and business in this country. On Monday, the Prime Minister said access to the single market without accepting free movement was impossible. Does the Prime Minister now believe that Britain can negotiate an unprecedented deal? Can he also spell out a little more clearly than in his statement what further discussions were held in this area? This is an issue on which there needs to be an open debate—dare I say, an open and “straight-talking” debate, that absolutely failed to materialise during much of the referendum campaign.
The Prime Minister stated in the House on Monday that article 50 will not be triggered until his successor is in place. I heard what he just said about the views of other leaders at the summit. When does he expect article 50 actually to be triggered so we will know what the negotiating timetable is?
As I raised in my response to the Prime Minister on Monday, we in this House have a duty to act in the national interest and ensure we get the best agreement for all our constituents. Does the Prime Minister feel that, without the structures in place for this House to debate the alternatives and lead a discussion in our communities, there is a risk of leaving Britain in a state of paralysis at a time when people need clear answers to their concerns? Will he also be able to tell us if there has been any further thought about the role of devolved Governments in future negotiations with the EU? We have seen today the First Minister of Scotland creating her own separate negotiating group and starting talks with the EU and it appears the Chief Minister of Gibraltar is doing the same. What conversations has the Prime Minister had with the First Ministers in Scotland and Wales and what legal advice has he received on separate negotiations by devolved Administrations and, indeed, overseas territories? I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment that HMS Enterprise will continue to play its part in Operation Sophia.
Last week’s vote to leave the EU means that this country is currently in an unstable position. The next steps we take may be our most important and they must be taken with care. We have a duty now to reshape and rebuild an economy for the future—one that protects social and employment rights and builds new policies on trade, migration, environmental protection and investment, in order to deliver a country in which the prosperity that we create is shared by all. Therefore I urge the Prime Minister, and whoever his successor may be, to recognise that what our economy needs now is a clear plan for investment, not the further austerity and cuts to public services that the Chancellor put forward yesterday. I also urge the Prime Minister and his successor, one more time, to look at the suspension, and preferably the termination, of his now even more counterproductive fiscal rule.
I thank the Prime Minister for his assurances and his condemnation of racist attacks and abuse, wherever they occur in this country. I join him in that. We all need to calm our language and tone, and Members in all parts of the House must condemn the rise of racism in our society. Will he also reiterate absolutely his assurance to European Union nationals who are working here, providing support in our health service and in so many other services, that they are welcome and will remain welcome because of the work they do and the contribution they make? Our country is divided, so we must heal that division. Our economy is fragile, so we must begin to rebuild it. Our duty now is to move forward in a calm and conciliatory manner to build a new relationship with Europe and to build a Britain that works for everyone in every part of this country.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his response and for the way he has gone about it. He is right to say that “constructive” is the correct word. I was pleased that the discussions last night did not have a tone of European Union countries demanding this set of actions while Britain argued for that set of actions. There was a mature and calm understanding that we need each other and that we need this negotiation to proceed well and have a good outcome. That is in all our interests. I think we got off on the right foot, and I will do everything I can—whether in this job or as a Back-Bench MP—to ensure that we keep those strong relationships with our European partners, because we are going to need to.
On the issue of immigration versus the single market, the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that this is the biggest and most difficult issue to deal with, whether we are in the European Union arguing for changes or outside it and trying to secure the best possible access to the single market. My answer to the problem was to bring in the welfare restrictions that I negotiated. It was incredibly tough to negotiate them, and I am sad that they will now fall away as a result of the referendum decision. There is no doubt that the next Government are going to have to work very hard on this. I personally think that access to the single market and the strength of our economy will be the single most important issue that they will have to deal with.
On the question of article 50, that will be a matter for the next Prime Minister, and there is a very good reason for that. Before we go into the tunnel of the article 50 negotiations, which have a two-year time limit, we will want to have made the best possible preparations for the precise blueprint that we want to achieve at the end. That will help Britain, and frankly it will help the other European Union countries to understand what it is that we are shooting for. They have said that there can be no negotiation without notification, but I do not think that that excludes discussions between the new Prime Minister and partners or institutions, so that we can continue to get off on the right foot. That is the strong advice that I would give to them.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the devolved institutions. I have had conversations with the First Minister of Scotland, the First Minister of Wales and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, and I shall continue to do so. I want them to be as involved as possible and I want their voices to be heard loud and clear.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked about legal advice, and the legal advice that I have seen is that this is a UK decision to be made by the United Kingdom Government and the United Kingdom Parliament. It has to be done in that way. I completely agree with what he said about racism. We should all reiterate the statements that we have made to the EU nationals who are here. We should thank them for their contribution and say that their rights are guaranteed while we remain in the EU and we will be working hard on that question. I am sure that all the contenders in the Conservative leadership campaign will want to make it clear that they want to safeguard for the future the rights of people from the European Union who work here and study here, but that will be a matter for them.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked about suspending the fiscal rule. This feels a little bit like a stuck record. Whatever the problem or issue, his answer always seems to be: more borrowing, more spending, more taxing and more debt. I have to say that you do not get investment unless you have economic stability, and you do not have economic stability if you do not have a plan for dealing with your debts and your deficit. This has been proved the world over, including in some of his favourite countries such as Venezuela, and I really would argue against going down that route.
My right hon. Friend has quite rightly referred to trade and co-operation with the European Union, and we on the leave side have always argued for that. Will he, however, give us some further advice? He is talking about very precise blueprints and about alternative models. Will he give us an absolute assurance that any such models or blueprints will be exclusively based on the assumption that we are repealing the European Communities Act 1972?
We are leaving the European Union, so surely that must be the case. The reassurance that I can give my hon. Friend is that I am not saying that there are only four or five blueprints and that Britain has to follow any one of those. Obviously, we can try to amend blueprints and have Norway-plus or Norway-minus or a better trade deal than Canada. It is important for colleagues in the House and people in the country to understand that there are some quite fundamental questions about whether we want full unrestricted access to the single market and the price we might have to pay in return, or whether we will be satisfied to have less than full access along with some other compensating advantages. We have to go through all those questions, and the more we can attach facts and figures to them, the more we will enable people to make an informed choice.
Since the Prime Minister returned from Brussels, for the first time in 40 years member states from the rest of the EU have remained there to discuss the future of Europe. While the Prime Minister is not in Brussels, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is in Brussels. She has gone there to protect Scotland’s interests in Europe and to preserve our place in Europe. She has met the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Parliament. She is also meeting one of the key European negotiators on Brexit, the former Prime Minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt. The First Minister has also spoken to the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and will be meeting diplomats from other EU member states. Nicola Sturgeon is doing this with a mandate from the Scottish Parliament, with support from the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Green party. An expert group has been established to advise on protecting our place in Europe. It includes eminent diplomats, economists and constitutional experts. These include a former British judge in the European Court of Justice, the former British ambassador to NATO, the former economic adviser to the European Commission and the former permanent under-secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and head of the UK diplomatic service.
We all need to explore ways to protect Scotland’s relationship with the European Union, Scotland’s place in the single market and the social, employment and economic benefits that come from that. I want to ask the Prime Minister whether he even raised the question of Scotland at the Council of Ministers. Did he say that Scotland wanted to stay in the European Union? Did he say that Gibraltar wanted to stay in the European Union? Did he say that London wanted to protect its important position in Europe? When are we going to get some leadership on this from the UK Government? Or is he just going to stand by and watch England leave the European Union and declare independence from the rest of the United Kingdom?
Yes, there is a meeting of the 27 other members of the European Union this morning, and that was always going to happen if we made the decision to leave because, just as we must prepare our negotiating position, they will want to prepare theirs. The good thing about last night’s conversation was that it started off on a very reasonable, fair and constructive basis. I am glad that the First Minister of Scotland is having those meetings. It is always useful to meet and talk to our European counterparts, but at the end of the day, the best way we can secure the best possible access for Scotland into the single market is for the United Kingdom to negotiate as hard as it can, as one.
To answer his specific question about whether I talked about Scotland last night, yes I did; I talked about this Parliament and I talked about Scotland. In managing last night’s meeting, we took a bit of a cue from what happens in this House. I set out what I thought was the result of the referendum and why. I set out what I believe would be the aims of Britain and the United Kingdom and I explained how different parts of the United Kingdom voted. All the other 27 members then spoke, many asking questions, and I answered all their questions at the end of the dinner as fully as I could, as I do in this House. A little bit of British parliamentary practice was introduced into the European Council and I think it was a good way of doing things.
It was without a shadow of a doubt very good for the European Council as well.
On that subject, did my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reiterate to the European Council that the United Kingdom does not have a federal structure? We did not vote in the referendum as England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or even London, but as British citizens, each with an equal voice and equal weight. All future decisions must be taken by the United Kingdom Government and no one else.
Such was the importance of free movement of people in the referendum, does the Prime Minister also accept that any future deal with our European partners that includes free movement would be regarded as a betrayal by the millions who voted to leave?
I did emphasise that it was a UK decision, but also that the UK will want to listen carefully to all the constituent nations and to the views of their Ministers and their Parliaments in setting out the negotiation that we want to carry on. As for the free movement of people, that will be for the next Prime Minister, Government and Parliament to decide on. I am in no doubt, however, that it is the difficult issue. Frankly, it is a difficult issue when inside the EU and with all the negotiating ability to try to change things. In many ways it will be even more difficult from outside, if we want full access to the single market, to secure changes. Nevertheless, that is the challenge.
I explained very clearly to the meeting that that was my reading of the referendum result and that it was a coming together of concern about free movement of people and migration combined with a sense of control and sovereignty over that. I said that I was very sad at the result. The economic case for staying in was very strong, but if we want to make this relationship work, whether out or in, we have to listen to people and try to find a way through this.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. In his discussions yesterday, was he aware of a growing mood among Heads of Government across the European Union—I certainly saw it among the seven Liberal Prime Ministers to whom I spoke yesterday—that given that three quarters of Britain’s young people voted to remain in Europe, they should be permitted, as far as possible, to remain in Europe? What can be done to ensure that young people are allowed access to Europe—perhaps even over and above the rest of us?
Is the Prime Minister also aware of the great concern among many communities that depend on European funding? Most important perhaps are Britain’s farmers, many of whom are deeply worried about the loss of CAP payments at some point in the next two years. Will the Prime Minister guarantee today that British farmers, particularly livestock and dairy farmers, will continue to receive direct payments to keep them in business even after we leave the European Union—if we do?
On young people, the hon. Gentleman is right that people want the opportunities to work, to travel and to study. One of the things that the EU unit will need to do is to work out the precise nature of agreements such as the Erasmus programme and what access we can have to them from outside the EU.
On funding, the European budget between 2014 and 2020 has been set out, including the amount of money that goes to our farmers. What I can guarantee is that those payments will continue while we are in and that contracts will obviously be honoured, but it will be for a future Government to determine at the point of departure what payments we should continue to make to our farmers. If it was me making that decision, I am keen to have a living, working countryside, but we will have to go through those options and a future Prime Minister will have to decide.
Does the Prime Minister agree with the unanimous view of the Foreign Affairs Committee that the construction of article 50 means that it is perfectly likely that there will be no agreement on the other side of the negotiations, which will require qualified majority voting, or agreement in the European Parliament at the end of the two years? As such, we would still have access to the single market but would be subject to World Trade Organisation most-favoured-nation terms. Since that would mean no free movement of people and no payments into the budget, that would represent a perfectly sound bottom line for the United Kingdom in the negotiations. It is likely that other advances will be made on that before we arrive at a deeper, comprehensive free trade agreement.
Will the Prime Minister also tell us about the fate of the British presidency next year? We will still be a full member, so are we going to take up our responsibilities?
The hon. Gentleman must practice. We will be hearing from him regularly given the illustrious position that he holds, but I am afraid he must be briefer than that.
I did look at the Foreign Affairs Committee report, and while I am not fully liberated and able to say what I think, I thought that the conclusions were—[Hon. Members: “Go on!”] I was thinking of a place in London close to Dagenham, but I won’t go there.
If we leave the EU and have no deal in place, the WTO tariffs involve 10% on cars, 12% on clothes and 36% on some dairy produce. It would not be a good outcome for the United Kingdom. I will look at the Foreign Affairs Committee report as we get this unit up and running and look at all the alternatives, but I really think that that would not be a good outcome for the United Kingdom. On the presidency, no decisions have been made.
May I thank the Prime Minister for his service to this country, for his support of Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Executive through very difficult times during his premiership and for his support of the United Kingdom? He and his family have my very best wishes for the future.
Regarding the EU summit, will the Prime Minister spell out again our commitment to NATO, not least to reassure our partners in central and eastern Europe? Our European partners, who are now speaking somewhat ill of our decision last Thursday, should be reminded that the UK is one of NATO’s main contributors and a firm supporter of European defence and security and that they should play a greater role in contributing to European defence, along with the Americans and ourselves. The wider perspective needs to be considered in all of this. The EU is an important single market, but NATO and the defence and security of Europe, not least with regard to Russian aggression, need to be strongly borne in mind.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. He is right that our commitment to and membership of NATO, an important organisation, continues. He is also right that our spending of 2% of national output is now responsible for a large share of the overall European commitment and that we should be encouraging others to increase their spending. We must ensure that our membership of NATO continues and that we are not disadvantaged by being in one and out of the other.
My right hon. Friend consistently made the case for British car workers. Indeed, he made his final appeal to the country from Birmingham, which was much appreciated. Does he agree that reciprocity between the UK and the EU is absolutely vital in protecting the hundreds and thousands of jobs that depend on our access to that principal market?
I grateful for what my right hon. Friend says. Anyone who thinks that something of a manufacturing renaissance is not happening in Britain should go to that Jaguar Land Rover plant. Seven or eight years ago there were 4,000 people there; there are now 14,000. It is about not just manufacture and assembly, but design, R and D and technology. The company is taking on hundreds of apprentices every year. It is a magnificent car plant and we want to see more of them. It is absolutely crucial for companies such as that that we keep the European market open, and it is crucial that they keep investing in our country rather than in countries inside the European Union. That will always be an alternative, which draws into sharp relief the importance of maintaining strong access to the single market.
There is obviously a difference between future free movement reform and the position of existing residents. The Prime Minister said earlier that we could not confirm residency or employment rights for EU citizens who already live here until the negotiations were under way, but why is that the case? Given that the matter is being exploited by awful “go home” or repatriation campaigns, we should take a firm stance against them and pass some swift motions or legislation or new immigration rules in this House before the summer recess to put an end to that speculation and to provide reassurance to EU citizens who may have worked here for many years. I urge the Prime Minister to consider that because it would be a wise thing to do for the sake of community cohesion.
Obviously, I will look very carefully at what the right hon. Lady says. I have tried to answer the question as accurately, factually and legally as I can. If we come out of this negotiation arguing for visa requirements, restrictions on numbers, quotas, work permits or whatever for European nationals to come here—this will be for a future Government—other countries might take reciprocal action against British citizens trying to travel, work and live in other countries. Even if that were to happen, the answer would be to guarantee the status of anybody here now. We can say that while we are in the European Union, but it is for a future Prime Minister to make that decision.
I readily understand that, on economic issues, negotiations will be long and protracted, but on our automatic co-operation on matters of security, both at formal and informal meetings, we have seen a big improvement in the past few years. I cannot see that that should be much of a weighty negotiating piece. Surely it makes sense to ensure that those formal and informal meetings continue in order to deal with both terrorism and economic crime.
My right hon. Friend puts it very well. There are a number of informal mechanisms that have grown up, including the counter-terrorism group of countries, mostly from the European Union, and very high-level meetings between our intelligence and security services. There are also quite a lot of now growing mechanisms within the EU, such as the Schengen Information System and the watch lists for people travelling between European Union countries, some of which are very much bound up in EU institutions and rules. People may like that or not, but the fact is they exist and we will have to work out—we can start that now—how to maintain access to as much of that as is possible for our national security.
Will the Prime Minister explain to the millions of people who voted to leave why, in the next few months while we await a new Prime Minister, this country, using all the professionalism of Her Majesty’s Government, cannot start talking and negotiating—informally perhaps—with Canada, Australia, Malaysia and all those other countries that will be desperately keen to sign up to a trade agreement? Why can we not do some of those things? If we are still paying our full amount into the European Union, will we have to sign up to every single directive that comes through in the next two years?
On the hon. Lady’s point about Canada, Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia, of course we can start those conversations. It is difficult to start full-on trade negotiations because until we know the relationship between Britain and the European Union single market it would be quite difficult to get into an intensive discussion, but we can certainly have some pathfinding discussions. On the issue of EU directives, we must be very clear that we are members of this organisation and that we pay into this organisation. That continues until the day we leave. Therefore, we have to obey the rules and laws—we would not expect other EU countries suddenly not to obey the rules with respect to us. That is important. On the decisions that have to be made right now, there are those that must be made for legal and practical reasons. There may be some decisions that can be put off for a month or two so that we can get in place a new Government who can think of them in the context of the renegotiation, but we should not do anything that breaks the law.
Although we are naturally focused on our future role in Europe, our friends in the Baltic nations are concerned about their immediate risks across the border—risks related to both military and cyberspace matters. Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that all that can be done to stand by our friends is being done both within NATO and the European Union?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Yes, enough is being done. We have the Warsaw summit coming up where we will be playing quite a big role in ensuring that there is a visible military presence in the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. We will be playing our part and the Americans will be playing theirs. It is important that we keep up that reassurance, because, for those states, this is the key thing that Britain brings to help their security.
I was at the passionate pro-EU demonstration outside the House of Lords last night, and I have to report that I did not see the Prime Minister or the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) there. The most popular chant that was repeated over and again was “Eton mess! Eton mess!” Many of the people there were students and young people, and that is because universities have benefited greatly from membership of the European Union. My own university in Bangor reckons that £100 million has come our way over seven years. What can the Prime Minister, his Government and the future Government do to ensure that that funding, or similar funding, is secured?
Obviously I was not there because I was in Brussels at the time. While I am all for having my cake and eating it, I have not yet worked out how to be in two places at the same time. I think that I have said what I can about funding for universities. It is important that we continue to get it through the European Union under the Horizon programme while we are a member. Afterwards, decisions will have to be made, but we will support our universities. The hon. Gentleman and I have to be frank with each other: Wales did not vote to remain in the European Union despite being a net beneficiary. Welsh farming does well out of Europe, and the Welsh steel industry will do far better if we are in rather than out. I take my share of responsibility that we did not win this campaign. Even now we are leaving, we all have to think about how we can make better arguments about how Britain can remain as engaged as possible.
May I thank the Prime Minister not just for his statement today, but for all the work he has done over the past six years to protect UK interests at these European Council meetings? With respect to the meeting yesterday, did he detect any regret on the part of other EU leaders that they did not make more concessions when he sought to renegotiate our terms of membership?
That is a very good question, and one that I am quite keen to answer. The sense in the European Council was that it had bent over backwards to give to a country that already had a special status—out of the euro and out of the Schengen System—things that they found profoundly uncomfortable. Many of those countries really do believe in ever-closer political union however wrong we might think it is here in this country, and they hated saying to Britain, “Right, you are out of this.” That really pained them, but they did it. They particularly disliked having to agree to cut welfare benefits for their own citizens, because that is what they signed up to do. I believe, and will always believe, that it was a good negotiation. It did not solve all of Britain’s problems, and I never said that it did, but it certainly addressed some of the biggest concerns that the British people had. I would like to know whether there is more that could have been done, but the very strong sense that I get is that this issue of full access to the single market and reform of free movement is very, very difficult. We achieved some reforms of free movement, but the idea that there is an enormous change to free movement, particularly from outside the EU, is a very tough call and people have to think that through very carefully before we get into the negotiations.
The referendum was about our membership of the European Union and not about our membership of the single market. Given the very grave damage that is already being done to our economy because of the uncertainty, will the Prime Minister call on all of those in this House who aspire to lead this country to commit themselves to keeping Britain in the single market with full access?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. This is one of the key arguments. When I examine why I have always believed that we are better off in, even though I have wanted to see reform, it has always come down to this: the single market exists, we are in it, and it will go on existing even if we leave it and it has a profound effect on our economic, business, political and national life. I certainly urge my colleagues to aim for the greatest possible access, but, obviously, they will have to think about what the benefits and disbenefits of that route are.
Does the Prime Minister accept that, when negotiating with the EU, we should remember our many strengths? One of the strongest economies, Britain has many competitive advantages that would more than compensate for any tariffs, which the World Trade Organisation will ensure cannot be punitive even if they were imposed. Furthermore, nations around the world, including Australia and New Zealand, are already knocking at our door with regard to trade deals.
Certainly no one is more impressed by the strength of the British economy than I am. It is strong, and it has a lot of advantages and many key industries that are admired the world over. We have to recognise that it will be a hard and difficult negotiation in many ways, because we are negotiating with a bloc of 440 million people, but we should make the most of our strengths. I would avoid tariffs, though. The idea that tariffs can be compensated for in other ways is quite dangerous talk. If we think of the car companies and others that want to come and invest here, they do not want to do that and then pay tariffs as they sell into the European single market, so I think tariffs are, on the whole, to be avoided.
The leave campaign undoubtedly made totally false pledges, which have all been exposed accordingly, but on the issue that has been raised on a number of occasions today, does not some of the responsibility for the result lie with the EU leadership, which showed no flexibility whatsoever over an issue that is certainly important in the area that I have the honour to represent—the issue of free movement of labour? EU law did not come down with the 10 commandments.
For once, I have great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. That was why I chose to aim at the issue by saying that people could come here and work, but could not get full access to our welfare system for four years. That addressed the concern that his and my constituents have that there should not be something for nothing. The point that we have to understand is that European Union countries see the single market as consisting not only of the free movement of goods, people, services and capital. They see those things bound together, but they also see the single market as including the payments that countries make into the EU to strengthen the weakest members and those that have recently recovered from communism. Of course, one can try to negotiate amendments to these movements—and I did—but one has to think about that mindset as we go into the negotiation.
The Prime Minister will be aware that North Hertfordshire voted to stay in the EU. Many of our businesses rely on the single market, and many of my constituents work in London in insurance, financial services and legal work. Does he agree that part of this negotiation must be about the passporting arrangements that enable these service interests to do so well? I do not know whether that was mentioned at the European Council. May I also thank him for everything he has done?
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his remarks. The issue of passporting will loom large in the negotiations because financial services are 7% of our economy and two thirds of the jobs are outside London. We are the financial centre for Europe—40% of financial services are in Europe—and we will be strong in that area whatever the outcome, but it is undoubtedly true that the passport does help British firms, and it helps other countries’ firms come to Britain. One of the reasons why the Swiss banks are here in such large measure is that they do not get passporting rights through Switzerland. This should be a very important feature; it is one of the aspects of what access to the single market actually means.
I thank the Prime Minister for all his efforts. Does he fully recognise the very difficult position that Northern Ireland is now in? We voted to stay and we want to stay, yet we are hostage to the mistakes of others who were misled by false promises—unlimited funding for the NHS and lorry loads of money for farmers. Does he recognise that Northern Ireland will need to open up opportunities to protect its interests and maintain a closer relationship with Europe? In particular, has he had time to give any thought to how the settlement of 1998—the Good Friday agreement—is undermined by the dismantling of much of the legislation that hinges on the EU?
Obviously, we will look very closely at the specific questions that the hon. Gentleman raises. That is something that officials in Northern Ireland and in Westminster can start with straightaway. I want us to keep all the benefits that we have had from the common travel area, and I think we will have the closest possible co-operation with the Government of the Republic of Ireland. The Taoiseach last night made a very moving speech about Britain and Ireland. I think he said that we had been fighting each other since 1169. I have not checked my dates—
The hon. Gentleman is nodding, so I think I have got that right. The Taoiseach then went through some of the key elements of the conflict, in which relatives of mine were probably involved, but who knows? He said he was very proud that relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland have never been stronger than today, and we must not let that go.
My constituency is home to a number of significant manufacturing and technology businesses, which play a major role in our local economy. What reassurance can the Prime Minister give me that this trade will continue to grow, not least after Warwick’s very strong vote to remain?
I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. This comes back to the issue of manufacturing and access to the single market, and that needs to loom very large in the negotiation. Nothing changes for probably the next two years at least while the negotiation carries on, but we need to make sure, as we come out of the end of the article 50 process, that we have that access properly set out so that our manufacturers know what they are doing.
May I thank the Prime Minister for his strong condemnation of the racist attacks on members of the Polish community and others, and may I pay tribute to him for the respect and commitment that he has shown to Britain’s ethnic minority community over the past six years, and for creating the most diverse Administration of any Conservative Prime Minister in history? In respect of the summit yesterday, was there a discussion of the comments made by the Mayor of Calais or the French Economy Minister that the juxtaposed borders should be taken out of France and returned to the United Kingdom? Does he agree that that deal was made between Britain and France and has nothing to do with the referendum?
First, let me thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments about my support for Britain’s ethnic minorities and the diversity that we see on the Government Benches. That has been a very important change in our politics and one that I hope will continue. We did not discuss last night the juxtaposed border control issue or the remarks of the Mayor of Calais. My view is that this is a treaty between Britain and France. We certainly want to keep it, and we hope that the French do too, but I do not resile from anything I said in the referendum campaign about the risks that there are. We need to redouble our efforts to try to make sure that the borders remain where they are.
Can the Prime Minister confirm that 100,000 migrants is about the maximum number that people are willing to accept at the moment, especially outside London and the home counties?
I would not put it like that. The point that I have always made is that I think we should have a sense of what the net migration should be. In a modern advanced world and a modern advanced country such as Britain, often well over 100,000—many hundreds of thousands—British people and EU nationals here move to Europe and elsewhere, and European nationals come here. Measuring the net number, which is obviously imprecise and difficult, because people leave Britain for all sorts of reasons, is a good way of measuring the pressure on public services. As recently as 2008, the number of people leaving the UK and the number arriving from Europe was a little bit negative. That is why I have always focused on the net migration issue, but the overall numbers should be measured at quite a large level, because the gross movements can be much bigger than the net figure at the end.
Does the Prime Minister recognise that whoever becomes the next Prime Minister will have no mandate to negotiate on behalf of the people of this country, not least because the leave campaign failed to set out any serious plan for what Brexit looks like in practice, and so the fairest, clearest thing to do would be to go for an early general election?
I would argue that we are a parliamentary democracy, so the new Prime Minister and the Cabinet should draw up their negotiating mandate based on the work that is going to be done over the next few weeks and months to set out all the alternatives, and then they will have to bring it here, explain it and defend it in this House. That seems to me the right way forward.
The formal negotiation will start when article 50 is triggered, but does the Prime Minister agree that our first piece of negotiating leverage is when we decide to trigger article 50, and that there is no reason—legal or moral—for us to do that until we are ready and we have sight, month by month, of what will happen in the 24 months after it has been triggered?
My hon. Friend is right that when to trigger article 50 is a British decision. It is important to recognise that our European partners have concerns, too. The economic problems that we are currently suffering and may have more of are also affecting them. The Dutch Prime Minister said to me last night that he thought that his growth rate would be materially affected by the position in Britain and the uncertainty. Given that negotiations are, yes, hard work and hard graft, but they also rely on a certain amount of goodwill, we do not want to put too much of that goodwill at risk by how we proceed.
With the pound going down 10% against the dollar, with our future trading position completely unknown, with the unity of the UK under threat and with appalling racist attacks happening on our streets, does the Prime Minister agree that, as a response to the referendum, the setting up of a unit in the Cabinet Office under the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin) is simply not up to the task? This is, after all, the greatest change in Britain’s position in the world since the end of the second world war.
First, let me agree with the right hon. Gentleman on the issue of racist attacks. We need to take urgent action, and I announced that at the Dispatch Box today during Prime Minister’s questions. In terms of the steps we need to take, there is, I believe, a limited amount that can be done before a new Prime Minister and a new Cabinet arrive, but we should not belittle that, because a lot of this is cold, hard facts about what the different alternatives are, and what the different costs and benefits are. There is a world of difference between a referendum campaign in which the leave side offered all sorts of things that went with the hypothetical new status and the real facts now of what those things look like. That is something that we need to see, and I think that the mechanisms that we are putting in place will help that to happen.
The Prime Minister says that we are entitled to all the benefits of EU membership until the point at which we leave. May I clarify whether there has been any discussion about access to funding such as regional selective assistance, which has created and safeguarded 10,000 jobs and been worth £83 million to Glasgow since 2010? In addition, the long-term conditions of loans issued under the European Investment Bank, which were also worth significant amounts of money, require some clarification for the local authorities that were involved in them.
Any contracts entered into before Britain leaves the EU should be honoured in full in terms of EU funding for research or for regions of our country. The status we have with respect to the EIB will have to be determined as part of the negotiation. Again, that is the sort of technical issue that a Whitehall unit can look at now to find out what the options are so that we can discuss them in this House.
Vote Leave is so confident of delivering its overblown promises that it has recently wiped much of its website and removed from it the key claims that it made during the campaign. I disagreed with many of the claims that were made, but does the Prime Minister agree that the public will never forgive Vote Leave politicians who form part of the new Government if they break those pledges? There will be no hiding place from being held to account on those overblown promises in the next Government.
One thing we all experience and share in this House is that when we make commitments and promises, we are held to account for them, in this House and at these Dispatch Boxes, in a way that is probably more direct and often more brutal than in other democracies. Long may that remain the case.
The renegotiations will clearly be difficult and will take some time. One area in which we must take more action now is improving the jobs, skills and infrastructure in our market towns and coastal areas, where many people feel that they have not seen the benefits of growth. May I ask the Prime Minister to work with local council leaders to make sure that the devolution deals being struck across the country deliver for those areas, not just our great metropolitan cities?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. Not only do pledges such as our 3 million apprentices help to address the issue of immigration, because they mean training our own people to do the jobs that our economy is creating, but they offer hope and help to our regional economies—not just, as she says, to the city economies. We should continue with all the devolution deals. They are popular with local authority leaders and they have real teeth, and we will carry on that work.
Northern Ireland, as has already been stated, voted to remain in the European Union. My constituency, being a border constituency that contains part of Carlingford lough—one bit of it is in Northern Ireland and the other bit is in southern Ireland—and Warrenpoint port, depends on free access to goods and services and the essential access to markets, as 46% of what is exported and imported comes from the south of Ireland. Our economy depends on membership of the European Union. How can that be guaranteed?
The vote in Northern Ireland was very strong, not least in respect of the fact that the party of the First Minister wanted to leave the European Union. It was a very strong statement. I would argue that all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom need to make their voices heard. The process over the next few months of drawing up the different blueprints is an important opportunity to influence the debate in this country and in Europe about what the outcome should be. The example that the hon. Lady gives of cross-border trade in Northern Ireland is a very good one with which to inform the debate.
British troops are on the Polish-Ukraine border taking part in the largest military exercise since the end of the cold war. The Prime Minister has committed 1,000 British personnel to participate in NATO’s very high readiness force in the event of any Russian aggression, and the ceasefire in Ukraine is on the brink of collapse. May I encourage him to use his final appearance as a NATO Prime Minister on 8 and 9 July at the Warsaw summit to urge all our European colleagues to continue to press sanctions against Putin’s Russia, and not to give in to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. We have done a lot to reassure our Polish and Baltic friends and allies; that is why the troops are taking part in this exercise. We are taking a leading role in this NATO conference. We are going to make sure that we provide visible troops. Ours will be stationed in Estonia, and I think that America and other countries are going to be in the other Baltic states so that when people look over these borders, they see not just Estonian troops or Latvian troops, but American troops, British troops or French troops. I think that that is absolutely right.
Several weeks ago, in the lead-up to the EU referendum, I asked for a personal commitment from the Prime Minister to the Tay cities deal for the city of Dundee and the surrounding areas, and he gave that full commitment. Since the EU referendum, we have heard comments from the Secretary of State for Scotland to the effect that that may be in doubt because of new Tory leadership in the near future. Can the Prime Minister reassure the people of Dundee and the surrounding areas that this city deal will be delivered in terms of funding, regardless of who is Prime Minister now or in the near future?
I cannot bind the hands of my successor, but I will say to any of the candidates that the city deals have been a great success throughout the United Kingdom. It has been quite a marked thing that even though Scotland now has a powerhouse Parliament, city deals have been popular and successful where they are being tried in Scotland. I will certainly make that clear.
Relying on the WTO or a Canadian-style free trade agreement clearly would not be the best possible deal for our country. I think it is pretty irresponsible of some of the leading leave campaigners to have suggested during the campaign that that was somehow a good alternative to our membership of the EU. Is it not also clear, from what European leaders said both in February and yesterday, that if the Prime Minister’s successor prioritises stopping free movement in the light of the referendum, we will not have the same unfettered access to the single market? The parameters of the choice are actually pretty clear.
The hon. Lady makes a strong point, and I can add to it. Although yesterday’s meeting was relatively successful, it is worth pointing out that the Canada free trade deal is not yet agreed. There are countries in the EU that are getting very nervous about free trade deals—I happen to think that they are wrong, but that is worth bearing in mind. On what she says about access to the single market, if that is the most important thing, there are trade-offs that we have to consider. That is certainly the way I see this negotiation.
Denmark voted in a referendum to reject the Maastricht treaty. A year later, the country voted in a second referendum to accept it, in the fine European tradition of keeping on voting until there is the right result. We know that many millions of people in this country felt deceived by the exaggerations and lies in both campaigns. They now feel cheated by the result, and millions of people are protesting. Is it not right that we look again at the possibility of a second referendum, in the certainty that second thoughts are always superior to first thoughts?
I think we have to accept the result, and I am certainly not planning a second referendum. What we have to focus on now is getting the closest possible relationship between Britain and Europe. We can start the work in shaping that debate; the exchanges that we are having now are very constructive, and we can start that debate right now.
I am getting a bit bored with this lame-duck attitude the Prime Minister is giving us. Take control, man! There are lots of things he could still do. We could be passing emergency legislation to make it absolutely clear that every EU citizen living in this country now is entitled to live here in the future. That would stop some of the horrible campaigning that has already been happening around the country. He could set up a royal commission—both Houses of Parliament—to make sure that we bind together as much of the country as possible and start creating a consensus about what we should be lobbying for as our best deal. Why does he not take control? I thought that is what it was all about.
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that I have never believed you take control or take rapid decisions by setting up royal commissions—as has been said, they take minutes and they last for years, and that is what would happen in this case. I have said that I will look very carefully at all these issues of how to reassure EU nationals who are here. I have tried to set out the legal position, and I have expressed the strongest possible condemnation. But I think, frankly, he and his colleagues have something they need to take control of—and it is their party.
I’m doing my best. [Laughter.]
Well, he did. It is a topsy-turvy world: I have never felt greater support from my party, and I am leaving; and I have never seen an Opposition leader with less support, and he is staying. As someone who is about to enter the political graveyard, perhaps I could misquote my favourite band and say, “Let’s meet at the cemetery gates”.
A farmer in my constituency is thinking of emigrating, the possible impact on CAP payments being the straw that broke the camel’s back. On the basis of an earlier answer, will the Prime Minister confirm that there can be certainty of income from CAP payments to 2020 only if the Scottish Government find a way to stay in the EU?
What needs to happen is for a negotiation to be completed and for the CAP payments that are set out in the negotiation 2014 to 2020 to continue up until then, and then for a future Government—the UK Government, but also, now, the Scottish Parliament, with its powerhouse financial powers—to decide the payments they want to make to Scottish farmers.
When the Prime Minister got back from Brussels last night, was there any message from the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) about where to find the £350 million for the NHS?
It was pretty late by the time I got back, and there was not really time for anything.
I join the acknowledgements being given to the Prime Minister. I do not really think he fully appreciates—certainly, his Secretary of State does not—that when we negotiated the Good Friday agreement, common membership of the EU was taken as a given, and it is there in the fabric of the agreement. At the core of that agreement is the principle of consent, but the people of Northern Ireland now find that they are being dragged out of the European Union against their consent, as expressed when they voted for the Good Friday agreement and in the referendum last week, when 78.2% in my constituency voted to remain. It is not enough for the Prime Minister to say now that the negotiations that will take place will sort things out for us. It is clear that English politics does not have a sat-nav or a map for where it now finds itself, yet he is simply telling us that we will have to tailgate and go where the impulses and prejudices of English politics drive next. We need to achieve a better situation to protect EU access and benefits for our constituents.
I totally understand the hon. Gentleman’s passion about this—he and I were on the same side—but my reading of the history of this is different. The Good Friday agreement, based on the principle of consent, was that the United Kingdom would continue and Northern Ireland would be part of that United Kingdom. This is a sovereign decision for the United Kingdom. Now, the job of the United Kingdom Government, in full collaboration with the First and Deputy First Ministers in Northern Ireland, is to try to get the best possible negotiation in terms of Britain’s place, and therefore Northern Ireland’s place, so that relations north-south can be as strong as they can.
Lord Hill, Britain’s European Commissioner, has decided to step down from the European Commission. Has the Prime Minister any plans to appoint somebody else, if only on an interim basis?
Yes, I think we should appoint a new Commissioner. We are a full member of this organisation. We pay our dues in full. We should have a UK Commissioner. I discussed this yesterday with the President of the Commission, and we hope to come forward with a nominee shortly.
I am the proud son of Irish immigrants who encountered the signs that said, “No dogs, no Irish”. We once again see fear stalking the streets, with Polish women in Erdington told to go home, a Kashmiri driver told, “We don’t want you Muslims here”, and an aggressive individual telling a train guard, “Don’t you close those doors until I tell you to. We make the rules now.” This is all a consequence of xenophobia being put mainstream in the referendum campaign. Does the Prime Minister agree that it can never be right that someone should fear for their safety because of their accent or the colour of their skin, and that we will never allow this great, dynamic, multicultural Britain to be divided by the evil of racism?
I agree with every word the hon. Gentleman said. I never wanted to see those sentiments appear in our country again. I think the difference between now and the 1950s and 1960s, when these things happened, is that the state of our laws is far stronger, the understanding of our police is far better and the ability of our prosecuting authorities to take action is much stronger. We need to make sure all those things are brought to bear.
As far as the UK Council presidency is concerned, perhaps the Scottish Government should be invited to take it on, seeing as we are committed to the European Union. However, does the Prime Minister understand the concerns expressed by my constituents about the impact of Brexit on friends and relatives who are UK citizens but who live in the EU, particularly as regards access to healthcare and other social protections? How will that access be maintained in the future?
Of course I understand people’s passions and concerns. Healthcare is exactly the sort of issue that did not loom as large in the campaign as I rather wish it had. There are some big retail benefits from being in the EU—the ability to use mobile phones without roaming charges, the storing of digital content, the access to health services, the cheap air fares and all the rest of it. That is exactly the sort of issue that a Whitehall unit can look at. What are the rules in terms of access to healthcare? What can we secure in Europe but outside the European Union? We can start to put that forward so that people can see what the future holds.
Some 70% of those who voted in Hammersmith and Fulham last Thursday voted to remain. Hundreds of constituents have written to me since, fearing for their jobs, the stability of our local community—where 15% are EU nationals—and even their personal safety. What should I say the Government are doing, to reassure them?
What I hope the hon. Gentleman will say is that, rightly, we have to accept the democratic will of the people in a properly constituted referendum, voted for on a 6:1 basis in this House. But we should do everything we can to reassure people, first, that hate crime has no place in our country, as we have discussed today. Then we are going to conduct a negotiation, based on the best available evidence, about what we can do to achieve the closest possible relationship with Europe, on the basis of trade, co-operation and security. That is our goal, and I hope that that will provide some reassurance. But, of course, in any referendum, with a decision like this, there will be those who are disappointed by the result, myself included. We now have to make the best we can of the new situation we are in.
The already dodgy economics of Hinkley Point C have surely been fatally undermined by the decision to withdraw from the European Union. May I suggest to the Prime Minister, if he is looking to salvage something of a legacy, that he pulls the plug on this enormous folly?
Obviously, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The logic and the economics behind Hinkley Point C are that we need to have some base-load, non-carbon energy in order to have any ability to meet the very challenging targets we have to reduce carbon emissions in our country. I am all for, and have seen, a massive expansion of renewable energy since I have been Prime Minister; indeed, my favourite statistic is that 98% of Britain’s solar panels have been installed since I have had this job. However, solar power is, by its nature, intermittent, and we do need some base-load power. That is why the case for Hinkley continues.
If the Prime Minister is going to dig out his copy of the album “The Queen is Dead”, he might want to depress himself further by listening to my favourite track, “I know It’s Over”, although as far as the Labour party is concerned, it would be “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”. In Bristol, on Friday, our elected mayor convened a meeting of key stakeholders to try to work out what the referendum means for the city—there are clearly many worried people. Will the Prime Minister assure us that the voice of cities on the international stage will not be dimmed during these negotiations?
I will certainly do everything I can to stand up for Bristol. I am interested that the Labour party’s favourite Smiths song is “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”, because it actually involves a double suicide. I think the lyrics are, “If a double-decker bus crashes into us, There’s no finer way than by your side.” I think I am right in saying that. I am not sure that is wholly reassuring to Labour Front Benchers. In fact, I think the next verse is, “If a 10-ton truck crashes into us.” They have tried resignations—they have tried one after the other—so they are obviously going to have to look for inspiration elsewhere.
I did not know the Prime Minister had quite such a compendious knowledge of modern music. I am extraordinarily impressed.
I am not going to ask the Prime Minister to remember any more lyrics. He will have heard right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House talk about the importance of manufacturing to the midlands. In Prime Minister’s questions, he will also have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) refer to the comments of Sadiq Khan about London having a voice in the preparations for negotiations and in the negotiations themselves. I absolutely agree with that. However, will the Prime Minister say something about the mechanisms that he envisages to allow regions outside of London to have a say in the preparations for negotiations and in the negotiations themselves?
What I can say, and perhaps I will set it out in more detail for the House on a later occasion, is that we need to find mechanisms—we have some already, like the Joint Ministerial Council—for listening to the constituent parts of the United Kingdom to make sure that the voices of our nations and regions can be heard as we design this renegotiation. I absolutely commit to that.