With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on last week’s European Council, and the next steps in preparing to trigger Article 50 and beginning the process of leaving the European Union.
The summit began by re-electing Donald Tusk as President of the European Council. I welcomed this because we have a close working relationship with President Tusk and recognise the strong contribution he has made in office. In the main business of the Council, we discussed the challenge of managing mass migration; the threats from organised crime and instability in the western Balkans; and the measures needed to boost Europe’s growth and competitiveness, which will remain important for us as we build a new relationship between the EU and a self-governing global Britain. In each case, we were able to show once again how Britain will continue to play a leading role in Europe long after we have left the European Union.
On migration, I welcomed the progress in implementing the action plan we agreed at the informal EU summit in Malta last month. This included Italy strengthening asylum processes and increasing returns, and Greece working to implement the EU-Turkey deal, where the UK is providing additional staff to support the interviewing of Iraqi, Afghan and Eritrean nationals.
At this Council, I argued that we must do more to dismantle the vile people-smuggling rings who profit from the migrants’ misery and who are subjecting many to unimaginable abuses. With co-ordinated and committed action, we can make a difference. Indeed, just last month an operation between our National Crime Agency and the Hellenic coastguard led to the arrest of 19 members of an organised immigration crime group in Greece. As I have argued before, we need a managed, controlled and truly global approach, and that is exactly what the Council agreed. We need to help to ensure that refugees claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, and help those countries to support the refugees so they do not have to make the perilous journey to Europe. We need a better overall approach to managing economic migration, one which recognises that all countries have the right to control their borders. Engaging our African partners in this global approach will be crucial, and this will be an important part of the discussions at the Somalia conference which the UK will be hosting in London in May.
Turning to the deteriorating situation in the western Balkans, I made clear my concerns about the risks it presents to the region and to our wider collective security. Organised criminals and terrorists are ready to exploit these vulnerabilities, and we are seeing increasingly brazen interference by Russia and others. In light of the alleged Montenegro coup plot, I called on the Council to do more to counter destabilising Russian disinformation campaigns and to raise the visibility of the western commitment to this region.
The UK will lead the way. The Foreign Secretary will be visiting Russia in the coming weeks, where I expect him to set out our concerns about reports of Russian interference in the affairs of the Government of Montenegro. We will provide strategic communications expertise to the EU institutions to counter disinformation campaigns in the region, and we will host the 2018 western Balkans summit. In the run-up to that summit, we will enhance our security co-operation with our western Balkans partners, including on serious and organised crime, anti-corruption and cyber-security.
More broadly, I also re-emphasised the importance that the UK places on NATO as the bedrock of our collective defence, and I urged other member states to start investing more, in line with NATO’s target, so that every country plays its full part in sharing the burden. For it is only by investing properly in our defence that we can ensure we are properly equipped to keep our people safe.
Turning to growth and competitiveness, I want us to build a new relationship with the EU, as I have said, that will give our companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate in the European market, and allow European businesses to do the same here. So a successful and competitive European market in the future will remain in our national interest. At this Council, I called for further steps to complete the single market and the digital single market.
I also welcomed the completion of the free trade agreement between the EU and Canada and pressed for an agreement with Japan in the coming months. For these agreements—[Interruption.] Yes, just wait for it. These agreements will lay the foundation for our continuing trading relationships with these countries as we leave the EU.
At the same time, we will also seize the opportunity to forge our own new trade deals and to reach out beyond the borders of Europe to build relationships with old friends and new allies alike. This weekend, we announced a two-day conference with the largest ever Qatari trade delegation to visit the UK, building on the £5 billion of trade we already do with Qatar every year. We will also strengthen the unique and proud global relationships we have forged with the diverse and vibrant alliance of the Commonwealth, which we celebrated on Commonwealth day yesterday.
Finally, last night the Bill on article 50 successfully completed its passage through both Houses unchanged. It will now proceed to Royal Assent in the coming days, so we remain on track with the timetable I set out six months ago. I will return to this House before the end of this month to notify when I have formally triggered article 50 and begun the process through which the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. This will be a defining moment for our whole country, as we begin to forge a new relationship with Europe and a new role for ourselves in the world.
We will be a strong, self-governing global Britain with control once again over our borders and our laws. We will use this moment of opportunity to build a stronger economy and a fairer society, so that we secure both the right deal for Britain abroad and a better deal for ordinary working people at home.
The new relationship with the EU that we negotiate will work for the whole of the United Kingdom. That is why we have been working closely with the devolved Administrations, including the Scottish Government, listening to their proposals and recognising the many areas of common ground that we have, such as protecting workers’ rights and our security from crime and terrorism.
So, Mr Speaker, this is not a moment to play politics or create uncertainty and division. It is a moment to bring our country together, to honour the will of the British people and to shape for them a brighter future and a better Britain. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of the statement. The passing into law of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill marks an historic step. The triggering of article 50 later this month is a process that will shape this country’s future. There is no doubt that if the wrong decisions are made, we will pay the price for decades to come.
Now, more than ever, Britain needs an inclusive Government who listen and act accordingly. However, all the signs are that we have a complacent Government—complacent with our economy; complacent with people’s rights; complacent about the future of this country. I urge the Prime Minister to listen to the collective wisdom of this Parliament, and to give the House a full opportunity to scrutinise the article 50 deal with a meaningful final vote. The people’s representatives deserve better than “take it or leave it”. If we are to protect jobs and living standards, and if we are to protect the future prosperity of the country, the Government must secure tariff-free access to the single European market.
The Prime Minister has already made the threat to our negotiating partners to turn Britain into a deregulated tax haven. Is that what she means by “global Britain”? When the Foreign Secretary says that no deal with the EU would be “perfectly OK”, it simply is not good enough. Far from taking back control, leaving Britain to World Trade Organisation rules would mean losing control, losing jobs, and, frankly, losing out. The Prime Minister says that no deal is better than a bad deal. Let me be clear: no deal is a bad deal. Such a complacent strategy would punish business, hit jobs, and devastate public services on which people rely.
The Prime Minister says that she is seeking to secure a future free trade deal with the EU, after initial negotiations have been completed. If that is the strategy, it is essential that the Government stop being complacent and focus on securing a transitional agreement with the EU at the earliest opportunity. That would at least give the British people and businesses some short-term clarity during this period.
The Prime Minister said that she wanted to provide certainty on the issue of EU nationals as soon as possible. Why, then, have the Government voted down every Labour attempt to bring certainty to EU nationals, who make such a massive contribution to our community and our society? These people are not bargaining chips; they are mothers, fathers, wives and husbands. They are valued members of our community. The Government could and should have acted months ago. I agree with the Prime Minister that now is not the time to create uncertainty or play politics. She should tell that to the EU migrants in Britain who have no idea what their future holds because of the decisions made by her Government.
Is the Prime Minister saying that she is content for refugees to remain in camps in Libya—is that a safe country?—or for Greece, Italy and Malta to shoulder the entire burden of refugees from north Africa and the middle east? While we welcome the conference on Somalia that she is proposing, we need to know what support Britain is offering to all those countries. Does the Prime Minister still believe that we have a collective responsibility on the issue of refugees?
The Prime Minister said that she had argued about tackling vile smuggling rings, and about people being subjected to unimaginable abuse. Does she not agree that her argument would be so much stronger if her Government had been prepared to accept some of the victims of that unimaginable abuse; for example, the children who should have been accepted through the Dubs amendment?
As we move towards the triggering of article 50, there is much uncertainty about Britain’s future. A responsible Government would set a positive tone with our negotiating partners, and would move to protect our economy, workers and citizens at the earliest opportunity. Instead, we have a reckless Government who are playing fast and loose with the British economy. We will fight for jobs and the economy, using every parliamentary mechanism that is available, and the Government should welcome that scrutiny.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned a range of issues. He spoke again about the issue of EU nationals. As I have said in the House and as has been said by others from this Dispatch Box, we do want to ensure that the issue of the status of EU nationals who are living in the UK is dealt with at an early stage in the negotiations, but we also have a consideration for the UK nationals who are living in the EU. He said that the EU nationals living here are individuals who have contributed to our society. Indeed they are, but UK nationals living in EU member states are individuals who have contributed to their society and economy. I want to ensure that their status is also ensured. We hope and expect that this will be an issue that we can address at an early stage.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the need to come forward and be very clear about the need for a transitional period. I refer him to the speech I gave in Lancaster House in January and to the White Paper that we published. The need for an implementation period so that we have a smooth and orderly Brexit process is one of the objectives that was set out in that speech and in that document.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about refugees from north Africa and the middle east. What we want to ensure is that people do not feel the need to make the often dangerous, life-threatening journey across the central Mediterranean. Many of these people—more than three quarters of the people who are doing this—are not refugees; they are economic migrants. We need to ensure that we are providing facilities and working with countries in Africa—which the EU and other countries are doing—to ensure that the circumstances are such that people do not try to make a life-threatening journey. We also need internationally to be able to make a better distinction between refugees and economic migrants, so that we can give better support to those who are refugees.
The right hon. Gentleman appeared to suggest that the UK Government are doing absolutely nothing to break the vile smuggling rings. In my statement, I quoted a recent example of the work of the National Crime Agency; I might add that it was a Conservative-led Government who set up the NCA and the Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce. The Government are dealing with these issues. He talks about abuses and the movement and trafficking of people, but it is this Government who brought in the Modern Slavery Act 2015. I am very proud that it is this Government who did so.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to global Britain and what it means. I will tell him what it means. It is about a strong, self-governing Britain, a Britain that is trading around the world with old friends and new allies alike, and a Britain that is proud to take its place on the world stage.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend not only on her statement and the way in which she dispatched the Leader of the Opposition, but on the passage of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. Does she accept that now is the time for the UK to do all the things that she has recommended in her statement and, in addition to that, to take urgent legal advice in respect of the legal warnings that have been given by Lord Hope of Craighead to be sure that we do not have any unforeseen further attempts to undo that Bill in the courts?
I can assure my hon. Friend that, as we move ahead with this, as we have at every stage, we will take appropriate legal advice, but as he will know we do not discuss that on the Floor of the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance notice of her statement. I agree with her about how valuable it was that a large part of the EU Council was given over to jobs, growth and competitiveness. That is hugely welcome for the whole of the UK. It really matters that there is economic growth across all 27 member states. The single European market matters to all of us, given it is the largest single market in the world.
The last time the Prime Minister came to the Dispatch Box following an EU Council meeting, I asked her what issues she had raised on behalf of the Scottish Government and their priorities. She could not give a single example then, so I am going to try the same question again. Given that this was the last EU Council before the invoking of article 50, can she give an example—just one, please—of a single issue that was raised on behalf of the Scottish Government and their priorities at the Council meeting? [Interruption.] Goodness, there is a lot of hubbub from the Government Benches on this issue. Perhaps they are also keen to hear from the Prime Minister on that. She did not make a single mention during her statement of what she raised on behalf of the Scottish Government. We will all wait with bated breath to hear the Prime Minister answer that question.
While the Prime Minister was in Brussels, what discussions did she have about her Brexit timetable? Can she confirm that the plan is to negotiate a deal and that, after that, there needs to be time—time for ratification and for agreement across the EU and its institutions? Will she confirm from the Dispatch Box that that is indeed her plan?
The Prime Minister has decided, for one reason or another—I cannot imagine why—to delay the invoking of article 50. Last July, we were told by the Prime Minister herself—I am sure that she remembers saying these very words—that she would not trigger article 50 until she had a “UK-wide approach”. She knows that she has no agreement with the devolved Administration, despite months of compromise suggestions from the Scottish Government. Will the UK Government, even at this very late stage, use the next days to secure a compromise UK-wide approach, or does she still plan to plough on regardless, even though she knows what the consequences of that will mean?
The right hon. Gentleman asks what issues of relevance to the Scottish Government and to the Scottish people were raised at the European Council. I can answer him—jobs, growth and competitiveness. Those are issues that matter to the Scottish people. They matter to the people of the whole of the UK. He asked whether at the Council there was a discussion of the timetable for the negotiations in respect of article 50. As I said early on in my statement, in the main business of the Council, we discussed the challenge of managing mass migration; the threats from organised crime and instability in the western Balkans; and the measures needed to boost Europe’s growth and competitiveness. This was a Council at which we focused on those issues. I was presenting the case for the UK’s concerns in relation to those issues, including jobs, which, as I have said, matter to the people of Scotland.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the importance of access to the single market of the European Union. I simply remind him and his colleagues once again that the most important single market for Scotland is the single market of the United Kingdom.
Should not friendly democracies with decent values rush to reassure British citizens that they can stay on the continent, and is it not strongly in the economic interests of our partners to accept our generous offer of continuing with tariff-free trade on the same basis as today?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The issue of EU nationals and UK nationals, and the question of the trading relationship we have in the future, is not a one-sided argument; it is about the benefits for the EU as well. I very much think that that is the case in relation to trade. As I have said before, this is not about something that works just for the UK. I believe the right trading deal for the UK, the sort of free and open access that he talks about, will be good for the rest of the EU as well.
The Prime Minister has spoken many times about the importance of achieving a good deal from the negotiations that the country is about to embark upon, yet in recent days the Foreign Secretary has said that leaving with no deal would be perfectly okay, while the Secretary of State for International Trade has said that not achieving a deal would be bad. Would the Prime Minister care to adjudicate and tell the House which of those Ministers was speaking for the Government?
I am optimistic that we are going to get a good deal for the UK on trading with the EU.
No deal may be a bad deal for both the EU 27 and for the UK, but it is very far from the worst deal for the UK if there were no route to a future free trading arrangement with the EU. The deal is in the gift not of the Prime Minister’s Government, however hard they are trying to deliver it, or of this Parliament, but of the European Parliament and our partners. So no deal remains a real possibility. It seems that her Government and Departments are now preparing for it. Will that preparation include the opportunity for individuals and businesses to make their own dispositions for that possibility?
I was clear in the Lancaster House speech that no deal was better than a bad deal. I am optimistic that we will be able to negotiate a good deal, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right of course that there are other parties to this, and it is not just about what we say. There will be a negotiation about that trade arrangement, and I can assure him that in coming to an agreement on that arrangement I and others in Parliament—the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—are talking to businesses across the United Kingdom to understand the issues that are most important to them.
The Prime Minister said again just now that no deal is better than a bad deal, but what possible deal is worse than no deal, and can she describe it?
We are about to enter into a negotiation with the remaining 27 members of the European Union. As part of that, we will be negotiating a trade deal for our future relationship with the European Union. I confidently expect that we will get a good deal. [Interruption.] Somebody says “You hope” from a sedentary position. It is precisely because of the answer I gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood): this is not a one-sided negotiation. It is not just about what is going to suit the UK; it is about what is right for the future relationship between the UK and the EU, and a good trade deal for the UK is a good trade deal for the EU.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement that the UK is strengthening its contribution to cyber-security and countering disinformation and also the Foreign Secretary’s forthcoming visit to Russia, but with Russia spending over a billion dollars on media outlets and troll factories, is she satisfied that the EU’s East StratCom organisation, which counters fake news and misinformation from the Kremlin, is sufficiently resourced? Also, what progress was made on setting up the further centres to identify and counteract Russian propaganda that were mentioned in the pre-briefing to the Council?
My right hon. Friend raises a very important point. The UK has particular expertise and experience when it comes to the whole issue of strategic communications around these sorts of areas, and we will be making that expertise available to the EU in order to be able to enhance the work it is doing to counter the disinformation campaigns.
May I tell the Prime Minister that it is not just in Scotland where there is a fear that the right wing of her party is dictating the terms of this debate and pushing us towards a Brexit deal that favours London and the south over the north? May I ask her to dither no more, and to establish a Brexit committee of the regions and nations, and give places like Greater Manchester equal and fair representation in this crucial debate?
As I have repeatedly said in this House, this Government will be negotiating a deal that will be good for the whole of the United Kingdom. That is why we have been listening to businesses and others from across the whole of the UK—yes, the devolved Administrations, but also people from the regions of England and businesses from across the whole of the UK—to understand the interests and what we need to take into account as we negotiate the deal.
As my right hon. Friend launches into the negotiations, I wonder if she has had time to consider the excellent House of Lords report that says we have no legal obligation to pay any money whatsoever to the European Union. Does she share my view that that is an excellent basis for beginning the negotiations?
I can assure my hon. Friend that I have noted the House of Lords report on this particular matter. As he will know, when people voted on 23 June last year they were very clear that they did not want to continue year after year paying huge sums of money into the European Union.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement. Given that she is interpreting the will of the people and not enacting it, history will declare that last night she demonstrated contempt for this place and for the British people. The Brexit deal is an unwritten, unknown deal, and it is a deal that will be signed off by someone. The only question is: will it be signed off by a handful of politicians or by the whole of the people? Does she agree that it should be signed off by the whole of the people?
What the hon. Gentleman says comes a little strange from his party: I seem to remember the time when the Liberal Democrats were going around telling everybody that they were going to have an in/out referendum on membership of the EU, yet now that we have had an in/out referendum on membership of the EU they are not willing to accept the result the British people gave them. We are, and that is why we are putting it into practice. We are delivering the will of the British people.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been very clear that the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. A strong and prosperous EU remains in the interests of the United Kingdom. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a strong, stable united United Kingdom is also in the interests of the EU, and will she vigorously resist anyone who uses this moment to try and destroy our precious United Kingdom?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. As he has said, and as I have said before, a strong remaining EU of 27 will be in the best interests of the UK. We want to see the EU remaining strong, but we also want to see a strong UK playing its role as a global Britain. It is important that we keep the Union of the United Kingdom together; there is much that binds us, and I do not want to see anybody engaging in constitutional game-playing with the future of the United Kingdom.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on bringing the country together and uniting Scotland behind our First Minister. The Prime Minister was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) about what was said last year, so let me cite the Tory Bible The Daily Telegraph on 15 July:
“Theresa May has indicated that…she will not trigger the formal process for leaving the EU until there is an agreed ‘UK approach’ backed by Scotland.”
Was that misreporting by The Daily Telegraph, misspeaking by the Prime Minister, or is she still working on it?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows full well, we have been in discussions with the Scottish Government and the other devolved Administrations, recognising the issues they have raised, and recognising the concerns and the common ground between us. The right hon. Gentleman refers to the views of the Scottish people in relation to the announcement made yesterday by the Scottish First Minister; I might remind him that the evidence in Scotland is that actually the majority of the Scottish people do not want a second independence referendum.
I commend my right hon. Friend for her very measured response to the provocation of the calling of a second independence referendum in Scotland: she is not ruling out a referendum in the future, but now is not the right time. Will she also point out that the Scotland Act 2016 reserves all the single market issues to the United Kingdom Government? These are matters that we should share with Scotland in the discussion, but they are matters reserved to the United Kingdom.
As I have just said in response to the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), at the moment the evidence is that the Scottish people do not want a second independence referendum. As we negotiate issues in relation to access to the single market through the free trade deal that we will be negotiating, we will be taking into account the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom—of every part of it—and ensuring that that deal works for everybody across the UK, including the people of Scotland.
Following the successful conclusion of the article 50 Bill last night, there are some in Northern Ireland who would add to the uncertainty and division by calling for a border poll. They have already created enough uncertainty and division by collapsing the institutions in Northern Ireland. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to tell people that there has never been more support for the Union in Northern Ireland across all communities, and that in fact such a call is outside the terms of the Belfast agreement, and the very point that Sinn Féin keeps harping on about is that it wants the implementation of the agreements?
The right hon. Gentleman is right: obviously there is a set of circumstances, but the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has looked at this issue and it is not right to have a border poll at this stage. What we should all be focusing on is bringing the parties together to ensure that we can continue to see the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland working, as they have done, in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. We want to see that devolved Administration being formed, and that is what all the parties should be looking for at the moment.
Is it not clear from the European negotiations that a lot of the detail will not be finalised until the end of the process, and therefore that the timetable set out yesterday by the First Minister for a premature second independence referendum is an excuse, not a reason? Should we not listen to the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), who referred to the last independence referendum as a “once in a generation opportunity”?
My right hon. Friend rightly points out that we have a timetable of up to two years for the negotiations, and it is possible that the details will not be finalised until close to the end of that period. He is also entirely right to suggest that those in Scotland who talk about having a second referendum should remember what the right hon. Member for Gordon said: it was a once in a generation vote that took place in September 2014. It seems that a generation is now less than three years.
The Prime Minister has said that no deal is better than a bad deal. We all wish her well in getting the best possible deal for the UK, but will she now publish what the effects would be of crashing out of the European Union on World Trade Organisation rules, so that we can have a debate in this country about her assertion that no deal is better than a bad deal?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her support for the Government as we look ahead and try to negotiate the best possible deal for the United Kingdom. That is precisely what we will be doing.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s positive approach to establishing a new, co-operative relationship with Europe and the sensibleness of contingency planning. Will she tell us how much that contingency planning will cost?
It is important that contingency planning should take place, and we obviously have to look at a variety of scenarios. A lot of work is being done by the Department for Exiting the European Union and will be done by other Departments as well. It is important that that work is done properly so the Government can have the best possible information on which to negotiate our relationship for the future.
After lecturing the other European leaders on how they should complete the single market, did the Prime Minister remember that she had already thrown in the towel on Britain’s membership of the single market? Will she admit what an error it was for her to give the Scottish First Minister exactly the excuse she was looking for for an opportunistic second referendum?
First of all, no lecturing took place. There was a view around the table—I encouraged it, and others contributed—that it was important for the European Union to continue to complete the single market. The hon. Gentleman talks about the single market, but actually there is work yet to be done. It is also important for the EU to continue to work on trade arrangements with other areas. The reason that I ask the EU leaders to do that is that it will be good for the United Kingdom in our future relationship with the European Union. This is something that will be good for us. I have always been clear that we will trigger article 50 by the end of March, and that is exactly what we will do.
There has been much speculation about the divorce from the European Union and about how much money would need to be paid in the process. I am afraid that I am going to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) on this point. Since we joined the EEC in 1973, we have paid in £184 billion. That is the net contribution—the actual amount that we have paid in after taking into account any money that we got back. When people get a divorce, do they not split the net amount in two? That would mean that £92 billion should be paid back to us. Did the Prime Minister have a chance to bring that up at the summit?
I am tempted to say to my hon. Friend: “Nice try, but I don’t think that was an application for a job at the Treasury.”
The hon. Gentleman seems to be able to contain his misery.
Not everyone shares the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for the imminent application of the EU-Canada agreement, not least because the comprehensive economic and trade agreement’s new investment court system still fails to address serious concerns about the investor-state dispute settlement process. Does she regard CETA as a blueprint for the trade deals that she thinks the Government can so easily agree, once the UK has left the EU? What reassurance can she give us about protecting key social and environmental standards and our public services if that is the case?
There is no blueprint. I have said consistently over the past seven months or so that we are not looking to adopt another country’s model for our relationship with the European Union. We will negotiate the deal that is right for the UK.
In the EU Council, did my right hon. Friend detect any strong support for a separatist Scotland remaining in the EU, no questions asked?
I can honestly say to my hon. Friend that I did not detect any such support in the European Council.
The country is almost evenly divided about leaving the EU, so how will the Prime Minister try to resolve that? I have not known the country to be so divided since Suez in 1956.
This House chose to give a vote to the British people in the referendum on 23 June, and the people of the United Kingdom voted in that referendum. The majority voted for the UK to leave the European Union. When I talk to people who voted to leave and to those who voted to remain, the overwhelming message is that they now want the Government to get on with the job of delivering on that vote.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear at the Dispatch Box and in the country that she wishes to prioritise certainty for UK nationals living in the EU 27 and for EU nationals living here in the UK, but I have it on good authority that the EU negotiators want to prioritise the so-called divorce settlement. Will she make it clear to the people with whom she is negotiating that we will not countenance British and EU citizens being used as bargaining chips in such a way?
My hon. Friend is right. We want to ensure reciprocal arrangements for EU citizens living here and for UK citizens living in the EU in terms of their future status, and I want to see that discussion taking place at an early stage in the negotiations. I recognise his point about some of the things that are being said, but I will simply say that, following my conversations with other European leaders, I believe that there is an extent of goodwill to deal with this issue at an early stage.
The Prime Minister lectures nationalists on the importance of staying in unions, but all the while she is advocating leaving one. She lectures our European partners on the importance of the single market, but all the while she is hellbent on our leaving it. Does she think that this incoherence in her position might be dealt with—and make her life easier—if she thought again about our staying within the single market?
I have said this on a number of occasions in the House, and I will repeat it here today: we want to negotiate the best possible trading arrangements. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) has talked about a tariff-free, frictionless and seamless movement of goods and services. It is wrong to think of the single market as a binary issue, in which we are either in it or have no access to it. We want to ensure that we have good access to the single market and the best possible trade deal, which will allow frictionless and, as far as possible, tariff-free access.
I particularly welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments on the Balkans, an area that has plunged Europe into horror several times over the past few centuries. Will she confirm that it is Britain that has insisted that we keep the mission there going, despite the opposition of several of our European partners?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The United Kingdom has been playing a key role in relation to the western Balkans. There was a good discussion at the European Council and clear recognition around the table of the need for us to continue to be involved in the western Balkans and of a number of steps that can be taken to ensure that we stabilise the region, which is in the interests of not only the countries in the western Balkans but the rest of us in Europe.
In the spirit of the so-called UK-wide approach to Brexit, will the Prime Minister confirm how much notice she intends to give to the First Ministers of Wales and Scotland and to the leadership in Northern Ireland of the date upon which she intends to invoke article 50?
We will invoke article 50 by the end of March, and a number of processes will happen in advance of that invocation. As I have said, I will come to the House when we have decided to make the notification.
Did the Prime Minister have the chance to take up with the European Commission and the Spanish Government their attitudes to the border with Gibraltar and to the separatists who claim that their countries could break away and then just rejoin the EU?
In our negotiations, the Spanish Government have been concerned and clear that it is not possible for a country to break away from a member of the European Union and immediately rejoin the European Union—the Barroso doctrine, which has been reaffirmed by the European Commission. As for Scotland, independence would not mean membership of the European Union. Scotland would remain outside the European Union.
I am sure that the Prime Minister will be pleased to know that millions of Labour supporters across the country will be delighted and will share her and my pleasure at the legal decision taken by Parliament. Did the right hon. Lady have any chance at the Council to discuss informally with EU leaders the position of British citizens in other countries? Are those leaders sticking up for our citizens there in the way we are sticking up for their citizens here?
I have had several discussions with European leaders on that point. That is why I said in response to an earlier question that there is good will on both sides about dealing with the issue and about recognising the needs not only of UK citizens living in other EU member states but of EU citizens living here in the UK. There is good will, but, as has been made clear in the past, no discussion can happen until the negotiations have been formally triggered.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement that politics is not a game, but those of us who have fought the SNP know that it is a game to them. Yesterday’s announcement by the First Minister is just the first of many that we will hear in the coming weeks and months. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is imperative that her Government and every Member of this House who believes in Great Britain and Northern Ireland reaffirm to our constituents outside of Scotland why it is that the United Kingdom is important to us all?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is vital for us to continue to confirm and reaffirm the importance of the United Kingdom. He says that we should reaffirm that importance to constituents outside Scotland, but we should also reaffirm the importance of the United Kingdom to Scotland and to Scotland’s economy, which I did recently when I was in Glasgow.
I was glad to hear the Prime Minister say that she has been working with the devolved Administrations, but I was also slightly puzzled because the
“Joint Ministerial Committee on Exiting the EU is less organised than a community council”.
Those are not my words, but those of an actual participant: the Welsh Government Minister Mark Drakeford. How is she ensuring that the interests of the devolved Governments are reflected in the article 50 notification?
The Joint Ministerial Committee process has been operating for some months at various levels and has brought UK Government Ministers together with the three devolved Administrations to discuss issues that have been raised on both sides, including looking at the Welsh Government’s paper on Wales’s particular concerns, which are being taken into account.
The Premier of Luxembourg apparently believes that we might yet be persuaded to stay in the EU. Are there others like him? If yesterday’s emphatic proceedings did not disabuse him, will the Prime Minister do so in the nicest possible way?
I think we can be reassured that the votes that took place in this House and in the House of Lords last night and the granting of Royal Assent to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill will send a clear message to everybody in Europe that we mean business.
The practice and experience in complex negotiations, such as in Northern Ireland, is that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Does the Prime Minister agree that that will be the case here? If so, and given that she said that no deal is preferable to a bad deal, how can British citizens living in EU countries or EU citizens living in the UK believe that there will be any resolution of the uncertainty?
The hon. Gentleman cites experience as the model for what will happen in our negotiations, but I do not look at these matters in that way. When we invoke article 50, we will start those negotiations, and we have already been in discussions with other European leaders about the importance of reassuring UK citizens living in the 27 member states and EU citizens living here on their status and their future. As I have said in answer to several questions, including one from the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), I believe that there is genuine good will on both sides on this issue, and that is why I want it to be an early part of the negotiations.
The Prime Minister rightly talked about the need to reassure EU nationals in this country. Does she agree that the biggest reassurance we can give is that their rights will remain completely unaltered until this House chooses to change them?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course, we will still be members of the EU until we exit the EU, but it is clear that any changes to our immigration rules that need to happen will have to come before this House.
The Prime Minister has said several times today that she is in discussions with the Scottish Government. She has also confirmed that she wants to trigger article 50 by the end of the month. By my calculations, she has less than two weeks to finish those discussions and to agree and announce the UK-wide approach that she promised in July last year, so when does she expect to finish her discussions with the Scottish Government and to announce the outcome?
As the hon. and learned Lady knows, when we trigger article 50 and enter negotiations, we will be negotiating as the UK Government. We have been in discussions with the Scottish Government and the other devolved Administrations, and those discussions continue. However, I have of course already set out our broad objectives for the negotiations, which included a reference to the sort of trade deal that she and her colleagues have said they want for the United Kingdom and for Scotland.
There were smirks and laughter from the Opposition Benches when my right hon. Friend spoke of the single market and digital. Will she remind the House that we want to continue to trade with the single market and that we inject £60 billion-worth of demand into that market? With investment from Snap, Facebook and SoftBank, this country is a powerhouse in digital.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about this country’s important role in the market for digital services, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has set out a digital strategy. I was rather surprised by the derision from the Opposition at the suggestion that we should encourage a single market in digital services in the European Union, which we can trade with and sell into. They seem not to want us to develop that market in a way that is good for the United Kingdom.
A moment ago, the Prime Minister repeated without a hint of irony or comedy that she is encouraging the European Union to complete the single market in services because that is in our national interest. Will she explain to the House and to the country how it is not in our national interest to be a part of it?
The hon. Gentleman has said in the past that he has a different view on the result of the vote and of where the Government should be going in relation to membership of the European Union.
He asked about the single market.
Yes, I know that the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) asked about the single market, and I have answered many questions about that. My response to him is the same as my response to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), which is that it is important for us to encourage the market—the market that we are going to be working with, that we are going to be trading with, that we want the best possible access to and that we want our services to be able to operate within—to be a free market with which we are able to work.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement. As we do not pay to sell our goods and services to any other country around the world, will she confirm that we will not accept any deal that requires us to pay the European Union for access to the single market?
My hon. Friend may have been looking at the same report as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) in relation to the sums that we pay. As I said in my response to him, the vote on 23 June 2016 was about many things. Obviously, in terms of leaving the European Union, one of the things that people were clear about is that we would not continue paying huge sums into the EU every year.
Is it the Prime Minister’s intention that both the common travel area and the Good Friday agreement will be specifically named as features in the framework for future relations between the UK and the EU? Does she accept the Taoiseach’s point about the signal importance of having the consent provisions of the Good Friday agreement specifically reflected in a new UK-EU treaty to make it clear that Northern Ireland, as one part of the UK, could elect to rejoin the EU without necessitating article 49 negotiations and that the Barroso doctrine would not be an impediment?
We have been very clear about the importance of maintaining and delivering on the agreements that have been made in relation to Northern Ireland, and that issue is very clear to other member states of the European Union. Of course the common travel area existed long before either the Republic or the United Kingdom were part of the European Union, and one of the objectives I set out as we look to the future negotiations is that we will be looking to maintain the common travel area.
Following the last few months of debate, I am assured by the Prime Minister and her Government that they are striving to achieve a zero-tariff trade deal on goods and services with the EU as they enter formal negotiations. Will she outline the potential impact on European markets of not agreeing a trade deal with the UK following its departure from the European Union?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, because all too often people act as if somehow we are just a supplicant in this relationship and that anything that is decided will have an impact only on the United Kingdom. Of course a trade deal will have an impact on companies within the remaining 27 member states, as they want to trade with and operate within the United Kingdom. That is why I am confident that, when we come to the negotiations, people will see the benefit to both sides of getting a good trade deal.
The Prime Minister has said that, in the deal she wants with the European Union, she would like associate membership of the customs union—a membership that does not as yet exist.
On 6 February, after the last European Council, I asked the Prime Minister whether she had raised that idea with her European counterparts, and she overlooked the question—I am sure it was an oversight—so I ask her the question again. Has she raised the idea, and what was the response? Or should we take her evasiveness as meaning that there is no deal?
First, the hon. Lady is slightly misinterpreting the speech I gave at Lancaster House, in which I said that there are certain elements of the customs union that we would not wish to be part of because they prevent us from negotiating trade deals on our own, as the United Kingdom, with other countries across the world. I said that the relationship we want with the customs union is to have
“as seamless and as frictionless a border as possible”.
I indicated that that might be called “associate membership” or it might be something else, but we need to do that as part of the negotiations. Our relationship with the customs union will be part of the negotiations that will start when we trigger article 50.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. Paragraph 9 of the conclusions on security refers to the EU working together to fight terrorism. One of the biggest challenges facing Europe and the UK in the next five to 10 years, according to experts such as Peter Neumann, is terrorist fighters returning to their host countries from Syria and Iraq as Daesh is defeated. Was that discussed at European level, and is there an agreed strategy across Europe to deal with it?
That was not one of the issues that we discussed within the business of the European Council last week. However, it is an issue that I have discussed with other member states on a number of occasions in the past, and we are all well apprised of the need to ensure that we have a means of identifying those who are returning. We are working to deal in the most appropriate way with those individuals who are returning. Of course, so far as the United Kingdom is concerned, individuals will be looked at on a case-by-case basis.
On single market membership, in their 2015 manifesto the Prime Minister and her party made an unconditional commitment to
“safeguard British interests in the Single Market.”
She castigated my hon. Friends the Members for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) and for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) for raising that issue, but on 26 May 2016 she told an audience of Goldman Sachs bankers, in relation to single market membership, that
“the economic arguments are clear. I think being part of a 500-million trading bloc is significant”.
Why is she waving the white flag and starting these negotiations without even trying to keep our membership of the single market, with the reforms she seeks? We are the second-biggest economy in Europe and the fifth-biggest military power in the world, and she is waving the white flag before the negotiations have started.
I am doing nothing of the sort. The hon. Gentleman needs to recognise that there is a difference between access to the single market, protecting our ability to operate within the single market, and membership of the single market. Membership of the single market means accepting free movement, accepting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and, effectively, remaining a member of the European Union. We have voted to leave the European Union, and that is what we will be doing.
My right hon. Friend needs no lessons in her primary duty, which is the defence of this great realm. I welcome enormously the efforts she has made with our European partners to work together to counter the Russian threat that is sadly growing in the east. Will she please comment a little on how the threat would affect the United Kingdom should parts of our own great United Kingdom secede from the Union? What vulnerabilities would that put into our defence?
It is right that we are looking very carefully at the impact that the activity of Russia and others can have across the European Union, but it is also right that we are stronger as a United Kingdom in our collective defence and that every part of the United Kingdom benefits from being part of the UK through our collective defence and security against crime and terrorism.
Membership of the single market and the customs union gives our country barrier-free, tariff-free access to the biggest single market in the world and, through the customs union, more trade deals with other countries across the world than any other leading economy outside those institutions. Why is the Prime Minister therefore determined to pull us out? Is it because she genuinely believes it is the right thing to do, which she did not just a matter of months ago, or is it because she has been taken hostage by the right wing of her party? Once more, another Conservative Prime Minister is not only putting her party political interests before the economic interests of our country but is putting at risk the integrity of the United Kingdom.
On 23 June 2016, the majority of people in the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, and there are consequences of leaving the European Union. We want to negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement with the European Union that gives us the best possible access to the single market.
We have the best possible access now.
We have membership of the single market because we are a member of the European Union, which involves—[Interruption.]
Order. Somebody is overexcited. The question has been asked, and the Prime Minister should not have to fight to be heard. The right hon. Lady must be heard.
Being a member involves accepting certain other requirements from the European Union, requirements that people voted not to be part of when they voted on 23 June. That is why I have consistently said that Members of this House must stop thinking that the only option is membership of the single market or nothing—it is not. There is an option of having a comprehensive free trade agreement that gives us the sort of access that we want to have.
I commend the Prime Minister on her strong leadership. Latvia will host NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe in meetings tomorrow. I represent a considerable Ukrainian community in Huddersfield. It is clear that there are currently real and present threats from Russian aggression throughout the whole of Europe, the Baltics and the Balkans; will the Prime Minister continue to put NATO at the forefront of our efforts to tackle the worries and concerns resulting from Russian aggression?
I absolutely assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to put NATO at the forefront of those efforts. I am pleased that the UK is able to make a specific contribution this year to NATO’s efforts in relation to the eastern border of the European Union and NATO countries with Russia. For example, we will soon see UK troops going to Estonia as a very visible sign of our commitment.
Fears about the consequences of Brexit were undoubtedly exploited by Sinn Féin in the recent Northern Ireland Assembly election. Sinn Féin increased their first-preference votes by somewhere in the region of 58,000, which means they are just one seat behind the Democratic Unionist party in the new Assembly, as elected. I wonder—as, I am sure, does the rest of the country, and particularly those in Northern Ireland—what additional steps, including visiting Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister is going to take to turn back the tide of support for Sinn Féin.
The hon. Lady is obviously correct in the facts she sets out about the voting in the election. The focus we must all have now and in the coming couple of weeks, because there is limited time set aside in the legislation, should be on bringing the parties together to form a devolved Administration. I believe it is absolutely essential that we do everything we can to ensure that a devolved Administration are maintained in Northern Ireland.
On the impact of Brexit, we have been very clear about the relationship we want to ensure with regard to the border with the Republic of Ireland, and we continue to work with the Republic of Ireland and others to deliver on that. Nevertheless, over the next couple of weeks the focus of us all must be on bringing the parties together to ensure a devolved Administration are formed in Northern Ireland.
Previously as Home Secretary and now as Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend has paid particular attention to the scourge of modern slavery in economies such as Lincolnshire’s agricultural sector. Will she confirm that, as she negotiates our way out of the European Union, she will prioritise a collaborative approach to continuing to tackle this vile trade, and that she will take the same approach when it comes to designing a scheme for seasonal workers, who may still have to come to work in this country?
We will certainly continue to prioritise the work we do in relation to modern slavery, not only to support the victims of that vile trade but to break the criminals who make so much money out of it and stop the damage and abuse they bring to individuals. As my hon. Friend says, we have looked at the issue in particular in areas such as the agricultural sector in his part of the country, and we want to continue to co-operate on the issue as we leave the European Union. We will continue to co-operate on these sorts of issues because they are not just about membership of the European Union; we need to do something about them, whatever international organisations we are part of.
The Prime Minister talks about listening to the Scottish Government, but that is of course on the back of the people of Scotland voting overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union. Given the UK Government’s intransigence, it is little surprise that the Scottish National party is proposing a motion in the Scottish Parliament to ask for a mandate for a second referendum. Will the Government allow that to take place, or will she attempt to veto the democratic wishes of the Scottish people and the Scottish Parliament?
There was a referendum in Scotland in September 2014 in which the people of Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom. Sitting next to the hon. Gentleman is the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), who said at the time that it would be a once-in-a-generation vote.
The right hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) quite rightly started his questions by emphasising the importance of jobs and the economy. Given the circumstances, with Scotland’s trade with the UK being worth £50 billion—four times less than its trade with the EU—does the Prime Minister think there is a good economic case for Scotland to remain in the UK and to ensure that together we work for the best deal with Europe?
My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right, and the figures are very clear: the single market that is most important to Scotland is the single market with the United Kingdom. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Gordon shouts “frictionless borders” at me; of course, Scotland has a frictionless border with the rest of the United Kingdom, which is the most important single market it is a member of.
In recent discussions I have taken part in, it has been clear that there is no support among any of the parties represented in the German Parliament for the UK to retain barrier-free access to the single market if we no longer operate free movement. The Prime Minister has asserted her optimism, but does she recognise that that is the reality of the starting point we are at?
The reality of the starting point we are at is that we are going to sit down with the European Commission and, obviously, representatives of the European Council and the European Parliament, to negotiate the relationship that is going to be right for the United Kingdom and right for the rest of the European Union. The discussions I have had so far indicate that there is a recognition on both sides of the negotiation of the importance of making sure that we get a very good free trade agreement.
I commend the Prime Minister on her statement. Does she agree that now is a good time to consider raising environmental and animal welfare standards as we leave the European Union? For example, we currently cannot stop the export of live animals.
The position we have taken is that, when we leave the European Union the acquis will be brought into UK law through the great repeal Bill, so that at that point everybody will know where they stand in relation to the various rules and regulations we have abided by as members of the European Union. Thereafter, of course, it will be open to this Parliament to determine the standards we require and the regulations we wish to see across a whole raft of areas, including those my hon. Friend mentions.
The Prime Minister will know that under the Dublin rules the UK has returned more asylum seekers to other European Union countries than we have received from them. What are her intentions post-Brexit? Does she intend for us to continue to participate in that aspect of the Dublin agreement?
We will obviously look at the relationship we will have with the European Union on matters such as asylum seekers. I have broadened the discussion on this issue; it is about not only the UK’s relationship with the EU but how the whole international community deals with asylum seekers and economic migrants. I am clear that, as an international community, we should accept that individuals should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach.
Ah, two Dorset Members. I call Mr Richard Drax.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on her clarity of purpose. Does she agree that nothing is of greater importance today than the United Kingdom standing together? Those calling for a second referendum in Scotland are behaving totally irresponsibly and will potentially lead the people of Scotland over a cliff like lemmings to economic ruin.
My hon. Friend is right that as we start on the negotiations for our future relationship with the European Union, it is important for us to do so as a United Kingdom. We should come together, recognise the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom, and ensure that we get absolutely the right deal for the whole United Kingdom.
Last week, the European Council agreed to speed up proposals for European travel authorisation and the sharing of information on travel. In the context of Brexit, are we planning to be part of that system? If not, what will it mean for visa fees or access to Europe for British citizens?
The European Union was indeed negotiating the arrangements for the sort of European tariff or visa system it would put in place. As a member of the EU, we were able not to be part of that arrangement, but as we look forward to the post-Brexit arrangements, one issue we will discuss in the negotiations is how we exchange border information. The right hon. Gentleman will know from his experience in previous positions he has held that it is a question not only of issues such as that, but of access to things like Schengen Information System II and Eurodac, as well as other issues. All that will be part of the negotiations.
As the third of the Dorset trio in the Chamber this afternoon, may I say that, like my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I am a Unionist to my fingertips? Will she and her Cabinet colleagues consider that, as we see a dwindling of EU financial contributions to capital programmes in this country, we should explore very vigorously the opportunity to present to all of our constituents the fact that, where capital projects are undertaken in all parts of the kingdom, they are funded, supported and delivered by UK taxpayers from a UK Treasury?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. He will be aware that the Treasury has offered reassurances on the funds that are currently received from the European Union while we are still members of the European Union and, in some cases, thereafter as well. Leaving the European Union gives us an opportunity to look at how support can best be provided by the United Kingdom Government.
Last December, just 101 EU nurses came over to work in our NHS. That is a decrease of more than 90% from pre-referendum months. How does the Prime Minister intend to tackle that so we do not have any more hospital wards—like many in my own constituency—that are dangerously understaffed?
I recognise the contribution that nurses from the European Union have made to the NHS over the years, and that is one group of EU citizens whom we will be thinking of when we start those negotiations on EU citizens living here and their rights. The Government also recognise that there are many people here in the United Kingdom who wish to train as nurses but who have not been able to do so because of the cap on numbers. We have removed that cap, which will enable more to take up those training positions.
Nobody knows what the answer will be when the people of Scotland are asked the simple question of whether they will choose hard Brexit as part of the UK, or full partnership with 27 sovereign states in the European Union. Does the Prime Minister agree that that question should be asked at a time when, whatever the democratic answer from the people, it can be seamlessly implemented, which means that the question should be asked within the timeframe indicated by Nicola Sturgeon yesterday?
First, as the hon. Gentleman will know—I am sure that he has been present in the Chamber in previous statements and debates on this topic— I do not accept his terminology that what we will be negotiating is a hard Brexit from the European Union. We shall be negotiating a good trade deal, which will be good for all parts of the United Kingdom, including Scotland.
In the Prime Minister’s desperation to do the UK Independence party’s bidding, she has determined that we will be leaving the single market as well as withdrawing from the European Union. Will she tell me whether there will be stand-alone legislation to repeal the European Economic Area Act 1993, or does she intend to use the EEA as the basis for her transitional implementation period?
I expected better from the hon. Lady in terms of the description that she has given. I say simply this: what this Government are doing is the bidding of the British people, and the British people alone.
Turkey is an exceptionally important partner in Europe’s attempts to deal with mass migration. Turkey is also an exceptionally important partner in NATO. Given the events of the past week, did the European Council have any discussions about how we can ensure that there is no rowing back on democracy in Turkey, and, at the same time, that it remains the important partner that it has been so far?
The Council recognises the important role that Turkey plays, particularly in the areas of migration and the EU-Turkey deal that was negotiated some while ago, which has led to a significant reduction in the number of people moving from Turkey, across the Aegean, into Greece. I am very clear, as are other European leaders, that we want to see Turkey maintaining its democratic institutions and the rule of law and respecting international human rights.
There has been a lot of emphasis on the trade deal, but the divorce deal is very important, too. At the heart of any divorce deal is a fair financial settlement. What will the Prime Minister do if there is no fair financial settlement at the end of the article 50 period? What will happen then to the divorce deal and our exit from the European Union?
The hon. Lady will be aware that, as we enter the negotiation, there is a wide range of issues that we will be considering and discussing with the European Union. I did not respond to this issue earlier, but a number of Members have used the term “divorce”. I prefer not to use that term with regard to the European Union, because, often, when people get divorced, they do not have a good relationship afterwards. Hon. Members need to stop looking at this as simply coming out of the European Union and see the opportunity for building a new relationship with the European Union, as that is what we will be doing.
In the jumble of words that formed the Prime Minister’s statement—“global Britain”, “leading role in Europe” and “not a moment to play politics or create uncertainty and division”—she missed out the two key words of “hypocrisy” and “irony” given her actions today. However, my real question is this: after Brexit, what are the Government’s plans with regard to the 1964 London fisheries convention?
The 1964 London fisheries convention is one issue which the Government are looking at, and we will be looking at it in relation to our future relationship with Europe as we come out of the European Union and therefore out of the common fisheries policy. [Interruption.]
Yes indeed. It is a very important matter. I think that we will learn more about it. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) obviously knows all about it.
When the First Minister announced her drive for a second divisive Scottish independence referendum yesterday, one of her manufactured grievances was the fact that Brexit gives the UK Government an opportunity to muscle in on the powers of the Scottish Parliament. Does the Prime Minister agree that the fundamental overriding principle of any EU repatriated powers should be that they are transferred to the devolved Administrations?
I have been very clear with all the devolved Administrations that Brexit will not involve any powers that have currently been devolved to those Administrations being returned to the United Kingdom Government. As we look at the transfer of powers that are currently in Brussels back to the United Kingdom, we may very well see more powers being devolved to the Administrations.
A total of 43% of publications from the UK’s 47 biggest universities come from collaboration with at least one EU firm—it is even higher in London institutions. Did the discussions that the Prime Minister engaged in with her European counterparts touch on any kind of safeguards for our university sector given that level of dependency on European industry? Furthermore, on page 75 of her party’s manifesto, there is a commitment not only to remain in the single market, but to expand it. How is that going?
The hon. Lady might have noticed that we also promised the British people a referendum and a vote on whether to stay in the European Union. We gave them that vote, and they decided. We are now acting on the results of that vote. Although the vast majority of questions have been on Brexit this afternoon, Brexit was not formally discussed in the EU Council, as I indicated earlier. On the issue of universities, we have already given some comfort to universities in relation to research funding agreements that they enter into before we leave the European Union. If she looks at the Lancaster House speech I gave and the White Paper that came off the back of that, she will see that science and innovation was one issue that we put forward as a negotiating objective.
The Prime Minister has welcomed the completion of the free trade agreements between the EU and Canada, and the pending free trade agreement between the EU and Japan. When it comes to the benefits of the single market and free trade, will the EU not be getting the full jammy doughnut while the UK will be left behind with nothing but an empty hole?
No. We will be negotiating free trade agreements with not just the EU, but other countries around the world. Crucially, other countries around the world are eager to work with us to negotiate free trade agreements. There are discussions with countries such as America, Australia, Mexico and India. We are already looking at the agreements that we can have as a United Kingdom outside the European Union.
Does the Prime Minister accept that her intransigence over amendments to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill and her pandering to the Brexit fanatics on her Back Benches, which have diminished the role and sovereignty of this Parliament over the Brexit process, have opened up the door to threatening the future integrity of the UK?
Amendments were put before this House; this House voted and took a decision. From the description that the hon. Gentleman has given, he seems to be saying that every time that this House takes a decision that he does not agree with, it is somehow a disrespect of Parliament. I have to tell him that that is not how this place works—we put our arguments and then vote on them; one sides wins and the other loses.
Does the Prime Minister accept that if we crash out of the European Union with a bad deal or no deal at all, it will be entirely the failing and responsibility of our chief negotiator and her team—the Prime Minister and her Ministers?
I have already said that I am optimistic that we will be able to negotiate a good deal for the United Kingdom.
I agree with the Prime Minister on one thing: politics is not a game. That is why I will not sit back and just hope for the best from her Government, as she seems to wish me to do. Given the way in which she has handled the compromises put forward by the Scottish Government and the situation she now finds herself in, may I offer her a moment of reflection? Is there anything she regrets about the way in which she has responded to those compromises, or does dogma still reign in Downing Street?
We have had extensive discussions with the Scottish Government and the other devolved Administrations on the issues that they have raised with the United Kingdom Government and the concerns that they wish us to take into account. As I said in my statement and yesterday, there are many areas of common ground between us and the Scottish Government. For example, we both agree on the protection of workers’ rights once we have left the European Union. We have been looking at those areas of common ground, but we have also been looking, as we will in the negotiations, at ensuring that we get a deal—an arrangement and relationship for the future—that is good for the whole United Kingdom, including Scotland.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement and refer her to the Somalia conference that she mentioned. A Nigerian MP was a guest speaker at yesterday’s meeting of the all-party group on Nigeria. He informed all of us present that Nigeria has become the biggest centre for illegal arms smuggling in the whole of Africa. Will the Prime Minister assure me that she will raise that issue, which affects all of Africa, when the Somalia conference is hosted in the UK in May?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government will look at the issue very seriously. Obviously there are a number of concerns in respect of what he has said, and I will certainly look at the issue carefully.
I am extremely grateful to the Prime Minister and all 66 Back-Bench Members who questioned her following the Leader of the Opposition.