Before I turn to the European Council, I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those killed in the appalling terrorist attack in Trèbes on Friday. The House will also want to pay tribute to the extraordinary actions of Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame who, unarmed, took the place of a hostage and gave his own life to save the lives of others—son sacrifice et son courage ne seront jamais oubliés. Just last week, we marked the first anniversary of the attack on Westminster and remembered the humbling bravery of PC Keith Palmer. It is through the actions of people such as PC Palmer and Lieutenant Colonel Beltrame that we confront the very worst of humanity with the very best. And through the actions of us all—together in this Parliament and in solidarity with our allies in France—we show that our democracy will never be silenced and that our way of life will always prevail.
Turning to the European Council, we discussed confronting Russia’s threat to the rules-based order. We agreed our response to America’s import tariffs on steel and aluminium, and we also discussed Turkey and the western Balkans, as well as economic issues including the appropriate means of taxing digital companies. All of those are issues on which the UK will continue to play a leading role in our future partnership with the EU after we have left, and this Council also took important steps towards building that future partnership.
First, on Russia, we are shortly to debate the threat that Russia poses to our national security—I will set that out in detail then—but at this Council I shared the basis for our assessment that Russia was responsible for the reckless and brazen attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, and for the exposure of many others to potential harm. All EU leaders agreed and, as a result, the Council conclusions were changed to state that the Council
“agrees with the United Kingdom government’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible and that there is no alternative plausible explanation.”
This was the first offensive use of a nerve agent on European soil since the foundation of the EU and NATO. It is a clear violation of the chemical weapons convention and, as an unlawful use of force, a clear breach of the UN charter. It is part of a pattern of increasingly aggressive Russian behaviour, but it also represents a new and dangerous phase in Russia’s hostile activity against Europe and our shared values and interests. So I argued that there should be a reappraisal of how our collective efforts can best tackle the challenge that Russia poses following President Putin’s re-election. In my discussions with President Macron and Chancellor Merkel, as well as with other leaders, we agreed on the importance of sending a strong European message in response to Russia’s actions not just out of solidarity with the UK, but recognising the threat posed to the national security of all EU countries.
The Council agreed immediate actions including withdrawing the EU’s ambassador from Moscow. Today, 18 countries have announced their intention to expel more than 100 Russian intelligence officers from their countries. That includes 15 EU member states, as well as the US, Canada, and the Ukraine. It is the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history. I have found great solidarity from our friends and partners in the EU, North America, NATO and beyond over the past three weeks as we have confronted the aftermath of the Salisbury incident, and together we have sent a message that we will not tolerate Russia’s continued attempts to flout international law and undermine our values. European nations will also act to strengthen their resilience to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear-related risks, as well as to bolster their capabilities to deal with hybrid threats. We also agreed that we would review progress in June, with Foreign Ministers being tasked to report back ahead of the next Council.
The challenge of Russia is one that will endure for years to come. As I have made clear before, we have no disagreement with the Russian people who have achieved so much through their country’s great history. Indeed, our thoughts are with them today in the aftermath of the awful shopping centre fire in Kemerovo in Siberia.
But President Putin’s regime is carrying out acts of aggression against our shared values and interests within our continent and beyond, and as a sovereign European democracy, the United Kingdom will stand shoulder to shoulder with the EU and with NATO to face down these threats together.
Turning to the United States’s decision to impose import tariffs on steel and aluminium, the Council was clear that these measures cannot be justified on national security grounds, and that sector-wide protection in the US is an inappropriate remedy for the real problems of overcapacity. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade travelled to Washington last week to argue for an EU-wide exemption. So we welcome the temporary exemption that has now been given to the European Union, but we must work hard to ensure this becomes permanent. At the same time, we will continue to support preparations in the EU to defend our industry in a proportionate manner, in compliance with World Trade Organisation rules.
Turning to Brexit, last week the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union reached agreement with the European Commission negotiating team on large parts of the draft withdrawal agreement. That includes the reciprocal agreement on citizens’ rights, the financial settlement, aspects of issues relating to Northern Ireland, such as the common travel area, and crucially the detailed terms of a time-limited implementation period running to the end of December 2020. I am today placing copies of the draft agreement in the Libraries of both Houses, and I thank the Secretary of State and our negotiating team for all their work in getting us to this point.
The Council welcomed the agreement, including the time that the implementation period will provide for Governments, businesses and citizens on both sides to prepare for the new relationship we want to build. As I set out in my speech in Florence, it is not in our national interest to ask businesses to undertake two sets of changes, so it follows that during the implementation period, they should continue to trade on current terms. Although I recognise that not everyone will welcome the continuation of current trading terms for another 21 months, such an implementation period has been widely welcomed by British business because it is necessary if we are to minimise uncertainty and deliver a smooth and successful Brexit. For all of us, the most important issue must be focusing on negotiating the right future relationship that will endure for years to come.
We are determined to use the implementation period to prepare properly for that future relationship. That is why it is essential that we have clarity about the terms of that relationship when we ask the House to agree the implementation period and the rest of the withdrawal agreement in the autumn.
Of course, some key questions remain to be resolved on the withdrawal agreement, including the governance of the agreement, and how our commitments to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland should be turned into legal text. As I have made clear, we remain committed to the agreement we reached in December in its entirety. That includes a commitment to agree operational legal text for the “backstop option” set out in the joint report, although it remains my firm belief that we can and will find the best solutions for Northern Ireland as part of the overall future relationship between the UK and the EU.
I have explained that the specific European Commission proposals for that backstop were unacceptable because they were not in line with the Belfast agreement and threatened the break-up of the UK’s internal market. As such, they were not a fair reflection of the joint report. But there are many issues on which we can agree with the Commission and we are committed to working intensively to resolve those that remain outstanding. I welcome the fact that we are beginning a dedicated set of talks today with the European Commission and, where appropriate, the Irish Government so that we can work together to agree the best way to fulfil our commitments.
We have also been working closely with the Government of Gibraltar to ensure that Gibraltar is covered by our EU negotiations on withdrawal, the implementation period and future relationship. I am pleased that the draft agreement published jointly last week correctly applies to Gibraltar, but we will continue to engage closely with the Government of Gibraltar and our European partners to resolve the particular challenges our EU withdrawal poses for Gibraltar and for Spain.
Following my speeches in Munich and at the Mansion House setting out the future security and economic partnerships we want to develop, the Council also agreed guidelines for the next stage of the negotiations on this future relationship, which must rightly now be our focus. While there are of course some clear differences between our initial positions, the guidelines are a useful starting point for the negotiations that will now get under way.
I welcome the Council’s restating the EU’s determination to
“have as close as possible a partnership with the UK”
and its desire for a “balanced, ambitious and wide-ranging” free trade agreement. For I believe there is now an opportunity to create a new dynamic in these negotiations. The agreements our negotiators have reached on the withdrawal agreement and the implementation period are proof that, with political will, a spirit of co-operation and a spirit of opportunity for the future, we can find answers to difficult issues together. We must continue to do so. For whether people voted leave or remain, many are frankly tired of the old arguments and the attempts to refight the referendum over the past year. With a year to go, people are coming back together and looking forward. They want us to get on with it, and that is what we are going to do.
I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of the statement. I also join her in condemning the appalling terrorist attack in Trèbes, and in offering our solidarity with the French Government and the people of France, and our condolences to the family of Lieutenant Colonel Beltrame, the hero of the siege. She is right to commend the heroic action of police and security services, both here and in France, and to mark the one-year anniversary of the killing of PC Keith Palmer and others on Westminster Bridge, who were quite properly remembered last Thursday in Westminster Hall and in St Mary Undercroft.
On Russia, I welcome the international consensus that the Prime Minister has built; as I said two weeks ago, the most powerful response we can make is multilateral action. So I would like to place on record our thanks to the EU and other states for their co-operation with us. I know that we will discuss these issues further later this afternoon, but I would add my condolences to all those Russian families affected by the Kemerovo shopping centre fire at the weekend.
On US steel tariffs, we need a co-ordinated response to tackle the dumping of steel by some nations and to resist the retreat into protectionism by the United States. The temporary respite from tariffs is welcome, but we must make it permanent.
We are pleased that some progress seems to have been made on the transition period, especially given that the agreement is identical to what Labour was calling for last summer. The only real question is why it took the Government so long to realise that a transition on the same terms is vital to protect jobs and our economy. The Government wasted months and months, dithering and posturing, before accepting the inevitable. That is the consistent pattern of these Brexit talks: wild claims and red lines quickly become climbdowns and broken promises.
Our coastal and fishing communities were told by the Environment Secretary only this month:
“The Prime Minister has been clear: Britain will leave the CFP”—
common fisheries policy—
“as of March 2019.”
Just a few weeks later, we find out that that will not be the case. What happened when we were told by the Brexit Secretary that the Government would deliver “the exact same benefits” of the single market and the customs union? Well, now the Prime Minister is saying, “We won’t be able to have the benefits of the single market” and, after saying it was a viable option earlier this year, any form of customs union is now ruled out, too. In January, we were told by the Prime Minister that EU citizens arriving during the transition period would not get the same rights as those already in the UK. She said:
“I’m clear there is a difference between those people who came prior to us leaving and those who will come when they know the UK is no longer a member.”
Now she is clear that there is no difference.
The insecurity for families and businesses, and the confusion at the heart of Government, have dogged the first phase of negotiations. So can the Prime Minister today give some clarity and confirm that we will not withdraw from the European nuclear agreement—Euratom—until alternative international arrangements for nuclear co-operation are agreed? Will her Government back those pragmatic amendments to the Nuclear Safeguards Bill? The Prime Minister had previously signalled that there would be flexibility over the duration of the transition period, yet in the withdrawal agreement the Government have accepted a definitive withdrawal date of December 2020. Can the Prime Minister explain what happened to her request for flexibility? And what are the Government doing to ensure that this date could be extended if a deal has not been reached? It has been broken promise after broken promise, and I can only hope that the next broken promise does not involve their commitment to “no hard border” in Ireland. The Government have still offered no credible solution, and now, in order to move negotiations on, the Prime Minister has been forced into an agreement that could result in a hard border in the Irish sea. Will the Prime Minister outline how she will prevent a hard border in Ireland, or in the Irish sea, if she rules out any form of customs union?
Many UK nations and regions have benefited from the European Investment Bank. Given that we are still paying into the EU budget, will the Prime Minister explain why the UK will not be eligible for new funding during transition? Does that not leave us still paying in, but to get less?
Has the Prime Minister signed up to there being an Anglo-Spanish bilateral agreement on Gibraltar? Who will lead the negotiations for the Government?
Last week, the Government presided over a new fiasco over passports. In her last Brexit statement, the Prime Minister told the House:
“We are delivering for the British people, and we are going to make a success of it.”—[Official Report, 5 March 2018; Vol. 637, c. 31.]
Well, tell that to De La Rue workers in Gateshead. It seems that her red, white and blue Brexit has become the blue, white and red of the flag of France. Time after time, the Tories sell off British assets and jobs to the lowest bidder.
The Prime Minister says that last week was a significant breakthrough, but it is the same breakthrough that we were told had been signed off in December, and some of it is still fudged, four months on. Yet we know that the hardest decisions are yet to come. In the second phase of the talks, the Government must stop posturing, drop the impossible red lines, finally put jobs and our economy first and give workers and businesses the clarity that they need.
First, the right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of steel. As I said in my statement and at the European Council, we want to work with the EU in talking to the United States, to make the EU’s temporary exemption from those tariffs into a permanent exemption. I referenced, as did the right hon. Gentleman, that there is a need for us to deal with the question of overcapacity in the steel market. That is best dealt with in multilateral forums, which is why at the 2016 G20 a forum was set up that included China sitting around the table. The work of that forum should continue and we need to address that issue on that multilateral stage.
The right hon. Gentleman raised various other issues. He will know that membership of Euratom is legally linked to membership of the European Union. We are putting in place the arrangements necessary to ensure that we can continue to operate with others in that area.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about clarity on citizens’ rights. The December joint report and the report on the implementation period that was agreed last Friday do precisely that: they provide clarity for citizens as to what their rights are going to be.
The right hon. Gentleman referred once again to the Northern Ireland border. We are very clear and have set out proposals and ways in which we can ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We were also very clear in the December joint report, to which both the United Kingdom and the European Union signed up, that there should be no hard border down the Irish sea—in effect, that the internal market of the United Kingdom should be retained—and that all aspects of the Belfast agreement should be respected. We continue to do that.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the fact that the implementation period was a Labour party idea. May I remind him of two things? First, the concept of a smooth and orderly withdrawal from Brexit was first referenced in my Lancaster House speech in January 2017. Secondly, I seem to remember that the day after the referendum result in 2016, the right hon. Gentleman wanted to trigger article 50 immediately. There was no suggestion of an implementation period then, was there? So, there we go.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman talked about changes of opinion. This is the Leader of the Opposition who says that he wants us to continue to be in a customs union, but at the same time refuses to accept the competition policy that is a necessary element of being in a customs union. It is the right hon. Gentleman who, when the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), backed a rerun of the referendum, kept her in her job, but sacked the then shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), when he backed a rerun of the referendum. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is the Conservative party in government that is getting on with delivering on the wishes of the British people and delivering a Brexit that works for everyone.
May I commend my right hon. Friend for her strong stance on the Russian attacks over the past couple of weeks? That strong stance has shown to the rest of the world that we take action and point the finger when there is evidence, but that we do not have a never-ending dialogue, as was recommended by the Leader of the Opposition, with those who would harm us the most. Did she take further steps in those Council meetings last week to recommend to the Germans that they look again at this pipeline directly to Russia?
Obviously, it is very important that we are clear-sighted when we deal with states such as Russia and recognise the threat that they pose. The subject of the pipeline, Nord Stream 2, was not raised in the European Union Council. On further measures that might be taken by the European Union, we have asked EU Foreign Ministers to look at issues that might need to be addressed in June, when the European Council will again be looking at the matter.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement.
I start by wishing Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey and his family the very best following his discharge from hospital last week. I pay tribute to the NHS staff who cared for him in such difficult circumstances, and, of course, our thoughts remain with Yulia and Sergei Skripal. I want to associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks on the terrorist atrocity in Trèbes and on the selfless sacrifice of Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame. I pay tribute, too, to those who have been caught up in the terrible fire in Kemerovo in Siberia.
Last week, the Prime Minister secured an important message in the European Council’s formal declaration that it is “highly likely” that Russia was behind the nerve agent attack in Salisbury earlier this month. I note that EU leaders also agreed to recall Markus Ederer, the bloc’s ambassador to Moscow, for consultations. That is a strong position that our friends have taken, and I welcome united efforts in responding to the reckless chemical attack in Salisbury. Can the Prime Minister tell the House what discussions she has had with European partners in ensuring that non-governmental organisations on the ground in Russia continue to have support from the United Kingdom and the EU?
Although the Scottish National party welcomed the Prime Minister’s statement on 14 March, we want to see firm action taken by the Government on Scottish limited partnerships, which are often used by criminals for money laundering. We also want action on Magnitsky amendments to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill. Will the Prime Minister confirm when we can expect to see her Government’s plans to clamp down on Scottish limited partnerships and, more generally, to deal with all forms of Russian money laundering?
Turning to the EU Council’s conclusions on the latest phase of Brexit negotiations, will the Prime Minister tell the House what representations she made to EU leaders to reverse the conclusions on the UK’s fishing rights post Brexit? Last week, fishing communities across Scotland were left in the dark as their industry was bargained away by this Government. Why were the Secretary of State for Scotland and Ruth Davidson permitted to issue a statement on 11 March that we would have control of our fishing grounds for this to be reversed only a week later? What changed? Did the Secretary of State know what was to happen? Had he been properly informed by the Government? It is incumbent on the Prime Minister to secure the rights of fishing communities and to reject any deal that leaves them hamstrung in a transition agreement.
SNP Members continue to hold concerns about the UK Government’s approach to the Good Friday agreement and the Irish border. Time is running out. The Prime Minister cannot play fast and loose with Northern Ireland any longer. Decisions are needed to give businesses and communities in Northern Ireland the certainty in their day-to-day lives that they deserve.
Finally, what discussions has the Prime Minister had with the Prime Minister of Spain on the ongoing situation between Spain and Catalonia and on the arrest warrants that have been issued for democratically elected politicians, including those who are living in Scotland? Surely, we need a political solution, not this situation in which Spain is trying to impose on directly elected politicians.
I join the right hon. Gentleman, as I am sure everybody in the House does, in wishing the very best to Nick Bailey and his family as he completes his recovery. I also thank the NHS staff who not only treated him, but continue to care for Sergei and Yulia Skripal. I was pleased to meet some of those staff and talk to them about their experience when I was in Salisbury just over a week ago; their dedication was very clear.
The right hon. Gentleman raises a number of issues. We have had discussions with the Scottish National party and others about what a Magnitsky amendment might look like. We have already taken some action, but we are looking to ensure that we take the strongest possible action. Of course, a number of my colleagues in the European Council mentioned their own Magnitsky legislation and that issue.
I will write to the right hon. Gentleman on SLPs, if I may. We have taken some action, but are looking further at what we might be able to do.
On Catalonia, we continue to wish to see the rule of law upheld and to ensure that the Spanish constitution is upheld. On Northern Ireland, talks are starting today with the European Commission on the details of the ways in which we will be able to ensure that there is no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Where appropriate, those talks will also involve the Irish Government.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman mentions the common fisheries policy. We will be leaving the common fisheries policy and taking back control of our waters. But it is a bit rich for him to make those comments, given that he belongs to a party that wants to stay in the CFP in perpetuity.
The European guidelines of 23 March and the EU proposed legal protocol both insist on the autonomy of the EU legal order and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice. Will my right hon. Friend give the House an absolute assurance that in these negotiations the Government will not accept exclusive or sole jurisdiction of the European Court over the UK from 29 March 2019, nor after 30 December 2020—at the end of the implementation period—and that the Government will not enter a treaty or introduce legislation that confers such jurisdiction, which a recently retired European Court judge said would be a “legal viper’s nest”?
As I have said before in this Chamber in response to a question from our hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), during the implementation period, there will of course continue to be that role for the European Court of Justice, because we will be continuing to operate on largely the same basis as currently. Once we have ended the implementation period, it will be a very different story. We will then be absolutely in a position that I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) wants: one of taking back control of our laws. As I said in my statement, there are some issues still to be addressed on the withdrawal agreement, including the governance of that agreement. A number of interesting ideas have been proposed that do not give sole authority to the European Court of Justice, which is not something that we would want.
The Prime Minister’s welcome remarks about European co-operation on Russia show the continued importance of co-operation with the EU after Brexit. She has rightly proposed a security treaty on extradition, Europol and data sharing to be in place by the end of the transition period. But she will also know that a new treaty could take 18 months for other countries to ratify, could yet be referred to the European Court of Justice and will have to deal with some tricky legal and constitutional issues—for example, on extradition, which Norway has taken over a decade to try to resolve. So why is there no fallback clause in the withdrawal agreement, why has the Prime Minister set a hard deadline of December 2020, and what will she do if the security treaty is not in place in time?
We are absolutely ready to start negotiations with the European Union on the security partnership and treaty for the future. It is in both sides’ interests to have that treaty in place. So far, that has been the very clear message from my European partners. I think that they will have every intention, as we do, of ensuring that those security arrangements are in place when we end the implementation period.
Given the very strong mood in the country to just get on with Brexit, will the Government now produce their draft legislation, so that we can have the new fishing policy, the new farming policy, the new spending policies and, above all, the new borders policies that will represent the Brexit bonus that we are all waiting for?
My right hon. Friend has covered a number of issues. He will know that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is indeed consulting on what would replace the common agricultural policy, and it will be consulting the fishing industry and others on what would replace the common fisheries policy. Of course, legislation will be coming forward as necessary to cover all the issues that we need to address before we see the end of the implementation period and have in place the future relationship.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement. I welcome the joint statement that she has secured from EU leaders on Russia and, indeed, the actions of the 18 countries today. It is exactly that kind of internationalist approach that we need.
The Prime Minister mentions the discussions on taxing digital companies whose behaviour as guardians of our data is of course a subject of increasing concern. Does she agree that Brexit or no Brexit, the UK’s only hope of tackling the massive and damaging monopoly power of the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon is to work closely with our European partners on a co-ordinated approach not only on tax but on data protection and competition regulation?
We are looking at the issues around data as part of our negotiations with the European Union. We are bringing the general data protection regulation into UK legislation. This is another area where we want to ensure that we have a good arrangement for data exchange in the future.
Work is in hand at an international level—at the OECD level—on the taxation of digital companies. We believe that the best result is an international result, but we also think it right to look, as the European Union, at whether any interim steps need to be taken to ensure that we are properly taxing these companies.
Flowing from her opening remarks, will my right hon. Friend call on the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, the President of its Parliamentary Assembly—Michele Nicoletti—and the Assembly itself to join the British delegation in condemning utterly the Russian Federation’s actions, which are wholly unacceptable in a civilised society?
I thank my hon. Friend for that suggestion. I am very happy to join him and the British delegation in making that request.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on getting unanimity on Russia?
Will the Prime Minister state categorically today that no matter what happens, the implementation period will end at the end of December 2020? Does she agree that to go into any negotiation saying that one will never walk away is not the way to get the best result?
I certainly agree with the hon. Lady on that point, which I have made in the Chamber in the past. Anybody going into a negotiation needs to be able to take that position.
On the end date of the implementation period, I have spoken about it being around two years. In the negotiations, the European Union wanted it to be at December 2020, and I felt it was appropriate that we had that firm date, so that everybody is clear about when the implementation period will end.
For understandable reasons, defence spending has more than halved as a proportion of GDP since the end of the cold war. Now that the threat from Russia is re-emerging, can we reassess the need to fill the holes in the defence budget identified by the National Audit Office, the Defence Committee, and, most recently, the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy?
This is obviously an issue on which my right hon. Friend has campaigned, and continues to campaign, with great passion and dedication. As he will know, coming out of the national security capability review, we have set out the modernising defence programme. We are looking carefully at the question of our future defence against the background of the threats that we face. Of course, defence and national security covers more than simply what would traditionally be regarded as defence, but we are looking carefully at the capabilities required by the Ministry of Defence.
My apologies to the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), who has migrated backwards from his usual seat.
It is only a temporary move.
The United Kingdom is a world leader in aerospace defence and satellite systems. Can the Prime Minister clarify whether the attempts that the European Commission is apparently making to freeze British companies out of Galileo contracts that are due to be issued in June are consistent with the transitional arrangements? If not, what does she propose to do about it?
We have been very clear that as long as we are a member of the European Union, we will meet our obligations, but we should continue to be treated as a full member of the European Union. As the Business Secretary has said, the UK has a world-leading space sector that has contributed a significant amount of specialist expertise to the Galileo programme. We believe it is not just in the UK’s interests for us to continue to participate in that programme as we have done, but also in the interests of the European Union, because of the expertise the United Kingdom can provide.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the implementation period agreed last week. It is something that businesses have been calling for, and it provided much needed certainty. Businesses are still saying that they want to know that there will be regulatory forbearance and understanding by regulators during the implementation period as they adjust to a new set of rules. Is that something Ministers are aware of and have been discussing?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. We are aware of the issue of the regulators’ stance and have been in discussion with certain regulators about how they can work with their European opposite numbers to ensure that there is a sound regulatory footing during the implementation period.
May I associate my party with the Prime Minister’s words on the courage and sacrifice of Lieutenant Colonel Beltrame and her very appropriate words on the Russian threat?
Does the Prime Minister share the bemusement of many in Northern Ireland that there is so much concentration on the so-called backstop provisions when we should be getting on with negotiating the overall agreement, which will take care of the Irish border issue? Does she share the concern of many in Northern Ireland that that is being used by some in the European Union, and indeed some in the Irish Government, to shape their version of Brexit or to thwart Brexit altogether, by inventing problems when there are none? Will she give a clear assurance to the people of Northern Ireland that there will be no backtracking on her firm resolve that no British Prime Minister could ever sign up to the sort of legal text that the EU put forward?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. I am absolutely clear, and I share his bemusement that so much focus is being put on plan C when all parties have clearly said that they want to achieve this through plan A in the joint report, which was the overall agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union on their future partnership. I am happy to confirm that I could not—I do not think it would be possible for anybody standing at this Dispatch Box to do so—support something that destroyed the UK internal market. We are clear that we maintain our commitment to the whole December joint report. We will be working on those options, and we are fully confident that we can find a solution through plan A.
There were many positive aspects of the Council, for which my right hon. Friend deserves congratulations, including particularly the unanimous support from other European countries over Russia’s appalling behaviour, showing that our European friends are considerably more robust than the leadership of the Opposition. Does she agree that today’s welcome moves to expel Russian diplomats from a number of countries must not be a one-off, but must be seen as the start of a more robust strategy in resisting Putin’s provocation wherever it occurs?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. That is why, as I said earlier, EU Foreign Ministers and the European Council will be looking at that issue again. What happened in Salisbury was part of a pattern of aggressive Russian behaviour, and we need to ensure that we are working across all fronts to deal with that aggressive behaviour, whether it is disinformation, propaganda or cyber-attacks. We need to work together to deal with all those threats.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the level of support and solidarity she secured from our European friends on Russia. But how is it remotely acceptable that when a young whistleblower exposes compelling evidence of lawbreaking by the leave campaign, implicating staff at No. 10, one of those named, instead of addressing the allegations made, issued an officially sanctioned statement outing the whistleblower as gay and thereby putting his family in Pakistan in danger? That is a disgrace, Prime Minister, and you need to do something about it.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that any statements issued were personal statements—[Interruption.] They were personal statements that were issued. I of course accept the importance of ensuring that we recognise that, for some, being outed as gay is difficult because of their family and circumstances. I want to see a world in which everybody can be confident in their sexuality and does not have to worry about such things.
Russia respects strength, and one of the lessons of the 1930s is that it is dangerous to give commitments to eastern Europe unless we back up such commitments with military hardware. Our commitment to the Baltic states is relatively modest; I think we have 800 men in the Baltic states. Will the Prime Minister consider increasing our military commitment and our support for the Baltic states, so that we can build European solidarity on the basis of a coalition of peace through security?
We do look constantly at the contribution that we are making. My hon. Friend is right that we have several hundred troops in Estonia as part of the enhanced forward presence. We are also contributing in other parts of Europe—to the work that is being done, for example, in Poland. However, we will obviously continue to look at this.
Given that the Prime Minister’s political secretary, Stephen Parkinson, is the person responsible for outing the Vote Leave whistleblower, using No. 10 paper and documents, what is she going to do? Prime Minister, you should sack him!
No. I am sorry, but that is not what I should be doing. My political secretary does a very good job as my political secretary, and as I have said, any statements that have been made were personal statements.
Were we to adopt the Leader of the Opposition’s policy of domestic procurement preference, would that not be a passport to ruin?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s way with words in his question, and I think he is absolutely right. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration said earlier this afternoon, we want to ensure we are providing a secure document and good value for the taxpayer, and show that we as a Government believe in competition and open markets.
It has been reassuring to see the other EU member states rally to the United Kingdom’s support on the issue of Russia. Does the Prime Minister agree that all member states, and indeed the UK, should be vigilant about human rights abuses wherever they occur, even when that is within an EU member state?
Of course, within the European Union we all stand up for certain values—European values—and human rights are among the values that we stand up for. Where any difference is shown by any individual country in relation to that, that is pointed out.
Does the Prime Minister share my incredulity at the crocodile tears of SNP Members over fishing, when they would have had us remain in the disastrous CFP in the first place? May I go on to ask her about the suggestion made last week by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan) of a mitigation scheme to protect our fishermen during the transition period? Has any thought been given to that in the Government, and might we see something about it in the forthcoming fisheries Bill?
I share my right hon. Friend’s incredulity in relation to the actions of the SNP, which would keep us in the common fisheries policy in perpetuity. We will of course be talking with the fishing industry about the arrangements that will pertain for the industry in the future. I want to see that industry enhanced, and I want to see us doing what we can to ensure—when we are negotiating as an independent coastal state, at the end of the implementation period, in relation to fishing, access to our waters and access for our fishermen to other waters—that the industry can be enhanced, be built on and grow, and that we provide even greater support here in the United Kingdom.
Why is the Prime Minister so attached to the reckless strategy of taking the UK past exit date without settling a treaty on the future relationship that we would have with the EU? She could call that 21-month period an additional negotiation period or a limbo period, but she really should not call it an implementation period, because there may be nothing to implement.
If the hon. Gentleman looks back at my statement, he will recall that I said that it is our intention that this House, when it comes to look at the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill and to vote on that Bill, should have sufficient detail of what that future relationship is going to be, and that will take place before we leave the European Union.
Many of us are concerned that, in the transition period, most of the red lines have gone, but we can live with it on the basis that they will be restored when we finally leave. What reassurance can my right hon. Friend give me that when we leave, we will be out of the single market, out of the customs union and out of any jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice?
I am happy to reiterate what I have said before: we will be leaving the single market, we will be leaving the customs union, and we will be leaving the common fisheries policy—we will be ensuring that we take back control of our waters. My hon. Friend asks me about the European Court of Justice, and we are clear that we will take back control of our laws. However, with his attention to detail, my hon. Friend will know that, within the December joint report, in relation to citizens’ rights, there was, as part of that, for a period of time, for those EU citizens who are here, where cases are taken about those rights to UK courts, the possibility for the UK courts to have due regard to the views of the European Court of Justice.
The hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) is rocking back and forth in a state of some perturbation, and it disquiets me to see him in that situation. Let us hear the fella.
It was reported that the Prime Minister actually stayed at the European Council meeting longer than had originally been intended. Is that a metaphor for our membership of the European Union? Given that she was there longer, did she have an opportunity to have bilateral discussions with other Heads of Government in the margins of the meeting? If so, could she tell us which ones?
I did indeed stay overnight, and the reason for this was, I believe, a very good one, which I think everybody in this House would support. We had expected to discuss the steel and aluminium tariffs imposed by the United States and the position of the European Union on Thursday night. It became clear that the decision of the President of the United States was not going to come through until the early hours of the morning, European time, and that trade would therefore be discussed on the next day, and in order to speak up for UK steelworkers, I stayed on.
May I commend the Prime Minister for her statement today? It was noticed by many people that our European Union colleagues and allies acted more quickly in support of the Prime Minister’s firm and fully proper actions against Russia than the President of the United States. What guarantees can she give us—what confidence can she give us—that we will continue to have that great relationship with our fellow members of the European Union once we have left the European Union?
The United States has, of course, today announced the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats. As part of the implementation period agreement, as my right hon. Friend will be able to see, we have come to an agreement as to how we are going to operate on foreign policy issues during the implementation period. However, it is certainly the case that we continue to be part of Europe; as I said, we are leaving the EU—we are not leaving Europe. We will continue to work closely with our allies across Europe in a variety of forums, including—and this includes, not least, the United States as well—in NATO.
I warmly welcome the robust attitude Europe has adopted towards Russia. Indeed, I warmly commend the Prime Minister on securing that, because I do not think that that was a small feat. May I make a suggestion to her about dealing with Russia, which is that we should do more to tackle the dirty Russian money sloshing around in the City of London? One measure could be easily taken. The Government have, quite rightly, introduced a register of beneficial ownership of trusts, but they are refusing to make it public. Is now not the time to make sure everybody knows who owns what in this country, and to make sure Russian dirty money will not swill around this country because the City of London Corporation is clean and we will make everything public?
We do not want dirty money, whatever its source, in the City of London or the United Kingdom. That is why we have taken a number of steps to enhance our ability to deal with that issue. It is why the National Crime Agency will always act where there are issues around criminal activity or illicit finances. It is why we brought forward proposals in the Criminal Finances Act 2017, which gave us even greater strength, and it is why we will be dealing with the other issue that the hon. Gentleman always raises with me, the Magnitsky issue, in the sanctions Bill.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we live in an increasingly dangerous world, and that our European allies and friends must be persuaded to spend more on defence?
My hon. Friend knows that we meet our NATO commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence. We regularly encourage others to meet their commitment.
I welcome the steps taken on Russia and on steel, given the steel industry in my constituency. Does the Prime Minister not recognise, however, that there is a complete paradox here? At the very time she talks about the need for more co-operation on Russia, more co-operation on steel, more co-operation on data and more co-operation on counter-terrorism, her Government are pursuing a reckless hard Brexit. Does she not agree that as the facts change, and as people see these changing contexts, people have the right to change their minds?
Leaving the European Union does not mean we are leaving Europe. As I have just said, we are very clear that we will continue to work with our European allies on issues of mutual interest and mutual concern. Where we are dealing with threats posed to both those countries and the United Kingdom we will do so in a variety of ways, not least within NATO.
Those who doubted the Conservative party’s ability, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, to negotiate with the European Union will surely welcome today’s agreement both on the implementation phase and on the bulk of the future withdrawal agreement. Notwithstanding the mantra that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, will my right hon. Friend do everything possible to share the details of the agreement on citizens’ rights to both European nationals here in the UK and British citizens in the European Union as soon as possible?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. We have made efforts in the past to do exactly that, but we will be looking to ensure that we can provide the maximum information possible to EU citizens living here and UK citizens living in the European Union about their rights and their position so they can have certainty.
Our ability to sign our own trade agreements with third countries is hailed as one of the big prizes of Brexit. Delegations from European Free Trade Association countries that can agree their own free trade agreements, when asked what they make of their freedom, say they follow what the EU is doing. With which third countries does the Prime Minister expect the UK to make trade agreements that are different and better than current EU trade agreements during the transition period or indeed afterwards?
It is of course not the case that the EU has trade agreements with every country that we might wish to have trade agreements with, but a number of countries do have trade agreements with the EU. We have discussed being able to move those over into a bilateral relationship at the point of our leaving. When I talk with those countries, I see a desire to go further than that and to improve the agreements we have with those countries.
Does the Prime Minister agree that our fishing rights must not be hardwired into any future trade deal?
I recognise the concern there was at the time when we went into the common fisheries policy about the way in which our fishing rights were dealt with. I can assure my hon. Friend that we will be looking to deal with our fishing in a very different way in the future.
Does the Prime Minister agree that thanks to sessions such as this in the just over 20 months since the referendum, the British public are much better informed about the costs and benefits of leaving the European Union, and particularly about the dangers to our security and our economy? Given that they are much better educated about Europe and the threats, should we not have another vote, now that we know what the cost really is?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the response to the Salisbury attack from our friends and allies in the European Union not only shows that she still has a huge degree of standing among our European friends, but bodes well for a pragmatic and mutually beneficial conclusion to the Brexit negotiations?
I think that not only the way in which other EU members have supported the United Kingdom and taken action in relation to Russia, but the fact that we achieved the December joint report and agreed considerable amounts of the withdrawal agreement and implementation period does indeed bode well for our future negotiations.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment that the UK will remain in the European arrest warrant. Could she be clear, however, how the joint jurisdiction will take place and what the role for the European Court will be in the application of that arrest warrant?
As we have put in a number of proposals, we need to ensure that once we have left the European Union, we recognise the sovereign legal order of the United Kingdom. Obviously, we recognise the legal order that will pertain for the EU27. We will be negotiating the details of issues such as the European arrest warrant as part of the security partnership and treaty that we will negotiate for the future.
I commend my right hon. Friend on the progress that she made last week. She will know that the financial services industry particularly welcomes the implementation period and the commitment in the guidelines for a trade in services based on market access and allowing rights of establishment. Is the British Government’s ambition to achieve that under mutual recognition or standards regulatory alignment?
A number of proposals have been brought forward as the basis on which we could have the recognition of standards on both sides. Of course, there are some aspects of the financial services sector where standards are set internationally and not just at a European Union level. As part of the detailed negotiations we are going into, we will be looking at exactly what a dynamic equivalence of standards might look like in future.
The 23 March European Council guidelines state clearly:
“Being outside the Customs Union and the Single Market will inevitably lead to frictions in trade.”
Does that sentence not confirm beyond all doubt that the Prime Minister’s red lines are leading us inexorably to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic?
No, it does not. Of course, the European Union will have set its particular guidelines. We are going into negotiation with it. We have already set out ways in which we can ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and we will go into detailed discussion on those.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress made thus far in the withdrawal negotiations, but can she confirm that it remains her position that no deal is better than a bad deal, and that all necessary preparations are being made for such an eventuality?
Yes, I assure my right hon. Friend that we are ensuring that we are preparing for all eventualities.
What does the Prime Minister think the effect on GDP will be of the UK leaving the EU?
Let me say to the hon. Lady what I expect to happen as a result of us leaving the European Union. I believe that we will be able to continue to trade on a very good basis with the countries of the European Union. We will also be able to sign trade deals around the rest of the world. The impact on the GDP of this country is not just about our membership of the European Union, but about the steps that this Government are taking through the modern industrial strategy and other, which is why we see record levels of employment in this country and have seen continuous growth for some period of time.
It is welcome that the implementation period will create confidence for British business—for all except perhaps the UK fishing industry. UK fishing must be given confidence and must be prepared. Do the Prime Minister and the Chancellor plan to build that confidence by investing in our fishing fleet, improving the infrastructure of our ports and ensuring that we have adequate fish-producing facilities in the UK by 2021?
I know that my hon. Friend has a particular constituency interest in this issue, and I can reassure him that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be consulting the fishing industry, and working with fishermen and fish processors, to ensure that we have the best possibilities for enhancing and building on our fishing industry in the future.
If a lorry laden with goods from Ireland or the EU leaves Dublin, drives through the frictionless border to Belfast, boards a ferry to Liverpool, drives 20 miles to my constituency and then unloads, how, in the absence of a customs union or single market, will my constituents know what is in the lorry?
The idea that the only way there can be reasonable and sensible arrangements for crossing the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is by our remaining in the customs union and single market is simply wrong.
I congratulate my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, and their teams, on the progress that has been made. In the next stages of the negotiations, will she pay particular attention to young people in this country, who for the past 20 or 30 years have been able to work and study across the EU without hindrance? Can we ensure, even given the red lines, that they and indeed everyone in this country will be able to continue to do so, at least for a limited period—two, three or four years—without needing work permits?
I am very clear that people from the United Kingdom will continue to want to work and study in EU27 countries, and that EU citizens will continue to want to work and study here in the United Kingdom. We will be considering some of the specific arrangements that have helped to support students, such as Erasmus, and whether we should continue to be involved in them.
The Prime Minister mentioned the Brexit referendum. How concerned is she by reports that the Vote Leave campaign may have broken campaign spending limits in the referendum, and would she support investigations into that?
The question of whether rules were followed in the referendum is a matter for the Electoral Commission. I did refer to the Brexit referendum, because the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, and that is what we will deliver for them.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that when this country is threatened by the kind of actions and stances we have seen recently from Russia, the House should be united against these stances, as that is the only way in which democracy can defeat despotism?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that we show our unity across the House in standing up to the threat and behaviour of Russia.
The co-ordinated expulsions are welcome and highly significant, but will the Prime Minister be prepared to take further action if the Government conclude that Nikolai Glushkov was murdered with the involvement of the Russian Federation? That took place in London just eight days after the Skripal attack, in mysterious circumstances.
Obviously there is an ongoing police investigation into that individual’s death, and we await its result.
Following on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack), does my right hon. Friend agree that any free trade agreement linked to a specific industry such as fishing would constitute not only something that fishing communities could not accept, but cherry-picking?
As I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack), I am aware of how the fishing industry felt it was treated when the UK entered the then Common Market. I am also very clear that as we leave the EU, we need not only to uphold the interests of the fishing industry but, as I have said to other hon. Friends, to give it an opportunity to rebuild and be enhanced.
Given that the Prime Minister’s Government and, unfortunately, the official Opposition have had more positions on Brexit than the Kama Sutra, is it not time that the “I had this idea first” nonsense stopped, and that she and her Government spelled out how our constituents will be protected from the disastrous economic impacts of Brexit?
The picture that the hon. Lady paints is not one that I recognise—[Laughter.] Indeed, in relation to anything that she said in her question.
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) was preparing to divulge further information. I am not sure that it would be entirely seemly in the context of these exchanges.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the progress that was made last week, and on once again confounding the naysayers and the doom-mongers. I also welcome the comment in her statement about the need for clarity on the terms of the final trade agreement by October. How we can avoid the risk that we end up signing a legally binding exit agreement before we sign a legally binding final-state free trade agreement, given that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed?
There is a legal difference between those agreements. It is not possible legally to sign the new free trade agreement until we are outside the European Union, whereas of course the withdrawal agreement will have to go through Parliament and through the European Parliament before we leave the European Union. As I have said—my hon. Friend alluded to this —it is important that we have sufficient detail, and agreed detail, on that future relationship, so that everyone knows what it will be at the time at which they are asked to look at the withdrawal agreement.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s comments about Gibraltar, but will she tell us what specific discussions have taken place about the future of Gibraltar International airport?
We are obviously having discussions with the Government of Gibraltar, but discussions are also taking place to ensure that the challenges posed by the relationship between Gibraltar and Spain, including those concerning the airport, are overcome. Some good discussions have been held so far.
May I put on record my thanks to the NHS staff who cared for my constituent Nick Bailey so well? The whole community of Alderholt, the village where he lives, is very grateful for that, and pleased with the progress that he is making.
My right hon. Friend clearly attended a very busy Council. During the conversations on the margins, was she able to raise with other European leaders the rather ugly rise in the scourge of anti-Semitism in Europe?
That was not an issue that I raised at the Council, but I join my hon. Friend in his disquiet at the rise of anti-Semitism that we are seeing, and not just across the European continent. Sadly, we see too many examples of anti-Semitism here in the United Kingdom. There is no place for any racial hatred, hate crime or hate speak in the UK, be it Islamophobia or anti-Semitism.
Last week’s decision to stay in the common fisheries policy and to have no say in the matter for the next 21 months is further evidence of decades-long contempt for the fishing industry. Last week, Niels Wichmann of the Danish Fishermen’s Association said:
“Britain has never ever challenged the quota shares that we have used every year in the annual negotiations”.
If the Tories are so concerned about the fishing industry, why have they never challenged the quotas?
The hon. Gentleman says that the common fisheries policy shows “decades-long contempt” for the British fishing industry, but it is the Scottish National party that wants to stay in the common fisheries policy and show such contempt.
Brexit provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a renaissance of East Anglian fishing, although the provisions of the implementation agreement have created anger and some doubt about whether the Government share the ambition of the industry locally. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that her Government will work with and support East Anglian fishing communities, such as that in Lowestoft, as they work to revive this great industry?
I am happy to confirm that we will be working with those who are involved in the fishing industry throughout the United Kingdom to ensure that we can rebuild the industry, and that it will have a very good future.
I have listened very carefully to what the Prime Minister has said today—and, in fact, since her appointment—but she has failed to set out exactly how we can have frictionless trade over the Irish border. Will she do that now?
Not only have the Government set that out, but we have set it out in papers that were published last year. I suggest that the hon. Lady looks at those.
As the Prime Minister is aware, my son Clifford was born on 29 March last year, the day we triggered article 50. For this year’s party, I have ordered only one cake—a Paddington cake—but next year I will be buying two: one to celebrate my son’s birthday; and the other to celebrate our leaving the European Union. I congratulate the Prime Minister on her excellent leadership in getting us to this stage. Next year, may I save her a slice of Victoria sponge to celebrate Brexit day?
I will be very happy to celebrate Brexit day with my hon. Friend, and indeed with Clifford.
The Prime Minister knows that under single origin principles, most broadcasters in the European Union choose to licence within the UK. I met one such last week which told me that it will be moving 700 jobs from the UK to either Dublin, Amsterdam or Luxembourg, and will do so before the implementation period that the Prime Minister talked about. Is this what the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) meant by the Brexit bonus, and what is the Prime Minister going to do about it?
If the hon. Gentleman looks at my Mansion House speech on the future economic partnership, he will see that broadcasting was one of the issues I touched on with regard to a specific strand of the negotiations that we want to address. Of course some broadcasters who are broadcasting into the UK have been licensed in the EU because of the freedoms available at the moment. We recognise that there will be some change to the arrangements, but we want to ensure that we can maintain the strength in broadcasting that we have here.
May I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement? Does she agree that what my constituents in the Black Country and the west midlands want now is for us to move quickly to the substantive negotiations about our future trading relationship with the EU so that we can build on the positive developments in the regional economy and take advantage of opportunities for exporting and opening up trade links throughout the world?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am sure that people in the Black Country and the west midlands—these views are shared by people across the United Kingdom—want us to move to the negotiations on the future relationship and to see the benefits that will come when we are able to negotiate our own trade deals and encourage exporting outside the EU.
I strongly advise the Prime Minister to read SNP fishing policy before she comments on it, as she has it spectacularly wrong. Will she explain to the fishing communities of Argyll and Bute why she has agreed to a deal that keeps them in the CFP without a voice? Is that not the worst possible deal that her Government could have achieved for our fishing communities?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, for the 2019 catch, we will of course still be a member of the EU and part of the negotiations. We will be consulted on the 2020 catch and the stability key—the quota—will not change. For the 2021 catch, we will be negotiating as an independent coastal state. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the SNP has changed its policy on membership of the common fisheries policy, I am very interested to hear that, but so far as I am aware, it has not. He needs to talk to his party’s Front Benchers.
I am pleased to hear the Prime Minister’s continuing support for free trade. Is she aware that De La Rue currently exports to more than 140 countries, including 40 to which it exports passports? Does she therefore agree that the biggest threat to British jobs at De La Rue would be to advocate policies that would restrict passport production only to home countries?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Those who say that passports can be produced only in their home country would be denying De La Rue a significant part of its business.
The European Medicines Agency is departing these shores for the Netherlands. What estimate has the Treasury made of future losses for British science and research, particularly medical research?
As the hon. Lady might know, in the Mansion House speech I gave a few weeks ago, I raised the question of our future relationship with agencies including the EMA. We want to discuss with the EU the possibility of an associate membership, crucially so that the system entails only one set of authorisations, which we believe is in everybody’s interests in terms of getting medicines more quickly to market.
I, too, congratulate the Prime Minister on the very sensible agreement she reached at the European Council. Unlike the Leader of the Opposition, may I add my personal thanks to the Prime Minister and her team for agreeing a very sensible outcome during the implementation period for EU nationals in our country, as well as UK citizens in the EU27? Given my deep interest in this subject, which the Prime Minister knows well, will she help to facilitate a meeting with the Secretary of State so that I understand the proposed settlement rules that will be drafted in due course?
Yes, I would be happy to do that. It is important that the rules are clear for those who have been campaigning on this issue, and I am sure that that meeting will take place.
At the European Council, was the Prime Minister able to speak to the President of France, who on a recent state visit to India managed to secure a trade deal valued at $16 billion, despite having the dead weight of the European Union on his back?
I did indeed have discussions with the President of France, but we were discussing other issues, such as how we should deal with the threat from Russia.
In my right hon. Friend’s statement on 14 March on the Salisbury incident, she said that
“the United Kingdom does not stand alone in confronting Russian aggression.”—[Official Report, 14 March 2018; Vol. 637, c. 857.]
We should remember that there were those who questioned that at the time, and also questioned whether some of our allies really believed the evidence that they were shown. Surely what is so significant about today is that we are far from being alone, and that those countries can clearly see the culpability of the Kremlin in this terrible attack.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That was reflected in the conclusions of the European Council that took place on Thursday and Friday last week. It has also been reflected in the actions taken by number of EU countries. Those actions are not just about supporting United Kingdom; they are in the interests of the national security of those countries themselves.
It is pleasing to see our EU partners expressing unanimity behind the Prime Minister in recognising that the shocking events in Salisbury were in fact made in Russia. Among the actions that we now take, will she please revisit the golden ticket visas—the tier 1 investor visas—in the light of the fact that 2,500 oligarchs have acquired such visas in less than 10 years? Will she at least commit to strengthening the checks on the wealth behind these people so that accusations of rich Russians buying their way into Britain with dirty money simply cannot stick?
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has in hand a review of that particular tier of investor visas.
Our scientists at Porton Down have played a crucial role in our response to Russian actions in Salisbury. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to them, and continue to support and invest in our cyber, scientific and security personnel, whose role in our defence has never been more important?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to our scientists at Porton Down and at various sites of that particular Defence organisation. We should also recognise that the Ministry of Defence has recently announced some enhancement of the capabilities at Porton Down. It is important that we continue to do that and to enhance our cyber capabilities, as we have done with the nearly £2 billion that we are putting into our national cyber-security.
It is surely not good enough for the UK—or, indeed, other EU states—to hide behind the Spanish constitution if that constitution allows for fundamental rights, freedoms and democracy to be trampled all over. Is the Prime Minister seriously saying that however many arrests occur and however many people are locked up simply for expressing their democratic views, the EU and the UK will say absolutely nothing about it?
As I have said all along, and as I repeated earlier, we believe it is important that the Spanish constitution is upheld and that the rule of law is upheld.
The Prime Minister is right to stress the importance of standing up for shared values “within our continent and beyond.” That being the case, what does she think about politicians being arrested in Catalonia to suppress the peaceful democratic process?
As I have just said in answer to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), and as I will continue to say, we believe that the Spanish constitution should be upheld and that the rule of law should be upheld.
Has the Prime Minister spoken to her Spanish counterpart about the need to uphold democracy in Catalonia? If not, will she do so shortly?
Conversations that I have had on a number of occasions with the Spanish Prime Minister have contained our reassurance that the Spanish constitution and the rule of law should be upheld.
I am most grateful to the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the 63 colleagues from the Back Benches who questioned the Prime Minister. If others on the Front Bench would follow this textbook example, we would get through lots of questions with commendable speed. I am sure that other Ministers will be taking notice of these important exchanges.