The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU
May I start by paying tribute to Lord Melchett who, when he was in the House of Commons, was Peter Melchett? He did outstanding service to the nation when he was here. Indeed, he was a Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office in 1976.
May I also say, Mr Speaker, that in the past 36 hours or so in Northern Ireland there have been three car crashes, which have taken the lives of four people? I am sure the whole House sends our sympathies and condolences to the loved ones of all those who have died.
The UK Government are determined to deliver the best deal for the whole of our United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. We are committed to avoiding a hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls, while maintaining the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom. We have proposed a comprehensive future partnership between the UK and the EU that would meet these commitments.
I thank the Minister for that response and for his tribute to Peter Melchett who, as well as serving in the Northern Ireland Office, was a good friend of mine, a lovely man and a passionate environmentalist.
Is it not the case that the backstop proposal is now just dead in the water? The Government are not going to get anywhere with it. A poll this week said that people in Northern Ireland would vote for a united Ireland if a hard border was put in place. Are not the Government sacrificing the Union on this altar? Would not the best solution be to move forward with plans to stay in the single market, stay in the customs union, avoid a hard border, and protect the people of Northern Ireland from Brexit?
I make it absolutely clear to the hon. Lady that it is our intention that there will be no hard border and no physical infrastructure. The people of this country voted in the referendum, and this Government’s intention is to make sure that we are not part of the single market or the customs union. The whole United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, will be leaving those two institutions.
One of the reasons why a majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain was because they understood the consequences of leaving the European Union on jobs, livelihoods, communities and cross-border relationships—not simply economic relationships, but personal ones. Given the absence of a functioning Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland, and given that the concerns of the people of Northern Ireland are evidently not understood by leading figures in the governing party in Westminster, what are the Government doing to ensure that the concerns and interests of the majority of the people in Northern Ireland are properly heard and represented at the negotiating table?
As far as the referendum is concerned, it was not a regional referendum but a national referendum, and the people of the United Kingdom took a decision to leave. On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, let me make it absolutely clear that we are committed to ensuring that the devolved Administration is up and running again. We are working very hard to ensure that that happens. He should remember that the last time Northern Ireland went into direct rule that lasted for five years, and the period before that lasted for 25 years. It is very easy to slip down the road to direct rule, but we want to avoid that because it is important that local people have local representation that can be accountable locally.
On 27 June, Mr George Hamilton, the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee:
“We do not know who is leading the multiagency response to the land border”.
What has been done to give clarity in the weeks since he made that statement? In particular, what proportion of the uplift to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the UK Border Force, as announced by the Government, will be assigned to Northern Ireland?
I assure my hon. Friend that we are in regular contact with all stakeholders in Northern Ireland, including the police. There is detailed planning for a no-deal scenario, but we very much hope that that will not be the case.
May I remind the Minister that in the December joint report on article 50, the EU agreed that the United Kingdom would make sure there was unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the rest of the United Kingdom in all circumstances? Reports over the summer suggest that Mr Barnier appears to be devising creative solutions to try to get around the commitment that he made. May I ask the Minister and the Secretary of State to remind him that he signed up to those words and that we expect him to deliver on the commitments that he has made?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for putting that point at the forefront of our proceedings following the recess. He is absolutely right: Michel Barnier made the commitment; and the European Union and Britain signed up to the joint report in December. We intend to hold him to it.
May I bring the Minister back to the question asked by the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which he did not answer? The issue highlighted by the Chief Constable of the PSNI, which we have raised directly with the Prime Minister, is what extra resources are being given to prepare for Brexit. Those resources have been requested by the Chief Constable, since he has made it very, very clear that he has not had a fair allocation.
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will issue guidance in the future. We are working on it at the moment and working with all the stakeholders. It will be forthcoming in the not-too-distant future, I hope.
With the greatest respect, we are not asking about issuing guidance; we are asking about the allocation of resources. I really want to press the Minister on this issue, since it will have a very big impact on the resourcing of policing in Northern Ireland more widely. What are he and the Government going to do—this has been on their table for many months now—to allocate to the Chief Constable the resources that he needs and that he fairly has asked for?
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke to the Chief Constable this morning. We are in regular dialogue and we are considering the proposals that he has put forward. That is what I can say. We hope to come up with a solution in due course.
The Government are right to reject the EU’s proposals for a customs border in the Irish sea. Will the Minister remind the House of the balance of trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the Republic and Great Britain?
It is important to remember that 58% of the external sales of Northern Ireland—over £14 billion—is with the rest of the United Kingdom. That is four times more than its trade with Ireland.
Two weeks ago, the Government published advice for UK businesses on the potential impact of a Brexit no deal. Unbelievably, businesses in Northern Ireland were asked to
“consider whether you need advice from the Irish Government about preparations you need to make.”
That is a quite extraordinary abdication of responsibility. Will the Minister confirm what involvement his Department had in the preparation of the advice, and will he commit to giving further assistance to businesses in Northern Ireland?
Clearly we have a responsibility as a Government to business people in respect of what we will do or what we intend to do, but we cannot speak for other countries. It therefore of course makes eminent sense for businesses in Northern Ireland that do deals across the border to consult so that they find out what is happening with other EU countries. The UK Government cannot speak for the Irish Government, so that dialogue is important.
How do the Government plan to ensure that our departure from the European Union is used as an opportunity to strengthen the Union?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We are leaving the European Union as four nations. It is absolutely clear that the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom will not in any way be compromised. In our negotiations with the European Union, we speak as the United Kingdom, not as any specific one of the four nations.
May I share the Minister’s sentiments about Peter Melchett and the recent loss of life due to the car crashes?
Tourism has been a success story in the years since the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, helping to transform the image of Northern Ireland throughout the world. It is therefore worrying that figures released in August show a 6% drop in visitors between January and March. The Prime Minister and most of her current and past Cabinets have barely set foot in Northern Ireland over the past two years, so may I suggest a group booking? Such a visit would help to end the drip of uninformed, unhelpful comments about Northern Ireland from the Government Benches that has become dispiritingly regular.
First, I congratulate the hon. Lady on her appointment to the shadow Northern Ireland Office team. We look forward to working with her in a constructive way.
It is important that we speak up for Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom as we leave the European Union. The hon. Lady talks about tourism. More people visit Northern Ireland now than before. They are spending more money and staying longer. The “Lonely Planet” guide has recommended Belfast and the Causeway coast as the No. 1 region in the world to visit. It is important to recognise the strengths of Northern Ireland and to build on them.
Leaving the EU: Backstop Proposal
The December joint report commits us to avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and to no new borders within the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister has been very clear that elements of the EU’s backstop proposal are unacceptable. It would, if implemented, undermine the UK common market and threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in her discussions with the Government of the Irish Republic she has emphasised that Irish insistence on a backstop that would force Northern Ireland, or indeed the whole of the UK, to remain in parts of the EU or its customs union are unacceptable and the surest way to deliver a no deal?
I can assure my hon. Friend that in my discussions with all parties and Governments in the European Union, I am very clear that the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom must be respected, and that means no border down the Irish sea and that all businesses in Northern Ireland must have unfettered access to UK markets, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) indicated earlier.
I appreciate what the Secretary of State has said, but does she fully understand the magnitude of the situation were there to be any move to impose a backstop, divergence or anything else that would separate us from the rest of the United Kingdom?
We have been absolutely clear—the Prime Minister has been clear; I have been clear—that we respect the fact that the backstop has to be put into legal text, but that legal text has to be clear that the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom is sacrosanct.
For two years I operated a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. I see no reason whatsoever why technology cannot make it very soft—indeed, invisible. Does the Secretary of State agree?
My hon. and gallant Friend has great experience from his time in Northern Ireland, and I am sure he knows how difficult it was to police that border. Some 30,000 military and police personnel were unable to close the border, so I do not think that anybody should expect us to see a hard border today. However, I would be very happy to have a conversation with him about technology so that we can really explore all that.
May I, from the bottom of my heart, congratulate the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) on his long-deserved and well-merited elevation to the dizzy heights of Minister of State? I look forward to working with him.
There is, however, a cloud on the horizon. The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill contains a proposal unique in the United Kingdom for unfettered, unqualified stop-and-search along the border. We must never forget that there are those who have to police the border. Will the Secretary of State or Minister of State speak with their opposite numbers about the implications of this piece of ill-thought-out legislation, because I see trouble brewing on the border if it goes ahead?
Conservative Members are delighted that the hon. Gentleman is still in his place. When we saw the very welcome appointment of his colleague over the summer, we had concerns that that might have an impact on his position; we are grateful that it has not.
We are aware of concerns raised in Northern Ireland about that Bill, which deals specifically with the threat elsewhere, and we are having discussions and conversations to give assurances to those in Northern Ireland about the concerns that they have raised.
The hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) is personal testimony to the survival of rare breeds. The whole House is grateful for that important fact.
Northern Ireland has proven itself to be a top destination for inward investment from companies from the rest of the UK and also from overseas. Over 900 companies worldwide have invested in Northern Ireland, and I welcome this week’s announcement that PA Consulting will be creating 400 new jobs in Belfast. I firmly believe, however, that Northern Ireland can do even better, and we continue to work to restore stable, devolved government so that Northern Ireland can maximise its potential as a place to invest and do business.
I share the Minister’s enthusiasm. Northern Ireland is clearly a key driver of United Kingdom exports and will be even more important as we leave the European Union, so what steps is the Department taking to foster further investment and also to sell the opportunity of Northern Ireland as a top exporter around the world?
One of the fastest routes to a strong economy is through a healthy, growing export economy. The Northern Ireland Office is working with Departments across Whitehall, including the Department for International Trade, to maximise UK Government initiatives such as the GREAT campaign and the recently launched export strategy to promote exporters and help them to realise their potential. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I regularly champion new investment announcements in Northern Ireland and promote Northern Ireland as a great place in which to invest and do business. That is something that was referred to in the Budget as well.
How on earth does the Minister expect to attract inward investment into Northern Ireland when we have not had a functioning Assembly for 18 months? We have a Secretary of State who said some months ago that she was “minded” to cut the salaries of the MLAs, but she has done absolutely nothing about doing so, so can the Minister give us some very good news today and announce a cut in MLAs’ salaries?
I am delighted to be able to give some very good news to the hon. Lady: in July US company Allstate, which is one of the many companies that are investing in Northern Ireland, opened Northern Ireland’s largest single office development for 15 years, investing £30 million. Allstate employs around 2,200 people in sites in Belfast, Derry and Strabane so, notwithstanding the present circumstances of not having a devolved Administration, the economy is looking up, business is coming in and we continue to try to get that devolved Administration up and running.
I am acutely aware of the deep frustration and difficulties faced by the people of Northern Ireland and the urgent need to re-establish a locally elected, democratically accountable devolved Government. I remain in close contact with the five main political parties and the Irish Government where appropriate.
The roles of the Northern Irish parties and their Assembly should be respected. Will the Minister confirm that the legality of taking Misoprostol, the second pill in medical abortions, at home in Northern Ireland is something for the people of Northern Ireland and their locally elected representatives to determine?
Yes, I can confirm that. Abortion is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, and it is only right that questions of law and policy on abortion, including the legality of any medicines, are decided by a devolved Government in Northern Ireland.
Given that it is now more than 18 months since the Assembly was suspended, will the Prime Minister now become more involved in the process, along with the Taoiseach?
I can assure the hon. Lady that the Prime Minister is very involved in the conversations and discussions that we have with all the main political parties. On her visit to Northern Ireland at the beginning of the summer, she met all five main parties and had discussions with them about that. Again, I continue to hold discussions with the Irish Government, including with the Taoiseach, whom I saw on Sunday.
With very important decisions on matters such as NHS pay and planning now held up by legal uncertainty, is it not time that this House considered legislating to give civil servants the powers that they need to take such decisions?
My right hon. Friend, who has considerable experience of this matter—experience beyond that of many people in this House—is quite right that there are very many decisions. I am looking carefully at the court judgments and determining the best course of action to ensure that we have the best chance of re-establishing devolved government in Stormont, and of making sure that there is good governance for the people of Northern Ireland.
The Secretary of State will know that four out of the five political parties eligible to be in the Executive would join the Executive tomorrow. It is one party—Sinn Féin—that is holding the people of Northern Ireland to ransom. Is it not therefore time for the Secretary of State to start ensuring that decisions affecting my constituents and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends are made so that the people of Northern Ireland have some form of government?
The right hon. Gentleman has made many representations to me on this point, and I know how passionately he stands up for his constituents in Lagan Valley, many of whom I met yesterday at the Hillsborough garden party, when they were very complimentary about their Member of Parliament. I continue to have discussions with all five main parties, because the important point is that we get devolved government up and running as soon as possible, but we do ensure that there is good governance in Northern Ireland.
The Secretary of State will know that it is 600 days this weekend since Northern Ireland had a functioning Assembly or Executive. Will she tell the House very clearly what urgent steps she will take to bring the five parties together, to reconvene the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, to cut the pay of MLAs—as has been asked for already—and of course, importantly, to make sure that real urgency is now put into this? We will support legislation where appropriate, but that legislation has to be brought forward urgently now.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s offer of support for legislation, and I am looking at the options available to us. There are court cases that have hampered decision making and are making things more uncertain; we are acutely aware of that, and I want to make sure that we do something that is coherent, that works for the people of Northern Ireland and that does not prevent the politicians in Northern Ireland from going back into devolved government.
This Government have a strong track record of promoting and supporting LGBT rights across the United Kingdom, including equal marriage. I was proud to demonstrate this support by having the rainbow flag flown from Stormont House last month to mark Belfast Pride.
But flags are not enough. On everything from mental health to civil rights, LGBT people in Northern Ireland are worse off than those in the rest of the UK, but groups I met recently say they get no funding from the Assembly or from Westminster, and there was nothing in the Government’s LGBT action plan. Will the Secretary of State consider the creation of a discretionary fund to ensure these groups get the support they need, particularly while there is no functioning Assembly?
I will look at the hon. Gentleman’s point. I have met many groups representing LGBT interests in Northern Ireland, but many of these matters are devolved and they should quite rightly be resolved by the devolved Government in Stormont.
We are all looking forward to the day, and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman. I voted for same-sex marriage to be legal in my own constituency, and I am very proud that I did that, but it is right that these matters are dealt with by the devolved Government. [Interruption.] That is why we need a devolved Government in Stormont—so that we can resolve these issues. [Interruption.]
Order. Members are making far too much noise in the Chamber. I am quite sure it is not something I would ever have done as a Back-Bench Member, and I am sure the House wishes to hear the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey)—and that is what it is going to do anyway.
Sporting Events: Representation
The people of Northern Ireland have a proud history of sporting achievements gained while representing both the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is for individual athletes, subject to the rules of their respective sport’s governing body, to decide which country they wish to represent. This Government are wholly supportive of this choice being maintained.
The Minister is, as he knows, quite wrong. A young Northern Ireland sportsperson who wishes to, for example, box for the United Kingdom has to move to Great Britain; otherwise, they have to box for Ireland. That is the case in other sports, too. The Belfast agreement said that everyone had the right to choose to be British or Irish. Surely this must apply to sport, and the Minister must do more about this because it is just not fair.
First, I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who I know has taken a passionate interest in this subject; we have talked about it before. She will of course be aware that Northern Ireland has won serious medals at the Commonwealth games for boxing. The issue itself is a devolved matter, and is also an issue for individual athletes and their governing sporting bodies to take up. As far as the boxing association of Northern Ireland is concerned, I suggest that it continues its dialogue with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Does the Minister agree that all sportsmen and women should have the right to represent the country they choose to, as long as they meet the eligibility criteria for that country?
As I say, if people have the merit to represent their country, there is no reason why they should not, subject to the rules of the governing body of their sport.
The Government’s commitments in respect of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland have been consistently clear. There will be no physical infrastructure on the border or related checks and controls. This commitment is also reflected in the December joint report text, which we have committed to translate into legally binding text in the withdrawal agreement.
In nine months, all that the Government have done by way of proposals for an open border in Ireland is to demand that 27 other sovereign states change their customs systems in order to collect customs duties on behalf of this Government. Why do the Government expect every other country in the European Union to sort out the mess that they have created?
With all due respect, I think the hon. Gentleman is confusing our proposals in the White Paper on the future relationship with our proposals for the legal, binding text for the protocols in paragraph 49 of the joint report, which we have committed to making into a legal text. We are working with the European Union on coming up with a text that we can all live with, but we will not accept the text that was put forward by the European Commission.
The Secretary of State talks with no hint of irony about consistency from this Government. The reality is that their obsession with ending the free movement of people is going to require some form of border control. How does she square ending the free movement of people with her obligations under the Belfast agreement?
The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, and that means that we will regain control of our laws, our borders and our money. We will also ensure that we will meet the commitments that we made in the joint report in December to ensuring that there is no hard border on the island of Ireland and no border in the Irish sea.
Collecting duties on trade across the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic currently happens and does not present any problems. The real damage to Northern Ireland and to the integrity of the United Kingdom would be to have regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the Republic, giving the EU, rather than London, control over our laws in Northern Ireland. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that in no circumstances will she agree to the backstop arrangement demanded by the EU, which would split the United Kingdom by having laws—
Order. We are immensely grateful, but that was far too long.
I refer the right hon. Gentleman back to the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when she said that no Prime Minister of the United Kingdom could accept the text put forward by the European Commission.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that Members from all sides of the House would like to join me in congratulating both the English and the Scottish women’s football teams on their excellent performance in qualifying for next year’s World Cup.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
My constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released temporarily for three days last month before being hauled back to prison in Iran. Worse still, when she was on furlough, she was contacted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and told that if she attempted to contact the British Embassy, her family would be harmed. I find it deeply troubling that a British citizen was threatened against contacting her own embassy. Does the Prime Minister share my concern, and will she raise this specific issue with President Rouhani when she next speaks to him, perhaps in New York later this month?
I share the concerns that the hon. Lady has expressed, and I know that during this difficult time the thoughts of everyone across the whole House remain with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and with her family and friends, who have been campaigning tirelessly for release. The hon. Lady will know, as this is her constituent, that one of the difficulties is the question of whether the Iranian Government recognise dual nationality, which they do not. They are not obliged to do so under international law. She asks me to raise this matter with President Rouhani. I regularly do so whenever I speak to him. It is an issue that the Foreign Secretary, the Foreign Office and other Ministers also consistently raise with the Iranian Government, and we will continue to do so.
Jewish people living in this country should feel safe and secure, and should not have to worry about their future in their own country. There is no place for racial hatred in our society, and it is important that we take every step to tackle it. That is why we were the first country in the world to adopt the definition of antisemitism set out by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance; we have been taking steps to provide funding to ensure that security measures can be taken in Jewish faith schools and synagogues, and we have provided funding to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust to run events for Holocaust Memorial Day. We should all be united in our determination to tackle antisemitism, so when the leader of the Labour party stands up he should apologise for saying that Jewish people who have lived in this country their whole lives do not understand English irony.
There is no place for racism in any form within our society—on that we are all agreed—and we should tackle it wherever it arises, in our parties as well, and that includes the Conservative party.
I join the Prime Minister in congratulating the English and Scottish women’s football teams on their qualification for the World cup, and I look forward to them doing extremely well.
The International Trade Secretary said that the likelihood of no deal is now 60:40, which in betting parlance means that there is a pretty good chance that there will not be a deal—it is more likely than not. Is he right?
We are continuing to do what we have always been doing, which is working to get a good deal with the European Union for our future relationship once we have left the EU, but it is entirely right and proper that we should prepare for all eventualities, because we have not yet come to the end of the negotiations. That means that it is right that we are preparing for no deal, as indeed the EU has been doing, sending out notices in relation to no deal. We have also been publishing technical notices, so that businesses and citizens would know where they stand and how to prepare in the event of no deal. We have published over 20 such notices so far, and the final total is likely to be around 70. We are making those preparations, but, crucially, this Government are working for a good deal, preparing for every eventuality and preparing to ensure that this country makes a success of leaving the EU, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations.
The International Trade Secretary has said that he is unfazed by no deal; the new Foreign Secretary, who is here today, said over the summer that no deal would be a “huge geostrategic mistake”; and the Chancellor, who is sitting next to the Prime Minister, wrote to the Treasury Committee stating that a no deal Brexit would slash GDP by almost 8%, which is comparable with the global financial crash. Which assessment does she agree with?
The director of the World Trade Organisation said that no deal would not be a “walk in the park” but it would not be the “end of the world”. The Government are right to make the necessary preparations for no deal while working for a good deal to ensure that we deliver on the vote of the British people, that we come out of the European Union on 29 March 2019, and that we do so in a way that protects jobs and livelihoods, ensures no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and maintains the precious Union of our United Kingdom. On one thing I am clear: we are working for that outcome and we will not have a second referendum. The right hon. Gentleman should stand up and rule out a second referendum.
The Prime Minister says that no deal is better than a bad deal, the Chancellor says that no deal would cause a catastrophic collapse of our economy, and the Brexit Secretary waded in yesterday to say that there were “countervailing opportunities” to a no deal Brexit. Will the Prime Minister enlighten us as to what these “countervailing opportunities” actually are?
As I said to the right hon. Gentleman in answer to his first question, this Government is working to ensure that, whatever the outcome of the negotiations, this country makes a success of coming out of the European Union and that we see a global Britain and a brighter future for people here in this country.
Interestingly, I yet again suggested to the right hon. Gentleman that he stand up and categorically rule out a second referendum, and he refused to do so. I will give him another opportunity to do it now.
A majority of people might have voted to leave but they expected the negotiations to be handled competently, and they certainly are not. I did not hear a single one of those countervailing opportunities. I simply say to the Prime Minister that she cannot keep dancing around all the issues. It seems that Panasonic has taken the cue and decided to dance off altogether—it is relocating out of this country. Could the Prime Minister tell the House how many other companies have been in touch with her or her ministerial team and told her privately that they intend to relocate in the absence of a serious, sensible deal with the European Union?
What we have seen is businesses showing confidence in our economy. In August, Dyson announced £200 million of investment in its electric vehicle testing facility in Wiltshire, and 2 Sisters Food Group—Bernard Matthews—has won major new contracts with supermarkets, underpinning 600 new jobs. The Hut Group has announced 200 new tech jobs in Salford. We welcomed £130 million of foreign direct investment in our automotive sector from four companies in July, generating around 500 new jobs.
What we are doing is negotiating a Brexit deal that will deliver for this country and deliver on the vote of the British people, and will ensure that we do so while protecting jobs, maintaining our Union and ensuring no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. And what do we get from the right hon. Gentleman? He said that he wants to do new trade deals, and now he wants to be in the customs union. At one stage he was asked about his view on free movement, and he said:
“Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle, but…nor do we rule it out.”
So he cannot even agree with himself on his own position.
I am not quite sure who the Prime Minister is listening to, but she may have heard from the National Farmers Union, which says it will be an “Armageddon scenario”. The TUC says that a no deal Brexit
“would be devastating for working people.”
The EU’s chief negotiator and President Macron both seem to have categorically ruled out the Prime Minister’s Chequers proposals. We are now at a critical point. Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether she believes a deal will be reached by the agreed deadline of October? That is October 2018, not any other one.
We are working for a good deal. We are still working, as are the European Union, to the timetable of October, because we are leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019. We will need to pass legislation in this House prior to our leaving the European Union. The right hon. Gentleman talks about no deal, and he talks about a deal. I will tell him what would be bad for this country: signing up to a deal at any price whatsoever, which is the position of the Labour party. That would destroy jobs and that would be bad for the British people.
Yesterday the Brexit Secretary admitted there had been “some slippage”. Today Lord King condemned the “incompetence of the preparation”, saying that it “beggared belief” that the sixth biggest economy in the world should get itself into this position.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that no deal is better than a bad deal, but no deal is a bad deal, and everyone from the CBI to the TUC to her own Chancellor is telling her the same thing. The Chequers proposal is dead, already ripped apart by her own MPs. When will the Prime Minister publish a real plan that survives contact with her Cabinet and with reality? Those are, of course, two very separate concepts. When will we get proposals that put jobs and the economy ahead of her survival and that of her own Government?
We have published a plan, which we are discussing with the European Union, that ensures that we deliver on the vote of the British people; that we bring an end to free movement; that we come out of the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy; that we no longer send vast amounts of money to the EU every year; that we no longer have the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice here in this country; and that we do not have a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and do not have a border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. What I am doing is negotiating a Brexit deal for Britain. I am making sure that the economy works for everyone. I am building a stronger, fairer country. What is the right hon. Gentleman doing? He is trying to change his party so that antisemites can call the creation of Israel racist, and he should be ashamed of himself.
I understand the importance to partners across the region of the campaign and proposal to which my hon. Friend refers. I am sure he understands that this is a devolved transport issue, but I encourage all parties involved to come to a workable solution and to ensure the best outcome for the entire region, because this can bring great benefits. On his point about the Borderlands growth deal, may I assure him that the UK and Scottish Governments will continue to work in partnership to deliver that deal?
I congratulate Scotland and England on qualifying for the World cup. All of us in Scotland are immensely proud of our Scottish women’s team.
When the Tories introduced Thatcher’s poll tax in the 1980s, Scotland was used as a guinea pig and the Scottish Tories paid the price for their folly—they were wiped off the political map of Scotland. The Prime Minister’s Chequers plan is even more unpopular than the poll tax. Why is the Prime Minister gambling with Scotland’s future by taking us out of the EU against our will with her disastrous Chequers plan?
The only people gambling with Scotland’s future are those in the Scottish National party, who want to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom.
That was no answer to the question—I should remind the Prime Minister that this is Prime Minister’s questions. Michel Barnier has said that the Chequers plan is “not acceptable”. Mervyn King has called the Government’s preparations “incompetent”. Prime Minister, your Chequers plan is as dead as a dodo. With the clock ticking down, will the Prime Minister finally concede that backing the single market and customs union is the only option to protect jobs, the economy and the Good Friday agreement?
We have put forward a proposal, under the Chequers plan, that protects jobs and livelihoods, that ensures that we deliver on the vote of the British people and that ensures that we deliver on no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and maintain the Union of the United Kingdom. Michel Barnier has put forward another proposal, which keeps Northern Ireland in the customs union and the single market, is a free trade agreement only for Great Britain and creates a border down the Irish sea. I have said that it is unacceptable to me as Prime Minister. I believe that no British Prime Minister would find that deal acceptable. We are negotiating on the Chequers deal. It delivers for the United Kingdom—it delivers for the people of the whole United Kingdom.
We are committed to providing the local NHS with the funding it needs. As my hon. Friend knows, we have announced more than £3.9 billion of new additional capital funding for the NHS up to 2022-23. We announced that last year. The majority is to support the implementation of plans from local communities. I understand that the Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust has resubmitted an application for the £36.2 million of funding in July for the Walsall Manor Hospital emergency department. The Department of Health and Social Care expects the successful schemes to be announced in the autumn, but my right hon. Friend the Health and Social Care Secretary will be pleased to meet my hon. Friend to discuss his campaign.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman asking a question at PMQs, but he has asked about a regional immigration policy, an issue that the Migration Advisory Committee looked at a while back. It made it very clear that that was not a situation that the Government should accept, partly because of the practical problems in implementing it. When we put forward our proposals for the immigration policy for people coming from the European Union, we will ensure that they are right for the whole United Kingdom.
SIS II, Prüm and PNR are all EU-wide databases, many of which the UK helped to shape and which keep us safe. While there is much debate here about the type of trading arrangement we will have with the EU, may I ask the Prime Minister for reassurance that there will still be the highest level of security arrangement with the EU as we leave the European Union, because any reduction would be completely unacceptable to the people of the UK?
My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of our security relationship with the EU. I remember the discussions and debates that led to the establishment of the PNR directive. The White Paper provides a comprehensive and ambitious vision for that future security relationship, and that is why we propose that security partnership to protect our shared law enforcement and criminal justice capabilities, facilitate continued co-operation and support our joint working on security issues, such as counter-terrorism. Michel Barnier has recognised the progress made in our discussions on security, so our focus should be on trying to obtain and define that ambitious and unprecedented partnership that will help to keep people safe, not just here but across the whole EU.
The hon. Gentleman is right to bring to the attention of the House both that deal and the opening of the V&A in Dundee. These are important ways in which the UK Government are working to ensure support for Scotland and those opportunities for the Scottish economy. Another one of those is the fact that this Government have taken the decision to enable the third runway to go ahead at Heathrow, and we expect that when that happens we will see better connectivity within the United Kingdom.
This September is blood cancer awareness month, and I am therefore delighted that it was announced yesterday that the NHS will provide innovative CAR-T cell immune therapy to under-25s—the first health system in Europe to do so. I seek assurances from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that a focus on blood cancer awareness, diagnosis and prevention will continue into the future.
I commend my hon. Friend for the work that he has done to champion the cause of blood cancer and raise a much greater awareness of the issue. I can assure him that we will continue to press on and raise awareness of the issue, and I, too, am pleased that the decision that was announced yesterday was able to be made. I congratulate him, because he has personally campaigned on this and championed this cause.
The hon. Lady makes an ingenious attempt to raise the Brexit issue. This Parliament overwhelmingly gave the British the decision on whether to remain in or leave the European Union. The British people voted. It is now up to this Government and politicians across the whole House to show our faith with the British people and deliver on their vote.
At a time when this House will inevitably be spending a lot of time discussing Brexit, it is important that we also concentrate on other issues. For many families, their children’s future is a very immediate concern. With that in mind, does the Prime Minister agree that ensuring that as many children as possible grow up in a household where someone is working is the best way not only to provide a secure economic background for children, but to ensure that future generations are prepared to play a full and productive role in society?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend that work is the best route out of poverty. It is also important for the example that it gives to children in households when they see a parent or parents working. I am pleased to say that the number of children being brought up in workless households is at the lowest level that we have seen. This is very important. We know that three quarters of children move out of poverty when their parents go into full-time work. Being in work sets an example and brings benefits to children, families and our whole society, and it is important to ensure that jobs are provided so that people can be in work for the future of their children.
I believe that the responsible Minister has made an announcement about the fact that the pensions dashboard will be going ahead, and I think that there will some piloting and consultations.
The Prime Minister appreciates the plight of the poorest Britons, who, when they have loved and lost, struggle to afford to provide a dignified and decent funeral, as she established the children’s funeral fund. Nevertheless, the grant available to the poorest people for this purpose has been frozen at £700 since 2003 and 30% of people get nothing at all. The Select Committee on Work and Pensions, chaired by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), recommended changes in 2016. Will the Prime Minister meet me, him and others to discuss this matter? It is not just our task or our duty; it is our mission to help to heal the broken-hearted.
My right hon. Friend raises an important and sensitive issue. None of us wants to see a situation where people are not able to afford to do what is a terrible task, given that they have seen a loved one die, and it is important to families and individuals to be able to give their loved one a proper funeral. As he will know, the funeral expenses payments do continue to cover the necessary costs involved with funerals and cremations and up to £700 for other funeral expenses. Some changes have been made to ensure that other contributions are not deducted from the funeral expenses payment so that there is no change to that. My right hon. Friend’s position sounds like a Budget submission, which I suggest he might wish to put forward to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
First, I think we should all pay tribute to the work that our teachers and headteachers do across the country. I am pleased that 1.9 million more children are now in good or outstanding schools. We are backing schools with an extra £1.3 billion over the next two years. Per-pupil funding is being protected in real terms. But we are doing more than that. The Department for Education is working with schools to help reduce their non-staffing costs—that includes up to £1 billion through better procurement—so teachers will be able to do what they do best, which is carry on teaching.
Last Monday in Solihull, the lives of a mother and daughter, Khaola Saleem and Raneem Oudeh, were brought to an end after a double stabbing outside their home. I have met Khaola and Raneem’s family and seen first-hand their quiet dignity, clear love for one another and desire to see something good come from their loss. Will the Prime Minister join me in sending our thoughts and prayers to Khaola and Raneem’s family and thanking our emergency services, police liaison officers and the wider community of Solihull, which has shown great stoicism and heartfelt concern as this tragedy has unfolded?
I think that the whole House will want to join me in sending our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of Khaola Saleem and Raneem Oudeh. This is a terrible tragedy. I am sure that my hon. Friend understands that I cannot comment on the ongoing investigation that is taking place, but he is right to draw attention to the work of the emergency services. Indeed, I join him in paying tribute not only to our emergency services but to the local community for the support that they have shown at this very difficult time.
First, I offer deepest sympathies to those who are suffering severe conditions where other treatments have not been effective and these cannabis-based medicinal products have the potential to help. That is why the Home Secretary has announced that the law will be changed so that specialist clinicians will be able to prescribe—legally prescribe—cannabis-based medicinal products to patients with an exceptional clinical need. While that change is taking place, an expert panel of clinicians has been established, as an interim, to ensure that treatment is safe and effective. So we are not just waiting for the legislation to change. We will change the law, but we have also put in place a procedure to ensure that those cases can be considered properly.
On Monday, right hon. and hon. Members from across the House will join the people of Gibraltar in celebrating their national day on 10 September. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is Her Majesty’s Government’s full resolve that Gibraltar and its people will be fully included in all aspects of the withdrawal negotiations and future arrangements and that no other party will have any veto on that?
I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that reassurance and that commitment on behalf of this Government. I send best wishes to the people of Gibraltar for their celebrations on 10 September.
I simply point out to the hon. Gentleman that health funding in his area will be £1.5 billion this year, and thanks to our funding commitments, this is an increase of over £60 million on the previous year—a cash increase of 4.2%. The Bedfordshire clinical commissioning group will receive a cash increase of 4.34% on last year. We are putting extra money into the national health service. But more than that, we have committed future funding—a five-year funding programme —and a 10-year plan for the national health service to deliver the services that patients need.
With exit day fast approaching, will my right hon. Friend now give instructions to the whole of Government that the first priority of every Department must be domestic preparedness, whether we leave the EU with a deal or without one?
First, I commend my hon. Friend for the work he did on this issue when he was a Minister. I assure him that the Department for Exiting the European Union has indeed stepped up the work on preparations. We have 6,400 civil servants working on EU exit. There are an additional 1,850 recruits in the pipeline so that we can accelerate preparations as necessary. We have passed necessary laws in this House such as the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018—an historic Act. Obviously, there are other pieces of legislation, like the sanctions Act and the Nuclear Safeguards Bill. We are publishing the technical notices on no deal preparations. We are ensuring that our preparations are being made, and they are being made for every eventuality. We are working for a good deal; we prepare for every eventuality.
Obviously, we understand that the demand on policing is changing and becoming increasingly complex. That is why, after speaking to forces in England and Wales, we provided a comprehensive funding settlement that will increase total investment in the police system by over £460 million in this year, 2018-19. The hon. Gentleman might like to note that the force has a higher number of officers per head of population than the England and Wales average.
Earlier this morning, my daughter Sophie—on her own merit, along with thousands of other schoolchildren—attended her first day at grammar school. What message does the Prime Minister have for my daughter Sophie and the thousands of other children who, on their own merit, secured a place at grammar school?
First, I would say well done to my hon. Friend’s daughter Sophie and those other children. Secondly, I would say to Sophie and others that this is a country where how far you get on in life should depend on how hard you work and your talents and abilities. A good education is crucial to that, so I would say: enjoy your time at school and make the best of it, because education is the key that unlocks the door to your future.
Not only are we of course making sure that the arrangements in relation to aviation will be what they should be when we leave the European Union, but we have been working with the aerospace sector generally and with aviation to ensure that as we put in place our modern industrial strategy, we see jobs being not just maintained but created across the country, with high-skilled and well-paid jobs for people in these important sectors. Aviation is an important sector for the UK.
In this year’s local election, we elected the first Conservative councillor in my constituency—a wonderful lady called Nic—but since her election, she has been subjected to the most awful abuse by Labour and Momentum activists. Police have been called to her home several times. People have hung around her home late at night, and one has allegedly trolled her via his dead wife’s social media account. Her special needs son is now too scared to leave the house. Will the Prime Minister join me in condemning that abhorrent intimidation of elected officials? Is that supposed to be the kinder, gentler politics of the Labour party?
May I first say to my hon. Friend that I congratulate Nic, who fought the election, and that I am sorry she has been subjected to this appalling series of attacks of various sorts since that election? Across our democracy, we have different opinions about what we want to achieve and sometimes about how we achieve what we want to achieve, but it is right that we are able to put those opinions forward. The democratic process means we put our views to the public and the public choose, as they have chosen my hon. Friend’s constituent to represent them on the council. She should be able to get on with the job of representing her constituents free of hatred and free of the abuse that she appears to be getting, and I say that this should be condemned on all sides of this House.
We are keen to support tenants to access longer, more secure tenancies, while also obviously ensuring that landlords are able to recover their property when needed. The consultation on overcoming the barriers to longer tenancies in the private rented sector closed on 26 August. It considered the various barriers to longer tenancies and how to overcome them, and it did propose a new three-year tenancy model with a six-month break clause. We asked for views on the viability of that and how it could be implemented. We are now analysing those responses, and we will provide information on the next steps once we have done that.
I know my right hon. Friend will be as concerned as me, and I am sure the whole House, to hear of and see the carcases of nearly 90 elephants near a wildlife sanctuary in Botswana. This coincides with Botswana’s anti-poaching unit being disarmed. Will she do more to tackle this scourge, including through our aid budget by funding more rangers and more training through the Ministry of Defence?
The whole issue of the illegal wildlife trade is a very important one. It was an issue that I touched on when I was in South Africa, in fact, and there was a Minister from Botswana there at the time. We are holding a major conference later this year on the illegal wildlife trade, because we see it as an important issue, and we are bringing people together across the international community to consider how we can further deal with this.
First, the hon. Gentleman says “should” the UK leave the EU. The UK is leaving the European Union, and that will happen on 29 March next year. What we will be doing—what we are doing—is reassessing and looking at the structural funds that have come from the European Union in the past. We are setting up the shared prosperity fund, which will ensure that we are looking at disparities within regions and within and between the nations of the United Kingdom. We are working to ensure that we have a system, and a deal with the European Union for the future, that works for the whole of the United Kingdom.
Like my right hon. Friend, I have recently returned from Africa, where I visited a refugee camp in Tanzania with Plan, witnessing the transformative impact of UK aid in protecting women from sexual violence and giving children access to education. With the UN General Assembly fast approaching, will the Prime Minister outline what preparations she has made for the global compact on refugees?
Yes, we are looking at this. We are not just looking at what has been proposed for the global compact for refugees; we have actually been part of the discussions about what should be in that global compact. This partly reflects one of the speeches I gave when I was at UNGA in 2016, shortly after I became Prime Minister, about the need to look internationally at how we deal with migration and refugees. I want to see a better ability to differentiate between illegal economic migrants and refugees, because I think by doing that we will be able to ensure that we are providing the support necessary for refugees.
Can the Prime Minister explain why the process by which European nationals acquire settled status requires 59 pages of guidance? Is not this simply providing 59 ways of saying no in a continued hostile environment?
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the system was launched not that long ago. It is very clear; it is an online system, and it is a simple system. We guaranteed that that would be what we provided, and it is what we have delivered.
Wilkies is a central Scotland department store. Over the years, it has become something of an institution in Stirling, and it recently announced that it was to close. While the Scottish Government continue to delay any changes to the business rate system in Scotland, which is killing our high streets, can the Prime Minister assure me that there will be some action to level the playing field between high street businesses and online sellers?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of using the tax system in a responsible way. It is right that businesses make a contribution to their local area through the business rates, but this should be as fair as possible. That is why we have improved the system and made changes worth over £10 billion to businesses, including taking 600,000 small businesses out of paying business rates altogether. Britain’s retailers, be they high street shops or independent traders, are a crucial part of our economy. They create jobs, and they inject billions into our economy. All those responsible for the tax system should deal with our retailers responsibly and recognise the impact of the decisions they make.
I think we should wrap up with a new, young Member seeking to make an early mark—Mr Geoffrey Robinson.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker.
Is the Prime Minister aware that next Wednesday, 12 September, we have the Committee stage of my private Member’s Bill, the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill? I wish to thank her personally for her tremendous support, and of course I thank my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. The Prime Minister’s support, the Government time and the Minister’s support have been vital. Can the Prime Minister assure us that she will sustain that support through Committee stage? If that is the case, we can get the Bill through the Commons procedures by the end of the year and have it on the statute book early in the new year. I think the whole House would be pleased to see the Bill become an Act, because its sole purpose is to save, preserve and enhance lives.
This is an important piece of legislation and, as the hon. Gentleman says, it will make a difference to people’s lives. We have, as he says, given this legislation our backing, and we will continue to give it our backing precisely because of its importance and the impact it will have on people.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Well, we are coming now to a statement by the Prime Minister. If the point of order relates to something that has happened during Prime Minister’s questions, I will hear it. But if it is simply that it is convenient for the hon. Lady, I am afraid that she will have to wait till later.
The point of order is about an urgent matter that is happening and was developing during Prime Minister’s questions.
Very well. I will give the hon. Lady the benefit of the doubt while the Prime Minister consumes some water.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance. My constituent Kweku Adoboli is facing imminent deportation to Ghana, where he has not lived since he was four years old. Despite my constituent’s rehabilitation and reform since his release from prison, and his work for a number of UK universities and the special forces, the Prime Minister has not responded directly to the letters I have written to her and the points I have made. What can I do to ensure that she responds directly and reviews this decision?
The short and honest answer is that the hon. Lady can wait patiently and in an egalitarian spirit, like every other Member, for the opportunity to put a question to the Prime Minister at the appropriate time, rather than using the bogus device of a contrived point of order inappropriately to try to put her point on the record. Being as I am a decent and charitable soul, I am happy to admire her ingenuity on this occasion, but I would not encourage her to use this ruse too frequently.