House of Commons
Monday 15 October 2018
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Work and Pensions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Will you indulge me for a moment, Mr Speaker, to allow me to congratulate my fellow Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), on his wedding at the weekend? Some eyes may have been observing events in Windsor; others of us were viewing events in Swindon.
Let me turn now to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean). Disabled people are more likely than others to be self-employed. Access to Work now has specialist self-employment teams to help disabled entrepreneurs, and the new enterprise allowance schemes help anyone who is claiming eligible benefits to move into self-employment.
I thank the Minister for that answer and join her in congratulating my hon. Friend on his recent wedding.
Disabled people can benefit from self-employment because it provides much-needed flexibility in the workplace. To that end, there is a group in my constituency called Disability Support Project. Will the Minister congratulate it on its recent launch and look at what more can be done to enable other such organisations to offer employment advice?
I will, indeed, congratulate and thank the Disability Support Group in Redditch for its excellent work and for what it does. I also congratulate and thank my hon. Friend for all that she does in assisting disabled people into work and for so passionately pursuing this cause. There is more that we can do. I know that she visited her jobcentre to see how we are working with charities and organisations. I can also assure her that we have never spent more supporting people with disabilities and health conditions—it is now £54 billion a year, up £9 billion since 2010.
Is the Secretary of State aware of the neuro-diverse person who wants to become an entrepreneur and of the people with autism and the people on the autistic spectrum who want to get apprenticeships? Is it not a fact that the inability to get basic GCSE maths and English is a barrier to anyone getting an apprenticeship that will lead to entrepreneurship? What can she do to open up that pathway?
The hon. Gentleman raises a good point: how do we support disabled people. As I have said, we are supporting more through Access to Work and through other support groups. We have also given easements to make it easier for disabled people, because it really is important that they do internships, apprenticeships, and work experience.
One of the very best ways of helping disabled entrepreneurs, and indeed all disabled people who are looking for work, is to get them access to the best assistive technology that can help them when they are in the workplace and also give them confidence while they are looking for that work. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that disabled people have those opportunities?
My hon. Friend is correct in what he says: we should be using technology even more. We should be making sure that it does assist disabled people. To that end, we are doing more through Access to Work and we should continue on that path.
The disability employment gap in my constituency is, at 37%, higher than the national average. What message does the Secretary of State have for disabled people in my constituency who want to work and who are not getting the support that they need?
The hon. Gentleman is correct: there is a big disability gap in employment rates. That has come down, but we need it to come down even further. We have pledged to get 1 million more disabled people into work by 2027. Between 2013 and 2017, there were 600,000 more disabled people in work, but there is always more that we can do.
Universal Credit Roll-out
We are working closely with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and stakeholders to ensure that our testing covers the full range of tax credit claimants. With parliamentary approval, our managed migration regulations will allow for transitional protection. This will make sure that nobody loses out financially when they are moved to universal credit.
If only the right hon. Gentleman had known how popular he was.
Yes, but for how long? One of the fundamental principles of universal credit was to design a welfare system where people would always choose to be in work. The money that the Chancellor took out in 2015 fundamentally undermined that principle, so will the Secretary of State speak to the current Chancellor about restoring work allowances to the levels originally planned?
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to know that I have of course been having discussions with the Chancellor, and we will all know the result of those discussions two weeks to this very day.
Will my right hon. Friend take the time to listen to the voices of those on the frontline—the work coaches in the jobcentres, who have experience of how this policy functions in practice, who know what works and what does not work, and whose views about universal credit are overwhelmingly more positive than those of the Opposition critics?
My right hon. Friend is correct to point out these facts. When we visit jobcentres, work coaches say that this is the best system that they have ever had to help people into work. We know the validity in that statement because 1,000 more people have been getting into work each and every day since 2010. We have to ensure that the system works for claimants and taxpayers.
May I raise the question about which I wrote to the Secretary of State, regarding how universal credit is being rolled out in Birkenhead? It is not going as well there as we are told it is in the House of Commons, and some women have taken to the red light district for the first time. Will the Secretary of State come to Birkenhead to meet women’s organisations and the police, who are worried about the security of women being pushed into this position?
The right hon. Gentleman knows that my door is always open to him. I did receive a letter on Friday, but really we need to work with those ladies and see what help we can give them—from work coaches right the way through to various charities and organisations. In the meantime, perhaps he and the work coaches could tell these ladies that there are currently a record 830,000 job vacancies, and that perhaps there are other jobs on offer.
Just to draw on a point that we have already heard in the Chamber this afternoon, is the Secretary of State aware how much support she has on the Conservative Benches for our desire to see extra funding in the Budget to restore the work allowances to where they should be?
I thank my hon. Friend. I know that all Members of the House want to ensure that universal credit works for all claimants. It is helping people into work and is built on sound principles, unlike the legacy system, which trapped people and locked them into unemployment. Now we are helping people into work, but we have to listen, learn and adjust where we can, as we have done in the past, with a £1.5 billion package this year. We are still adjusting, learning and helping the most vulnerable.
When we came into office in 2010—and then in 2015 and 2017—it was really important for the country to take difficult decisions about what we needed to do to ensure that the benefit was sustainable and affordable, because it had grown by over 60% under Labour. We still have to ensure that the benefit is sustainable and affordable, and that we support the most vulnerable, and that is what this Conservative Government are doing.
When we move people over, it is vital that we get them on to the right amount of benefit at the right time, so will the Secretary of State agree to put in place some targets for accurate performance, and to delay the roll-out if those targets are not achieved?
Under the process of managed migration, the roll-out will be slow and measured. It will start not in January 2019, but later in the year. For a further year we will be learning as we go with a small amount of people—maybe 10,000—to ensure that the system is right. The roll-out will then increase from 2020 onwards. It will be slow and measured, and we will adapt and change as we go.
Has the Secretary of State requested any additional funds for universal credit from the Chancellor ahead of the Budget?
I do not let people know what we do in private meetings, old-fashioned as that may be, but what the hon. Gentleman can know is that I am championing UC to make sure that it works the best it can possibly work. He can take from that what he will.
That was barely a response, let alone an answer. Given the week that universal credit has had, where the Secretary of State has suggested that it will cost claimants up to £2,400 a year; two former Prime Ministers have called for her to rethink; dozens of Back-Bench MPs led by the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), have called for a rethink; and expert groups like the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Resolution Foundation and the Child Poverty Action Group have all called for a rethink, does she not see that universal credit in its current form is causing misery? The roll-out must stop and the cuts must be reversed at the Budget.
We all agree on the founding, sound principles of this benefit, which is helping more people into work. It will give extra money to the most vulnerable. One million more disabled people will get, on average, £110 more a week. We will also be helping the 700,000 people who were getting the incorrect amount of benefit, plus we will be bringing in transitional protection to help them. If the hon. Gentleman wanted to reverse this, what would he do for those most vulnerable people?
Will my right hon. Friend commend the work of the jobcentre in Haywards Heath, which I visited last Friday, for the extraordinarily effective, humane and decent way in which they are rolling out universal credit?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that. Of course I want to thank not just Haywards Heath jobcentre but all the jobcentres across the country, who are saying that this is now enabling them, for the very first time, to help people into work. We know that that is the case, as we have record numbers of people getting into work— 3.4 million more than in 2010.
At the Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister announced that austerity is over. Only a few days later, it was reported in The Times that families who are required to transfer to universal credit could lose up to £2,400 a year. The Prime Minister then denied it, but the following day the Secretary of State admitted that in fact some people would lose out. The confusion of the past week will have caused real concerns for families who will be affected. They have a right to know. If austerity is really over, will the Government ensure that nobody loses out?
As I have said both on TV and in the House, we took difficult decisions, as did the country, in 2015-16 because we had a benefits system that had grown by over 60% under Labour. Now it is on a sustainable footing and is fair to the taxpayer and fair to the claimant. One million more disabled people will be getting, on average, £110 more a month, and 700,000 who were not getting their full amount of benefit now will. There will be transitional protection. We are listening, we are learning, and we will adapt and change as need be.
Almost 30% of universal credit claims started are not completed, according to the latest figures, and the Government do not appear to have any idea about or interest in what happens to those people. In the next phase of the roll-out, the Government are placing all the responsibility for making a universal credit claim on to the 2.87 million people required to move across, and they admit that they do not know how many will need additional support. There is a real danger that hundreds of thousands of people could fall out of the social security system altogether and be pushed into poverty—even left at risk of destitution. So will the Government step back from the brink and stop the roll-out of universal credit?
I have to say that that is some of the worst scaremongering I have ever heard. At the last Budget and this year, we put in another £1.5 billion when we knew that we had to provide more support. I announced in June that we would be helping another half a million disabled people on the severe disability premium. I have agreed to do more for kinship carers and the most vulnerable 18 to 21-year-olds. We are also agreeing to work with Citizens Advice—an independent and trusted organisation—to help people to get on to the benefit. When we hear what we need to do, we will do it.
Employment in the UK has increased by more than 3.3 million since 2010 and is currently at a near record high of 32.4 million. Since 2010, the UK has created more jobs than France, Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and Norway combined.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. What support are the Government offering to build on that employment success?
That is precisely why we brought in universal credit, which made sure that people could work each hour they wanted to work and were not trapped by barriers to work, such as the 16-hour rule. We know that there are now 113 million more hours that people can work and that there will be more than 200,000 more jobs that people can go for.
Nationally, youth unemployment is down. How will the Government ensure that it continues to fall, to give young people the best start to their working lives?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I know how important youth employment is to her, and I know that she has visited her local jobcentre. She is quite right in saying that since 2010, youth unemployment is down by 48%. I remember when we brought in work experience, the Opposition were saying how awful it was and that it was slave labour and people did not want to do it—how wrong they were and have proved to be. We will be bringing more schemes forward, to make sure that we have record low unemployment for young people. That is what this party is about—youth and the future.
The growth in jobs is very welcome news, but at the same time, we have to tackle the rise in in-work poverty. For the first time in modern history, there are more families in poverty in work than out of work. The benefit freeze is a key part of that, and there is another £1.9 billion to come off working-age benefits in April. Will the Secretary of State be making representations to the Treasury to ensure that that does not go ahead?
As I said earlier, I will not say exactly what I have been saying in private conversations, but the hon. Lady can be sure that I will be championing our claimants and making sure that what we do is fair to claimants and the taxpayer.
The Secretary of State will be aware that the TUC announced earlier this year that just under 4 million people were in insecure work. Can she tell us how many of the jobs that have been created are in agency work, zero-hours contracts or low-paid self-employment?
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that the number of people on zero-hours contracts this year has dropped by 100,000, and full-time and permanent work accounts for 75% of employment. We are creating real jobs and real growth in this economy.
Contracted-out Health Assessments
Let us not forget that behind every statistic is a person. That is why I focus on the claimant satisfaction survey data. Overall the customer satisfaction rate is positive, with 87% for PIP and over 90% for the work capability assessment in ESA. We continually look at how we can improve accuracy in our processes.
Many of my disabled constituents are contacting me about their assessments for PIP and ESA. Of just two who contacted me about their health assessments, I identified 14 failures of due process—for just two cases. Given that 65% of appeals completed on the initial fit-for-work decisions were overturned and that the courts have consistently struck out DWP assessment decisions, does the Secretary of State not think that the money spent on defending those cases would have been better spent supporting disabled people?
I thank the hon. Lady for bringing up those specific cases, and of course I would be happy to meet her to look into them. Actually, of all the millions of people who have been assessed for PIP, only 9% have appealed those decisions, and 4% have been upheld, mostly because at that point, more medical information is brought forward. One person’s mistake is one too many, and that is why we are constantly improving the process.
Given that people with autism can become particularly distressed and anxious at the prospect of a face-to-face assessment, what more can be done to support those people and perhaps conduct the assessment without the face-to-face interview?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. It is important that we put people at the centre of our processes and make sure that they work for everyone, irrespective of their impairments, and that is what we seek to do.
My constituent David Gamble has a number of degenerative conditions that are so serious that he was granted higher-rate mobility DLA indefinitely, but when it came to his PIP assessment he was given a score of zero. It has been 18 months since then, his appeal has been adjourned three times through no fault of his own and still the DWP has not even applied for his full medical records. Will the Minister intervene to ensure that he can have a proper decision?
Something clearly has gone terribly wrong in that situation and of course I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady.
NHS survey data show that, under the Conservatives, 43% of those in receipt of ESA have attempted suicide. Leading academics, disabled people’s organisations and clinicians have raised concerns that the work capability assessment is causing a mental health crisis. The WCA is not fit for the 21st century—it is outdated and is causing preventable harm—so I ask the Minister: is it not time that the Government scrap the WCA that is pushing so many people to suicide?
First, I remind the hon. Lady that it was the Labour party in 2008 that introduced the work capability assessment. Ever since then, we have been using independent advice to reform the work capability assessment.
It is shocking.
What is absolutely shocking is to misuse—[Interruption.]
Order. I apologise for barking at the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova). She has asked her question with considerable force and eloquence, but the Minister is entitled to reply. It is not for the Chair to take sides in these matters, but I do want to say that the Minister is unfailingly courteous and she must be treated with courtesy, whatever people think of the answer. The Minister must be heard.
Especially on such an incredibly sensitive subject as people wanting to take their own life. Our chief medical officer, Professor Gina Radford, has made it absolutely clear that the NHS data shows there is no causal link between applying for benefits and people tragically taking their lives.
Transition to Universal Credit
Claimants are entitled to benefits from the moment of making a successful claim. The first payment under universal credit is made five weeks after the claim date, and all subsequent payments are made monthly thereafter. The five-week wait has no savings implications for the Exchequer.
Unlike the Health Secretary, a lot of people I represent get in touch with me about universal credit, and in particular about how they struggle to repay the loan given to them during the five-week wait period. If entitlement has already been established, will the Minister consider, instead of issuing loans, giving them the money they deserve and are entitled to in the first place?
We talk about giving support to people and, as the Secretary of State pointed out, £1.5 billion of support was put in, so those who are on housing benefit get two weeks’ housing benefit run-on in actual cash and of course people can take advances. I would say this to the hon. Gentleman and all his colleagues sitting there now who are talking about supporting the vulnerable: if that is what they want to do, why did they not support us when we voted for the £1.5 billion?
One certain way in which universal credit is helping the public purse is by getting more people into work. Can my hon. Friend confirm that universal credit is forecast to help an additional 200,000 people find work in the coming months?
I can—200,000 people over the roll-out period. Not only that, but people will be taking on extra work as well.
Astronomical numbers of people are applying to food banks during that critical five-week period. Has the Minister—yes or no—read the Trussell Trust report on universal credit roll-out?
I met the Trussell Trust last week and had a very constructive discussion. [Interruption.] I had a very constructive discussion. What I would say to the hon. Lady is that, when it comes to food banks, as she knows, the all-party group on hunger put out a very good report and said there were complex reasons for the use of food banks. You cannot put it down to any one reason.
Five hundred and thirty households presently receive universal credit in the Kettering constituency, but with the roll-out this Wednesday up to 7,700 households could be affected. Can the Minister assure me and my constituents that Kettering jobcentre is ready for the change?
I go up and down the country to jobcentres, and they invariably tell me they are having a good experience. They are learning from the past. What I think my hon. Friend will find is that his jobcentre is absolutely prepared for this further roll-out.
Universal Credit: Blind and Partially Sighted People
The online system has been designed with accessibility in mind, and it has been audited and approved by the Royal National Institute of Blind People for all accessibility needs. Face-to-face and telephone support are in place for those vulnerable claimants who cannot self-serve online.
Many disabled people are already having problems claiming universal credit. With the regulations for managed migration expected shortly, the Disability Benefits Consortium fears that many people with disabilities will fall through the cracks and lose transitional protection. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that people with physical or mental disabilities are given the specialist help they need to migrate, and should we not delay migration until that is sorted?
There is extensive engagement with the various organisations, and the Department is working hard to ensure there is full support for the disabled claimant, whether that is through the severe disability premium or our recently announced universal support fund.
Universal Credit: Scotland
We have over 1,600 work coaches across 84 jobcentres in Scotland, who are trained to offer support and advice to claimants. As the Secretary of State pointed out earlier, we have a brand-new partnership with Citizens Advice Scotland.
Citizens Advice’s Stirling district is a superb independent source of advice, having published a plain English guide to universal credit. Does the Minister agree that independent advice on benefits is essential and that ensuring it is provided without political point scoring from the Scottish Government and local government will serve claimants better?
I congratulate my hon. Friend, who is a great champion of his constituents, and he works very well with the local jobcentre. He is absolutely right: what Citizens Advice is providing is a huge amount of experience; it is an independent organisation with a national footprint. I absolutely agree that the last thing the vulnerable need is political point scoring. What they want is support, and that is what they are getting under universal credit.
What assessment has the Minister made of the closure of six jobcentres across Glasgow—
Seven jobcentres in Glasgow. What assessment has he made of those closures as universal credit rolls out this month?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have reconfigured our estate. One of the reasons that has happened is that we had over-provision of space— 20% more than we needed—and we now have jobcentres that are actually delivering. At the end of the day, one of the reasons for this is that we have much lower levels of unemployment than in 2010. I hope that is something the hon. Gentleman welcomes.
I recently held a drop-in surgery at the Kinning Park Complex in my constituency, because roll-out in Glasgow has already begun. The big issue that people raised was that they did not even know that this was going to affect them. There is a huge gap in awareness. What is the Minister going to do about this so that people actually get the benefits they are entitled to and do not lose out on transitional payments?
As I said, when I go to jobcentres, it is very clear to me that they are working extremely hard in engaging and in letting claimants know things ahead of time, and indeed in engaging with local Members of Parliament. I hope the hon. Lady has had a chance to visit her jobcentre. If she wants to have a detailed discussion about this, I am very happy to have a discussion with her after these oral questions.
Universal Credit: Household Debt
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his wedding, and we look forward to his reply.
A truly memorable day.
Alongside the personalised and tailored support of universal credit, claimants have access to extended childcare support, increases in the personal tax allowance and the introduction of the national living wage. For those transferring from legacy benefits, there is an additional two weeks of housing benefit support.
It is all too easy for people to fall into debt with universal credit failures. My constituent Kayley Aithwaite gets paid on the last working day of each month, meaning she had two lots of wages considered in the last calculation period, and was denied her usual universal credit. How common is this particular problem and what is the Minister going to do about it?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. Universal credit is designed to mirror the world of work, with monthly payments. It is far better that, through the personalised and tailored support of their individual work coach, claimants are able to be given the support to navigate that now and not on the first day of entering work.
What sort of honeymoon is this?
It is a great honour to share my honeymoon with so many wonderful colleagues.
The hon. Gentleman almost kept a straight face, but not quite.
This is an issue that has been raised and that is why additional judges have been recruited to the tribunal system to make sure that goes as quickly as possible. Through their individual work coach, people will get the tailored support as quickly as they can.
I thought we might hear from the voice of South Suffolk, but the hon. Gentleman seems disinclined to participate in this exchange even though he has a comparable question. He is not obliged. If he is more interested in his phone, so be it. [Interruption.] Get in there, man. I call James Cartlidge.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. That is absolutely key: with universal credit you will always be better off in work. UC removes the effective 90% tax rate of the legacy benefit and the cliff-edges of 16, 24 and 30 hours. It is a far simpler benefit, which is stopping the £2.4 billion-worth of benefits that were missed in claiming.
From July 2019, up to 2.8 million people will be required to move from their existing benefits by making a new claim for universal credit. Many are set to lose up to £200 a month. The Trussell Trust, the Child Poverty Action Group, Disability Rights UK, two former Prime Ministers, the future Chancellor and even the Archbishop of Canterbury have all called for a halt to this process, which is driving the growth of poverty in our communities. At what stage will the Secretary of State take her fingers out of her ears, listen to reality and halt this chaos?
This is the reality, as it stands today: complex legacy benefits of £2.4 billion-worth of benefits not being claimed—an average of £285 a month. As the roll-out of universal credit continues, it will remain a test-and-learn process. Where we can see improvements—we have made many already—we will continue to make them.
We are constantly improving universal credit in response to feedback and have implemented a wide-ranging package of improvements worth £1.5 billion, some of which my hon. Friend campaigned for. We will continue to do that when we need to.
Universal credit can work only if it is fully funded. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the effective tax rate of 63p in the pound for people moving into work is set at a punitive level and that the Treasury should loosen the purse strings for her?
My hon. Friend is always a good campaigner on these causes and we of course meet to discuss these matters. At the moment, the taper rate is 63%, as he says, but it was over 90% under the legacy system. We have dropped it considerably and when we can, when the economy is on a sounder footing, we will seek to drop it even further to make sure that work pays, which is something this Conservative Government do.
The Secretary of State says that universal credit is constantly improving, but unfortunately the number of people coming to my office for food bank vouchers is constantly increasing. More and more of the people coming are families with kids. The public are angry. Has the Secretary of State made an assessment of how many families using food bank vouchers are lone parents with children?
The hon. Lady raises a good question about what happened under the previous Labour Government—[Interruption.] Can I just put this on the record, Mr Speaker? Under the previous Labour Government—[Interruption.] Labour Members are huffing, puffing, tutting and shaking their heads, but the number of households where no one had ever worked doubled under Labour. That is where the problem started and we are changing that. It has been a quick change—to 3.4 million people in work—and we have to help those people now to get a higher income, which we are doing.
I call Richard Graham. Why is he surprised by that? He is standing. Get in there.
Of course we have to understand the underlying issues and problems and support people as best we can. I met the Trussell Trust and various poverty groups and we have talked about how we best support families. We believe that the best way to support a family out of poverty is by getting them into work—hence why I pointed out that, under the previous Labour Government, the number of households where no one ever worked doubled. This Government believe that work is the best way out of poverty and we will continue helping people.
One million householders, 750,000 disabled people, 600,000 working single parents, 600,000 self-employed people and 300,000 families with three or more children will all be worse off under universal credit. Will the Secretary of State finally admit that, for these people, austerity is far from over?
I have said that, under this benefit, what we sought to do was get more people into work, because that is the best way out of poverty, and that is what we have done. We are helping 1,000 people each and every day into work. We also said that we would make this benefit fair to the taxpayers, who are paying for it, and fair to those claimants, and that is what we are doing.
Benefits System: Claimants’ Needs
This Government are delivering the biggest changes to the welfare system since its inception, creating flexibility to adapt to changing working patterns and offering personalised support.
I thank the Minister for his response. An increasing number of people in my constituency are self-employed and setting up their own businesses. Will the Minister outline what universal credit is doing to support people who are setting up their own businesses?
I thank my hon. Friend, who is a real champion of the self-employed community, and I am proudly a former business owner myself. Universal credit is far more flexible to adapt to changing circumstances, particularly for those who are starting up on their career of owning their business.
Yes, absolutely. This is an important point, and that is why we have improved the training for all work coaches to identify as quickly as possible those who need that additional support. It is a really important and key part of UC.
Work: People with Disabilities
We support disabled people into work through a wide range of initiatives, including our £500 million Work and Health programme and the £330 million personal support package, and Access to Work supported over 25,000 people last year. I had meetings all through the summer with our Work and Health Programme providers, including Reed in Partnership in Yorkshire, and I saw fantastic work being done to take a health and wellbeing approach to enable people back into work.
Many employers have signed up to the Disability Confident scheme—as I have—to ensure that disabled people have the opportunity to achieve their ambitions and employers can choose from a wider selection of talent available. I am now encouraging businesses in Harrogate and Knaresborough to sign up. Will the Minister join me in encouraging employers right across our country to sign up to this impressive initiative?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for his fantastic leadership in his constituency. I am delighted to say that hundreds of employers are signing up every week to the Disability Confident scheme, with more than 8,300 having signed up in total, including well over 800 in his own constituency. Many Members have taken up the community challenge, and it is not too late for those who have not participated. I encourage everyone to help people to sign up to be disability confident.
The hon. Lady has what might be called the Oral-B approach to getting called, which is to offer the House a beaming smile.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, but I am afraid that I am not smiling about the Minister’s replies, because they are so far detached from the reality that many of us are seeing on the frontline. She will know that those facing a change in circumstance are not protected by the transitional protections. This is affecting dozens of disabled constituents of mine, such as Dean, who has lost £300 a month, having lost his disabled premium going from tax credits to universal credit, and Erica, who has now built up £5,000 of overpayments due to the same thing. The principles of universal credit are now in tatters—it is not helping people to work. When will the Government review this?
I am afraid that the hon. Lady is completely wrong. We have put in place transitional protection for people on the severe disability premium; under our new regulations, that protection is now there.
An industry-led pensions dashboard, facilitated by Government, will harness industry innovation and provide an opportunity for the pensions industry to step up and take a leading role. We have engaged with the industry and are assessing the feasibility of a dashboard. We will report shortly on the findings.
Ten thousand of my constituents have been automatically enrolled on the pensions dashboard under this Government. Will the Minister confirm that this is one of many options for my constituents for receiving pensions information, and that the dashboard will remain firmly in place?
My hon. Friend is right. The dashboard will transform how his constituents keep track of their growing number of pensions. This, along with the Single Financial Guidance Body, which the Government set up last year, will provide free and impartial information and guidance to help people plan for their retirement.
Will the Minister explain how the development of this online system will benefit my constituents?
Some 15,000 people in my hon. Friend’s constituency have been auto-enrolled thanks to the 2,010 employers supporting the system. As auto-enrolment expands, there will be a number of different pension pots, and having an online tool that everybody can access will be a massive addition for his constituents.
If the Minister could be good enough to face the House, it would be hugely appreciated.
Does the Minister agree that for the pensions dashboard to be effective, it must be comprehensive, which means enjoying support right across the sector? If so, what is he doing to achieve this?
It was a pleasure to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency in the summer and to meet many of the 10,000-plus people there who are auto-enrolled. We are in daily contact with industry figures as we prepare our feasibility report and plan for the roll-out of the dashboard.
Will the Minister give us a date for full implementation of the dashboard?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to await the feasibility report that is pending.
Will the pensions dashboard be clear about all the costs related to its production?
That is part of the feasibility study and something that we are looking at on an ongoing basis, but I am happy to discuss this in more detail with the hon. Gentleman.
It is nothing short of astonishing that the Secretary of State sought to pull the plug on the groundbreaking cross-party pensions dashboard, designed to help workers know what they have saved and what they have to save to ensure a decent income in retirement, and all easily accessible in one place. Will the Minister now ensure an obligation on providers to supply the necessary information to the pensions dashboard, and can we be confident that the Secretary of State, whose capacity to get it wrong knows no bounds, will not make a renewed attempt to thwart the pensions dashboard?
Is it not rich that the Labour party, which never came up with or implemented a pensions dashboard, is criticising us, who are doing exactly that? Let me make it acutely clear that this is a party that works together, and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I, and all the members of the DWP team, are completely behind the pensions dashboard.
Universal Credit Roll-out
Universal credit is now live in 495 jobcentres available to new claimants, and within weeks it will be available throughout the country.
In two weeks’ time the remaining two thirds of my constituency will receive universal credit, following the one third who have already received it. Notwithstanding the frankly irresponsible narrative that we hear from Opposition Members, the work and pensions staff in the Aberdeen jobcentre cannot wait to get started and to deliver this transformative benefit. Can the Minister confirm that it is on track to be rolled out in two weeks’ time?
I thank my hon. Friend for engaging with his local jobcentre, which is not always done by Opposition Members. I hear the same thing from other jobcentre staff across the country. Universal credit is working, and I say to the Opposition, “Stop scaremongering: you are not helping the people who need the support.”
As universal credit is rolled out, the Government have announced that they are removing local authority funding support for claimants and placing the role solely with Citizens Advice. When will Doncaster Citizens Advice, and all the other branches in the country, know for sure exactly what resources they will receive, and when?
Let me be clear. Local authorities will continue to provide that support until the end of the current financial year, and will work in parallel with Citizens Advice, which is starting its work in the autumn.
We now come to topical questions. Brevity is of the essence.
When we were here last, Members in all parts of the House were asking whether Citizens Advice could be more involved with universal credit. I am pleased to inform them today that I went away and secured that agreement, and that Citizens Advice, as an independent organisation, will be giving universal support and assisting claimants with universal credit.
Universal credit was introduced in my constituency early in 2017. Although there were initial problems following the changes made by the Government at the end of last year, Citizens Advice has reported a significant reduction in the number of difficulties. Jobcentre Plus staff also report a very positive effect in getting people back to work. Does that endorse the principle that we should seek not to reject universal credit, but to reform it?
My hon. Friend is right. Work coaches are saying that this is the best system that they have ever had. It has been helping 1,000 people into work each and every day since 2010. My hon. Friend is also right to say that when we see that things need to be improved and adapted, we listen, we learn, and we change it as it goes.
Under universal credit, severely disabled people will lose out on disability premiums worth up to £80 per week, and will also lose the £30 “limited capability for work” component. Last week, the Secretary of State said that 1 million disabled people would be “significantly better off” under universal credit. Let me ask her now whether that is really the case. Is not the reality that after the premiums and the £30 component have been scrapped, disabled people will in fact be worse off overall under universal credit?
The Secretary of State has made it absolutely clear that we will be protecting people who currently receive the severe disability premium. [Interruption.] Will the hon. Lady just listen? A million disabled households who are now receiving legacy benefits will gain, on average, £110 a month on universal credit. Those are the facts, and the hon. Lady should try to accept them.
I know that my hon. Friend has great experience in this area, and I should be very excited to hear about those proposals in more detail. I am keen to meet him to establish whether any lessons can be learned.
It is absolutely clear that under universal credit work is paying. That is why we have over 3 million more people in jobs than in 2010.
Through Citizens Advice, which we are rolling out across the country, it will be possible particularly for the most vulnerable to get support in terms of budgeting help and also digital support.
We have been absolutely clear that there are going to be protections in place for those currently on legacy benefits as we move across to universal credit. I do wish the Opposition would stop scaring people from moving on to universal credit.
This is a real priority for our Secretary of State and it will involve building on our work to enable care leavers to make advanced UC claims, access to the youth application support programme, early access to the work and health programme and extensions to second chance learning, and we will work with employers to create more opportunities to build on this partnership with Barnardo’s.[Official Report, 18 October 2018, Vol. 647, c. 10MC.]
I advise the hon. Gentleman’s constituents to use the telephone service or for one of their friends or family members to call up, because it is absolutely essential that people who have any sort of disability that prevents them from accessing their benefit have those barriers overcome: so pick up the phone and the support will be available.
Some 10,000 of my hon. Friend’s constituents are benefiting from automatic enrolment, with thanks to the 1,800 employers involved, and nationally workplace pension provision for women and young people has now doubled in the last five years.
I have huge respect for the right hon. Gentleman, as he knows, but that is precisely why we introduced this £1.5 billion of support earlier this year, which means people can get advances up front—up to 100%—and those on housing benefit get a two-week run-on, which is money that does not have to be repaid.
I recently hosted a Disability Confident event in Baildon in my constituency. As somebody who employs somebody with multiple disabilities, I know that many workforces are losing out on a huge pool of talent. May I therefore urge the Minister to advertise the benefits of Access to Work more widely so we can get even more disabled people into work?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his personal leadership in his constituency and for employing a disabled person and drawing on all the talents that our nation has to offer. Access to Work is a fantastic scheme helping record numbers of people and we will continue to do everything we can to make sure disabled people can work.
My constituent Paul is agoraphobic and has a personality disorder, heart damage and a history of self-harm. After a tribunal accepted that he could not attend an assessment centre, the centre for health and disability assessment has blocked his employment and support allowance and universal credit by refusing him a home assessment. Will the Minister apply some common sense and overrule the decision?
The hon. Gentleman raises a serious point. Home assessments are of course an important part of our processes. I am very disappointed to hear about that case, which I will be happy to look into.
I commend the staff at Ayr jobcentre, who recently hosted a successful employment fair at which we discussed the value of flexibility in the universal credit system in helping vulnerable claimants back into work. Will my right hon. Friend consider what further support might be useful to jobcentres in hosting future employment fairs across the United Kingdom?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. I visited his constituency over the summer to see what terrific work his work coaches were doing. We will be implementing more work in outreach and developing our flexible fund to help more people.
Birmingham’s food banks have had their busiest year ever—70% of their demand is due to universal credit. Can I give the Secretary of State a choice? Either pause this crazy roll-out or come to Birmingham and help us to raise the tonne and a half of food we need each month to replenish the empty food bank stock.
We have had this discussion in a number of questions now. Can I be absolutely clear? The right hon. Gentleman should look at the report produced by the all-party parliamentary group on hunger, which said that the reasons for food bank usage are complex and myriad, and cannot be put down to any single reason.
I warmly welcome the announcement by the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), of a consultation on collective defined contribution schemes. However, I had anticipated that it would come out before my ten-minute rule Bill on Wednesday. Will he give us an update as to when we might see it?
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has raised this point. The consultation will be of assistance to Royal Mail and the thousands of posties in his constituency. We will be consulting on the matter very shortly.
Under managed migration, claimants of legacy benefits will effectively have to apply anew for universal credit, and some vulnerable claimants may not realise and lose transitional protection as a result. Will the Minister look again at how those claimants can ensure that they retain their transitional protection?
The Secretary of State, other Ministers and I are having detailed engagement with the various health groups that the hon. Lady is talking about. We are, of course, looking at the recommendations made by the Social Security Advisory Committee.
On Friday, I am hosting Angus’s first Disability Confident event in Forfar. Will my hon. Friend join me in celebrating employers who are taking part to learn how they can benefit from the untapped potential of those living with disabilities in our communities?
My hon. Friend is an absolute champion for all her constituents, but particularly those with disabilities and health conditions who want to work. I really welcome her setting up of this jobs fair in her constituency on Friday and encourage as many local people as possible to sign up to Disability Confident.
One of the concerns being expressed by constituents about the universal credit roll-out is literacy levels and people’s unwillingness and fear about being able to complete forms. Given that universal credit is to be fully rolled out in my constituency in December, what assurance can the Minister give me that those with poor literacy levels with receive the support they need to get the benefits that they need and deserve?
Universal support has been available since 2017, but our partnership with Citizens Advice is clearly a step up. I hope that that will make a positive difference to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents.
EU Exit Negotiations
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House ahead of this week’s European Council.
We are entering the final stages of these negotiations. This is the time for cool, calm heads to prevail, and for a clear-eyed focus on the few remaining but critical issues that are still to be agreed. Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union went to Brussels for further talks with Michel Barnier. There has inevitably been a great deal of inaccurate speculation, so I want to set out clearly for the House the facts as they stand.
First, we have made real progress in recent weeks on both the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration on our future relationship. I want to pay tribute to both negotiating teams for the many, many hours of hard work that have got us to this point. In March, we agreed legal text around the implementation period, citizen’s rights and the financial settlement, and we have now made good progress on text concerning the majority of the outstanding issues. Taken together, the shape of the deal across the vast majority of the withdrawal agreement—the terms of our exit—is now clear. We also have broad agreement on the structure and scope of the framework for our future relationship, with progress on issues such as security, transport and services.
Perhaps most significantly, we have made progress on Northern Ireland, on which the EU has been working with us to respond to the very real concerns we had about its original proposals. Let me remind the House why this is so important. Both the UK and the EU share a profound responsibility to ensure the preservation of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, protecting the hard-won peace and stability in Northern Ireland and ensuring that life continues essentially as it does now. We agree that our future economic partnership should provide for solutions to the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland in the long term, and while we are both committed to ensuring that this future relationship is in place by the end of the implementation period, we accept that there is a chance that there may be a gap between the two. This is what creates the need for a backstop to ensure that if such a temporary gap were ever to arise, there would be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, or indeed anything that would threaten the integrity of our precious Union.
This backstop is intended to be an insurance policy for the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland. Previously, the European Union had proposed a backstop that would see Northern Ireland carved off in the EU’s customs union and parts of the single market, separated through a border in the Irish sea from the UK’s own internal market. As I have said many times, I could never accept that, no matter how unlikely such a scenario might be. Creating any form of customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would mean a fundamental change in the day-to-day experience for businesses in Northern Ireland, with the potential to affect jobs and investment. We published our proposals on customs in the backstop in June. After Salzburg, I said that we would bring forward our own further proposals, and that is what we have done in these negotiations. The European Union has responded positively by agreeing to explore a UK-wide customs solution to this backstop, but two problems remain.
First, the EU says that there is not time to work out the detail of this UK-wide solution in the next few weeks, so even with the progress we have made, the EU still requires a “backstop to the backstop”—effectively an insurance policy for the insurance policy—and it wants this to be the Northern Ireland-only solution that it had previously proposed. We have been clear that we cannot agree to anything that threatens the integrity of our United Kingdom, and I am sure that the whole House shares the Government’s view on this. Indeed, the House of Commons set out its view when agreeing unanimously to section 55 in part 6 of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018 on a single United Kingdom customs territory, which states:
“It shall be unlawful for Her Majesty’s Government to enter into arrangements under which Northern Ireland forms part of a separate customs territory to Great Britain.”
So the message is clear not just from this Government but from the whole House.
Secondly, I need to be able to look the British people in the eye and say that this backstop is a temporary solution. People are rightly concerned that what is only meant to be temporary could become a permanent limbo, with no new relationship between the UK and the EU ever agreed. I am clear that we are not going to be trapped permanently in a single customs territory unable to do meaningful trade deals. So it must be the case, first, that the backstop should not need to come into force; secondly, that if it does, it must be temporary; and, thirdly, while I do not believe that this will be the case, that if the EU were not to co-operate on our future relationship, we must be able to ensure that we cannot be kept in this backstop arrangement indefinitely. I would not expect the House to agree to a deal unless we have the reassurance that the UK, as a sovereign nation, has this say over our arrangements with the EU.
I do not believe that the UK and the EU are far apart. We both agree that article 50 cannot provide the legal base for a permanent relationship, and we both agree that the backstop must be temporary, so we must now work together to give effect to that agreement.
So much of the negotiations are necessarily technical, but the reason why this all matters is that it affects the future of our country. It affects jobs and livelihoods in every community. It is about what kind of country we are and about our faith in our democracy. Of course it is frustrating that almost all the remaining points of disagreement are focused on how we manage a scenario that both sides hope should never come to pass and that, if it does, will only be temporary. We cannot let that disagreement derail the prospects of a good deal and leave us with the no-deal outcome that no-one wants. I continue to believe that a negotiated deal is the best outcome for the UK and for the European Union. I continue to believe that such a deal is achievable, and that is the spirit in which I will continue to work with our European partners. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of her statement.
This really is beginning to feel like groundhog day—another “nothing has changed” moment from this shambles of a Government. Almost two and a half years after the referendum, 18 months since the triggering of article 50 and with less than six months to go, what do we have to show for all that? Yesterday we saw another Brexit Minister shuttling over to Brussels only to come back, tail between his legs, unable to deliver because of divisions in the Conservative party. Over—[Interruption.]
Order. I appealed earlier for calm and I do so again. I will reiterate what people should know anyway by now: there will be ample opportunity for everybody who wants to ask a question—not to shriek across the Chamber, but to ask a question—to do so. Let us have a bit of hush on both sides of the House.
Over the past 18 months, red line after red line has been surrendered. Even the Prime Minister’s much-vaunted Chequers plan now appears to be dead in the water. In fact, after countless resignations and the threat of even more, she could not even bring herself to mention Chequers in her own conference speech. The Prime Minister must stop the excuses. There is a Brexit deal that could command the support of Parliament and the country—a Brexit deal that would benefit Britain and allow us to rebuild our communities, regions and economy, and avoid any hard border in Northern Ireland—but that is not her deal.
As we reach a critical point in this nation’s history, we need a Prime Minister who will for once make the right decision, put the country before her party and stand up to the reckless voices on her Back Benches and within her Cabinet. For too long this country has been held hostage to those in her party who want to drive through a “race to the bottom” Brexit deal that lowers rights and standards, and sells off our national assets to the lowest bidder. It is clear—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Heappey, you are normally such a good-natured and laid-back fellow. I do not know what has happened to you. I do not know what you had for breakfast, but tip me off afterwards and I will make sure to avoid it. We need an atmosphere of calm. Nobody in this Chamber—questioner or anybody answering, namely the Prime Minister—will be shouted down, and that is the end of it. It is as simple as that.
It is clear that the Prime Minister’s failure to stand up to the warring factions on her own side have led us to this impasse. Let me remind the Prime Minister and Conservative Members what they signed up to just 10 months ago:
“In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.”
Does that still stand? That is an interesting question for the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister is now hoping that she can cobble together a deal that avoids all the big questions as to what our future partnership with the European Union will be. Is it not the case that the backstop is necessary only because the Government will not agree to a new comprehensive customs union with the EU, with a say for Britain in future trade deals? How long is her envisaged temporary deal? One year? Two years? Five years? More? Britain deserves a bit better than this. The blindfold Brexit that the Government are cooking up is a bridge to nowhere and a dangerous leap in the dark.
Let me be clear that the only thing we can trust this Government to do is to impose more years of austerity on the people of this country. The Prime Minister wants to present Brexit as a choice between her deal and no deal. This is simply not the case. There is an alternative option—an alternative that can command the support of Parliament and the country. Labour has set out our six tests. Indeed, at times the Prime Minister has said that she will meet them. Labour’s plan—[Interruption.]
Order. An even better-natured fellow, the hon. Member for Colchester—normally the embodiment of charm and good grace—is very overexcited. We will get you in in due course, Mr Quince, do not worry.
Labour’s plan is for Britain and the EU to negotiate a permanent customs union to protect jobs and manufacturing. We want a deal that allows us to strengthen rights and working standards so that we can avoid a race to the bottom, and we want a deal for all regions and nations that allows us to invest in local infrastructure, local transport and energy markets so that we can grow our economy again. Labour will not give the Government a blank cheque to go down the reckless path they are set on at present.
Let me be clear that the choice for this Parliament should never be the Prime Minister’s deal or no deal. If this Government cannot get a good deal for this country, they have to make way for those who can. The Prime Minister faces a simple and inescapable choice: be buffeted this way and that way by the chaos of her own party, or back a deal that can win the support of Parliament and the people of this country.
Perhaps I could point out a few things to the right hon. Gentleman. He says that the discussion on the backstop was in order to avoid the questions of the future relationship. If he had actually listened to my statement—in fact, he received an early copy of it—he would have heard me make it clear that we have made good progress on both the structure and scope of the future relationship, which we have been discussing alongside the withdrawal agreement. He also talks about there being a better deal available. Well, we never hear from the Labour party exactly what deal it thinks it wants. What we have seen—[Interruption.]
Order. There is far too much noise. I said a moment ago that the Leader of the Opposition must be heard, and the Prime Minister must also be heard.
What we have heard from Labour Members is that at one point that they want to do really good trade deals around the rest of the world, and the next moment they want to tie us into the Brussels trade deals by being part of the customs union. One minute they say they want to respect the vote of the British people in relation to free movement; the next minute they say, “Well, actually, no, free movement is still on the table.” What we constantly see from them is no firm proposals on this particular issue.
Labour Members also talk about being in a customs union. May I say to the right hon. Gentleman—this is perhaps the sort of detail he may not have recognised—that even if we were to go down the route of the sort of deal that might involve being in a customs union, it would still be necessary to have a backstop, in case there was a delay between bringing that in and the end of the implementation period. Certainly, on this side of the House, we are very clear about our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland and our commitments to the United Kingdom.
The right hon. Gentleman then said, “What have we got to show for all of this that has been undertaken?” What we have got to show for it is: the vast majority of the withdrawal agreement agreed; and significant progress and agreement on the structure and scope of the future relationship. What we also have to show for it is a Government who are determined to deliver on the vote of the British people, unlike an Opposition who want to frustrate the people’s vote and frustrate Brexit.
May I urge my right hon. Friend not to listen to the groundhog opposite, who does not have any interesting questions, but to rely on one specific question? I agree with my right hon. Friend that we are not going to be and will not be in the customs union—being out of the customs unions is a pledge that she made and that the British people voted for. The question I ask her is: she made her decision on that, but how long does she think this temporary arrangement might last and, most importantly, who would make the final decision on when it ends?
In relation to the UK-wide customs arrangement, we set out when we published our proposals in June that we would expect that to end by December 2021. My right hon. Friend asked me what I want to see and what I think in relation to this arrangement. I do not want to see the backstop having to be used at all. I want to ensure that we deliver for the people of Northern Ireland through the future relationship and that that future relationship comes into place on 1 January 2021, when the implementation period ends, so that we do not have to see this backstop arrangement being used at all.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement. First, may I apologise on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), who, as is often the way when coming from a remote location, has been delayed in transit?
This morning, Scotland’s First Minister launched “Scotland’s Place in Europe: Our Way Forward”, which is the latest in a series of analyses on the ongoing negotiations and sets out the best—or least worst—possible future for Scotland. The first of these Scottish Government analysis papers came 18 months before Chequers and, to date, has not led to a single resignation from the Scottish Cabinet. The sense of unity and the responsibility being demonstrated by the Government in Edinburgh could hardly be in more marked contrast to what we see from the UK Government here today.
Last night, the negotiations collapsed again. Did the Secretary of State go dashing off to Brussels just to fail? Or did he go because his officials had told him a deal was close? If that is the case, surely this House is entitled to know what, yet again, went wrong at the last minute. The Government’s official explanations only make sense if the Prime Minister has decided that the proposal she signed up to last December is unworkable.
The reality of all this weighs heavily across communities, particularly on the island of Ireland. We are three days away from the EU Council summit, and the UK Government continue to show at best disdain and at worst open contempt for the people of Ireland and for the Good Friday agreement. The Government clearly have no real understanding of what communities on both sides of the border are feeling about these negotiations. As long ago as last December, the Brexit Select Committee, despite an over-representation of hardliners, made it clear:
“We do not currently see how it will be possible to reconcile there being no border with the Government’s policy of leaving the Single Market”—[Interruption.]
Order. I am trying to hear the hon. Gentleman. Let’s hear the fella. [Interruption.] Order. I know that there is much noise. The hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) was pointing out that there is a lot of noise. I am well aware of that fact, and he does not need to conduct the orchestra.
We can see how the Prime Minister’s Back Benchers have responded to her appeal for cool, calm heads. We can understand why she struggles to keep her party together when there are hard questions to be answered.
What was striking was the contrast in reaction from the Tory Back Benchers: when the Prime Minister committed to defend the Good Friday agreement, there was at best a lukewarm response, but there were then three hearty cheers when she said that we were taking Northern Ireland out of the customs union. It tells us where the Tory party’s priorities lie. A Conservative party playing politics with people’s lives for the sake of its own political survival is nothing short of disgraceful.
There is a better way. It is time for the Prime Minister to disown the extreme hard-line minority in her own party. She has the chance to resolve the question of the Irish border to protect jobs, to prevent the economic catastrophe that we face and to respect the result of the referendum in 2016. Will she now accept that she got it wrong? Will she now commit to a damage limitation Brexit and accept that there is a significant consensus in this House in favour of remaining in the single market and the customs union? I say to her to ignore her own career prospects, to ignore the career ambitions of those behind her and to look instead at the hundreds of thousands of people whose jobs are at risk if this goes wrong. Will she take her head out of the sand and work with those on all Benches in this House to ensure that a United Kingdom stays in the single market and in the customs union?
I will pick up on a number of those points. It interests me that the hon. Gentleman was talking about the importance to him of staying in the single market, presumably because of his concern about trade with the European Union. Well, we want to have a good trade deal with the European Union, but we also want to be free to be able to negotiate our own trade deals around the rest of the world. He asked what were still the areas of disagreement between us and the European Union in relation to the withdrawal agreement, and I set those out in my statement. I am afraid that he used a very unfortunate term. He said that we were showing contempt for the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland. Far from that, it is precisely because we recognise our commitment to the people of Northern Ireland that we are working hard to ensure that we deliver no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and to ensure that people and businesses in Northern Ireland are able to carry on their day-to-day lives and their business as they can do today.
The hon. Gentleman also started off by referencing a piece of work that talked about the best economic future for Scotland. I hate to have to remind the Scottish National party yet again, but the best economic future for Scotland is to remain in the United Kingdom.
I know that my right hon. Friend will appreciate that, in deciding to remain in the customs union, the Leader of the Opposition is guilty of a shameless U-turn and a betrayal of millions of people—[Interruption.]
Order. I want to hear the right hon. Gentleman. Let’s hear the fella.
In that case, I will repeat that the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, is guilty of a shameless U-turn and a betrayal of millions of people who voted leave. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister confirm, as I think she has just said, that the very latest deadline by which this country will take back control of our tariff schedules in Geneva and vary those tariffs independently of Brussels in order to do free trade deals will be, as I think she has just said, December 2021? If that is not the deadline, will she say what it is?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in pointing out the U-turn of the Leader of the Opposition. As I referenced in my response to him, the Opposition cannot hold the position both that they want to do trade deals around the rest of the world and also that they want to be part of a customs union. As I said, when we published the temporary customs arrangement proposal back in June, we set as a point of expectation that that would be completed by December 2021. As I indicated in my statement, one issue that we are discussing with the European Union is how we can ensure that we do reflect—properly reflect—the temporary nature of the backstop. I continue to believe that what we should all be doing is working to ensure that the backstop never comes into place and that, actually, it is not December 2021 that we are talking about, but 1 January 2021.
In the paper that was published on 7 June, proposing a way to keep an open border in Northern Ireland, the Government said that their temporary customs arrangement would be in place
“until the future customs arrangement can be introduced”.
The Prime Minister has just reminded the House that she expects those arrangements to be in place by December 2021 at the latest—which, incidentally, is a whole year after the end of the proposed transition period—but since the expectation of an end date is not the same as a definite end date, when is she going to tell her party that we cannot have a fixed artificial time limit on the fall-back that the Government are trying to negotiate with the EU?
May I say, as I have in relation to a number of questions on this point, that we are very clear on this? The purpose of the backstop is to be an insurance policy such that if the future relationship is not in place by 1 January 2021, there is an arrangement that ensures no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland; so it is there for the time until the future relationship can come into place. As we indicated in June, we expect that to be no later than December 2021, but we will be working to ensure that that point comes as early as possible because it is in everybody’s interests to ensure that we are able to move seamlessly into the future relationship after the implementation period without actually having to enter into another sort of relationship in the interim period. That is what the backstop would be, and that is why we want to work to ensure that the backstop never has to come into place.
This is a moment of great importance, which is why the Chamber is so full of Members of Parliament who are here to speak on behalf of their communities and—given the relevance of this particular discussion—on behalf of their businesses. As the Prime Minister listens to the very many different voices in this House that she is blessed to hear from, I urge her to respond by working on those compromises with the EU not just on behalf of the 52%, but also on behalf of the 48%. It is on behalf of the 100% that we need to deliver on leaving the European Union.
Let me give my right hon. Friend the assurance that the Government and I are looking for a deal on the future relationship with the European Union that is good for the whole United Kingdom and that reflects the interests of the whole United Kingdom. We want to ensure that we have the freedom to do trade deals around the rest of the world and that we protect the jobs and livelihoods that today depend on the relationship and the trading relationship with the EU. What we are looking for, what I am looking for and what I am sure my right hon. Friend and other right hon. and hon. Friends are looking for is a deal that is good for the whole United Kingdom.
Why does the Prime Minister really find it necessary to make this statement today, given that it does not advance one iota our understanding that, in relation to Ireland, Brexit means borders, bureaucracy and—ultimately—betrayal of the Good Friday agreement?
The right hon. Gentleman frequently stands up in this Chamber to complain about the lack of members of the Government coming to the House of Commons to inform Members about matters, but I have come here today to inform the House of Commons about the position, and he complains about that as well. That is typical of the Liberal Democrats; they do not know where they stand on the issue.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if we go one second beyond 31 December 2020, we will automatically fall into the multiannual surveillance framework and will therefore be accumulating tens of billions of pounds extra year on year. Does she accept that, and does she also accept that if we continue to be dictated to by the EU in the way in which things are going at the moment, this country will be brought to a humiliating conclusion?
My hon. Friend is obviously one of my hon. Friends who has paid particular, very careful attention to these issues, but I do not agree with the situation that he has set out. We have been negotiating with the European Union. That has seen both the European Union recognising our arguments and moving its position in relation to some issues, and our recognising our need to put forward proposals that are acceptable to us but that recognise the concerns that have been expressed by the European Union.
But what we are doing, and what I am doing, is making sure that any deal that we have is the deal that is best for the future of the United Kingdom. That is a deal that delivers on the Brexit vote but does so in a way that protects jobs and livelihoods.
In relation to the future relationship, I want to ensure that that future relationship can start at the end of the implementation period, in which case, of course, there would be no question of a different relationship with the European Union for any period of time. We have agreed the financial settlement as part of the withdrawal settlement, as my hon. Friend knows, but I remind the House, yet again, that—this was a phrase first used, I think, by the EU themselves—nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
The Prime Minister will know that there is a real fear that the Government will delay pinning down any deal until the last possible minute so that they can try to bounce Parliament with the threat that it is her deal or no deal. She knows that that would be unacceptable to Parliament, but she also knows how damaging no deal would be in terms of security as well as jobs and the economy. So will she confirm that it would be better to apply for an extension to article 50 than to crash out with no deal?
I do not believe that we should be extending article 50. I have been very clear that we should not be extending article 50. I am a little bemused by the right hon. Lady’s first suggestion. We have legislated here in Parliament for a process that ensures that there will be not just the deliberations that this House will rightly have on the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill, but a meaningful vote in this House prior to that. [Hon. Members: “When?”] Labour Members say “When?” Of course, we are still in negotiations with the European Union in terms of delivering on the deal, and we continue to work to the timetable that has recently been set out.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is not what leave voters voted for? Leave voters and businesses in Broxtowe were promised a deal on trade not after we have left the European Union, but at the time that we leave the European Union. They were told that it would be the easiest deal in the history of trade deals. They were told that it would convey the “exact same benefits” as our membership of the single market and the customs union. What we now see is complete chaos and a total mess. Would the Prime Minister consider that, if her Government cannot get a grip on this, and if Parliament cannot get a grip on this, then it is time to face up to the fact that Brexit cannot be delivered, take it back to the people, and have a people’s vote?
As I have consistently said on this issue, this Parliament voted overwhelmingly to give the choice to the British people as to whether to leave or remain in the European Union. The people voted to leave the European Union, and I believe it is a matter of faith in our democracy, and the integrity of politicians, that we deliver for people on that vote. That is why it is so important to recognise—there is talk of a people’s vote; of going back to the people for a vote—that the people were given a vote. The people’s vote happened in 2016 and the people voted to leave.
In order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, which nobody wants, it can never be right that we have any kind of borders in the Irish sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister knows that we
“could not support any deal that creates a border of any kind in the Irish Sea”.
Those are not my words—they are the words of Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives. Will the Prime Minister confirm today that, as she said in her statement, she could never accept a proposed
“backstop that would see Northern Ireland carved off in the EU’s customs union and parts of the single market, separated through a border in the Irish sea from the UK’s own internal market”?
Would she confirm that the UK is leaving the EU together with no part hived off either in the single market or customs union differences?
When we leave the European Union, it will be the UK that leaves the European Union. We will be leaving the European Union together. I am very clear that there should be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, but, as we have put forward in our proposals, we can deliver on that and maintain the integrity of our Union. We made that very clear when the European Union made its backstop proposal that would effectively have carved Northern Ireland away from the rest of the United Kingdom. We cannot accept the EU’s backstop to a backstop precisely because it continues to want to see that. In fact what we want to see in a backstop is a situation where Northern Ireland businesses can export freely to Great Britain and to the European Union. That would be a good position for Northern Ireland businesses.
Trying to sign a withdrawal agreement without having legally binding texts on the future partnership would leave the UK in a deeply vulnerable position and unable to negotiate properly. Will the Prime Minister confirm that, in her view, no deal is still a lot better than a bad deal, and that a bad deal is giving £39 billion away, for no good reason, that we need to spend on our priorities?
I still believe that no deal is better than a bad deal. I am still working for what I believe is the best outcome for the UK, which is a good negotiated deal with the European Union for the future, but of course, we continue with our no-deal preparations. As my right hon. Friend will know, the negotiations on the financial settlement have already taken place. We are clear about the importance of linking the withdrawal agreement to the future relationship, such that we cannot find ourselves in a limbo situation and that we are able to see that future relationship committed to by the European Union and put in place. As I say, I want to see it put in place on 1 January 2021.
The issue over the Irish border is a direct result of the wilful dismissal of its importance before the referendum campaign and the wilful disregard of its importance by leading Brexit advocates since the referendum. They now advocate a Canada-style free trade agreement. Will the Prime Minister confirm that she rejects a Canada-style agreement as being completely unsuitable for the UK not only because of the huge economic damage it would do to industries dependent on multinational supply chains but because it would result in a hard border, which would break commitments that this country has made?
Of course, what we have seen from the European Union is that a Canada-style deal is not available or on offer for the whole of the United Kingdom; it is only on offer for Great Britain, with Northern Ireland effectively carved out from the rest of the United Kingdom. The proposals that the Government have put forward following the discussions that the Cabinet had in July at Chequers are focused on a free trade deal with frictionless trade at its heart. A Canada-style deal does not deliver on frictionless trade and therefore does not deliver the absolute guarantee of no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland or, indeed, frictionless trade at our other borders.
The Prime Minister is right to say that a negotiated deal is the best outcome for the United Kingdom. She is also right to say that protecting the Union is of fundamental importance to Members on all sides of the Brexit debate on the Government Benches. But as we just heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), there are people who disagree with what she said in her statement about the
“no-deal outcome that no one wants”.
There are people in this House and on the Government Benches who want a no-deal outcome.
My right hon. Friend is nodding.
People in this country are now really concerned and worried about no deal, including businesses, EU citizens living here and British citizens living in the EU. I urge the Prime Minister to ensure that we do not slip into any kind of no-deal scenario, because I believe that this House will not support it and therefore would have to step into the negotiations.
As I said earlier in response to a question, I am clear that we are working to get a good deal for the whole of the United Kingdom, but it is also right that we continue our preparations for no deal because we do not know what the outcome of those negotiations will be. I think it is right that we ensure that the deal we bring back is a good deal for the whole of the United Kingdom.
Does the Prime Minister stand by the commitment made by the Brexit Secretary to this House last week that the Government will publish a specific end date to the Irish backstop as part of the withdrawal agreement?
As I said both in my statement and in response to other questions, one of the issues that we are discussing with the European Union remains this issue of ensuring that the backstop is a temporary arrangement and that we cannot be kept in a permanent relationship of that sort with the European Union. The backstop is intended as an insurance policy for the people of Northern Ireland. I do not want that backstop ever to be put in place; I want to ensure we negotiate a future relationship that can start at the end of the implementation period.
After the referendum, a large majority of MPs across the House were elected to help this country to negotiate a future outside the EU, with trade arrangements that are sensible and that allow us to use our control over money, borders and the like in a way that is beneficial to us and beneficial to others. Will my right hon. Friend assure our negotiating partners that less friction is better than more friction?
Yes, it is precisely because we believe in the value of frictionless trade that we have put forward a proposal that would indeed deliver on frictionless trade.
It must be obvious to the Prime Minister that there is no majority in this place for a hard or no-deal Brexit, and she cannot do the sensible thing on the customs union and the single market because half her party and the DUP will not let her, so is she never tempted by the suggestion of her right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) that the way out of this mess—for her and for the country—will be a people’s vote?
No. I am going to repeat what I have said, in response to the right hon. Gentleman. The people had a vote in 2016. It was in a referendum. This Parliament gave the people that vote. The people voted to leave, and that is what we will deliver.
Whether leave or remain, we can all agree that in the past Britain may have pooled its sovereignty, but we have never just given it away. Does the Prime Minister accept that the common rulebook represents a unique loss of sovereignty for Britain, but that for the first time we will have tied the hands of future generations, to be bound by rules they will have had no chance to write?
No, I am afraid I do not agree with my right hon. Friend on the definition she has set out, precisely because the proposal that we have put forward involves a parliamentary lock. It will be this Parliament that will decide on those rules—whether we adopt those rules and whether we adopt any further changes to those rules.
Is not the Prime Minister’s problem that she is dancing to the tune of the hard Brexiteers—the duo from Uxbridge and Somerset—and we should not therefore be surprised that she is taking the country towards an inferior, low-grade, hard-Brexit FTA deal? Will she give an undertaking that, when this House—when Members of Parliament—look at that deal and decide that, actually, it is not right for the country and we decide a different course, she will respect the decision of Members of Parliament to put this question to a people’s vote?
The hon. Gentleman will know full well that it is very clearly set out what the process would be—what the procedure would be—were it to be the case that this Government were to bring a proposal back to this House and the meaningful vote were not to support that particular proposal.
What are the cross-border transactions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that so threaten the integrity of the European single market and customs union that they cannot be resolved by existing techniques or existing processes under existing law, none of which requires hard infrastructure on the border?
There are arrangements in relation to customs checks that would be put in place were it not the case that we had come to an agreement to have a customs arrangement that did not require those checks to take place. I have seen and have heard of a number of proposals for technical solutions to deal with those issues. I have to say to my right hon. Friend that some of those technical solutions effectively involve moving the border—and it would still be a border. Some involve equipment, which could come under attack, and some involve a degree of state surveillance that, frankly, I think would not be acceptable in Northern Ireland.
It is reported today that the Prime Minister wants the meaningful vote to take place on 27 November. The 27 November is the same day that the European Court of Justice will hear the Scottish Court’s referral on the question of whether article 50 can be unilaterally revoked. My question for the Prime Minister is, is she afraid of MPs knowing the answer to that question before we have the meaningful vote?
First of all, the hon. and learned Lady is making an assumption about the date of the meaningful vote, and we are still in negotiations. Secondly, no, because the point about whether article 50 can be revoked is that this Government will not be revoking article 50—we are going to keep article 50.
The Government were clearly right to reject that part of the Commission’s proposals that would have threatened the integrity of the United Kingdom, but it is salutary that what the European Commission produced was a deal that would have been worse than no deal. Despite that, can my right hon. Friend assure me and the House that she will continue to work very hard to make sure that we get a deal? I believe that, apart from a relatively small number of people who genuinely believe that no deal would be a good thing for this country, and apart from a few people who would vote against a deal for purely partisan reasons, there is an enormous majority in this House for a negotiated settlement to this procedure.
I can give my right hon. Friend that assurance. We will continue to work for a good deal, because I believe a good deal is the best outcome for the people of the United Kingdom.
The DUP, which has sustained the Prime Minister in office, has made it clear that it thinks no deal is almost inevitable. What does she think?
We continue to work for a good deal for the whole of the United Kingdom.
I wish my right hon. Friend every good thing in this negotiation, but I do point out to her that we are heading towards a conclusion where we are going to be in an at least two-year relationship with the EU—which is a condition of vassalage, because we have absolutely no say in the rule making, but we are tied to it—and we are going to be bound by a common rulebook afterwards, even if she is successful. I have to say to her that, in those circumstances, I will not be able to support the Government in this, unless this matter is put to the British people again. It is entirely different from what was discussed and negotiated during the referendum in 2016.
I say gently to my right hon. and learned Friend that I think I recall the time when he was in favour of the Government negotiating an implementation period for our withdrawal from the European Union, to bridge the point between our leaving on 29 March 2019 and the point at which the future relationship would come into place. We have set out the reasons why it is important for us to ensure that at the heart of our future relationship is a free trade deal that has frictionless trade at its heart—that is a good trade deal for the United Kingdom, but also enables us to undertake good trade deals with others around the world.
Can the Prime Minister give a firm commitment that nothing will be agreed with the European Union that would exclude Northern Ireland from any part of any future UK trade deals?
In the future relationship, we will be negotiating trade deals on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.
My right hon. Friend made the excellent point that it would be unlawful to have a separate customs arrangement for Northern Ireland. Why did that point escape the negotiators until so late in the process?
The point about not having a customs border down the Irish sea is not one that has escaped negotiators. We have been very clear: we were clear when the proposal was first published by the European Union earlier this year and we have consistently been clear that such an arrangement was one that the UK Government could not accept.
Does not the existence of a backstop serve only to illustrate the fact that the Prime Minister has actually wasted the last two years?
Employees in the car manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and food and drink manufacturing sector in Eddisbury want to manufacture to a single rule book, with frictionless trade. Can the Prime Minister confirm that this remains her negotiating position?
We continue to negotiate on the basis that the best deal for the future is one that has frictionless trade at its heart. That would be good for businesses here, and good for jobs and livelihoods here, but it would also deliver on the vote of the British people.
Given the trouble being caused to the Prime Minister by a relatively small number of Members, does she not now regret not seeking cross-party consent for her negotiating objectives?
We have a very clear negotiating objective in relation to the deal we are getting from the European Union. Sadly, what I see from the Labour party Front Bench is not a consistent approach in relation to that. The Government set out our approach in Lancaster House and we have followed that through at every stage of the negotiations.
When it comes to signing the political declaration on the future relationship, will my right hon. Friend confirm that it will be clear, specific and binding, so that business has more certainty and that we do not just begin another period of Brexit fog and uncertainty?
This is precisely why we want to ensure that there is a proper linkage between the withdrawal agreement and the future relationship, so that certainty can be given on what the future relationship is and that that is going to come into place. I think that that is what the House will want to see as well when it comes to look at the meaningful vote.
The Prime Minister has chastised Labour’s six tests. Let us look at the one she set, which is that frictionless trade must be the condition for signing up to the withdrawal agreement. Two and a half years on, all the whizz-bang technology you like and a temporary customs arrangement later shows that only staying in the customs union can do that. So in meeting her own test, the Prime Minister will face the same challenge she faces now: is it friction with the European Research Group or the future of the people of Northern Ireland that matters more? Her refusal to let the British public sort this out through a final-say deal shows that it is not the country.
As I have said to others, the British people made their decision on our leaving the European Union. If the hon. Lady wants to know how to deliver frictionless trade, she should read the White Paper.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has rejected the Opposition proposal to be in a customs union in the EU, which was of course rejected by this House only in July. Apart from the most important reason—having our tariffs and trade policy determined by Brussels without our having a seat at the table—it would also mean we would have no control over trade defences, dumping, unfair trade practices or trade preferences for the developing world. Does she therefore agree with me that it would illogical to agree to be in a customs union with the European Union beyond December 2020?
First, I commend my right hon. Friend for the work he did on our trade policy when he was a trade Minister. I absolutely want to see that we are able to put those new trade arrangements into place at the end of the implementation period. I want to see that future relationship coming into play at that point, which of course would be 1 January 2021.
Does the Prime Minister accept that the best interests of the country are not served by a gaggle of self-serving Cabinet Ministers threatening to resign, but by allowing the people a vote in a people’s vote?
I am quite happy to repeat what I have said in answer to all those Members who have proposed a people’s vote. We had a people’s vote. It was called the referendum and the people voted to leave.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and the progress that has been made, but will my right hon. Friend make it clear that throughout the tangle of these incredibly complex and difficult negotiations, security co-operation must remain a national priority, and will she confirm unequivocally that this will be the case?
I am very happy to give that reassurance to my right hon. Friend. I am pleased to say that we are making good progress in our discussions with the European Union on both internal and external security matters.
The Prime Minister has clearly ruled out a Canadian-style free trade agreement. As she rightly says, such an agreement would not lead to frictionless trade, and indeed would be disastrous for our food, automotive and aerospace industries, among others. However, will she explain how she will guarantee jobs in these industries and deliver frictionless trade if the UK leaves the customs union, and will these customs arrangements be detailed in the political declaration that we will have to vote on?
The hon. Lady wants to know how we will deliver frictionless trade in the circumstances—read the White Paper.
The Prime Minister spoke about the need to take a cool and calculated approach to the negotiations and that everything that has been achieved so far in the negotiations has been a result of that approach. But does she agree that to have the sort of free trade that we want, it must be frictionless, or as frictionless as possible, with the EU so that our manufacturers can continue to have those very important businesses and all the jobs that go with them? With that in mind, I hope that she will send our Brexit Secretary over the channel as often as possible to achieve the result we want—that is, a good deal for Britain.
Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald), I absolutely agree on the importance of the point about frictionless trade, because what we want to see in the future is a United Kingdom that not only is able to have good trade deals around the rest of the world, but has a very good trading relationship with its near neighbours in Europe, so that manufacturers here are able to continue to operate on the basis that they have done so far.
Will the Prime Minister update the House on the progress being made on the other border between the UK and the EU—the border between Gibraltar and Spain?
I am happy to say that discussions are continuing in relation to the matter because it will of course be part of the withdrawal agreement that we will look to enter into. There have been positive and constructive negotiations taking place, but they are still in progress.
The Prime Minister has always said that the United Kingdom will leave the EU on 29 March next year and that any agreement will be based on ending the free movement of people, not sending billions and billions of pounds to the EU each and every year, and making our own laws in our own country, judged by our own judges. Does she still believe that that is possible?
The Good Friday agreement took months of intensive negotiation and was then agreed in simultaneous referendums by overwhelming majorities in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. The petition as regards the 2016 referendum was that it was a narrow majority on an advisory referendum. Which does the Prime Minister think is more important?
I think that both of these are important. That is why the Government, as we negotiate the terms on which we are leaving the European Union and the terms of our future relationship, are very clear that we remain fully committed to the Belfast agreement.
I do not wish to labour the point, but like my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) my businesses and constituents in South Cambridgeshire are terrified of a no deal, too. If that comes to pass and the Prime Minister will not entertain an extension of article 50, but accepts the reality that there is no way that no deal will pass through this House, I ask with the greatest respect: what option does that leave us other than going back to the people? What else can we do?
My hon. Friend’s question involves a number of assumptions. We are working to get a good deal with the European Union. If, at the end of the negotiation process, both sides agreed that no deal was there, that would actually come back to this House, and then we would see what position the House would take in the circumstances of the time.
The Prime Minister keeps advising hon. Members that if they want to know how to keep frictionless trade, they should just read the White Paper, but surely the Salzburg summit taught her that the White Paper was completely and utterly dead in the water. What is her plan B?
That is not the case. We have been negotiating with the European Union on the structure and scope of the future relationship, and we have been doing that on the basis of our proposals in the White Paper.
In trying to come up with a constructive solution, will my right hon. Friend remind the EU of what it signed up to in last December’s joint report? It signed up to unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the rest of the UK, and also to her commitment to follow only those rules that would be necessary for that north-south co-operation. If she reminded it of what it signed up to, we might make some progress.
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. It was a joint report, and the basis on which we were looking to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland was very clear.
Some people in the House who have been supporting the Government seem to think that the solution is to have a hard border in Northern Ireland but not to enforce it. Is not that prospect just a myth?
The Government are committed to ensuring that we have no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and that is what we are working for.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that when she meets her EU counterparts later this week, she will tell them that although we are a patient people, our patience is not inexhaustible, and that if it continues to maintain its present negotiating stance of seeking to divide the United Kingdom internally, we will have to assume that it is not serious about achieving a negotiated settlement and therefore be obliged to prepare for no deal?
We are all operating to a timetable—we will leave the European Union on 29 March next year—and we are clear that to get legislation through the House, we must follow a timetable and the negotiations need to end to match that timetable. I have said—I am very clear; the Government are very clear—that we cannot accept Northern Ireland effectively being divided from the rest of the UK.
Of course there has been a people’s vote since the referendum—the general election—when the public sent the Prime Minister the clear message that there was no majority in the country for a hard Brexit. Given that, and given that she was told very clearly that there was no majority in the House for Chequers and the White Paper, why does she expect Labour MPs to ride to her rescue and vote for a hard Brexit that would cost people’s jobs in our constituencies and the country at large?
There has indeed been a general election since the referendum. Over 80% of Members stood on a manifesto promise to deliver on the vote of the people to leave the EU.
Were it to become necessary to implement a backstop agreement, the subsequent ending of that arrangement must be a matter for the British Government, must it not?
As I said in my statement, if it is necessary to implement a backstop agreement, we will want to ensure that we, as the British Government, can ensure that it is indeed temporary and does not become permanent.
It has been suggested that the Brexit Secretary has promised the Prime Minister that he will deliver Chequers while at the same time assuring the ERG that he will stop it. Will she confirm that this cannot possibly be the case and that she has full confidence in her Secretary of State?
Yes, I have absolute full confidence in my Secretary of State. The Government have been negotiating with the European Union on the basis of the White Paper, and that continues to be the case.
Next spring, when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are having their first baby, I want this country to be at a time of economic stability, and no deal is unpredictable. May I encourage my right hon. Friend to continue to press the case for innovative customs solutions that will deliver frictionless trade while listening closely to the concerns of other EU member states about the risks that they face? Only when we make progress on finding a long-term solution will the difficulties of the backstop disperse.
My hon. Friend’s question gives me an opportunity to say what I am sure was said earlier in the Chamber and give my personal congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on the great news that we have heard today.
I assure my hon. Friend that, absolutely, concentrating on the long-term solution will not only deliver a good economic future for the partnership with the European Union for this country, but ensure that we deliver on our commitment to the people of Northern Ireland.
During the referendum and since, the people running Britain’s businesses have been promised repeatedly that they will enjoy the exact same benefits that they currently enjoy once we have left the EU. After two years of negotiation, it is patently clear that they will not. Does the Prime Minister empathise with them? Does she understand why they want to have a say on the deal themselves, and to decide for themselves whether it is fit for British business?
We have indeed been listening to British business. We have put forward a proposal for frictionless trade and a free trade area between the United Kingdom and the European Union that would deliver for British business and meet its concerns.
Last month, Michel Barnier very helpfully said that the border that he envisages down the middle of the Irish sea would be heavily reliant on innovative technical solutions. If that is true, why is he so dismissive of the same solutions, approved and endorsed by the European Parliament, in respect of the land border on the island of Ireland?
As I said earlier, a number of comments have been made about issues relating to the border and the possibility of technical solutions. We have made it very clear to the European Union—including, obviously, Michel Barnier—that any suggestion that there should be a customs border down the Irish sea is one that this Government cannot accept.
The Republic of Ireland is the main trading link with the United Kingdom, through the port of Holyhead in my constituency. I have been raising this issue with the Prime Minister for the last 18 months. Businesses are worried because contingency plans have been undertaken by Irish companies to go directly to the European continent. What assurances can the Prime Minister give to businesses in my community that that will not happen?
We continue to negotiate in relation to our future economic partnership. We have put forward proposals that would enable that frictionless trade to continue to take place across the sea between the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and Ireland. We continue to work on those proposals, and we are making good progress on that future relationship.
I heartily welcome the Prime Minister’s firm assurances that any backstop will be temporary. Businesses that wish to trade outside the EU would like to plan for that event, and, in my opinion, they need to have an idea of how long the backstop would last. If the Prime Minister is not prepared to specify a date, will she tell us how we can shore up the fact that nothing can derail the temporary nature for which she wishes? May I also ask her to update the House on the future of British citizens in the EU during that temporary period?
As I have said to other Members, we are very clear that this should be temporary. As I said earlier, when we published the proposals for a UK-wide customs backstop, we included the expectation that it should end by December 2021, because the future economic relationship should be in place at that point. We are also clear about the fact that we cannot be in a position in which we would be potentially trapped in a permanent backstop, for a number of reasons, one of which is that we want to negotiate trade deals around the rest of the world and gain the economic advantage for this country of doing so.
I will ask this question again because I have not had an answer from the four different Ministers to whom I have asked it: after 29 March, which queue will British passport holders use when they land in Spain, France, Germany or Greece, and which queue will EU citizens use when they arrive in the UK?
The Home Office is looking at the arrangements that will take place at the border after 29 March 2019. As to those arrangements for UK citizens entering other countries within the EU, of course they are a matter for those countries. One of the issues that we have put forward in the White Paper, which we will discuss with the European Union, is precisely about ensuring that those who wish to travel as tourists, for example, between the United Kingdom and the 27 member states of the European Union will be able to continue to do that as easily as possible in the future.
There are no hardcore Brexiteers on this side of the House; there are only those who want to honour the referendum and do the best for their country. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is now a question of trust and that, on the backstop, there is deep unease that somehow we will be left in the EU indefinitely? May I ask her this again: if we have to fall back on a backstop, will the UK have the sole right—the sole right—to pull out of it?
The point about the backstop is that it is an insurance policy for the people of Northern Ireland. I am clear that, first, it must be temporary and, secondly, we must be able to ensure that there is no way in which we can be left within that backstop as a result of a decision that the European Union takes in relation to this issue. There is a concern, I know, that somehow this will be an arrangement in which the EU does not negotiate the future economic partnership—the future relationship—and therefore we are left in limbo. That is why it is so important that we get a number of things, not least the linkage between the withdrawal agreement and the future relationship, and also reassurance in the withdrawal agreement about the temporary nature of the backstop.
There are many of us who genuinely accept the referendum result and want the Prime Minister to agree a good deal, but we are also realists and accept that there will be trade-offs in the different deals and options. The problem with the Prime Minister repeating today her belief that we will somehow agree the Chequers proposals is surely that the EU has clearly said it will never agree to them, that the Conservative party has said it would never vote for them, if they were agreed, and, crucially, that Chequers does not resolve the big issue of substance: the question of whether the ability to unilaterally agree free trade deals is really worth the loss to the UK of frictionless supply chains in manufacturing and of market access for financial services and, even more importantly, the risk to future stability and peace in Northern Ireland.
The proposals that have been put forward that form the basis on which we are having discussions with the European Union precisely address the issues the hon. Gentleman has raised in relation to frictionless trade, and ensuring that we maintain our commitments to the Belfast agreement and that there should be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Here is some Brexit reality: AstraZeneca has announced just this afternoon that it is stopping investing in the United Kingdom. We have just 165 days to go until we leave the EU and we still have no deal, with disastrous consequences. The Prime Minister says that we cannot have a people’s vote, but is not the truth here that the people were not able to see—there is no consensus about this—which of the many versions of Brexit we will be heading towards? Once we know that final deal, would it not be reasonable to go back to the British people, present them with what is involved and what the consequences are—both positive and negative—and then allow them to give their informed consent to moving forward?
I have answered this question on a number of occasions before this afternoon in relation to the fact that I believe it is imperative for Members of Parliament across the House to deliver on the decision that we freely gave to the people of the United Kingdom and to deliver on the vote that they took in relation to leaving the EU. My hon. Friend references the fact that there is no deal yet, but we are continuing to work for that deal. We continue in those negotiations and look forward to continuing to work with the member states of the EU and the European Commission towards that end.
In 2015, David Cameron was elected on a promise of a referendum on the EU, but promised to stay in the single market. Given that the current Prime Minister has decided to break that latter promise, and given the other promises broken since 2016—not least, those written on red buses—does she not agree that this mandate about the single market and the customs union fundamentally undermines the integrity of Britain and Northern Ireland? Should the situation not ultimately be resolved not by a simple choice between a bad deal and no deal, but with the option of remaining in the EU through a people’s vote so that the people can look again?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, I have answered the question about the people’s vote on a number of occasions already. I refer him to my previous answers.
My understanding—and that of the whole House, I believe—is that the £39 billion divorce bill is predicated on our leaving the implementation period at the end of December 2020. If the period continues until December 2021, will that be included in the divorce settlement or will it be extra?
The arrangement to which I think my hon. Friend refers is whether or not the backstop will be in place up to December 2021. That, of course, is a different arrangement from the implementation period, and it has different aspects to it from the arrangements that will be in place during the implementation period.
I repeat what I have said on a number of occasions: what I want to do, and I believe others want to do, is to work to ensure that we do not have to have that period when a backstop is in place, so that we are able to see our future relationship come in place at the end of the implementation period and we have that seamless transition.
This country is divided, and that was both a cause and consequence of the referendum two years ago. What is the Prime Minister’s vision for uniting the country, so that my constituents, four out of five of whom voted to remain, as well as those who voted to leave, can feel that there is something that we can all truly unite behind? I do not see it.
First, we are working to get a good deal that will deliver for the whole United Kingdom. But I would remind the hon. Lady, as I did one of her hon. Friends earlier, that the vast majority of people sitting in this Chamber were elected on a mandate to deliver on the vote of the British people.
My right hon. Friend has rightly said that she seeks a resolution on behalf of all the people of the United Kingdom and all its citizens. More than a million of those live in other countries of the European Union, and others will wish or need to leave and live in those other countries. Is she going to protect their interests, please?
When we were negotiating the citizens’ rights element of the December joint report, I was asked in this House on many occasions to give a unilateral declaration of the rights of EU citizens here in the UK. I refused to do that until we could negotiate reciprocal arrangements for United Kingdom citizens living in the remaining member states of the European Union. In some of those member sta