Before I turn to the European Council, I am sure the whole House will join me in condemning the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in the strongest possible terms. We must get to the truth of what happened. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will make a statement shortly.
On the European Council, in addition to Brexit, there were important discussions on security and migration. First, at last Monday’s Foreign Ministers meeting, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his French counterpart secured agreement on a new EU sanctions regime on the use of chemical weapons. At this Council, Dutch Prime Minister Rutte and I argued that we should also accelerate work on further measures, including sanctions, to respond to and deter cyber-attacks. The attempted hacking of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague earlier this year was a stark example of the very real threats we face. We must impose costs on all those who seek to do us harm, regardless of the means they use. This Council agreed to take that work forward.
Secondly, in marking Anti-Slavery Day, I welcomed the continued commitment of all EU leaders to work together to eliminate the barbaric crime of people trafficking. We reaffirmed our shared commitments to do more to tackle the challenges of migration upstream.
Following the Council, I met Premier Li of China, President Moon of South Korea and Prime Minister Lee of Singapore at the ASEM summit. Since 2010, our trade with Asia has grown by almost 50%, more than with any other continent in the world. I want to develop that even further. Indeed, the ability to develop our own new trade deals is one of the great opportunities of Brexit. At the ASEM summit, we discussed how the UK can build the most ambitious economic partnerships with all our Asian partners as we leave the European Union. We also agreed to deepen our co-operation across shared threats to our security.
Turning to Brexit, let me begin with the progress we have made on both the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration on our future relationship. As I reported to the House last Monday, the shape of the deal across the vast majority of the withdrawal agreement is now clear. Since Salzburg, we have agreed the broad scope of provisions that set out the governance and dispute resolution arrangements for our withdrawal agreement, and we have developed a protocol relating to the UK sovereign base areas in Cyprus. Following discussions with Spain, and in close co-operation with the Government of Gibraltar, we have developed a protocol and a set of underlying memoranda relating to Gibraltar, heralding a new era in our relations. We also have broad agreement on the structure and scope of the future relationship, with important progress made on issues such as security, transport and services.
This progress in the last three weeks builds on the areas where we have already reached agreement: citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the implementation period; and, in Northern Ireland, agreement on the preservation of the particular rights of UK and Irish citizens, and on the special arrangements between us such as the common travel area, which has existed since before either the UK or Ireland ever became members of the European Economic Community.
Taking all of that together, 95% of the withdrawal agreement and its protocols are now settled. There is one real sticking point left, but a considerable one, which is how we guarantee that, in the unlikely event that our future relationship is not in place by the end of the implementation period, there is no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. The commitment to avoiding a hard border is one that this House emphatically endorsed and enshrined in law in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. As I set out last week, the original backstop proposal from the EU was one we could not accept, as it would mean creating a customs border down the Irish sea and breaking up the integrity of our United Kingdom. I do not believe that any UK Prime Minister could ever accept this, and I certainly will not.
As I said in my Mansion House speech, we chose to leave and we have a responsibility to help find a solution, so earlier this year we put forward a counterproposal for a temporary UK-EU joint customs territory for the backstop. In a substantial shift in its position since Salzburg, the EU is now actively working with us on this proposal, but a number of issues remain.
The EU argues that it cannot give a legally binding commitment to a UK-wide customs arrangement in the withdrawal agreement, so its original proposal must remain a possibility. Furthermore, people are understandably worried that we could get stuck in a backstop that is designed to be only temporary. There are also concerns that Northern Ireland could be cut off from accessing its most important market, Great Britain.
During last week’s council I had good discussions with Presidents Juncker, Tusk and Macron, Chancellor Merkel and Taoiseach Varadkar, and others, about how to break this impasse. I believe there are four steps we need to take.
First, we must make the commitment to a temporary UK-EU joint customs territory legally binding so that the Northern Ireland-only proposal is no longer needed. This would protect relations not only north-south but, vitally, east-west. This is critical. The relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is an integral strand of the Belfast Good Friday agreement, so to protect that agreement we need to preserve the totality of relationships it sets out. Nothing we agree with the EU under article 50 should risk a return to a hard border or threaten the delicate constitutional and political arrangements underpinned by the Belfast Good Friday agreement.
The second step is to create an option to extend the implementation period as an alternative to the backstop. I have not committed to extending the implementation period. I do not want to extend the implementation period, and I do not believe that extending it will be necessary. I see any extension or being in any form of backstop as undesirable. By far the best outcome for the UK, for Ireland and for the EU is that our future relationship is agreed and in place by 1 January 2021. I have every confidence that it will be, and the European Union has said it will show equal commitment to this timetable, but the impasse we are trying to resolve is about the insurance policy if this does not happen.
What I am saying is that if, at the end of 2020, our future relationship is not quite ready, the proposal is that the UK would be able to make a sovereign choice between the UK-wide customs backstop or a short extension of the implementation period. There are some limited circumstances in which it could be argued that an extension to the implementation period might be preferable if we were certain it was for only a short time. For example, a short extension to the implementation period would mean only one set of changes for businesses at the point we move to the future relationship, but in any such scenario we would have to be out of the implementation period well before the end of this Parliament.
The third step is to ensure that, were we to need either of these insurance policies, whether the backstop or a short extension to the implementation period, we could not be kept in either arrangement indefinitely. We would not accept a position in which the UK, having negotiated in good faith an agreement that prevents a hard border in Northern Ireland, none the less finds itself locked into an alternative, inferior arrangement against its will.
The fourth step is for the Government to deliver the commitments we have made to ensure full continued access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the UK internal market. Northern Ireland’s businesses rely heavily on trade with their largest market, Great Britain, and we must protect this in any scenario.
Let us remember that all these steps are about insurance policies that no one in the UK or the EU wants or expects to use, so we cannot let this become the barrier to reaching the future partnership we all want to see. We have to explore every possible option to break the impasse, and that is what I am doing.
When I stood in Downing Street and addressed the nation for the first time, I pledged that the Government I lead will not be driven by the interests of the privileged few, but by those of ordinary working families. And that is what guides me every day in these negotiations. Before any decision, I ask: how do I best deliver the Brexit that the British people voted for? How do I best take back control of our money, borders and laws? How do I best protect jobs and make sure nothing gets in the way of our brilliant entrepreneurs and small businesses? How do I best protect the integrity of our precious United Kingdom and protect the historic progress we have made in Northern Ireland? If doing those things means I get difficult days in Brussels, so be it. [Interruption.]
Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. Everybody knows, from the record, that there is plenty of opportunity to question the Prime Minister on these occasions, but the Prime Minister must be heard.
The Brexit talks are not about my interests; they are about the national interest and the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom. Serving our national interest will demand that we hold our nerve through these last stages of the negotiations—the hardest part of all. It will mean not giving in to those who want to stop Brexit with a politicians’ vote: politicians telling the people that they got it wrong the first time and should try again. And it will mean focusing on the prize that lies before us: the great opportunities that we can open up for our country when we clear these final hurdles in the negotiations. That is what I am working to achieve, and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of her statement, and I am pleased she has condemned the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. But condemnation is not enough; what matters now is what action the Government are prepared to take. Will they now end arms sales to Saudi Arabia?
Moving on to Brexit, I hope our debate today will be conducted without some of the language reported in the press over the weekend. I have to say that every word on Brexit was anticipated: a mixture of failure, denial and delusion. The Conservative party has spent the past two years arguing with itself, instead of negotiating a sensible deal in the public interest. Even at this crucial point, they are still bickering among themselves. The Prime Minister says that 95% of the deal is done, but previously she had told us that
“nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.
Which is it?
The Government’s Brexit negotiations have been a litany of missed deadlines and shambolic failure, and now they are begging for extra time. They promised that the interim agreement would be done by October 2017 and then by December 2017, but it was finally agreed in March 2018. The Prime Minister even missed the deadline for publishing her own Government’s White Paper on Brexit. She said it would be published by the end of June, but it arrived in mid-July, lacking any clarity on the key issues. Crucially, it arrived after the EU summit at which Britain’s proposals were supposed to have been tabled. And just last week, the Government missed their October deadline for agreeing to the terms of the exit deal with the EU—instead the Prime Minister went to Brussels to beg for an extension. The EU had already offered to convene a special summit in November to help the Prime Minister, but it now seems this has been withdrawn as she will not be ready by then either and so now December is being talked about. And the Prime Minister claims her extension of the transition period will be for only “a matter of months”. Is that three? Is that six? Is that 12? Is that 18? How many months is it? Who knows? Certainly the Prime Minister does not. But can the Prime Minister give one straight answer: what will it cost in extra payments to the EU per month during this extension? The Government are only proposing this extension because of their own incompetence.
We have had two and a half years watching the Tories’ failure to negotiate. Now even the Prime Minister does not have confidence that she can negotiate a deal by December 2020—that is another 14 months. What faith can anyone have that extending that deadline by “a matter of months” will help? Perhaps the Prime Minister can inform the House.
The Prime Minister also begged European leaders to come up with creative solutions. The country voted to leave, her Cabinet members said they would take back control, and now the Prime Minister is pleading with the EU to work out how to do it. It does not sound like taking back control; it sounds like a Government and a Prime Minister who are losing control.
The Government are terminally incompetent, hamstrung by their own divisions. The Prime Minister of Lithuania summed up the situation pretty succinctly when he said:
“We do not know what they want, they do not know themselves what they really want—that is the problem.”
I am sure—[Interruption.]
Order. There was too much noise when the Prime Minister was addressing the House. Mr Opperman, not only are you a distinguished barrister and a Minister of the Crown, but you are a graduate of the University of Buckingham in my constituency. I cannot believe that you were taught to behave in that way—chuntering noisily from a sedentary position—by lecturers in my constituency.
I am sure the whole House would love to hear the Government’s precise and detailed blueprint. Perhaps when she returns to the Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister could set out her plan. The whole country is waiting for a plan that works for Britain, not another fudge—kicking the can down the road to keep her party in power.
Much of the current impasse is due to the Northern Ireland border—hardly an issue that can have come as a surprise to the Government. There is a simple solution—a comprehensive customs union with the EU, a solution that would not only benefit Northern Ireland, but help to safeguard skilled jobs in every region and nation of Britain, and with no hard border in Ireland, no hard border down the Irish Sea and good for jobs in every region and nation. That is a deal that could command majority support in this House and the support of businesses and unions. It is Labour’s plan—a comprehensive customs union with a real say for Britain and with no race to the bottom on regulations, standards and rights. The alternative is not no deal: it is a workable plan.
The Government do not even trust their own Back Benchers to have a meaningful vote, with the Brexit Secretary submitting a letter that told us that we must choose between a disastrous no deal and the Government’s deal—a deal that does not yet exist and for which there is now no deadline.
Brexit was supposed to be about taking back control. That is what much of the Cabinet campaigned for, and where have we ended up? Parliament is being denied the chance to take back control and, because of the Government’s vacillation, five years on from the referendum we could still be paying into the EU but with no MEPs, no seat at the Council of Ministers, no Commissioners and no say for this country. Instead of taking back control, they are giving away our say and paying for the privilege. What an utter shambles! Having utterly failed to act in the public interest, will the Prime Minister do so now and make way for a Government that can and will?
There was an awful lot in the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about process, but not much about substance, and what Labour actually wants to see. It is incumbent on all of us in public life to be careful about the language we use. There are passionate beliefs and views on this and other subjects, but whatever the subject we should all be careful about our language.
The right hon. Gentleman said a lot about process, as I said, and at one point he seemed to be asking us to set out our plan. I have to say to him that we set out our plan in the White Paper of more than 100 pages back in the summer. He talks about a future relationship of a customs union, but whatever future relationship we have, we do have to deal with the backstop issue. Without a backstop in the withdrawal agreement, there will be no withdrawal agreement. Without the withdrawal agreement, there will be no future relationship—nothing is agreed until everything is agreed—so it does not matter what future relationship we want, we still need to deal with this backstop issue.
The right hon. Gentleman’s position has been that no deal is not acceptable in any circumstances. That means accepting any deal that the European Union wants to give us, including a deal that would carve Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom. Perhaps, though, his shadow Chancellor, who made the comment that he was longing for a United Ireland, might actually welcome that.
All I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman is that, throughout all this, all we have seen from the Labour party and from him is them playing politics with this issue. One minute, they want to accept the referendum, the next they want a second referendum. One minute, they want to say that free movement will end, the next they say that free movement is still on the table. One minute, they want to do trade deals, the next they want to be in a customs union that will stop them doing trade deals. He is doing everything he can to frustrate Brexit and trigger a general election. He has voted against sufficient progress, he has tried to block the withdrawal Act, and he has vowed to oppose any deal that the Government bring back. I am looking and working for the right deal in the national interests of this country; he is putting politics ahead of the national interest.
My right hon. Friend has stated:
“We will not have truly left the European Union”—
I emphasise the words “truly” and “left the European Union”—
“if we are not in control of our own laws.”
Chequers is still on the table. Its common rulebook allows the other 27 EU countries in their Council of Ministers to make our laws for goods and agricultural products with no transcript and no effective veto and undermines the total repeal of the European Communities Act 1972. How can she possibly claim that we will be in control of our own laws and sustain the national interest?
May I say to my hon. Friend that, yes, we have proposed that common rulebook? They are rules that our manufacturers say that they will be abiding by in any case. It has been a pretty stable rulebook for many years. However, it is not correct to say that there will not be a parliamentary lock on those rules. Yes, the process of determining any change to those rules will be up to the European Union, but some of those are international standards and we will, as an independent member of the international standards bodies, have a say in relation to those rules. Parliament will have a lock. We have been clear about that and we set it out in the proposals published after the Chequers meeting in July that any decision to accept or to diverge from those rules—there is a process about determining materiality—will be one that is taken by this Parliament.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance notice of her statement today. I share with her the remarks that she made about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but may I say that the time has come to take action against Saudi Arabia? Prime Minister, stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Do it today.
Rarely have I listened to a prime ministerial statement met with such stony faces. Prime Minister, I have some advice: if you are looking for support, do not look behind you. The Prime Minister returns to the House today from Brussels utterly humiliated. As the clock ticks down, with just a few short months before the UK is scheduled to leave the EU and with Chequers shredded, the UK has no plan to break the impasse and no plan as we head ever closer to the cliff edge. Why? Because the Prime Minister is humiliated and hamstrung by the extreme Brexiteers in her own party.
The EU 27 speak with one clear voice; the Conservative Government squabble among themselves. The divisions within the Tory party are paralysing the UK Government. The extreme Brexiteers on the Government Benches are holding the UK to ransom, leading us all to the brink of a catastrophic no deal.
The Prime Minister comes before us today with nothing but jargon and rhetoric. It is crystal clear that the EU will not accept any deal that does not include the backstop for Northern Ireland. Those who attempt to wreck the backstop will be responsible for the no deal Brexit. The EU is not bluffing.
The comments from Tory MPs in the papers this weekend, using crass and violent language in relation to the negotiations, are abhorrent and irresponsible. Those responsible need to withdraw them and apologise—[Interruption.] Such language has no part to play in our public discourse, and it is disappointing that when the threats of violence against the Prime Minister are talked about, all we hear is background noise and a lack of understanding of the seriousness of the situation. Those Members should be ashamed of themselves. Threats of violence against the Prime Minister or anyone else must be called out and those responsible must be held to account. The Prime Minister must face them down, and she will have our support in that.
The Prime Minister must act to protect jobs and living standards by ensuring that we stay in the customs union and the single market. No more games. I ask her to focus her attention now on securing a deal that delivers economic protection. Will she ensure that any extended transition period must be for a clear purpose and confirm to the House today that her Government will support the Northern Ireland backstop, to avoid a no deal Brexit? Will she also commit to giving the Scottish Parliament a say in the outcome of the negotiations?
Finally, may I ask the Prime Minister to make it her immediate objective to keep us in the single market and the customs union, to focus her attentions on that and to acknowledge that she will not get any deal through this Parliament that stops short of the economic protection of jobs and living standards?
Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman, as I said in response to the Leader of the Opposition, that I think it is important that those of us in public life all consider the language that we use.
There seemed to be some confusion in what the right hon. Gentleman was saying about the backstop. The Government are clear that we are negotiating for a backstop in the withdrawal agreement. The question is what the terms of that backstop are. As I have said and as I repeated in my statement, the backstop as proposed by the EU, which would effectively create that customs border down the Irish sea, is not acceptable to the UK Government, hence other proposals have been put forward. We have, as I have said, made significant progress since Salzburg in working with the European Union, particularly on the UK-EU-wide customs territory.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me to find a deal that protects jobs, and that is exactly what we have proposed to the European Union—a proposal that protects our economy, protects jobs and ensures that we continue to have a good trading relationship with the European Union, while also being able to develop new trading relationships and improve trading relationships with other countries around the rest of the world.
What is important as we look ahead to getting the deal is that although the right hon. Gentleman seems to think that the only issue that could lead to a no deal is not having a backstop in the withdrawal agreement—certainly if there is no withdrawal agreement and no future relationship, there is no deal; we are still at the closing stages of the negotiations and nobody knows absolutely what the result will be—we have to ensure that although, as I think, the best outcome for the UK is a good deal, we continue to prepare for the possibility of no deal. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that what we will not be doing is following the example of the SNP, who want to put Scotland back into the European Union and back into the common fisheries policy, which is not in the interests of Scotland.
Order. A very large number of right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, but I remind the House that there is a further statement to follow, that coming from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and the remaining stages of a Bill, so there is a premium on brevity, to be exemplified first by Mr John Redwood.
What advantages does the Prime Minister expect to get in the future partnership arrangement that will be better than leaving and spending the £39 billion at home, with a huge boost to our economy and public services?
I believe that a future partnership that protects jobs and ensures that we have a good trading relationship with the European Union is worth negotiating for and worth achieving for the United Kingdom. There are many who say to me in this House that we want to ensure that we have good trading relationships on better than WTO deals around the rest of the world. I agree that having those good trading relationships on better than WTO deals is a good thing, and that is what I want to achieve with the European Union.
I add my condemnation of the abuse directed at the Prime Minister. The Sunday Times, and The Times this morning, reported that Whitehall, including the Brexit Department, is now carrying out contingency planning for a people’s vote. Can the Prime Minister elaborate and confirm that this has ministerial endorsement?
No, that is not correct. The Government do not support a second referendum.
Does the Prime Minister accept that should her deal fail to secure support in this House with no further road left in negotiations, so that there is parliamentary gridlock, the only and inevitable way forward—whether we like it or not—will be to allow people to decide via either a second referendum or a general election? The former would surely be preferable to the latter.
I recognise from other questions that my right hon. Friend has asked me that there is a difference of view between us on the issue of a second referendum. The people voted in 2016—they had that people’s vote—and they decided to leave the European Union. I believe it is our duty—I believe it is part of the issue of faith and trust and the integrity of politicians—to deliver on what people voted for and leave the European Union.
Our position is that the backstop is not necessary, and that it is damaging. The EU has made it clear that the backstop is designed to keep Northern Ireland as part of the customs union territory of the EU. The Prime Minister gave an assurance in the withdrawal agreement that any such backstop and regulatory barriers would have to have the support of the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Is that still her position?
We did put that out in the joint report, and we stand by what we put in that joint report. It is precisely that suggestion from the European Union—that Northern Ireland be kept in a customs union while the rest of the United Kingdom has a different relationship with the European Union—that this Government have rejected, because we want to ensure that we leave the European Union as one United Kingdom.
I join other colleagues in utterly condemning the use of language that we saw at the weekend, in the fond hope that we will not see any such language in the future. At the start of the Prime Minister’s statement, she talked about the work that had been done on cyber-security and the OPCW. I remain very concerned about the progress that is being made on the security treaty to enable us to maintain high levels of security when we leave the European Union, so that we can continue to keep British citizens, and indeed EU citizens throughout Europe, safe.
I hope to reassure my right hon. Friend by saying that we have been making good progress on the issue of internal and, indeed, external security arrangements for our future relationship with the European Union, although discussions and negotiations are still being undertaken to ensure that we can retain the operational capabilities that enable us to work not only to keep our citizens safe, but to keep citizens across the EU safe.
The Economic Secretary invited me earlier to put this question to the Prime Minister, so I will. He told the House that he expected the negotiations on the future partnership to be concluded by December 2020. The Prime Minister has just spoken about a short extension of the implementation period, but the Government said back in June, when they published their backstop proposals, that they expected the future arrangements to be in place by the end of December 2021. Could the Prime Minister tell the House which of those dates represents the Government view? If she wants to continue the game of pass the parcel with the question, will she encourage the Brexit Secretary to keep the promise he made to the Brexit Committee to come and give evidence to us after the October European Council?
We are working for and expect to have agreed the terms of the future relationship by the end of December 2020, such that the future relationship can come into place on 1 January 2021. When we published the temporary customs arrangement as the customs proposal for the backstop on Northern Ireland in June, we said that, if it were necessary for that backstop to come into place, because for some reason that future relationship could not come into place on 1 January 2021, we would expect that to last no longer than the end of December 2021.
First, may I say that I concur with my right hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd)? I believe that most Members on the Government Benches and, indeed, in the House utterly condemn and regard with disdain the tone of some of the language used at the weekend.
Is it not the case that talk of a second referendum at this crucial stage in the negotiations can only undermine the Prime Minister’s negotiating position? Will she carry on, ignore the siren voices and get the best deal she can for the people of this country?
I thank my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye for their comments in relation to certain language that has been used.
I agree that it is important, at this stage of the negotiations, that the European Union is in no doubt that we will be leaving the European Union on 29 March next year and that we are negotiating our withdrawal agreement and our future relationship. My determination is to put the national interest first and get a good deal for the UK.
I have seen a number of scripts around the House of prepared questions. Given the level of interest, may I gently say that, if a colleague has a question of more than 50 words, the device that I would recommend is the use of the blue pencil?
The Prime Minister and I have had many disagreements on many things, but I stand with her completely against the violent, dehumanising and, frankly, misogynistic language that we have heard. I hope the whole House will condemn it, because it demeans every single one of us.
The Prime Minister has previously said that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Can she tell the House what proportion of the future partnership agreement she thinks has been reached?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments about the use of language.
The position we are in is that 95% of the withdrawal agreement has been agreed, as I said, and a substantial part of the future relationship in relation to security, services, transport and other issues has been agreed, in terms of the structure and scope of that future relationship. The point is that none of this is finally agreed until leaders look at the package and agree the whole package together, hence nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
Brevity himself, Sir Desmond Swayne.
The original technical proposal and the facilitated customs agreement have both been rejected, so what can the Prime Minister conceive that might be brought forward to solve the Northern Ireland problem in the next two or even three years?
Actually, those two have not both been completely rejected, as my right hon. Friend suggests. In fact, as I said, we have made substantial progress, and there has been a substantial shift from the EU since Salzburg in agreeing to look at the arrangements for a UK-EU-wide customs backstop, which was exactly what we put forward in the TCA.
Aren’t the hard facts that the European Union will not agree anything that is not in its interests, the Cabinet is split three ways, the House is split at least seven ways, and in terms of any solution the Prime Minister comes up with, half the country will think she has gone too far and the other half will think she has not gone far enough? When will she realise that she has completely lost control of the situation?
I think, from the discussions that I have with members of the public on this issue, that the majority of them, regardless of how they voted in the referendum, now have a very simple message to all of us in the House, which is: “Let’s just get on with it and leave the EU.”
As we enter the final furlong, with 95% of the agreement reached, does the Prime Minister agree that it has been a cool and calculated approach that has led to this progress? Is it not now time, in the interests of all the businesses in Britain, which want as smooth and frictionless trade as possible, to kick on and get this agreement? Does she agree that it might even be necessary to take the whip out—all within the rules, of course—and push this further, because we have to reach this agreement as soon as possible?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. We should get on and focus on the end point of this, which is getting the agreement, getting a good deal for the UK and enabling us to leave on those good terms.
Will the Prime Minister be clear that she is abandoning the promise of a deal that delivers the exact same benefits, particularly as far as services are concerned, and will she acknowledge that that is yet another pledge that has been broken and therefore yet another reason for a people’s vote?
If the hon. Lady looks at the various speeches that I have given throughout this process, I have been clear that there would be differences and there would be changes in our relationship with the EU. There will be, but what we are doing is proposing a good relationship with the European Union—a good trading relationship and a good security relationship—which I believe is in the interests of the UK.
The person or persons who directed violent language at my right hon. Friend have thoroughly disgraced themselves. I very much hope that they are discovered and that she will withdraw the Whip from them. What acceleration has been made on preparations for no deal since July?
I thank my hon. Friend for the supportive comments he has made about the language that was used at the weekend. Significant progress has been made on the no-deal preparations since July, and I commend my hon. Friend for the work that he did on those when he was in the Exiting the EU Department. One can see some of the progress not only from legislation that has been passed in this House, but from the technical notices that have been issued, which have been a crucial part of ensuring that businesses and others outside the Government are aware of what is necessary in a no-deal situation.
The Government do seem to have got themselves into a bit of a hole, so it is understandable that they wish to avoid parliamentary scrutiny, but can the Prime Minister not see that attempting to render any vote in Parliament meaningless is the very thing that lends weight to the call for a people’s vote? Would she not prefer the reassurance of going back to the people to ask them if her deal, or any deal, is what they voted for in 2016?
We have been very clear that the motion will be an amendable motion, but actually there is a key here: if you went out and asked members of the public what they think MPs should be voting on, I think they would say that they would expect MPs to be able to vote on the deal that the Government bring back from the European Union.
The only politicians’ vote would be one which contrived to deny this House a meaningful say and ignored the 700,000 people who walked past the Prime Minister’s door at the weekend to demand a people’s vote. That is because it is important that everyone has the chance to weigh up the evidence, look at the pros and cons of the actual deal and actually give their informed consent before we undertake this major constitutional, economic and social surgery.
On the term “people’s vote”, we must accept across this House that we gave the people a vote on this issue, there was a people’s vote, people voted in larger numbers than they had done before and they voted to leave the European Union. My hon. Friend, like me, will I am sure be concerned about ensuring that the people actually can have some faith in their politicians, and that means our politicians delivering on the vote of the people, not telling them to think again.
Can the Prime Minister give the House an example of a greater voluntary surrender of sovereignty than the transition deal that she now proposes to extend?
First, I am not standing here proposing to extend the transition period or the implementation period. What I am doing is saying, how can we ensure that we have a choice of backstop options to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland in the unlikely circumstances that such a backstop is required? That is the basis on which this other proposal has been put forward, alongside the proposal for a UK-EU-wide customs territory, such as the Government first put forward in June.
My right hon. Friend has been described as a “bloody difficult” person. I have always found her a very determined person—determined to deliver on the people’s vote that has already taken place. Will she tell us whether she expects the final recommendations to come at 4 am, on another early plane journey, like last time?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments and say to him that all too often European negotiations end in the early hours of the morning. We shall work to ensure that we do this in a timely fashion, recognising that we need to get legislation through this House and on the statute book by 29 March next year.
Is the Prime Minister aware that, on Friday, I was speaking in Belfast’s wonderful Titanic centre? Standing there, I was reminded of that fateful journey where the navigation was got wrong, the captain got it wrong, and all the people on that ship ended in the sea. May I urge her to think again about the direction of the negotiations? The purpose of the negotiations is to keep our country safe, secure and sound. Unlike the people behind her, I support her when she does well in Brussels. Go for it and get us a good deal!
Going for it and getting us a good deal is exactly what I am working on.
I have no doubt at all that the Prime Minister thinks of every individual person in this country when she is negotiating the best possible deal, but I fail to understand how it can be a politicians’ vote when nearly 700,000 members of the public took to the streets to display their dissatisfaction. I ask her again: what will she do if we come to the position of no deal, which will not get through this House? What other options are there?
We should all recall that, in the vote that took place in 2016, larger numbers of people voted than we had ever seen voting before, and the decision was to leave the European Union. We have set out in legislation the process that will be followed by the Government if we are in the situation where a deal brought back from the European Union by the Government and put to this House is rejected by this House.
It has been so disappointing to hear the Prime Minister be so dismissive of the 700,000 people from across our country who took to the streets on Saturday to demand a people’s vote on the final deal. What does she say to the thousands of young people who led that march but who did not get a say two years ago, whose future will be most adversely affected if she ploughs on with her disastrous plans?
What I say to young people is that this Government are working to get a good deal that will ensure that they have a great future in this country outside the European Union.
During the implementation period, the UK would be subject to all EU rules, including on freedom of movement. Why then does my right hon. Friend continue to rule out membership of the European economic area and the European Free Trade Association as an alternative interim state?
What we are of course looking at in relation to the proposals that have been put forward is for a limited period to have the backstop that ensures no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. The two proposals that have been put forward deliver on that. Where it would come to the situation, as proposed, where it was a sovereign choice for the UK, of course decisions would have to be taken about the wider issues in terms of the exact arrangements for those proposals, but the key thing is for those proposals to ensure that we have no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Prime Minister, Chequers is dead, parliamentary maths mean that the current proposal being considered by the EU is dead, and no deal is dead because there is a pragmatic majority in this House that will prevent this economic and social catastrophe for our communities. Will she now switch to EFTA, EEA and time-limited membership of the customs union? History is always kinder to leaders who act in the national interest.
I seem to recall the hon. Gentleman asking me a very similar question last Monday, and I am afraid he is not going to get a different answer today. We are working for a good deal in terms of leaving the European Union and ensuring that we have a trading deal that protects jobs in this country.
As I often observe, repetition is not a novel phenomenon in the House of Commons.
Will the backstop have the same legal status as a treaty? Will the agreement have the same legal status as a treaty?
Yes. The backstop for Northern Ireland will be part of the protocol that is attached to the withdrawal agreement, and the withdrawal agreement would have the status of a treaty.
Earlier this year, this House voted to stay in the European Medicines Agency, with all that means for the rest of the relationship with the EU. Can I take it, from the Prime Minister’s statement that 95% of the deal is agreed, that we are indeed staying in the EMA?
The 95% relates to the withdrawal agreement. We have agreed much of the structure and scope of the future partnership. Staying in the European Medicines Agency is one of the proposals we put forward as part of the plan that came out after the Chequers meeting, our proposals for the future. That is part of the future partnership, not the withdrawal agreement.
Does my right hon. Friend appreciate the frustration felt by many of my constituents and others that it is now over two years since the referendum and we have agreed that we will not regain control of our laws, borders and money for over four years after the referendum? Does she understand that for many of them and us that is already too long?
I absolutely understand. Some people have said to me that we should not have triggered article 50 when we did. I think it was important that we triggered it when we did. We took time to prepare, but then triggered it precisely in order to get this process into place. My right hon. Friend will know the process within article 50 is for two years. That is why we will leave the EU on 29 March 2019. What we are working to ensure is that we get the future relationship in place at the end of that implementation period, an implementation period that I believe was right and necessary to negotiate to ensure that for both citizens and businesses there were not two cliff-edges in the changed relationship with the EU, but we have a smooth and orderly withdrawal and movement into the future partnership.
Can the Prime Minister explain why, if she really has the interests of the people of Northern Ireland in her heart, she recently did not allow the joint leaders who backed remain in Northern Ireland to meet with her? Between them, they represent the majority of voters in Northern Ireland. Is it because she does not want to hear what they have to say because, inconveniently, it does not agree with what she wants?
Both I and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland meet the leaders of all the parties in Northern Ireland and discuss with them a number of issues, including Brexit.
A significant number of the 700,000 people who marched for a people’s vote on Saturday were people who run or own their own businesses. They are in a state of despair because they need certainty and they do not have certainty. Two and a half years ago they were told there would be a trade deal in place before we left. Now we are told we will be lucky if we get it in two years. Is this not the truth: the Government’s policy is for us to be in a never-ending transition period to a destiny that is completely unknown, over which we have no say and no control? That is something nobody voted for.
No, that is not the Government’s position, that is not what the Government have proposed and that is not what the Government are working on in the negotiations with the European Union. My right hon. Friend is right in saying that business wants certainty as soon as it can have that certainty. That is why we are continuing to work to ensure we can complete the final negotiations—so that business will be able to see what the future deal is and what the future relationship with the European Union will be.
On Saturday, more than 700,000 people marched peacefully on Parliament and reasonably requested a people’s vote on the final deal. May I urge the Prime Minister to listen to those reasonable voices and resist the thuggish and brutish threats coming from some on the Government Benches behind her?
I have answered that question on a number of occasions already this afternoon. I believe it is right that we gave the people the vote in 2016. They voted to leave and we will deliver on that.
The Leader of the Opposition spoke of fudge and shambles, but his policy of leaving the EU but remaining in a customs union would be precisely that. But could my right hon. Friend tell us: in such a situation, whether temporary or permanent, who looks after trade remedies and trade defences of key UK industries such as steel and ceramics? Who sets the tariff policy for the developing world, which at the moment we have through the EU but would like to do on our own? Who is responsible for trade remedies and trade preferences?
Obviously, my right hon. Friend, as a former Trade Minister—a position he held with distinction—understands these issues and their intricacies. Of course, in a customs union, trade policy—with all the issues like trade remedies and trade sanctions—will be a matter for the European Union and not the UK. I believe that we should be making those decisions for ourselves here in the UK.
Does the Prime Minister agree with me and many, many people in Northern Ireland about the remarks of Taoiseach Varadkar at a dinner—at which I understand the Prime Minister was not present—when showing photographs of a terrible atrocity on the border and implying that that was somehow what would happen if there was a hard border? The EU does not want a hard border and will not put one up. We will not put one up. The Republic of Ireland will not be putting one up. Who is going to put this hard border up?
We are obviously committed to no hard border, and we have made it clear that in any circumstances, including in a no-deal situation, we would be doing all that we could to ensure that there was no hard border. We would look to work with Ireland and the European Union to ensure that there was no hard border, but there has been no commitment in relation to that.
Given how tantalisingly close we are to a deal, if time were to run out, has the Prime Minister considered, rather than having a general election or a second referendum, the use of applying to extend article 50, even if it is for a limited period, so that she can kick the ball over the line?
We have said right from the beginning that we would not be looking to extend article 50. This refers back to an earlier question from one of our right hon. Friends about people actually wanting to see that we are leaving the European Union. I think we owe it to people to deliver on this. What we want now is to have the decisions that finalise the negotiations to ensure that we get that good deal.
Would it not be more honest for the Prime Minister, rather than spinning that this is 95% done—I understand why she wants to do that—to explain that, actually, the divorce terms are merely the clearing of the throat before a five-year, or perhaps a seven-year, legal treaty arrangement on our future trading relationship? Would that not be a more honest representation? If people want to end it soon, give the people a final say so that they can decide what to do.
No, the reference to the 95% is a factual description of where we are in relation to the withdrawal agreement. Neither side in this negotiation wants to be negotiating for the period of time that the hon. Gentleman has suggested, which is why both sides will be working to ensure that we have that future relationship agreed by December 2020. I suggest that if he looks at the average time that it takes to conduct trade deals, he will see that many trade deals are done in precisely the sort of time that we are talking about.
I join those who have condemned the excessive and violent language that has been used and hold up my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister as a role model, as she is always courteous, even to those who disagree with her on this important matter. Coming to the substance of it, when the implementation period was announced, it was going to be the implementation of what had been agreed. It now seems to be a period for further negotiation, not being sure of where we are going. Does the Prime Minister know where we are going?
First, I thank my hon. Friend for the comments that he made about the remarks and language that were used at the weekend.
Yes, we do—we have set out our plan and we are negotiating on the basis of that plan with the European Union. As I say, significant elements of the structure and scope of the future relationship have been agreed. The legal position, as I am sure my hon. Friend knows very well, is that we cannot sign up to legal text in relation to that future relationship until we have left the European Union. I have also said all along that when Parliament looks at the withdrawal agreement, it will also want to have sufficient detail about the future relationship and know what that will be. That is what we are working to deliver.
Can the Prime Minister clarify whether 95% of a withdrawal deal has been agreed with the EU? If it has, why has this House no details of it?
I will explain the negotiating process: we sit down and talk about the issues; we get to the point of having a text on the table; that text is looked at by leaders, and they take a decision on the text and the future relationship—that is the point at which the negotiations and the deal are completed; and then this House will be able to see all the details of the withdrawal agreement and the future relationship in deciding whether to accept the deal the Government have negotiated.
Given that the EU never makes its final concessions until just before any given deadline, what could possibly be gained in 24 months that could not be gained in 21?
The purpose of the backstop is to cover the circumstances in which the future relationship cannot be put in place by 1 January 2021. One example might be if it has not been fully ratified by all the Parliaments in the EU that need to ratify it—the process is going through but has not been completed by the end of December 2020. That is why the backstop is in the withdrawal agreement. It is an insurance policy for that period.
Will the Prime Minister outline what comprises the 5% that is still to be negotiated?
Before entering Parliament, I spent 27 years as a commercial negotiator, but there is no blueprint for this negotiation. Will the Prime Minister assure the House that she will continue to negotiate the best deal for our country and not be knocked off course by the continuous speculation from the sidelines?
I thank my hon. Friend. At the very beginning of this process, I said that there would always be comments and statements outside the negotiations. What is important is that I and the Government keep our focus on the negotiations and on getting that good deal.
Let us be clear what the Prime Minister promised in her Lancaster House speech last year. She promised:
“to have reached an agreement about our future partnership by the time the two year Article 50 process has concluded”—
not during the transition period or by the end of it. Will she confirm that she will be breaking that promise, that we will not have the detail of a legally binding trade agreement in place before we leave and that she is proposing that we pay a divorce bill of more than £40 billion without getting that trade deal in return?
I think there is a misunderstanding about the process that I thought I had explained in response to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). We cannot finalise and sign the legal text of our future relationship and trade partnership with the EU until we have left the EU, but we can know what that future relationship will be, and that is exactly what we are negotiating and will be part of the final deal.
I ask this question on behalf of those of us who support the Prime Minister and want to go on supporting her. Will she confirm what the Brexit Secretary has just said—that the procedures of the House are quite clear and that if there is no deal, there will be a vote on a neutral motion, and if there is a deal, the House will indeed be able to reject it? Will she make it absolutely clear that only the Government can initiate legislation and that while she is Prime Minister, on her watch, deal or no deal, deal accepted or rejected, she will deliver Brexit on 29 March?
Yes, I am very happy to do that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union set out the position in relation to the procedures of this House in response to questions following the urgent question earlier, but I can absolutely guarantee to my hon. Friend that we will be leaving the EU on 29 March 2019.
As the Prime Minister said in answer to an earlier question, the House will be voting not on legal certainty about the future relationship—as she keeps saying to Opposition Members—but on a political assertion. We are being asked to vote on uncertainty. Isn’t that right?
No, it is not right. It has been clear from the very beginning that it is not possible for the legal treaty, free trade agreement and other aspects to be signed until we are outside the European Union. However, I have also said that we need to ensure that when Members come to vote on the overall package—the withdrawal agreement and the outline of the future relationship—they have sufficient detail to have confidence in the nature of the future relationship. An important aspect is the link that there will be between the withdrawal agreement and the future relationship, because, as the EU itself has said, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that when we leave the common fisheries policy in December 2020, she will not allow our fishing resources to be included in any future trade deal?
I am absolutely clear that when we leave the common fisheries policy, we will become an independent coastal state. We will have to sit round the table with others, and negotiate with others, as an independent coastal state, but we will be doing that on our own, for our own purposes. Of course, if the Scottish National party had its way, Scotland would stay in the common fisheries policy, which would be bad for Scottish fishermen.
This morning I attended a meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. Parties from across these islands expressed a great deal of concern about the state of the negotiations and the impact on our economy, peace and stability. The Irish Government made it very clear that putting a time limit on the backstop would rather defeat the objective, and that it must be legally certain. Does the Prime Minister agree?
As I have said, the purpose of the backstop that we are negotiating is to ensure that if there is a period between the end of the implementation period and the future relationship coming into operation, we can still guarantee no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. The best solution to the issue of no hard border—and this has been said publicly by the Taoiseach as well—will be achieved through that future relationship. That is why it is important for us to work on ensuring that the future relationship will be in place for 1 January 2021.
Earlier today, I met a number of business people in my constituency. From the large businesses to the small, the message was “For God’s sake, help her to get a deal over the line.” It may not be perfect—it may not be everything that we want—but a deal we must have. As the pro-business leader of a pro-business party, will my right hon. Friend ensure that she delivers that, and does so without any dogma to get in the way of it?
I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. That is exactly what we are doing. We are working for that deal—a deal that is good for business and good for people.
May I say to the Prime Minister that I found the comments made about her by some of her own MPs at the weekend not only deeply offensive, but deeply misogynistic?
A No. 10 spokesman said recently that
“there can be no withdrawal agreement without a precise future framework”
on trade. Will the Prime Minister guarantee that the political declaration will deliver frictionless trade with our largest trading partner—or will we be asked to vote on a blind Brexit?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments about the language that was used at the weekend.
What we will seek to do is bring to the House a deal that incorporates the withdrawal agreement, but, alongside that, sufficient detail about the future relationship so that everyone is able to see what the future relationship will be. That will cover more than trade, but trade will of course be a key element of it.
Will my right hon. Friend please confirm that UK fishermen will not be subjected to an additional 12 months in the common fisheries policy, with the crumbs that Europe throws to us, during any extended implementation period?
The interests of fishermen throughout the United Kingdom, and their concern to be out of the common fisheries policy, is one of the key issues that are at the forefront of our thinking as we look at the different options that are being put forward. I also recognise that the timing of negotiations on fishing has a particular impact here. Access to waters for 2021 will be determined in December 2020, and that is an aspect that we have already taken into account in our negotiations with the European Union.
Will the Prime Minister commit herself to guaranteeing unilaterally the rights of the EU citizens who have chosen to make their lives here, in the event of her being unable to strike a deal with the EU?
Yes. In the statement I made after Salzburg I made it clear that in a no deal situation we will guarantee the rights of EU citizens.
My right hon. Friend has my full support in dealing with these complex issues through the prism of the national interest. She will know that when we joined the European Economic Community all those years ago, we did so on a cross-party basis comprising women and men of good will. Should we not now seek to replicate that, to deliver a people’s parliamentary Brexit?
I thank my hon. Friend. When it comes to Members across the House voting on the deal that we bring back from the European Union, I hope that all Members will recognise the importance of delivering on the vote of the British people and delivering a deal that will be good for the UK.
In 2017 the Prime Minister went to the country to get a blank cheque for her approach to negotiating a deal for the UK, and the country said, “No, thank you.” Rather than hectoring the Leader of the Opposition, why does she not reach out, in the spirit of national unity, to try to get a deal in the interests of the country?
We are working to get a deal in the interests of the country. As I recall, at last year’s general election 80% of Members of Parliament were elected on the basis that they would deliver on the referendum.
This morning I received a text message from Steven North, a leading councillor in my constituency and a stalwart of the Conservative party who has been delivering leaflets and knocking on doors for more than 20 years. His text read:
“How can we drag a bad deal on for a year, so that it is watered down even more? Better off sticking to the date, be firm and have no deal”.
Prime Minister, I agree with Steve. Do you?
Let me first thank Steve for all the work he has done for the party over many years—as a former councillor, I know how hard councillors work to represent their local communities. One of the problems is that there is an assumption that we are suddenly saying that we have signed up to extending an implementation period by a year; we have not done so. What we are saying is that we need to ensure that we have a backstop in the withdrawal agreement. On the proposal we put forward on a UK-EU-wide customs territory, there has been a substantial shift from the EU. We are now working with the EU on that proposal. The other proposal that has emerged is for us to have the option, as an alternative, of choosing to extend the implementation period for a short period of time, were that to be necessary. I want to work to make sure that neither of those is necessary.
Given that we have apparently made 95% progress on the withdrawal deal, what percentage progress have we made on the substantive deal? Given the answer that the Prime Minister has already given today, what percentage progress does she now think would be sufficient for the House to vote on the deal: 95%, 100%, 60% or 40%? Does she agree that we seem to be putting our finger in the wind on this one?
No, I do not agree. As I have said, we will bring forward detail on the future relationship alongside the withdrawal agreement so that the House knows what the future relationship will be.
The Prime Minister understandably repeated that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. May I ask her equally to repeat tirelessly that it is her decision, and this Conservative Government, that will guarantee the rights of EU nationals, deal or no deal?
I know that this is an issue that my hon. Friend has campaigned on in particular. I am very happy to reassure him that it is this Conservative Government who will guarantee the rights of EU citizens, deal or no deal.
On the question of a second referendum, given where we are now, and given the promises that were made by the Leave campaign, does it not bother the Prime Minister at all that many of those who voted to leave in 2016 did so on a false prospectus?
The referendum was held and there were lively and passionate campaigns on both sides of the argument. We gave the people the decision. The people took their decision. We should now deliver on it.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that delivering on the referendum is a matter of trust and honour, and that some of her backstop delays could erode that trust? Worse, it plays into the hands of the EU, whose tactics are delay and duplicity.
It is precisely because I am aware of people’s concerns about the possibility of an attempt in some circumstances to keep us in some permanent limbo that we are looking at mechanisms to ensure that a backstop, if it is needed, is there for only a limited period of time to provide that bridge to the future relationship, and ideally it would not have to be used at all.
The Prime Minister has told us that parts of the political declaration on the future relationship have been agreed, including on services. What has been agreed on financial services?
We have indeed made good progress, as I have said, on transport, services and other elements of the economic partnership, and on the security partnership. We are still in the process of negotiating those details so that we can bring them to the House at the point of final agreement.
If the transition period is made longer, my understanding is that it will take us into the next EU budget period. If that happens, how much would we need to pay in? Given that we would already have left the EU, how much say would we have over what we pay in?
First, as I have made clear, I do not want, intend or expect us to have to go into a further budget period. However, were it the case that a gap appeared between December 2020 and the full start of the future relationship, I am looking at a proposal that would give the UK a choice on which of the backstop options we took forward. Obviously it would be necessary to look at the precise arrangements that would apply in both circumstances so that a clear choice could be made.
I think that the language that was directed at the Prime Minister over the weekend was absolutely disgraceful. There is real concern that the meaningful vote that this House was promised will actually become a meaningless vote. Why will MEPs have a greater say in the UK’s final deal than MPs in this House?
I repeat what I said earlier: what we are looking at is an amendable vote. If members of the public are told, “Parliament is going to vote on the deal that the Government bring back from the European Union,” I think that they would expect Parliament to be able to vote on the deal that the Government bring back.
Many businesses are continuing to invest, including Meggitt, with its £130 million supersite in my constituency, but a lack of certainty in the negotiations is causing many projects to be put on hold. What reassurances can the Prime Minister offer to encourage businesses to continue to invest and provide jobs for the future?
I fully recognise that we are continuing to see investment decisions being made and jobs created by businesses in this country, as we saw in the excellent employment figures last week. We want to bring about that certainty as quickly as we can, which is why we are working to ensure that we can end the negotiations and present the deal so that businesses know where they stand for the future.
There have been several hundred extradition agreements between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in recent years. What progress has the Prime Minister made on securing the European arrest warrant for future use after March?
I am well aware of the impact that the European arrest warrant had on the ability to extradite between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which is one of the reasons—there are others—why we have been working with the European Union, and made good progress, on that and other aspects of internal security.
At the European Council meeting were there many discussions on continuing security co-operation? As we saw with the Salisbury incident, it is vital that we continue to work with our allies, regardless of the fact that we are leaving the EU.
There was a wider discussion on the importance of continuing to work together on key security issues. Of course, the details of the future relationship on internal security, such as those relating to the European arrest warrant, are being looked at in the negotiations, but there was a very clear sense around the table of the importance of us all continuing to work together on key security issues.
The backstop is an insurance policy. Can the Prime Minister give us an example of any insurance policy she has ever seen or signed up to that was based on an expiry date?
I do not know what insurance policies the hon. Gentleman takes out, but most insurance policies have a renewal date.
I have met a great many businesses in Taunton Deane, particularly in the last week, and there is overwhelming support among them for the Prime Minister, but they all agree that they want a clear plan as soon as possible and that they do not want a permanent backstop. Can she assure me that she will press on with her endeavours and never agree to a permanent backstop?
Like the businesses that my hon. Friend refers to, I do not want a permanent backstop either. I want to ensure that we can move to the future relationship, and I do not want the backstop to have to be used at all.
Scottish Conservative MPs threaten to resign, then they threaten not to resign. They threaten to bring down the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, then they said that they might not do so. Is she absolutely certain that she has the full support of her hon. Friends from Scotland?
Yes. I also welcome the significant contribution that my hon. Friends from Scotland are making to our debates in standing up for Scotland in this Chamber.
When Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was negotiating the handover of Hong Kong, the final agreement did not see all her starting goals realised, but she did sign a settlement that all sides could live with and that allowed Hong Kong to flourish thereafter. Will my right hon. Friend draw courage from that precedent and ignore some of the outrageous things in the media about her and the negotiations?
Any negotiation is about two sides coming together and reaching an agreement that they can both sign up to. Does that mean that both sides get 100% of what they started off wanting? Actually, no, by the very nature of the negotiation. What is important is that we get a good deal out of this and that we work hard to get the sort of deal that we think is in the interests of this country.
I often disagree with the Prime Minister on matters of policy, but I stand in full solidarity with her against the dreadful language that was used and the threats that were made at the weekend. We have only about five months to go until the end of March, so how does she think we should work to eradicate that sort of language and those sorts of threats, particularly towards female MPs, given that we in this House are supposed to set an example?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments, and as I have said, I am also grateful for the comments of other hon. Members who have shared similar sentiments in their interventions. It is incumbent on all of us to be careful about the language that we use in public, and comments such as the ones she and others have made today are part of encouraging the recognition of the importance of being careful and of carefully considering the impact of the language we use.
The Prime Minister has said that she does not want to extend the transition period. Will she make it clear to the EU that if the transition period is extended, we are not going to pay any more money?
I have made it very clear that I want both sides to work towards having the future relationship in place by the end of December 2020, and there is a commitment to that. If we do have to bridge, and if we have to make a choice between backstop options—assuming that these two options are available—we would of course have to look at the arrangements for that. We would be negotiating in relation to those arrangements, but we want to ensure that we get a good deal done in time to ensure that the backstop arrangement, whichever it is, does not have to be used.
The NHS and the supermarkets are now stockpiling goods, and the cost of storage is increasing. Will the Government open a compensation scheme in relation to those costs, or will they be passed down to consumers?
Commercial bodies will obviously make their own decisions about the arrangements that they have to make, and the last time I looked, the NHS was part of the Government.
I utterly condemn the violent misogynistic language that has been used, whether it be threats of stabbing from voices on my own Benches or threats of lynching from voices opposite. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the United Kingdom Government would never demand that a European Union member state carve off a part of itself as part of any agreement? Does she also agree that it is therefore completely unacceptable to suggest that Northern Ireland should be carved off from the rest of the United Kingdom as we go through this negotiation?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I would not require any other EU member state to do that, and it is unacceptable for the EU to require us effectively to carve Northern Ireland away from the United Kingdom with a customs border down the Irish sea. I have made that very clear, and that is why we are looking for alternative backstop proposals.
A huge number of people marching for a democratic say on the next steps and a fresh assessment of the will of the people should not be ignored by any Government, unless the Government are perhaps not being completely full with us about what they know. Does the Prime Minister think that her deal will leave us better off than the deal we already have as an EU member—yes or no?
I have been very clear that we are working for a good deal. Our best days lie ahead of us, but this is about getting a good deal, getting good deals around the rest of the world and ensuring that we build a better and brighter future for the people of this country.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s comments about the progress being made on security co-operation at the European Council. Notwithstanding the big issues that still face her in the negotiations, does she agree that the security relationship is critical, particularly in relation to combating cyber-attacks across international boundaries?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, particularly in relation to cyber-attacks and to our continuing to work with the European Union on these issues. Concern about cyber-attacks was one of the reasons that the Dutch Prime Minister and I were keen to press the EU to move ahead on this work, to ensure that we can take measures, potentially including sanctions, in relation to this. We will continue to work with them on that.
The Prime Minister has completely and utterly dismissed the 770,000 people who marched in London on Saturday and the many hundreds of thousands who would have marched if they had been able to be in London. She is going to fix the vote in this House on her withdrawal deal. What message does that send to the many millions of people who are demanding a people’s vote?
I think that I have answered this question, and I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answers that I gave earlier.
Negotiating a good deal is hard; anyone who has negotiated anything will know that it is hard to get a good deal and none of us has tried to negotiate anything like this. May I urge my right hon. Friend to continue to hold her nerve and not to capitulate, as some would have her do? I urge her to hold her nerve and negotiate the best possible deal for my constituents and our country.
Absolutely. This is the time when we need to hold our nerve as we come to the end of these negotiations, to get that good deal.
Will the Prime Minister tell us what practical steps she has taken to build consensus across the parties and across the nation on how this country should move ahead?
We are ensuring that everything we are doing is done on the basis of the national interest. That is what this Government have put first and foremost, and we will continue to do so.
I urge my right hon. Friend to pay no heed to the vile comments in Sunday’s papers, but instead to remain focused on the prize of delivering frictionless trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland, between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and between the UK and the rest of the EU, because so many jobs and livelihoods depend on getting that right.
I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. I can give her the assurance that we are absolutely focused on getting that good deal and that good trading relationship that will protect jobs here in the United Kingdom.
When we entered the common market in 1973, the fishing sector had its rights denied and its fishing waters reduced. Can the Prime Minister confirm that we will take back our coastal waters when we leave the EU on 29 March and that our fishing sector will experience the boom years that are yet to come?
Indeed, we fully recognise the concerns about the way in which the fishing industry was treated in the negotiations when we entered the European Economic Community back in the 1970s. I am clear that we will become an independent coastal state and that we will be able to take back that control. We will be able to make those decisions and negotiate on our own behalf on those issues, rather than it being done by the European Union. Also, we want to see how we can enhance our fishing industry around the United Kingdom in the future.
My right hon. Friend said that an extension to the implementation period was undesirable. I urge her to use far stronger language when it comes to the common fisheries policy and confirm that we will no longer remain tied to the CFP beyond December 2020.
As I said earlier, the interests of fishermen across the whole United Kingdom are among those at the forefront of our thinking as we look at all the arrangements and proposals. As I have said, I recognise that there are timetabling issues in relation to our ability to negotiate as an independent coastal state once we leave the European Union. I assure my hon. Friend that we will put those concerns at the forefront of our thinking.
I welcome the comments in the Prime Minister’s statement condemning the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. However, in answer to a parliamentary question from me following the murder, the British Government confirmed that they would still send high-ranking diplomats to the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh this week, despite all the spin about removing the Secretary of State for International Trade from the delegation. Following further revelations over the weekend, rather than empty gestures and words, is not a full boycott more appropriate and a strategic rethink of our relations with Saudi Arabia?
The hon. Gentleman will have heard at the beginning of my statement of my deep concern about what happened to Jamal Khashoggi and what has been revealed. We need to ensure that we get absolutely to the truth of what happened. The original proposal was that Secretary of State would attend that event, and we have been very clear: it was right that we decided that there would be no ministerial attendance.
The west midlands and the town of Redditch are creating new businesses at a record rate due to our innovative and creative entrepreneurs. Will the Prime Minister confirm to the House that she continues to strain every sinew to ensure their future prosperity?
Yes, I am happy to give that reassurance to my hon. Friend. Not only in relation to our negotiations with the European Union, but in relation to our modern industrial strategy, we are ensuring that we are a great place or one of the best places in the world to set up and grow a business.
Does the Prime Minister agree that a meaningful vote is meaningful only if votes on amendments come before the vote on the principle of the deal? If that does not happen, she will be sent home to think again by this Parliament. If she loses that meaningful vote, will she accept that she has lost the confidence of the House?
We have been very clear that the vote will be an amendable vote. Obviously, the Procedure Committee—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to listen to the answer. The Procedure Committee is considering the nature of the vote, but, as I have said to a number of Opposition Members, if he asked members of the public, they would say that they expect Parliament to vote on the deal the Government bring back.
On Thursday, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said from the Dispatch Box that he was invincibly confident that we would be an independent coastal state by December 2020. Does the Prime Minister share his confidence and will she make the same commitment?
I am confident because I am confident that we can negotiate our future relationship such that it comes into place on 1 January 2021.
It was disturbing to see the vile language towards the Prime Minister regarding EU negotiations. It affects not only the individual but their whole family. It was particularly sobering because, only a week ago, an individual was charged in relation to abusing me. People watch how we treat each other in the House and we have to act as role models. Does the Prime Minister agree that, as elected Members, we must take a raincheck and never perpetuate abuse in politics?
I am sorry to hear that the hon. Lady has been subject to abuse that has led, as I understand from her question, to somebody being charged or to action being taken against an individual. If we are to have good, healthy debate in this country on matters of policy and politics—there will be strong disagreements and strong views held—it is very important that we conduct our discussions in a way that does not lead to abuse. We need to conduct discussions in a respectful manner.
The Prime Minister has been clear today that a second referendum is not on the table because we must respect the views of the 17.5 million who voted to leave, but is there another reason why it is inappropriate to have another referendum with remain on the agenda: it would prejudice our negotiations by creating an incentive for the European Union to give us an extremely bad deal?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right not only that we owe it to the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the European Union, but that it needs to be very clear to the European Union that we will be leaving and that there is no question of that second referendum. That was why I was surprised that the shadow Foreign Secretary has said today that, if there were a second referendum under Labour’s proposal, remain could be on the ballot. That is going back on the vote that people gave in 2016.
On the security aspect of the Prime Minister’s statement, did the EU Council discuss the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty—the INF treaty—which America is expected to announce this week that it is going to leave? That will not help to bring Russia back into compliance and will be dangerous for us all. Does she have a strategy to ensure that that does not happen?
The hon. Gentleman asks whether that was discussed at the European Union Council. It was not, but a number of other security matters were. We continue to believe that it is important for that treaty to continue, but the parties to it must abide by it.
Should not the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have the opportunity to give their consent to any deal she brings back—this should also happen in the event of no deal—that makes any change to the Irish border as set out in the Good Friday agreement?
We are very well aware of the obligations and commitments we have as a result of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. We are working to ensure that we maintain all of them because we recognise the importance of the agreement.
The Electoral Commission has ruled that the leave campaign broke electoral law with regard to spending limits. Does the Prime Minister believe that that in any way undermines the result of the referendum? If she does not, can she explain what is the point of electoral law?
I understand that the matter to which the hon. Lady refers is subject to judicial proceedings. We gave the people a vote. The people made their choice and we are delivering on that choice.
The Prime Minister told the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) that, if the meaningful vote does not succeed in this House, she intends to carry on as Prime Minister until 29 March next year and deliver a no deal Brexit. Is that really her position?
I told my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) that we will be leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019, and we will.
The status of British-Irish citizens in Northern Ireland is protected under the Good Friday agreement, which means that, if they wish, they can legally renounce their British citizenship and receive no detriment to their social or democratic rights. Will the Prime Minister therefore state unequivocally that people born in Northern Ireland will continue after Brexit to be able to be solely Irish and to identify as Irish and therefore as EU citizens?
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that if he looks at the joint report that we agreed with the European Union last December, he will see that that matter was covered and that we are guaranteeing the continuing rights of those citizens.
No one in the Labour Party underestimates how difficult the Prime Minister’s job will be when she sits at the negotiating table with her MPs trying to hammer out a deal. If she is so confident of her position and of her public support, and given her failure to build consensus and compromise in the House, instead of losing a politicians’ vote on her deal, as is now likely, why will she not put her deal to the British people to have their say over, and give their authority to, the final deal?
The hon. Gentleman has found an ingenious way of asking the same question that some of his colleagues have asked. I answered that question earlier. This House will have a meaningful vote on the deal and, obviously, following that meaningful vote, if that deal is agreed, we will put the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill in place. It will be this Parliament that will determine that Bill and progress it through Parliament.
I return to the point that it is so important that politicians on both sides of the House recognise that, having given the vote to the British people, we deliver on the vote of the British people and that we in no way, as the shadow Foreign Secretary and the Labour party are suggesting, attempt to go back to the people and try to tell them that they got the first decision wrong. No, they have made their decision and we are delivering on it.
The Prime Minister has mentioned the unique arrangements with the Government of remain-voting Gibraltar in order to protect their economy. Why has she ruled out the same unique considerations for the people of remain-voting Scotland?
The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the geographical position of Gibraltar is a particular issue, and obviously arrangements have been put in place over a number of years with Spain. That situation is different from that of Scotland, which of course, as part of the United Kingdom, will be leaving the European Union. Gibraltar will be leaving alongside the United Kingdom and we will ensure that the arrangements are in place to protect its economy.
The Prime Minister has estimated that there needs to be a six-week stockpile of food and medicine. What about manufacturing companies, such as Ford in my constituency, and the small and medium-sized enterprises that provide components? What if they cannot stockpile for six weeks? Will there be compensation for industry and for those employees who may be laid off because of chaos at our ports?
The hon. Lady will have seen the various arrangements that are being put in place, which are mentioned in the technical notices that we have issued. We are making preparations for no deal, because we have not come to the conclusion of these negotiations. I believe that coming to a good deal is the best outcome for the United Kingdom, and I think the European Union side recognises the importance of coming to a good deal with the United Kingdom. A good deal for us will be a good deal for them.
The Prime Minister says that negotiations with the EU are 95% settled. The Select Committee on Scottish Affairs has been taking evidence on trade, and witness after witness has made it clear how vital protected geographical indications are to Scotland’s interests. What assurances can she now give us that such protections for the unique products of Scotland and the UK will remain as strong as they are now?
Geographical indications are one of the issues we have spent considerable time considering with the European Union, because we recognise their importance. The hon. Lady says I said that 95% of everything is agreed, but 95% of the withdrawal agreement has been agreed.
Some 1.5 million young people have not had their chance to have a say on Brexit, yet they are eligible to vote. On the biggest issue facing us since the second world war, why deny them the chance to vote on this crucial issue for their future?
If we followed the position that everybody, in any year, who becomes eligible to vote should be able to vote on this issue, we would end up with a never-ending set of votes on Brexit, rather than doing what the British people want, which is to leave the European Union and to do it on good terms.
The Prime Minister has on many occasions referred to the result of the 2016 referendum. Does she accept that, in a democracy, people have the right to change their mind?
Of course people sometimes change their mind, but the Government were very clear at the time, and it was not just the Government. In the vote in Parliament, the overwhelming majority of Members of this House agreed that there should be a referendum and that the choice should be given to the British people. [Hon. Members: “Not us.”] So the SNP did not think that the British people should be able to decide their future?
If nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, is it possible that a successful amendment to the meaningful vote could send the Prime Minister back to renegotiate?
We are talking about coming to an endpoint in the negotiations, agreeing a withdrawal agreement and the future relationship, and then bringing that agreed deal back for this House to vote on.
The Prime Minister is keen to avoid a permanent customs union and single market arrangement, despite some Brexiteers promising the exact same benefits. If she is unable to achieve the exact same benefits, is it time to let the people take back control either through a general election or a third referendum—after 1975 and 2016—on this issue?
The Prime Minister must know that, if she continues to hold herself to ransom on the whim of the minority of Members of this House who subscribe to either the ERG or the DUP, it will be a choice between a rotten deal and no deal. When will she see sense and seek to find consensus among the 600 Members who are not members of either of those two damaging splinter groups?
I hope we will find consensus among the 650 Members of this House when we bring a good deal back to vote on.
If we have to accept a backstop, who will set the timescale for that backstop? The Prime Minister of the Irish Republic says that they will use the veto to ensure it is a never-ending backstop. Northern Ireland would then never have the benefit of leaving the EU.
The best way of ensuring no hard border is through the future relationship. The backstop we are looking at in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol to the withdrawal agreement is to cover any gap between the end of the implementation period and the coming into force of that future relationship. I want to ensure that the future relationship is there at the end of the implementation period so there is no question of a backstop. I am also clear that there can be no question of us finding ourselves left in that backstop in permanent limbo and unable to put that future relationship in place. That is exactly what we have been clear about in the negotiations.