With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the conclusion of our negotiations—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Shannon, sort out your seating arrangements—well done. A long afternoon lies ahead, so let us have a bit of quiet and respectful order for the Prime Minister.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the conclusion of our negotiations to leave the European Union.
At yesterday’s special European Council in Brussels, I reached a deal with the leaders of the other 27 EU member states on a withdrawal agreement that will ensure our smooth and orderly departure on 29 March next year; and, tied to this agreement, a political declaration on an ambitious future partnership that is in our national interest. This is the right deal for Britain because it delivers on the democratic decision of the British people. It takes back control of our borders, and ends the free movement of people in full once and for all, allowing the Government to introduce a new skills-based immigration system. It takes back control of our laws; it ends the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK and instead means our laws being made in our Parliaments, enforced by our courts. It takes back control of our money, ending the vast annual payments that we send to Brussels, so that we can instead spend taxpayers’ money on our own priorities, including the £394 million a week of extra investment into our long-term plan for the national health service.
By creating a new free trade area with no tariffs, fees, charges, quantitative restrictions or rules of origin checks, this deal protects jobs, including those that rely on integrated supply chains. It protects our security, with a close relationship on defence and on tackling crime and terrorism, which will help to keep all our people safe. It also protects the integrity of our United Kingdom, meeting our commitments in Northern Ireland and delivering for the whole UK family, including our overseas territories and the Crown dependencies.
On Gibraltar, we have worked constructively with the Governments of Spain and Gibraltar. I want to pay tribute, in particular, to Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, for his statesmanship in these negotiations. We have ensured that Gibraltar is covered by the whole withdrawal agreement and by the implementation period. And for the future partnership, the UK Government will be negotiating for the whole UK family, including Gibraltar. As Fabian Picardo said this weekend:
“Every aspect of the response of the United Kingdom was agreed with the Government of Gibraltar. We have worked seamlessly together in this as we have in all other aspects of this two year period of negotiation. Most importantly, the legal text of the draft Withdrawal Agreement has not been changed. That is what the Spanish Government repeatedly sought. But they have not achieved that. The United Kingdom has not let us down.”
Our message to the people of Gibraltar is clear: we will always stand by you. We are proud that Gibraltar is British, and our position on sovereignty has not and will not change.
The withdrawal agreement will ensure that we leave the European Union on 29 March next year in a smooth and orderly way. It protects the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, and UK citizens living in the EU, so they can carry on living their lives as before. It delivers a time-limited implementation period to give business time to prepare for the new arrangements. During the implementation period, trade will continue on current terms so businesses only have to face one set of changes. It ensures a fair settlement of our financial obligations—less than half of what some originally expected and demanded. It meets our commitment to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland—and also no customs border in the Irish sea—in the event that the future relationship is not ready by the end of the implementation period.
I know that some Members remain concerned that we could find ourselves stuck in this backstop, so let me address this directly. First, this is an insurance policy that no one wants to use. Both the UK and the EU are fully committed to having our future relationship in place by 1 January 2021, and the withdrawal agreement has a legal duty on both sides to use best endeavours to avoid the backstop ever coming into force. If, despite this, the future relationship is not ready by the end of 2020, we would not be forced to use the backstop. We would have a clear choice between the backstop or a short extension to the implementation period. If we did choose the backstop, the legal text is clear that it should be temporary and that the article 50 legal base cannot provide for a permanent relationship. And there is now more flexibility that it can be superseded either by the future relationship, or by alternative arrangements which include the potential for facilitative arrangements and technologies to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
There is also a termination clause, which allows the backstop to be turned off when we have fulfilled our commitments on the Northern Ireland border. And there is a unilateral right to trigger a review through the Joint Committee and the ability to seek independent arbitration if the EU does not use good faith in this process. Furthermore, as a result of the changes we have negotiated, the legal text is now also clear that once the backstop has been superseded, it shall “cease to apply”. So if a future Parliament decided to then move from an initially deep trade relationship to a looser one, the backstop could not return.
I do not pretend that either we or the EU are entirely happy with these arrangements. And that is how it must be—were either party entirely happy, that party would have no incentive to move on to the future relationship. But there is no alternative deal that honours our commitments to Northern Ireland which does not involve this insurance policy. And the EU would not have agreed any future partnership without it. Put simply, there is no deal that comes without a backstop, and without a backstop there is no deal.
The withdrawal agreement is accompanied by a political declaration that sets out the scope and terms of an ambitious future relationship between the UK and the EU. It is a detailed set of instructions to negotiators that will be used to deliver a legal agreement on our future relationship after we have left. The linkage clause between the withdrawal agreement and the declaration requires both sides to use best endeavours to get this legal text agreed and implemented by the end of 2020, and both sides are committed to making preparations for an immediate start to the formal negotiations after our withdrawal.
The declaration contains specific detail on our future economic relationship. That includes a new free trade area with no tariffs, fees, quantitative restrictions or rules of origin checks—an unprecedented economic relationship that no other major economy has. It includes liberalisation in trade in services well beyond World Trade Organisation commitments and building on recent EU free trade agreements. It includes new arrangements for our financial services sector, ensuring that market access cannot be withdrawn on a whim and providing stability and certainty for our world-leading industry. And it ensures that we will leave EU programmes that do not work in our interests. So we will be out of the common agricultural policy, which has failed our farmers, and out of the common fisheries policy, which has failed our coastal communities.
Instead, as the political declaration sets out, we will be “an independent coastal state” once again. We will take back full sovereign control over our waters, so we will be able to decide for ourselves who we allow to fish in our waters. The EU has maintained throughout this process that it wanted to link overall access to markets to access to fisheries. It failed in the withdrawal agreement and it failed again in the political declaration. It is no surprise that some are already trying to lay down markers again for the future relationship, but they should be getting used to the answer by now: it is not going to happen.
Finally, the declaration is clear that whatever is agreed in the future partnership must recognise the development of an independent UK trade policy beyond this economic partnership. For the first time in 40 years, the UK will be able to strike new trade deals and open up new markets for our goods and services in the fastest growing economies around the world.
As I set out for the House last week, the future relationship also includes a comprehensive new security partnership, with close reciprocal law enforcement and judicial co-operation to keep all our people safe. At the outset we were told that, being outside of free movement and outside of the Schengen area, we would be treated like any other non-EU state on security. But this deal delivers the broadest security partnership in the EU’s history, including arrangements for effective data exchange on passenger name records, DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration data, as well as extradition arrangements like those in the European arrest warrant. And it opens the way to sharing the types of information included in the European criminal records information system and Schengen information system II databases on wanted or missing persons and criminal records.
This has been a long and complex negotiation. It has required give and take on both sides, and that is the nature of a negotiation. But this deal honours the result of the referendum, while providing a close economic and security relationship with our nearest neighbours, and in so doing, offers a brighter future for the British people outside of the EU. And I can say to the House with absolute certainty that there is not a better deal available—[Interruption.] My fellow leaders were very clear on that yesterday.
Our duty as a Parliament over these coming weeks is to examine this deal in detail, to debate it respectfully, to listen to our constituents and to decide what is in our national interest. There is a choice which this House will have to make. We can back this deal, deliver on the vote of the referendum and move on to building a brighter future of opportunity and prosperity for all our people, or the House can choose to reject this deal and go back to square one. No one knows what would happen if this deal does not pass. It would open the door to more division and more uncertainty, with all the risks that will entail.
I believe our national interest is clear. The British people want us to get on with a deal that honours the referendum and allows us to come together again as a country, whichever way we voted. This is that deal—a deal that delivers for the British people. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of her statement.
The Prime Minister may want to try to sell yesterday’s summit as a great success, but, to borrow a phrase, the reality is “nothing has changed”. She says that, if we reject this deal, it will take us back to square one. The truth is that, under this Government, we have never got beyond square one. The botched deal is a bad deal for this country, and all yesterday did was mark the end of this Government’s failed and miserable negotiations.
There can be no doubt that this deal would leave us with the worst of all worlds—no say over future rules and no certainty for the future. Even the Prime Minister’s own Cabinet cannot bring themselves to sell this deal. The Foreign Secretary said yesterday:
“This deal…mitigates most of the negative impacts”.
That is hardly a glowing endorsement. The silence from much of the rest of the Cabinet is telling. They know that these negotiations have failed and they know it will leave Britain worse off. In fact, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research confirmed that today, saying that the Prime Minister’s deal would mean our economy would be 3.9% smaller than it would otherwise be. This is more than our net contribution to the European Union, which is currently £8.9 billion a year—about £170 million per week. So why is the Prime Minister claiming that extra money to the NHS will be due to the Brexit dividend? Of course, we look forward to the official Treasury forecasts, and indeed the legal advice that this House voted to see nearly two weeks ago.
The Prime Minister’s claim that this deal takes back control over our borders, money and laws is, frankly, a fallacy. The reality is the opposite. She says that the political declaration should give us comfort that the Northern Ireland backstop will not be needed. But, in June 2020, this country will be faced with a stark choice: we can agree to extend the transition period, or accept the backstop. So can the Prime Minister confirm that, under her deal, if we are to avoid the backstop, we will have to accept whatever the European Union demands to extend the transition period—leaving a choice of paying more money without a say on the rules, or entering a backstop leading to a regulatory border down the Irish sea? So much for taking back control of our borders, money and laws.
It may not end there. The President of France, President Macron, has already made clear what his priorities will be in negotiating Britain a future deal. On Sunday he said:
“We will concentrate our efforts in order to obtain access to the British waters before the end of the transition period. And of course all of our fishermen will be protected.”
Is it not the case that, under the Prime Minister’s botched deal, we will have to agree to those demands on access to waters and quota shares if we want to finalise a future trade deal or extend the transition—breaking every promise the Prime Minister, the Environment Secretary and the Scotland Secretary have made to our fishing industry and our coastal communities?
There was another climbdown over Gibraltar at the weekend. Is it not the case that Spain now has a role over Gibraltar benefiting from any future relationship? That is still to be negotiated, not something the Prime Minister presented to the Commons last week.
In two weeks’ time, this House will begin voting on a legally binding withdrawal agreement and the vague wish list contained in the political declaration. The Prime Minister would be negotiating that future agreement from a position of profound weakness—threatened with paying more to extend the transition, with no say over our money, laws or borders, and at risk of the utterly unacceptable backstop, which was only made necessary by her own red lines, most of which have since been abandoned by her. Is it in the national interest for the Prime Minister to plough on when it is clear that this deal does not have the support of either side of this House or the country as a whole? Ploughing on is not stoic; it is an act of national self-harm. Instead of threatening this House with a no-deal scenario or a no-Brexit scenario, the Prime Minister now needs to prepare a plan B—something her predecessors failed to do. There is a sensible deal—[Interruption.] There is a sensible deal that could win the support of this House, based—[Interruption.]
Order. When the Prime Minister was addressing the House, I made it clear that she should be heard, and by and large she was. To those chuntering or yelling from a sedentary position, I say stop it—it is rude, foolish and doomed to fail.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
There is a sensible deal that could win the support of this House, based on a comprehensive customs union and a strong single market deal that protects rights at work and environmental safeguards.
The Prime Minister may have achieved agreement across 27 Heads of State, but she has lost the support of the country. Many young people and others see opportunities being taken away from them. Many people who voted remain voted for an outward-looking and inclusive society, and they fear this deal and the Prime Minister’s rhetoric in promoting it. Likewise, many people from areas that voted leave feel this deal has betrayed the Brexit they voted for—that it does not take back control, will not make them better off and will not solve the economic deprivation that affects far too many communities, towns and cities across this country. This deal is not a plan for Britain’s future; so, for the good of the nation, the House has very little choice but to reject it.
The right hon. Gentleman asked where the Brexit dividend was. We have been very clear that we will be able to use the money we are not sending to the EU to spend on our priorities, including the national health service. There was a time when he himself talked of spending the Brexit dividend on our public services. He talks about the backstop and about the implementation period being the alternative. Actually, no, we have written in the possibility of alternative arrangements. The key thing is to deliver on our commitment of no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland—a commitment that he appeared to dismiss in his response to my statement. We do not dismiss the people of Northern Ireland. We believe it is important to maintain that commitment.
The right hon. Gentleman said that our deal did not bring back control of our borders, but of course it does because it brings an end to free movement once and for all. I note that the Labour party has never been able to stand up and actually say it wants to bring an end to free movement once and for all, and that is because it is not responding to the real needs and concerns of the British people on these issues. The British people want control of our borders and an end to free movement, and this deal delivers it.
I was very interested to hear that it now appears to be Labour party policy to be in both the single market and the customs union. [Interruption.] I hear yeses from the Labour Front Bench. There was a time when the right hon. Gentleman talked about the importance of an independent trade policy and negotiating our own trade deals. As a full member of the customs union, in which he wants us to remain, we cannot do that, so again he has gone back on his words in relation to these issues.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about President Macron’s comments about access to waters. I recognise that this has raised a question about our being in the backstop. For the benefit of all those who are concerned, and all those who have commented on this, it is important to recall that if we were in the backstop, we would be outside the common fisheries policy and we would be deciding who had access to fish in our waters.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Gibraltar. I quoted the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, who made it very clear, as I did, that this Government stood by Gibraltar and resisted changes to the withdrawal agreement that the Spanish Government wished to make. We are clear that Gibraltar’s sovereignty will not change. It has not changed and will not change. We are proud that Gibraltar is British.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman talked about dealing with issues with our economy in those parts of the country where we need to enhance and improve our economy. It is absolutely clear that the one thing that will never deliver for our economy is his policy on borrowing, taxing and spending. It is a balanced approach to the economy that delivers.
I recognise my right hon. Friend’s genuine endeavours in all these matters, but may I return her to the point about the backstop? Does she recognise the genuine concern held in all parts of the House about what would happen if the UK were to be forced into the backstop? I listened very carefully to her statement, and she said that the UK does not want it and the EU does not want it; we heard the other day that Ireland said that, no matter what agreement was reached, it would never have any hard border. It makes one wonder why it is in the withdrawal agreement at all.
My question for my right hon. Friend is this: if the Government, going down the road to a negotiation, are heading toward that point when the backstop is invoked, does that not mean that Mr Macron is right and we will come under intolerable pressure to agree to almost anything to avoid our entry into what my right hon. Friend rightly says is something we never want to be in?
I recognise the depth of concern that there has been and that remains for some Members of this House about the issue of the backstop, but I disagree with my right hon. Friend about the position that would entail. As I indicated in my statement, largely thanks to my right hon. Friend and our right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), we are in the position of having within the withdrawal agreement the recognition that there could be alternative arrangements to the backstop, or the extension of the implementation period, that would deliver for the border of Northern Ireland.
While I recognise the depth of concern that this is not a situation that the UK wants to be in, nor is it a situation that the European Union wants us to be in. That is because—strange though it may seem to some Members of this House—there are members of the European Union who actively think that the backstop would be a good place for the UK because of its access to the EU markets without having financial obligations and without free movement. That is why they do not want us to be in the backstop either. Neither of us wants to invoke it—the Taoiseach has been clear about that. We want to ensure that the future relationship replaces it and delivers our commitment to the people of Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister’s deal means that Scotland is to be taken out of the European Union against our will, and out of the single market—a market that is about eight times the size of the UK’s. Scotland voted to remain; our rights must be respected. Leaving will rip away jobs, hit living standards and end freedom of movement—something that will make it harder for our precious NHS to attract and retain the staff that we need. Migration has been good for Scotland. The Prime Minister talks about queue-jumpers from Europe—an outrageous slur against EU citizens who come here—but blatantly disregards the rights that we will all lose to live and work in Europe. We are not prepared to give up those rights.
The Prime Minister’s deal carries no majority in this House and has split those on her own Benches. It means that a blindfold Brexit is now certain. There is no long-term agreement on our trading relationship with Europe; it is a deal full of ifs and buts. Crucially, here we are again with another sell-out of the Scottish fishing industry by a Tory Government. We have been here before: we were sold out by Ted Heath and we have been sold out repeatedly by Tory Governments. Under this agreement, fishing boats registered in Northern Ireland would continue to gain zero-tariff access to the EU and UK markets, but fishing boats registered in Scotland and other parts of the UK would not.
We now know that the EU will start negotiations based on existing quota shares. That is not taking back control of our waters; it is the EU exercising an effective veto. Scottish fishing communities have been duped once again by the Conservatives. The Scottish National party will not—we cannot—accept this sell-out by the Conservatives. I call upon the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to search their consciences, because their fingerprints are all over this.
The agreed declaration states that the transition period after leaving the EU could be extended by one or two years. Does the Prime Minister accept that that means that the UK would almost certainly be in the CFP with no voting rights for another one or two years, totally contrary to what the Scottish Secretary has said? The Prime Minister says the deal ends uncertainty. It does not end uncertainty for Scotland’s fishing sector or for the future state of the economy, which faces years of turbulence in a bureaucratic tangle.
There is talk of a Brexit TV debate. Will the Prime Minister debate with the First Minister of Scotland? The ways that Scotland’s interests have been dismissed by the UK Government throughout this process demonstrate the real cost of not being an independent country able to take our own decisions. The day will come when Scotland will be an independent country. We on the Scottish National party Benches will continue to work across parties to put in place a deal that works for Scotland and we will support another referendum on EU membership.
I will address the right hon. Gentleman’s two main points. Once again he gave most of his comments over to the question of fishing, but he mentioned migration. It is important that we deliver on what people voted for in the referendum. They voted for an end to free movement. That is because they felt it was not right that people had a right to come here and were freely able to move here based on the country they came from rather than their contribution to the United Kingdom. We will be able to put in place a skills-based immigration system that is based on people’s skills and their contribution to our economy.
The right hon. Gentleman devoted the majority of his comments to the common fisheries policy. He talked about a sell-out of Scottish fishermen. The real sell-out of Scottish fishermen is the SNP’s policy to stay in a common fisheries policy. Who has been standing up for Scottish fishermen in this House? Conservative Scottish Back Benchers have been. All the SNP wants to do is stay in the common fisheries policy and that would indeed be a sell-out of Scottish fishermen.
If the European Union really intends in good faith to rapidly negotiate a future trade agreement, why can we not make the second half of the £39 billion payment conditional on delivering it?
As my right hon. Friend is aware from the early negotiations that we held on this particular issue, the £39 billion has been determined in relation to our legal obligations. I think it is important that as a country we stand up to our legal obligations. As my right hon. Friend will also know, there is a timetable for these payments spread over a period of time. A key element is ensuring that we are able to have that implementation period, which is so important for our businesses, so that they have only to make one set of changes and that there is a smooth and orderly withdrawal.
By refusing to make choices now about our future economic relationship with the European Union, what the Prime Minister has done is put off that moment to a time when the EU will have much greater leverage over this country, because any future trade agreement will require the unanimous approval of every European member state. How can the Prime Minister expect the House to vote to put the country in such a weak position? Is that not the biggest failure of the negotiation?
The right hon. Gentleman, I am sure, is very well aware of the position that the European Union is not able sign a trade agreement. We are looking for that free trade area being at the heart of our economic partnership for the future. The European Union is not able to sign that and develop the legal text for that until we are a third country and have withdrawn from the EU. Far from not setting out details of our future relationship, the political declaration does just that. It makes it very clear that this is the set of, if you like, instructions to the negotiators that the future relationship will put into place what is in the political declaration.
As it currently stands, the majority of hon. and right hon. Members in this place will not vote in favour of the Prime Minister’s deal, despite her very best efforts, so she needs plan B. What is the Prime Minister’s plan B? Is it “Norway plus”—the single market, the customs union—for which some of us have been arguing for over two years?
I am tempted to say to my right hon. Friend that throughout the last 18 months of negotiations, at virtually every stage people have said to me that it was not going to be possible for me to negotiate a deal with the European Union. No sooner do I negotiate a deal with the European Union than people are saying, “Well, what’s the next thing you’re going to do with the European Union?” In all seriousness, I say to my right hon. Friend that we will have a number of days of debate in this Chamber prior to the meaningful vote on this deal. I believe it is important that when people look at this deal and come to that vote, they consider the interests of this country and the interests of their constituents, and they consider the importance of delivering on Brexit.
Now that the Prime Minister has decided to launch a public debate on her plans, should she not move beyond her comfort zone of debating with Brexit fellow travellers like the leader of the Labour party and engage with the much larger cross-party coalition in favour of a people’s vote, with the option of remaining in the European Union? Will she not debate with the real opposition?
The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have asked me this question about the people’s vote—the second referendum—on a number of occasions, and my answer to that has not changed. I believe that it is important, having given the choice to the British people as to whether we stay in the European Union, that we now deliver on the choice that the British people made. That is a difference of opinion between myself and him—I recognise that—but I think that the majority of the British public want us to get on with doing what they asked us to do.
Does the Prime Minister appreciate that the withdrawal agreement is incompatible with the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which expressly repeals the whole of the European Communities Act 1972? In this event, we would truly regain our laws. Does the Prime Minister accept that this agreement, being only a treaty, cannot override the statutory provisions of the 2018 Act, and is therefore unlawful? Did she seek the legal opinion of the Attorney General on this question in good time before the agreement was signed by her yesterday, as required under the ministerial code?
I make two points to my hon. Friend. First, one of the things that the European Union (Withdrawal) Act does is bring European Union law into UK law, such that there is that smooth and orderly transition when we leave the European Union, and, of course, the withdrawal agreement will be implemented in our legislation through the withdrawal agreement Act.
The Prime Minister says in her statement that “the legal text is now also clear that once the backstop has been superseded, it shall ‘cease to apply’”. We need accuracy—actually, on page 309, article 2, on the Northern Ireland protocol, it says the backstop can be superseded
“in whole or in part”
“shall cease to apply…in whole or in part.”
We need accuracy, because it is the legal text that matters, and that is what will bind the country. As the Chancellor has rightly said that the backstop is bad for the Union and bad for the economy—that is what he has said—can she tell us what bits are so bad for the Union?
The parts of the backstop that are bad for the European Union—
For the United Kingdom.
Oh, sorry—for the United Kingdom. What we want to be able to do in the future is to have our independent trade policy. One of the issues in relation to the backstop is whether or not we would be able to do that—that is one of the issues that we would not want to see us continuing to be in the backstop for.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on beginning her campaign to sell this deal to the country with a frank admission, just now, that it is unsatisfactory. I think that that is a bit of an understatement. It is hard to see how the deal can provide certainty for business or for anyone else, given that half the Cabinet are going around reassuring business that the UK will effectively remain in a customs union and in a single market, while the Prime Minister herself is continuing to say that we are going to take back control of our laws, vary our tariffs, and do—as she said just now—real free trade deals. They cannot both be right. Which is it?
Let me first point out to my right hon. Friend that what I said in my statement was that neither we nor the EU were entirely happy with the backstop arrangements that were put in place. That is accurate. I have referenced one reason why we are not happy with it, and I have referenced in earlier answers why the EU is not happy with it.
I recognise the concern that has been expressed about our ability to negotiate free trade deals with other countries on the basis of the arrangement that we are putting in place with the EU for our future relationship. We will be able to negotiate those free trade deals, but I think every Member of the House should be aware that when they are being considered, there will be issues that the House will want to consider, which will be nothing to do with whether or not we have a particular relationship with the European Union. The House will want to consider animal welfare standards. The House will want to consider environmental standards. Those are the issues that Members will wish to consider when it looks at the free trade deals, but it is absolutely clear that we will be able to negotiate those deals with the relationship that is being proposed.
This is not a deal for the future; it is just a stopgap. We do not know whether it means Chequers, or Canada, or Norway, or an endless backstop, or something worse, or a massive security downgrade. We have no idea where this is heading, and other countries are already saying that this gives them more leverage because it reduces our negotiating power. How can the Prime Minister say that this is in the future interests of the country? She used to say that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed. When did she change her mind?
First, let me point out to the right hon. Lady that what the political declaration does is set out very clearly the basis for the future relationship that we will be having with the European Union in respect of security and economic arrangements. It also sets out clearly that
“it is the clear intent of both Parties to develop in good faith agreements giving effect to this relationship”.
This is not about some other sort of relationship; it is about what is in this document.
The right hon. Lady asked whether it was Canada or Norway. I said right at the beginning of this process that we should get away from thinking of “on the shelf” models that already exist. What is being proposed here, and what is acknowledged from the European Union, is a relationship of unprecedented depth which has not been offered to any other major advanced economy. It is a relationship which shows that we are not just another third country.
Will the Prime Minister agree that this agreement could cost a lot more than £39 billion—as there are no cash limits or figures in it, and plenty of liabilities—especially if the EU goes as slowly on the next phase of the negotiations as it did on the last lot, and drags us into permanent transition at enormous cost?
As my right hon. Friend will know, there are clauses in the withdrawal agreement in relation to the endeavours that both sides will make to reach agreement by the end of the implementation period in December 2020 which make it clear that action can be taken if either side drags its feet in the way that he is talking about.
The Prime Minister is not suggesting that, compared with staying in the European Union, her Brexit proposals would mean that our country would be economically better off, is she?
The question of our future—[Interruption.] No. I believe that we can be economically better off outside the European Union. The problem is that there are those who think the only factor that determines how well off we are in the future is whether or not we are a member of the European Union. I differ. Our future is in our hands. It will be our decisions, in many areas, that will determine our prosperity for the future.
Nobody can now doubt that the Prime Minister has tried her very best. Are we not none the less being asked to take a huge gamble here: paying, leaving, surrendering our vote and our veto without any firm commitment to frictionless trade or the absolute right to dismantle external tariffs? Is it really wise to trust the future of our economy to a pledge simply to use best endeavours?
The position on the nature of the political declaration is exactly what I set out in response to the question from the Chairman of the Exiting the European Union Committee, which is that it is not possible for us to sign that legal treaty on a free trade agreement with the European Union until we are outside the European Union.
The Prime Minister was told very clearly last November that any backstop would not be tenable and would not be acceptable, yet she has carried on with allowing it to be put in. But not only is it in; it is in in a way that we cannot get out of unless the EU allows us to do so. Does the Prime Minister agree that that is not really giving back sovereignty to our country—to the people who voted to leave?
As I said in my statement, the position is very simple: there is no withdrawal agreement without a backstop. Without a backstop there is no deal. That is because of the commitment that both sides wanted to give to the people of Northern Ireland to ensure there was no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. That is very simple; any other arrangement—any other agreement on trade with the European Union—would have a backstop.
The Brexit debate has seen false promises made to the public from all sides and from all parties. Democracy only works when it can be based on a debate of truth, honesty and fact. How can the Prime Minister reassure the House that this debate we are about to have now on her deal is based on facts and evidence, not more false promises to the British people, which when broken subsequently will damage trust in our democracy even more?
I say to my right hon. Friend that we are committed as a Government to publishing analysis of this deal; we will publish analysis of the various aspects of this deal. As my right hon. Friend is aware, there are others out there looking at the economic aspects as well. I am tempted to say this, however: she asked whether this can be based on facts; I think it would be interesting for this House to debate the extent to which economic forecasts can be described as facts.
May I thank the Prime Minister for the efforts she made personally on behalf of my constituent Matthew Hedges, who has been released this morning? That is a bit of good news amidst all this Brexit mess. But on Brexit, if she is so confident that the public support this deal, why does she not ask them?
May I first thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about his constituent?
I have responded before to questions about the second referendum issue, and it is very simple: I think that it is absolutely right that this House and politicians should see it as a duty to implement the vote the British people gave to leave the European Union.
When my right hon. Friend describes the functioning of her free trade area, it sounds awfully like a comprehensive customs union. Can she be absolutely clear where we are headed? Will we never reach the point where there are customs declarations?
My hon. Friend is well aware of the position the Government take, which is that we will be working for frictionless trade. As he will see, the references in the political declaration are to an ambitious agreement in relation to the restriction of checks, but my hon. Friend will also be aware that obviously there is a balance between the rights in terms of frictionless access and the obligations. That is clearly set out in the document. As my hon. Friend knows, the Government set out their position in the summer in the White Paper.
The Prime Minister says that a majority of people want her to get on with Brexit, but actually that is not true. It might be an inconvenient fact, but the truth is that the majority want a people’s vote. So when she is giving her tour around the country—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Lady is entitled to ask her question without being consistently shouted at. I thought we were talking about respect in the Chamber. Try remembering that—[Interruption.] Well, maybe the person who says, “Were we?” does not care about that, but most of us do, and I want to hear the hon. Lady and the response to the hon. Lady.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. We have heard that the Prime Minister is planning to tour the country to sell her bungled deal to the public. Why does she not try listening to the public? Rather than having a stage-managed opportunity just to hear a whole load of waffle, why cannot people have a chance to have their say in a people’s vote? If she really trusted them, she would do this.
I answered the question on the people’s vote earlier. I do listen to the public, and when I go knocking on doors and listening to what people say, the overwhelming view is that we should get on with it and do what the vote said.
The Conservative manifesto at the last election promised to deliver the leave vote by leaving the single market, leaving the customs union and leaving the remit of the European Court of Justice. Many of us, endorsed by experienced lawyers, believe that this document does not deliver that. It is also a clear breach of the principle of consent of the Belfast agreement, and it is going to cost us £39 billion. Given that a majority across the House, including myself, intend to vote against this deal, will the Prime Minister acknowledge at this late stage that the obstacle to President Tusk’s offer of a free trade deal was the problem of the Northern Irish border? In her political declaration, she has acknowledged that current techniques and processes could sort that. Will she therefore please at this late stage look to a comprehensive free trade deal, with our solution to the Northern Ireland border?
At the heart of this political declaration and of our future economic partnership is a comprehensive free trade deal. It is just a better comprehensive free trade deal than Canada.
In the Prime Minister’s lexicon, is “smooth and orderly” the new “strong and stable”?
A smooth and orderly exit is what business wants and I am sure what citizens up and down this country want.
Prime Minister, there is one thing on which we can all agree. It is that when we come to vote on this in two weeks’ time, it will be about the most important thing that we in this House will ever vote on in our entire lives. The Sun and The Daily Telegraph have described the deal this morning as a “surrender”, and I am afraid it is. As soon as the ink is dry, the Spanish will be after Gibraltar and the French will be after our fish—[Interruption.]
Order. Let me say to Members around the right hon. Gentleman, including some who fondly imagine they are going to be called to ask a question: do not sit there heckling your colleague. He has a right to be heard. If you do not like it, listen with courtesy and in silence and, if it is that bad for you, you are welcome to leave the Chamber. The right hon. Gentleman will be heard. Amen. End of subject.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister and the whole House know the mathematics. This will never get through. Even if it did—which it will not—the Democratic Unionist party Members on whom we rely for a majority have said that they would then review the confidence and supply agreement. So it is as dead as a dodo. Prime Minister, I plead with you: the House of Commons has never, ever surrendered to anybody, and it will not start now.
I should like to reassure my right hon. Friend. As I referenced in my statement on Gibraltar, the United Kingdom has not surrendered in those matters to which he has referred. He talked about the Spanish position on Gibraltar, but the Spanish have always held that position on Gibraltar. He talked about the French wanting our fish, but as he will know, French fishermen have long been wanting to fish in our waters, and they have done so. What they wanted to do in the political declaration was to link that access to our waters with our access to markets in relation to trade. We resisted that, we continue to resist it, and we resisted it in the document itself. We will continue to resist it, and we will continue to stand by the people of Gibraltar.
The Prime Minister deserves some sympathy for having to front up for that divided mob behind her. Earlier she said, “It isn’t going to happen,” but the fact of the matter is that she is not going to get a majority in this House for the deal, because it would leave the British people worse off. Concern is growing and many of my constituents want us to assert parliamentary supremacy, which she mentioned in her Lancaster House speech. Let us get back into the European Union, where people will get a better deal at the end of the day.
The hon. Gentleman talks about parliamentary supremacy. Of course, it was this Parliament that decided by an overwhelming majority to ask the British people for their view on our membership of the European Union. They voted and gave that view, and I believe that it is our duty to deliver on it.
May I first thank my right hon. Friend for making three statements to the House of Commons in 10 days, which I think is a Boycottian achievement? In answer to an earlier question, she said that we have a legal obligation to pay £39 billion. I wonder whether she is forgetting the report of the House of Lords of March 2017, which stated that in the event of leaving without a deal, we would owe no money at all. Therefore, what are we buying with £39 billion of taxpayers’ money?
I can assure my hon. Friend that I have not forgotten the House of Lords report, but there is a different opinion, which is that there are legal obligations that this country would hold to the European Union in relation to financial payments in any circumstances. As I have said before, I think that it is important that this country upholds our legal obligations.
Tomorrow I will be part of a cross-party group of Scottish parliamentarians, from the Scottish National party, the Labour party and the Scottish Green party, who are going to the Court of Justice in Luxembourg to establish that it would be possible for this Parliament to tell the Prime Minister to revoke her article 50 notice. Does she share my sense of pride that it will be Scottish parliamentarians and the Scottish courts who will give this Parliament a true alternative to her deeply flawed deal?
I know that the hon. and learned Lady has consistently raised the issue of the revocation of the article 50 notice. As she knows, it is not going to happen, because it is not Government policy.
The Prime Minister said in her statement and in various letters that her deal will protect jobs. Could she please tell me which region or regions of the United Kingdom will be more prosperous, with higher productivity and higher GDP per capita, than they otherwise would be under present arrangements within the EU?
The answer to that question is that the extent to which we are able to enhance the prosperity and the number of jobs in the regions of the United Kingdom depends on a whole variety of decisions that will be taken by this Government. It is our good management of the economy that has ensured that 3.3 million jobs have already been created. If my hon. Friend remembers the Budget in November, he will be aware of the Office for Budget Responsibility’s prediction that 800,000 jobs will be created over the next period of years in this country.
The Prime Minister has been very clear this afternoon that she does not think that the public, having voted to leave the European Union, should have a say on what happens next on the deal that she has done. Can she therefore confirm that if this House votes down her deal, she will not seek to force a second vote on it, or will we find out, as the DUP has, that it is one rule for her and no say for anyone else?
I will be working to persuade Members of this House that the deal on the table delivers on the vote of the British people, and that it does so while protecting jobs, protecting our security and protecting our United Kingdom.
My right hon. Friend will recall how much we both hoped that I would be able to support whatever she brought back from her negotiations, so can I say how sad I am that I cannot possibly support this deal, which pays £38 billion simply to kick the can down the road? How can we possibly agree to such an arrangement? At the moment, we have the unilateral right to leave the European Union, but we will have no such unilateral right to leave these new arrangements, which will be subject to an EU veto. That is giving up control, not taking back control.
In my statement, I set out various elements relating to the backstop, to which my hon. Friend refers. Looking at the future treaty arrangements, which will cover security partnership and economic partnership, I would expect that, as in any trade agreement, there will of course be appropriate arrangements for review and for the question of the potential termination of those relationships.
I repeat the point I have made previously in relation to the £39 billion: I think it would be wrong for this House to believe that, on leaving, the United Kingdom will have no legal obligations to pay money to the European Union. There are legal obligations to pay money to the European Union, and I think it is important that we abide by those obligations.
The National Institute of Economic and Social Research published a report today showing that this deal would make the UK £100 billion a year worse off by 2030, which equates to £1,000 per person per year. If the Prime Minister really believes that the majority of the UK wants that outcome, can I politely suggest that she is not knocking on enough doors? Will she commit to giving the nation a final say on the exact terms of her deal?
I have responded on a number of occasions this afternoon, and indeed on other occasions when I have given statements to the House, on the question of a second referendum.
On Saturday morning, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the “Today” programme that, as the UK is split down the middle on the European Union:
“Anything which looks like one half of the country ‘winning’ and the other half ‘losing’ is disastrous”.
In that case, does the Prime Minister agree with him? If so, what was the point of holding the referendum in the first place?
The point is a very simple one. Now is the time for this country to come back together again. It is time for us to recognise that, in delivering on leaving the European Union, as people voted for in 2016, we are meeting the instruction we were given by the people in that referendum and we are doing it in this deal in a way that protects jobs, livelihoods, our security and our United Kingdom. Now is the time for the country to come back together, to get behind this deal and to ensure that we can build a better future for all.
Last week, the Prime Minister managed to insult and upset over 3 million European citizens who live and work in this country. Over 150,000 of them, like my German husband who has been a GP here for over 30 years, felt absolutely thrown away after spending decades here looking after us when we are ill. Will the Prime Minister perhaps take this opportunity to apologise for her thoughtless and insulting comments?
I should not have used that language in that speech. The point I was making is a simple one. Right from the very beginning, I have said that citizens’ rights is a key issue that I want to see addressed in the withdrawal agreement. That was one of the things we put at the top as one of our priorities, and we have delivered it for people in the withdrawal agreement.
Most people here in the United Kingdom want to see people coming to this country with skills and wanting to make a contribution—the hon. Lady’s husband has made a contribution as a GP here in this country—and they want people to be judged, as we will, on their skills and on their contribution to our economy, rather than simply on where they come from.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the easiest thing in the world for people to criticise any deal that they have not spent time—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] And it is the easiest thing in the world for people to remain in the entrenched positions they have been in for the past two years. But the braver thing, and the right thing for this country now, is for us to challenge ourselves on our views of Brexit, to step up to the plate as elected representatives, to give this deal the scrutiny it needs, to read carefully the economic forecasts the Government will publish and to realise that what will cost us far more than £39 billion is a no-deal Brexit, which needs to be avoided.
I say to my right hon. Friend—this was a point made very well by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois)—that this is a very important moment for this country. That is why when people come to debate this topic and to vote on it, I hope they will look, as she has said, at the analysis set before them and at the details of the deal, recall the need to deliver for the British people on the vote of Brexit and also recall the need for us to consider our constituents’ jobs and livelihoods for the future. Debates in this House are all about serious matters, but this is an historic moment for our country, and it is right that we approach it in the right way.
Does the Prime Minister accept that should we have to use the backstop, we can escape only if the whole of the rest of the EU gives us permission to do so and that they are in a position to demand any ransom for us to gain our exit?
It is possible to come out of the backstop if it is shown that it can be superseded by the future relationship or by alternative arrangements that can be put in place. The key is being able to show that we are delivering on the commitment for the people of Northern Ireland in relation to the border.
The Prime Minister, in her statement, speaks of the European Court of Justice and how this deal “ends the jurisdiction” of the ECJ. So can my right hon. Friend give a precise date, or even a year, when the UK will no longer be bound by, be subject to or have imposed on it any judgments from the ECJ?
As my right hon. Friend will, I am sure, recall, one of the elements of the citizens’ rights section in the withdrawal agreement does have a period of time where it will be possible for the issues in relations to citizens’ rights to be considered by the European Court of Justice—after that point, there will be no jurisdiction of the ECJ in the United Kingdom. In all other matters, there will be no jurisdiction of the ECJ in the UK prior to that point. There is a limited range of issues that can be considered in relation to citizens’ rights during that draw-down period. It will be the case that people will not be able to take cases to the ECJ in this country. It will be the case that it will be our courts that are determining and interpreting our laws.
I am genuinely sorry to say this to the Prime Minister, but there is a stark difference between stoic determination and sheer stubbornness and a failure to listen to this House or to the people. She has come here today with the same old script, telling us that we have to vote for this piece of paper that will make us poorer, weaker, less influential, less well-off and less secure, and she expects to get the consent of this House. She said as a result that she wants to appeal over our heads and go to the people. If she wants to go to the people, why is she afraid to put this question to a people’s vote?
I have answered the question of a people’s vote on a number of occasions. I say this to the hon. Gentleman as well: I believe in delivering on the vote of the British people that took place in 2016, for the reasons I have set out, but for those who consider that a second vote of some shape or form would do anything other than divide this country further or create more uncertainty, they only have to look at what happened during the initial referendum campaign. We asked people to choose; they chose; it is our duty to deliver.
So many young people in my constituency have got work in the car industry, whose principal market is in Europe, but car manufacturers warn us that no deal could result in tariffs of £4.5 billion. So can my right hon. Friend confirm that her hard-won deal would provide much-needed certainty and continuity and, above all, safeguard jobs?
I recognise the importance of the automotive industry in my right hon. Friend’s constituency and many others around the country. Indeed, the political declaration on the tariff issue expressly provides for no tariffs.
Will the agreement that the Prime Minister has sought stop us joining a federal Europe, stop us joining the euro—never to join it—and stop the dictates and the stupid laws coming from Europe? The way I see it, we have got two feet in and one arm out.
I can give the hon. Gentleman comfort on all the points that he makes. The point is that we are coming out of the European Union, so if it chooses to push down to a more federal Europe, we will not be part of that; we are not a member of the euro and we are coming out of the European Union, so we will certainly not be in the euro; and we will be making our laws.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that under her leadership this United Kingdom will never, ever become a vassal state? Will she also confirm that if naked self-interest on either side of the Chamber prevails over national interest, we could end up as an impoverished state?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend confirmation on the first point that he made. Of course, the proposals that we have put forward in relation to our future economic relationship ensure that Parliament will determine our laws. When it comes to this vote, everybody in this House should consider and put first the national interest, not their own interest or their party political interest.
The official note of yesterday’s European Council meeting states that
“a fisheries agreement is a matter of priority, and should build on, inter alia, existing reciprocal access and quota shares.”
When one compares that with the Prime Minister’s statement today, one can understand why our fishermen are anxious. This situation arises only because the Prime Minister agreed to include fisheries in the transitional arrangements. With the benefit of hindsight, does she now agree that that was a mistake?
That is not the case. I think the right hon. Gentleman was quoting the minute of the Council meeting of the 27, which has in it a number of issues that actually show—[Interruption.] Yes, other member states do have concerns in relation to a number of these issues. They have those concerns partly because they were not able to arrive at the position that they would have preferred to have in the political declaration that we have agreed with the European Union, because we have resolutely stood up for our fishermen.
I know that my right hon. Friend has been working hard in what she sees as the best interests of the country, and it has been a pretty thankless task, but I must say to her that I did worry when I read at the weekend her letter to the British people, which sets out a picture of the future that seems to me to be at clear variance with any rational analysis of the text in relation to the political declaration. How can we seriously say to people that the Northern Ireland backstop will not act as a fetter on our future freedom of action? How can we say that we will lose the jurisdiction of the ECJ, when it is in fact going to continue to play a major part in our lives for the foreseeable future? If we are to have an informed debate, would it not be better that we are completely transparent about the sorts of problems that we will have to face when, if the Prime Minister succeeds with her motion in two weeks’ time, we get through the stage of leaving the EU on 29 March? The truth of the matter is that our problems have hardly begun.
Of course it is the case—I explained the reason why earlier—that we have to negotiate the full legal text of the future economic partnership and the future security partnership, and I know that my right hon. and learned Friend will understand the reason for that. What is important is that we have in the political declaration the set of instructions to the negotiators in respect of the basis on which the future relationship will be set, which is one that in trade terms is ambitious and unlike any other given to any other third country and that in security terms is also unlike any other given to any third country, because it is more ambitious, closer and a better partnership than any other country has.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that, if we go back to square one, we will retain a seat, a voice and a vote; we will stay in the single market and the customs union; and we will be in a better place than we would be in the backstop?
No, we are leaving the European Union, and we are leaving on 29 March 2019.
In her answer to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), my right hon. Friend said that we can leave the backstop if it can be “shown” that we have met the criteria. Who will be the arbiter of when it is “shown”, and to whom are we accountable to make sure that they will allow us to leave?
The initial discussion, of course, takes place between the two parties of the United Kingdom and the European Union, but there is a process that goes through the Joint Committee of the two bodies, and there is also an arbitration panel and an arbitration process that can be brought into operation in relation to that. Throughout the withdrawal agreement, in various elements, there are references to good faith on both sides. If it is the case that the commitment to Northern Ireland has been met, it will be clear that we can come out of the backstop—were it the backstop that had been put in place in the first place.
One of the problems that the Prime Minister has had to grapple with over the past two years is that those who campaigned to leave the European Union had no blueprint for what they would do if they won the referendum, but the Government are now repeating that mistake. Will the Prime Minister tell the House what plans are being put in place if, as it now seems likely, the Government lose the vote on 12 December? What preparations are being put in place for either extending article 50 or for a people’s vote to put this question to the country?
I have answered those questions on article 50 and the people’s vote in response to other questions. My focus is on this deal and the fact that this is the deal that is good for the United Kingdom, because it delivers on the Brexit vote in a way that protects jobs.
If it is indeed true that both the Government and the European Union believe that this backstop will be temporary, will the Prime Minister take an opportunity before the meaningful vote, or indeed accept an amendment to the meaningful vote, to make it absolutely clear that if, by the end of the due date of this Parliament, we are still held in this backstop and still held in customs arrangements against our will, she will abrogate those parts of the treaty and restore our national sovereignty?
My hon. Friend, I know, has raised with me before the question about the extent to which we are able to pull out of these treaty arrangements, and he and I are corresponding on that particular matter. May I say to him that not only is it the clear intent of both parties, using their best endeavours in good faith in these documents, to ensure that we are able to have the future relationship in place by the end of December 2020 and thereafter, but that should it be the case that an alternative arrangement has to be in place for Northern Ireland, it should be for only a temporary period, whether backstop or other arrangement, because it is not a given that that would be the backstop—[Interruption.] There are a lot of voices saying no, but it is not a given that that would be the backstop. It is my firm intention to ensure that, at the end of this Parliament, we are all able to look the British people clearly in the eye and say, “We have delivered on Brexit; we have delivered on what you wanted to ensure, which was an end to free movement, an end to the jurisdiction of the European court and an end to sending vast sums of money to Europe every year.”
The Prime Minister has made it very clear that, at all costs, she wants to avoid a no-deal Brexit. My right hon. Friend the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition has also reassured Labour MPs that it is his priority to avoid a no-deal Brexit. Given that there are some 80 Conservative Back Benchers who will vote against any deal come what may, in the national interest will the Prime Minister sit down with my right hon. Friend and have a meaningful discussion about how we make sure that, when it comes to workers’ rights and health and safety, we do not fall behind and we secure a sustainable customs arrangement going forward?
What we have done in the proposals that we put forward in the White Paper and in the political declaration is to ensure that we do look for that free trade area and that appropriate customs arrangement that is going to deliver on jobs for people. I am interested that the right hon. Lady has indicated that the Leader of the Opposition is clear that we should leave the European Union with a deal, because previously he indicated that he would vote against any deal that the Government brought back.
Nobody can fail to acknowledge the personal commitment, determination and best intentions of the Prime Minister. If this House does not pass the agreement, will she confirm that she has ruled out extending the negotiating period, or even purchasing an extension to that period?
The extension of the negotiating period would be an extension of article 50. I am clear that we will not extend article 50 and that we will leave the EU on 29 March next year.
On Friday, my constituents got the desperate news of 241 job losses at Vauxhall Motors, Ellesmere Port, bringing the total to 900 job losses since the referendum. When the Government will not even do the basics to help the automotive industries, including ending the discrimination on business rates, how on earth are my constituents supposed to trust this Government’s political wish list about their economic future?
I am sorry to hear of the job losses at Vauxhall in the hon. Lady’s constituency, but we have seen many examples of extra investment going into the automotive industry in this country. She referenced what the Government are doing. The Government have been working very closely with the automotive industry. We are keen to ensure that this country is at the leading edge of the automotive industry, which is exactly what we are doing with both autonomous and electric vehicles.
This morning the Government published what they describe as the “Explainer for the Political Declaration”. Page 1 of that explainer states that the political declaration and the withdrawal agreement
“have been settled together on the basis that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
In the light of the Prime Minister’s responses to my right hon. Friends the Members for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon) and for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), why—if that sentence is correct—does it not mean that the £39 billion is contingent upon us getting agreement on the future arrangements?
The withdrawal agreement and political declaration were indeed agreed together, but I repeat the point that I have made to others: it is the case that, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in relation to leaving the European Union, there will be legal obligations of a financial nature that this country has to abide by.
The ink was hardly dry on this agreement before the French President was saying that he would be using its legally binding provisions to lever further concessions on fishing and other issues from the UK Government. Other states are no doubt thinking the same. Does the Prime Minister not recognise that, by signing this legally binding agreement, she is handing the EU a cudgel that it will use to mug us for the second time when it comes to the negotiations on the future trade arrangements?
No, I do not agree. I referenced earlier, and am happy to do so again, the remarks made by the French President in relation to the backstop and access to fishing. I will repeat the point, which is a very simple one: if the backstop is exercised, we will be outside the common fisheries policy, and it will be the United Kingdom that will determine which boats have access to UK waters.
Does the Prime Minister agree that as a party of government we have a responsibility not just to embody the divisions that exist in the country on this issue, but to try to bridge them and to fix them? To that end, is not it the case that her deal on the table has the overwhelming advantage of being the only one grounded in reality, giving us a chance to move forward so we do not keep going around the same mountain again and again?
First, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the responsibility that Members of this House have. Secondly, there are many circumstances, including in this, where people can wish that something was different from what it is. But the reality is, as the European Union has made clear, that there would be no agreement without a backstop, so without a backstop there would be no deal, and this is the deal. This, I believe, is a good deal for the UK and the right deal for the UK.
The Prime Minister knows fine well that there is no dividend to be had from this withdrawal agreement. Under all economic analysis, we will be worse off for decades for come. So is it not time for her to level with the British public and accept that, because this decision needs to be taken as a political fix rather than an economically rational decision, it is one that should be put back to the people who started this process back in 2016, and we will continue to ask for that until it is so?
As the hon. Lady has heard, I am very clear that we should leave the European Union because the vote of the British people was to leave the EU. It may be the policy of others not to do so. I do not know if it is the hon. Lady’s. By the sound of it, she would rather we stayed in the European Union. I do not think that would be right. I think that would be betraying the trust that the people put in us.
May I urge the Prime Minister, when she hears cries of “No surrender” as some Members of this House want to drag us to a no-deal Brexit, to remember that that would be catastrophic for my constituents in Eddisbury? Will she remind those Members of the House that the Conservative manifesto made commitments to
“a deep and special partnership”
and “a comprehensive…customs agreement” with Europe? Does this deal deliver on that?
Yes, I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that this deal does indeed deliver on that manifesto commitment.
Under this agreement, from January 2021, for foreign nationals who fly from a third country into Dublin, then travel on to Belfast and thence to the rest of the UK, where will the immigration border be?
The common travel area will continue to exist. That is one of the things that has been agreed in the withdrawal agreement.
The power to extend the transition or the backstop indefinitely has got to be a trap, hasn’t it?
No, and precisely because of the reasons that I set out. Not only is it clear that that can only be temporary, but it is also the case that many in the European Union believe that the backstop is actually a place that gives the United Kingdom an advantage—an advantage that they would not wish to give us.
In some one hour and 30 minutes, I think I have heard three ringing endorsements of the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal. I do not know what that tells me, but I certainly would like to know what it tells her. Will she confirm today that, if she does lose this vote, she will do all her Back Benchers a favour and confirm that she will resign?
I am focusing on actually ensuring that Members of this House see the benefits that I believe are there from this deal. It is a good deal for the UK. Everybody will have a decision to take about their responsibility to deliver on Brexit for the British people when the vote comes.
I do have respect for the Prime Minister, and I understand her position. However, over the past few years, we have had very difficult cutbacks to local services in constituencies such as mine—in Harlow—and across the country, and every time we make the case that it is a difficult economy and we do not have enough money. How do I explain to my constituents that we have £39 billion to get out from the Treasury sofa to give to the European Union when it is questionable whether we owe all that money? Does she not agree that this is not just about the European Union—it is a matter of social justice?
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will recognise that the commitments that the Government have made to increase funding for our public services in a number of areas, which do affect his constituents, reflect the needs that he has consistently raised in this House and raised with Government. I return to the point that I made previously about the financial settlement with the European Union—there are legal obligations that this country has, and I believe that, as a country, we should be the sort of place that actually meets our legal obligations.
The Prime Minister must surely now recognise that she is flogging a dead horse. May I urge her to join forces with senior members of her Cabinet and Members on both sides of the House to back a Norway plus-based Brexit? It is the only option that protects jobs, solves the Northern Ireland border issue and has a chance of reuniting our deeply divided country.
Actually, the option that the hon. Gentleman puts forward does not deliver on the vote of the British people, which is what I believe we should do.
That which is apparently dead in the water can move on a rising tide, but if the Prime Minister is going to carry the tide with her, she needs to allow herself time. Would it not be better to have a meaningful vote in January, after Christmas? Is not a truly meaningful vote one that includes the trade negotiations? That is what we should be voting on.
The timing of the meaningful vote has to reflect not only the need for a sufficient number of days of debate here in the House, but the need subsequently to get the withdrawal agreement Bill through the House before 29 March. I think my hon. Friend virtually gave the Leader of the House a heart attack when he suggested delaying the meaningful vote until January.
If the backstop applies to Northern Ireland, and the rest of the United Kingdom is not operating under the backstop in that scenario, is it not the case that the citizens of Gibraltar will have more rights than the citizens of Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
No. Certainly the Commission’s original proposal would have split the customs territory of the United Kingdom, and Northern Ireland would have been treated entirely differently from the rest of the United Kingdom. We resisted that, which is why we have the UK-wide customs territory—something the EU resisted for many months—in the backstop.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for her dedication and hard work to endeavour to get a Brexit for Britain. However, does she appreciate and understand the real concern of my constituents that, if the backstop is implemented, Britain could remain subservient to the EU for a very long time, if not forever?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments in relation to what I have been doing. I recognise that that concern has been raised, but there are a number of reasons why I believe that it is met by the arrangements in the withdrawal agreement. It is very clear in the withdrawal agreement that, if the backstop is implemented—and it does not have to be implemented—it is only temporary. It is clear from the point of view of the European Union that the legal base of the withdrawal agreement is article 50, and that that cannot be used to set up a permanent arrangement. Finally, if the backstop is exercised, we have the ability to ensure that it is superseded by the future relationship, and the intent to develop that future relationship in time for the backstop not to be used is clear throughout the document.
Seventy-eight per cent. of our businesses that export do so to the EU and are able to trade goods and services seamlessly. For the £200 a person that we pay the EU, UK citizens have the right to live, work, study, travel and holiday free of fees and red tape. Some might even describe that as a good deal. But is it not true that the Prime Minister’s deal and political declaration do little more than take away the biscuit while leaving the nation the crumbs? Is it not her duty to at least tell the British people how much we are set to lose in every region and nation? Why will she not do that?
If the hon. Lady is asking me whether the Government are going to produce economic analysis, I can tell her that we are.
Businesses in my constituency point out firmly that their greatest enemy is uncertainty and they are now starting to tell me that certainty will be provided by World Trade Organisation terms because of the weakness of our negotiating position once we exit the period required for unanimity under the future arrangements. Government Departments have now had 20 months to prepare for a straight transfer to WTO terms. We would have some share of £39 billion to ensure that that transition was worked as effectively as possible by our European Union partners, whose policies would dictate how well that transition went. Surely those preparations now need to be surfaced and the European Union engaged in those discussions.
Businesses do look for certainty and certainty is given to businesses in the withdrawal agreement, because it is a withdrawal agreement that contains within it the implementation period that ensures that businesses have that certainty going beyond 29 March next year. As regards the World Trade Organisation arrangements for trading with the European Union, I am frequently encouraged by colleagues around the House to ensure that we can negotiate really good trade arrangements with countries around the rest of the world that will not be based on WTO arrangements. I have to say that, if WTO arrangements are not good enough for those other deals around the world, I think it is entirely right that we seek to obtain, as we have done, commitments to better than WTO arrangements in our relationship with the European Union.
If the Court of Justice rules tomorrow that article 50 is revocable, will the Prime Minister institute a British Brexit pause so that she can make a better fist of resolving the disagreements that are so obvious in the House today?
We will not be revoking article 50 or asking for the extension of article 50, and we will be leaving the EU on 29 March next year.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, although the withdrawal agreement was voted on by the European Union under qualified majority rules, if it is passed by our Parliament, any future relationship and release from the backstop will be subject to 27 individual EU vetoes? That means France will demand our fish, Spain will demand Gibraltar and the Republic of Ireland may even demand Northern Ireland, and the only alternative to these humiliating betrayals and capitulations will be continued vassalage forever under the backstop.
Obviously, the arrangements in relation to the backstop and for the backstop ceasing to apply are those that are set out in the withdrawal agreement, and of course that does potentially end in the arbitration arrangement. Of course, in terms of the future relationship, the role that is had by the EU and by individual member states will depend on the precise legal form that that agreement or agreements take. But of course if there are areas that are of mixed competence then there would be a role for national Parliaments. If it is only one of EU competence, then of course it is under the sole competence of the EU.
Will the Prime Minister look at the analysis of information gathered by Best for Britain and Hope not Hate across Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which shows that 56% of people wish to remain in the European Union now, 66% want a final say in any deal and 422 constituencies now back remain? Will the Prime Minister listen to the will of the people, which has changed, and give them a people’s vote?
As I have said on many occasions, this Parliament gave the decision whether or not to leave the European Union to the British people and the British people voted.
They’ve changed their mind.
The hon. Lady is saying to me that the British people have changed their mind. If we went down the route that she suggests, and there was another vote and possibly a change of direction, then those who had voted to leave in the first place would rightly say, “Hang on a minute. We need to have another opportunity to vote on this.” This is not the way to conduct these arrangements. We decided to give the vote to the British people. We did that, they voted and we should deliver on that vote.
At Lancaster House in January 2017, my right hon. Friend said very clearly that we will
“ensure that…no new barriers to living and doing business within our own Union are created”.
She went on to say that
“we will…bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain… Because we will not have truly left the European Union if we are not in control of our own laws.”
We are now facing a situation where part of our country is likely to be treated differently—Northern Ireland. And is it not the case that, under article 175 and the dispute mechanism, if both sides cannot agree, the ECJ will be the final arbiter?
No. First, there are, of course, regulatory differences already between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. They are in limited areas, but they do exist. Secondly, the European Court of Justice would not be the final arbiter—that is not what is set out in the withdrawal agreement. The arbitration panel would make that decision, not the ECJ.
The Prime Minister steadfastly and tellingly refuses to say that her Brexit deal will make Britain better off. If she cannot offer a guarantee to my constituents that they will not be worse off as a result of this deal, how can she ask me to vote for it?
As I expressly said earlier, I believe that we can be better off outside the EU. The mistake all too often made is made by those who say that the only issue about our future prosperity is whether we are a member of the EU. I disagree. The issue of our future prosperity is about us and decisions that Governments and this Parliament take about our economy, and it is about the talents of our people, and I am full of optimism about our prosperity outside the EU precisely because of the talents of our people.
The Prime Minister is aware that many of us have wished her well in these negotiations, but it appears that the withdrawal agreement sacrifices much and secures very little. Article 129(3) states that
“the United Kingdom shall refrain, during the transition period, from any action…which is likely to be prejudicial to the Union’s interest”.
Does this mean that the UK will be unable, for example, to cut taxes, regulate businesses such as Uber and disagree with EU foreign policy in the United Nations, and why is this clause not reciprocated by the EU?
No. There is a duty on both sides to act in good faith during the implementation or transition period. The UK today, as a member of the EU, does not take an EU position on the UN Security Council. We are an independent member of the Security Council—we sit there in our own right—and take positions as the United Kingdom. I am happy to write to my hon. Friend with further details—he raised several points—but I do not believe that the position he set out is the correct interpretation.
The Prime Minister has said previously that this country’s best days are ahead. Is that because of the deal she has negotiated with the EU, and does she think it better than the one we have now?
I have said that I believe that it is a good deal for the United Kingdom and that our best days lie ahead of us. I believe that because of the talents of our people, our innovation and decisions that this Government have taken to ensure a balanced approach to our economy.
I would like to put on the record my support for the Prime Minister, not because the deal is perfect—it involves compromises—but because it is a matter of judgment. When I go around my constituency, people tell me they do not want to leave without a deal. There is no precedent for leaving the EU. This is a completely bespoke process. Does she agree that she has succeeded in defying many critics on all sides, because she has come back with a deal and stood up to the EU in many different respects?
Indeed, the UK has stood up rigorously in a number of areas in relation to the deal. Of course, it is not 100% of what either side would want—that is what negotiations are about—but I believe it is a good deal for the United Kingdom and the right deal for the United Kingdom and that it delivers on the people’s vote and for their future.
The Prime Minister has frequently said during the negotiations that nothing will be agreed until everything is agreed, but is it not clear from the political declaration that, even in the unlikely event that the deal is agreed in its entirety, on really big issues about our future economic and security co-operation with the EU, absolutely nothing will have been agreed?
No, the political declaration is a clear set of instructions to the negotiators on the legal text. I have also on a number of occasions made clear the position on the European Union not being able to sign a legal treaty relating to these trade matters with a country until that country is a third country.
Some 123,000 defence industry jobs nationwide and our security and that of our allies depend on our defence industry being competitive and flexible, with Government involvement, yet the permanent backstop in the withdrawal agreement that would apply should the EU not choose arbitration would oblige our defence industry to comply with EU state aid law, from which EU defence firms are exempt. Why would my right hon. Friend give the EU this—yet another hostage to negotiate with—and have us beg to keep our sovereign ability in defence?
First, this is not a permanent backstop. Secondly, I do not share my hon. Friend’s interpretation in relation to the defence industry. The issue of state aid is simple: in any trade agreement we have with any country around the world, there would need to be elements relating to competitiveness matters, such as state aid. In the White Paper in the summer, we put forward a set of proposals that went further than some arrangements that would be in other trade agreements, but it is not the case that state aid will never be included in trade arrangements. State aid is included in trade arrangements.
I was agnostic about a people’s vote, but now that we can see that the very best deal that the Prime Minister can negotiate will leave us worse off, will give us less say and is, rightly, likely to be rejected by this House as not in the best interests of our constituents, should she not in honour now go back to the people?
I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I have given earlier on that question.
The Prime Minister said in her statement that this House can choose to reject this deal or go back to square one. Will she spell out to the House exactly what square one means?
What I meant was that we will go back to a period of significant uncertainty and division. It is important that we recognise that we have a duty to deliver on the Brexit vote, having a care for our constituents’ jobs and livelihoods and their future, and this deal delivers on both of those.
Why is the £20 billion for the NHS that has already been announced now being spun as an additional £394 million a week Brexit dividend for the NHS, when we all know that the savings from membership of the EU will be outweighed by the additional costs that we will have to pay?
We will be putting extra investment of £394 million a week into our national health service. The funding from that will come from a number of sources, but we will be able to use the Brexit dividend on priorities such as the NHS and other public services.
My right hon. Friend said that one of the benefits of leaving the EU is the ability to sign trade agreements with third countries, but what realistic prospect is there for that while we remain within the customs union and even after that, when we have pledged to maintain
“deep regulatory and customs cooperation”
covering goods—probably the very goods that people want to sell to us?
We will be able to sign free trade arrangements with the rest of the world, and we already have significant interest from various parts of the world. I take my right hon. Friend’s point about our proposal on frictionless trade with a commitment—subject to a parliamentary lock—in relation to the common rulebook on goods and agricultural products. Of course, many of those rules are international standards; they are not just EU-related standards, but standards that our manufacturers would abide by in any case. That is a key issue. We want to have good trade relations and agreements not only with countries in the rest of the world, but with the EU.
Since the 2016 referendum, many young people have come of age and by the end of 2020 many more will have done so. The Prime Minister, however, has ruled out a second referendum under any circumstances at any time and the next general election will only be due in 2022. What is she afraid of in not allowing those millions of young people a direct say in arrangements with Europe that will affect their future?
It is a question of delivering on the vote that took place in 2016. With due respect to the hon. Gentleman, at any point in time somebody can argue that another cohort of young people have come to voting age. At any point in time, if his argument followed, it could be possible to say there needs to be another vote. No. We had the vote in 2016. People voted and we should deliver on it.
When I was on the railway platform this morning in Taunton, I met the leader of a very important business in my constituency, related to the car industry, which employs hundreds of people and trades across the EU. Do you know what he said to me, Mr Speaker? He said, “Please don’t jeopardise business, our jobs and the economy.” Does my right hon. Friend agree that we cannot play games with business? We must have a deal that enables business to thrive and enables us to leave the EU, which is what people wanted? Surely, this deal addresses both.
Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for bringing the views of business in Taunton to the House. She is absolutely right. We listen to business. That is exactly why the free trade area with good customs arrangements lies at the heart of our future economic partnership. This deal delivers Brexit, but it does it in a way that enables business to thrive and jobs to be protected.
The Prime Minister is fond of telling us what the British people think. She trumpets the end of freedom of movement as a plus of what is now a face-saving exercise, but for businesses that are losing their EU workforces, for EU nationals—there are 13,000 in my seat—and for young people who want to study and live abroad, that, as well as her crass comments about jumping the queue, are a tragedy. Is it not time that she sought a fresh assessment of the will of the people and gave all electors in this 65 million nation—not just 650 MPs—a say? What if the will of the people in June 2016 is no longer the will of the people?
I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I gave earlier.
Despite the Prime Minister’s honourable and good intentions, is it not an indisputable fact, irrespective of whether colleagues voted remain or leave, that the political declaration is not legally binding and the withdrawal agreement is legally binding?
Yes. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The withdrawal agreement is legally binding. The political declaration is not a legal text, because the European Union cannot sign a legal text in relation to trade matters with a country that is a member of the European Union. It can only do that when we are outside the European Union.
It is increasingly clear that the Prime Minister’s deal does not have the support of the House. It is a bad deal: it is bad for my constituents and it is bad for the country. So I ask the Prime Minister, and she has not answered this question yet, what is her plan B when this deal inevitably falls?
I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I gave earlier.
May I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing alternative arrangements to the backstop within the lexicography of our Brexit arrangements? That is no mean achievement and may just about get it across the line for a number of us. Will she say what will be done to identify those who are going to work up those alternative arrangements, what budget has been set for that work and when those matters will be trialled and piloted?
I am not able to give my hon. Friend immediate answers to all those questions, and particularly the questions around trialling and piloting. There are proposals that have been put forward to us. We will—first of all here in the UK—be looking at those proposals and the extent to which they deliver on what is necessary, and we will be speaking and have spoken with the European Commission about the possibility of being able, at an early stage, to discuss with it those alternative proposals.
The Prime Minister and at least one of her Cabinet Ministers have said that if the House rejects her deal, there is a chance of no Brexit at all. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could spell out with greater clarity how this fear might be realised.
The hon. Gentleman will have heard a number of individuals around the House, including some of his colleagues on the Labour Benches, clearly expressing the view that they believe that remaining in the European Union is preferable to leaving it. I believe that it is important for us to deliver on the vote that the people took and to deliver Brexit.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on living in the real world and on bringing back a deal that delivers on the 2016 vote without wrecking our economy. Is it not the case that nobody has put forward a better deal in nearly two hours of debate, and does she share my thoughts that it is ironic that those who might be scuppering Brexit are the ones who wanted it in the first place?
It is absolutely the case that we have not seen an alternative proposal put forward that meets the needs of the British people in terms of the Brexit vote and does so in a way that protects jobs, our security and our United Kingdom. As I have said previously, when it comes to the vote, we will all need to consider our duty to deliver on the vote of the British people and deliver Brexit.
To both the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and me, among many other colleagues, the Prime Minister has stressed repeatedly—this is a quote from Hansard:
“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.”—[Official Report, 22 October 2018; Vol. 648, c. 72.]
There is no capability to carry out this function in the draft withdrawal agreement. Indeed, French and Spanish fishermen are already boasting of their continued ability to fish as they currently do in our waters. Can the Prime Minister explain exactly how our fishing sector will enjoy the benefits of an independent coastal state with control through this so-called deal, or is this just another, “Well, it’s the best they will offer us, so we will have to take it and sell off the fishing industry”—as you have Northern Ireland—“and for good measure throw in a £39 billion repayment to the EU as well”?
In a number of elements of the political declaration, it is clear that we will be an independent coastal state. What being an independent coastal state means is that we will be able to determine access to our waters, but of course, our fishermen will want to be looking not just at the access that others have to our waters, but at their access to other waters. So there will be a negotiation with the European Union in relation to access to waters, but the UK will be negotiating on behalf of the UK in that determination. I apologise, because I forget which particular piece of text it is in, but there is a clear commitment that that should be undertaken such that—because this commitment has been made—we will be an independent coastal state in December 2020. Although the implementation period will not have finished, we will be able to negotiate for 2021, because that is when that negotiation will take place as an independent coastal state.
Since the summer, I have knocked on the front doors of over 7,000 of my constituents in Elmet and Rothwell, and I have had hundreds of supermarket surgeries and spoken to hundreds of people. I can say, especially in relation to the comments from the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), that not only do most of my constituents say, “Get behind the Prime Minister and her deal,” but so too do my executive council and my officers, and so do I. Will my right hon. Friend today put to rest one of the new paranoias doing the rounds and confirm that this deal does not sign us up to permanent structured co-operation, or PESCO—the European army—nor do we have any intention of signing up to PESCO or the European army?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, and I can give him that reassurance. The development of PESCO does have the potential to improve Europe’s defence capabilities in a way that should be coherent with NATO, but this does not require us to participate or sign us up to participating in the PESCO framework. What it does say is that we may participate in PESCO projects as a third country, but that, of course, would be a decision for us to take—as to whether we wish to apply to do that—and we would not be part of that PESCO framework. As I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) in the statement last week, we are certainly not signing up to a European army, and we would not sign up to a European army.
Can the Prime Minister confirm that we will still be a member of Europol and Eurojust, or will we merely be shadowing and co-operating with them? Will she also tell me what the status of the European Court of Justice and the European arrest warrant will be when we have left the European Union under her terms?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the political declaration states that we
“will…work together to identify the terms for the United Kingdom’s cooperation via Europol and Eurojust.”
We have always said that we recognise, for example, that payment may be needed for us to act as a member of, or have some participation in, Europol and Eurojust, but the important point is that the concept of our being part of that, despite being a third country, is in there.
I believe it is important that we have had this exchange before in the House, and I believe it is important that we have within this the terms for ensuring that we have surrender arrangements like the European arrest warrant. Of course, the issue of the determination of courts in relation to the surrender matters is one that we will be considering, but we are clear that jurisdiction in these matters is for the UK courts.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on securing what I believe is a fair and reasonable deal. There will come a time—some time before July next year, and possibly well before then—when she will have to take a view on whether we head towards a possible backstop or increase the implementation period. I should be interested to hear what considerations she thinks might arise as to which route she takes at that time.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. July 2020 is set in the withdrawal agreement as the date by which a decision will be taken, and there will be a number of issues to be taken into account at that stage. The first will be the key question of whether the future relationship would not be in place by the end of December 2020, and whether the extended period would therefore be necessary for either the backstop or the implementation period, or alternative arrangements. A balanced judgment would be made. In the implementation period, there would be an expectation of a financial obligation; there would not be a financial obligation were we in the backstop. We would not have free movement were we in the backstop; free movement would almost certainly be required to continue in the event of an extended implementation period. Those are the sorts of issues that would need to be balanced at that time.
This deal leaves us poorer, and it leaves us negotiating Brexit indefinitely, as is made clear in the final paragraph of the political declaration. Hard-working families and workers are bearing the brunt of this uncertainty. That is not what anyone voted for. Is it not time for the Prime Minister, instead of buying off her own side with knighthoods, to ask the people what they want, and give them the chance to have a final say?
I refer the hon. Lady to the answer that I gave earlier.
I refer the House to my declarations in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I spent much of the weekend talking to businesses in my constituency. They urged me to support the Prime Minister’s deal, as indeed I shall. However, I broke off to listen to what was happening about Gibraltar, because I—along with many other Members on both sides of the House and on both sides of the Brexit debate—have sought earnestly to secure the good interests of its people. I appreciate what the Prime Minister said about the way in which the Gibraltar Government and Chief Minister have negotiated and assisted in this matter.
The Chief Minister has thanked the Prime Minister personally for
“her stalwart and unflinching defence of Gibraltar”
and its interests. Those are his words. He has also said:
“The Withdrawal Agreement she has achieved today protects all of those interests and is the best way for the United Kingdom and Gibraltar to leave behind us 46 years of membership of the European Union in a managed and orderly fashion.”
Does the Prime Minister agree that those words should weigh very heavily indeed with any Member who is committed to the good interests of Gibraltar and the whole British family?
I thank my hon. Friend for reminding the House of the Chief Minister’s comments in relation to the withdrawal agreement. We were very clear that the withdrawal agreement would cover Gibraltar, and, as I said earlier, we have been working with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar. I commend him and his team for the work they have put in, and I think this is an important factor that Members should take into account when considering their position on this deal.
I realise that it is asking a lot for the Prime Minister to look as far ahead as January in all this chaos, but if, as seems likely, she has to put her deal to a second vote and loses that as well, what happens then? Will she have to step down? Will she seek a general election? Or is that the time, finally, to give the people a choice between her deal and staying in the EU, to see which they prefer?
I am looking ahead to 11 December, when this House will be faced with the decision as to whether or not it wishes to deliver on the vote of the British people with a deal that not only delivers that vote, but protects their jobs.
I have listened very carefully to the people of Sleaford and North Hykeham and to the questions asked by Members in this House, and the backstop, in particular its indefinite nature, is clearly a major concern. I welcome the answer my right hon. Friend gave to my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) earlier, saying that alternative arrangements for a backstop are being considered. Can my right hon. Friend tell me how quickly these proposals are being worked up and what commitment and legal text we will have on them by the time of the meaningful vote on 11 December?
I cannot promise that all the work will have been done by the time of the meaningful vote; I have to be honest with my hon. Friend on that, because considerable work does need to go into these arrangements. But it is significant that we got the alternative arrangements into these documents such that it would be possible to exercise them, rather than requiring the backstop to be put into place. I recognise the concern that my hon. Friend and other Members have about the nature of the backstop. There are a number of reasons throughout the withdrawal agreement why the backstop would only be temporary, and all sides agree that it would only be temporary if it were to be exercised, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right that it is important that we work on those alternative arrangements.
My father, who grew up on a farm in the west of Ireland, used to say to me, “You should never buy a pig in a poke.” I have to confess that, growing up in south Wales, I had absolutely no clue what he meant by that, until I read the political declaration of this deal. Is not one of the reasons why it is so unpopular with so many different people right across this House that it represents nothing more or less than a proverbial political pig in a poke?
No, it represents a good deal for the people of this country. Focusing on a future relationship that delivers a good, comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union together with a security partnership, both of which are unprecedented in their breadth and depth, I believe is good for the people of the UK.
In my right hon. Friend’s response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), and indeed to other Members, she said that there are alternatives to the backstop. For the sake of clarity, if there were to be an extension to the implementation period and we had not yet reached an agreement with the EU when the extended period expired, would the backstop then kick in, or would it have fallen away?
I referenced the situation in which the backstop would cease to apply in my statement, and it was further referenced by the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds), the leader of the Democratic Unionist party. The alternative arrangements being considered could be in place to provide for the border in Northern Ireland instead of using the backstop or the extension of the implementation period, and crucially to provide for an alternative for coming out of the backstop were the future relationship not in place.
Is it not the simple truth that, by detailing her red lines so early, the Prime Minister negotiated us into a position that was somewhere between a rock and a hard place? It now seems that she will concede on the rock this weekend, and that we will be left in a hard place. Should the meaningful vote fall, what is the Prime Minister’s own backstop?
First, I have been asked that question, and given an answer to it, on a number of occasions. Secondly, I should like to be clear about some of the issues that I set out from the beginning. I said that we would leave the customs union; we are leaving the customs union. I said that we would leave the single market; we are leaving the single market. I said that we would leave the common agricultural policy; we are leaving the CAP. I said that we would leave the common fisheries policy; we are leaving the CFP. I said that we would bring an end to free movement; we are bringing an end to free movement. I said that we would cease the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK, and we are doing that as well. We are delivering, I believe, on the vote of the British people, but doing it in a way that protects their jobs.
During the people’s vote of 2016, every constituency in Lancashire—Labour and Conservative—voted to leave the European Union, and I am delighted to hear that the Prime Minister has reaffirmed that that is what she intends to deliver. Can she understand, however, why so many people have reservations about this deal? The backstop is one area of concern. Can she understand why it is awkward for some people to understand that we are leaving the European Union on 29 March next year but that we need to seek permission from the European Union and some independent adjudicator before we can be truly independent of the EU?
I do indeed recall the people’s vote of 2016. I also recognise the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed in relation to the backstop. We cease to be a member of the European Union on 29 March next year, and of course we have agreed that, in the transition and implementation period, we will continue to operate very much as today in order to give businesses the smooth and orderly exit that they require and to ensure that they do not have more than one change in the arrangements they have to put in place. I recognise the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed about the backstop, but the backstop is there in order to provide for the commitment to the people of Northern Ireland. It would be there in any deal that was done with the European Union; that is very clear. Without a backstop, there would be no deal. It is important that we have the different arrangements in place to enable us to come out of the backstop, while always maintaining our commitment to the people of Northern Ireland.
When the other EU countries discover that they have been asked to agree to something that has no chance of being agreed by this Parliament, are they not going to be a little annoyed? Would it not have been better to have sought the consent of the elected representatives of the people of this country before seeking the consent of the elected representatives of the people of other countries?
It is very simple: until the EU agreed the deal, there was no deal to bring back to this Parliament.
We have heard a lot this afternoon about another vote on this issue. Can the Prime Minister confirm that she both read and remembers the brochure that was sent to all households before the 2016 referendum, which stated in bold that this was a “once in a generation” opportunity, and that the Government would enact “what you decide”?
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that document to the House’s attention. It is absolutely right that when people come to look at this deal, they will remember that commitment that once people had voted, the Government would enact that vote. That is what the Government are doing.
The Prime Minister has been unequivocal in denying the people a people’s vote on her deal, but time and again in this House she has refused to concede that her deal makes this country poorer, compared with being a member of the European Union. If she is insistent on making my constituents and those of everyone in this House poorer, should they not be asked if no Brexit is as good as a bad Brexit?
Let me make it very clear to the hon. Gentleman that nobody is talking about making people poorer. What we are talking about is protecting people’s jobs and livelihoods and delivering a deal that delivers on the vote of the British people. That is what this deal does.
Is it not the case that legally the backstop can only be temporary, because it is a pathway to a future trade deal, and that therefore descriptions of being trapped in the backstop forever, or of becoming a vassal state or even, absurdly, a colony, are overblown and wrong? Should not hon. Members look at the deal, which I commend the Prime Minister for having negotiated, in the round, because it will enable us to deliver on the promise we made to the British people to implement their decision in the referendum?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend; it is important that this deal does deliver on the decision of the British people. We committed to deliver on that decision. There are various references in the withdrawal agreement that make it clear that the backstop, were it to be invoked, would only be temporary, not least the fact that the withdrawal agreement is on the legal basis of article 50, which cannot be used to establish a permanent relationship.
I was disappointed to see on Twitter the Government’s timetabling for the meaningful vote, having not first had the courtesy sight of it through the usual channels. My wee sister is due to give birth to her first child on 25 May. What is the Prime Minister’s message to that child? Will they be a European citizen, and can she honestly say that their life chances and opportunities will be better under this deal than they would be if we remained in the European Union, which is what 78% of my constituents voted for?
May I wish the hon. Gentleman’s sister well for the birth of her child? My message is simply the one that I gave earlier: I believe that there is a truly bright future for this country outside the European Union. I believe that the child will grow up with real opportunities open to them that they would not have had previously. But it is up to all of us to work to ensure that we enhance our prosperity and enhance the jobs available for people in this country so that we do have that bright future.
Does the Prime Minister agree that although the backstop is uncomfortable for the United Kingdom, it is also uncomfortable for the European Union? It allows free and unfettered trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and the European Union, thereby creating a competitive advantage, which the EU is always keen to avoid. It is therefore in everyone’s interests to bring the backstop to a conclusion as quickly as possible.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; the European Union does consider the backstop to be a potential area of competitive advantage for the United Kingdom, which is why it is in the interests of both sides, were it to be invoked, to bring it to an end as quickly as possible.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement. She told the House that the withdrawal agreement
“protects the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, and UK citizens living in the EU, so they can carry on living their lives as before.”
Does that mean that UK citizens in receipt of state pensions in the EU will have those uprated annually, as state pension holders in this country will, and will that continue after the transition period?
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the political declaration, he will see that it contains a reference to the need still to negotiate some of the arrangements in relation to certain benefits, such as pensions, under the future trading relationship.
May I thank my right hon. Friend for all her work and for her statement? At least 80% of the UK’s economy is services, and we know that the European Union has still not completed the single market in services after 25 years. In her statement she spoke about liberalising the trade in services well beyond WTO commitments and building on recent EU free trade agreements. In relation to services, how much difference does she think there will be between what we have at the moment and what we will be able to negotiate under the political declaration?
The key element of the political declaration is that, first, it gives us greater freedom to negotiate on services, because this is an area, as my hon. Friend says, where the single market has not been developed by the European Union. Secondly, it is important—again, this was hard fought for—to get a recognition that, in relation to services, the future relationship could go beyond those that existed in other free trade agreements, because this is an area that has not been well developed in other free trade agreements. It is to the UK’s advantage, of course, given the importance of services to our economy, to develop it in this relationship with the European Union, and of course with other countries around the world.
The man who wrote article 50, Lord Kerr, has said today that the characterisation of a choice between the Prime Minister’s deal and defaulting to a no-deal situation—or going back to square one—is a false choice. Who is correct, the man who wrote article 50 or the Prime Minister?
Article 50 is the basis on which the negotiations have been held. It was the triggering of article 50 that led to the negotiations and led to the timetable for leaving on 29 March 2019. Article 50, in itself, does not determine the nature of any future relationship with the European Union, so it is not a question of what article 50 says; it is a question of negotiating a deal. We have negotiated a deal, and it is a good deal for the UK.
My right hon. Friend talks about the national interest, and we all have the national interest at heart, even if we do not necessarily agree with her deal, which I personally think is a halfway house that leaves us neither in nor out of the EU, with no confirmed end date. If we cannot get the free trade deal that we should be able to get, surely the best way to unite the country is to leave the EU, negotiate a deal from outside and get our country back.
I believe that the deal we have negotiated does enable us to do the things I am sure my hon. Friend would wish us to do—crucially, to bring an end to the jurisdiction of the ECJ in the UK; crucially, to bring an end to free movement once and for all; and to come out of those aspects of the European Union that have not provided for certain sectors of our economy, such as the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy. We are negotiating a deal with a free trade area at its heart, and it goes beyond any other free trade agreement that the European Union has negotiated with other countries. It is an agreement of unprecedented ambition and depth that is being proposed for the United Kingdom.
Even if the Prime Minister gets her blind Brexit deal through Parliament—and it is a big “if”—we all know it will be only the beginning of detailed negotiations on our relationship with the rest of the EU. Given her deeply offensive comments about EU nationals and the cack-handed way she has negotiated this deal, is she not a little worried that she might be at the back of the queue when it comes to negotiating her priorities?
No. The commitment from both sides on negotiating the future economic partnership and future security partnership is clear in these documents.
When we talk about issues like Gibraltar and the future of fisheries, and so on, should we not remember that it is a very direct consequence of deciding to leave the European Union that we are renegotiating all aspects of our relationship with the EU? Other member states will inevitably try to advance their national interests in those negotiations. In those circumstances, surely the best way forward is to hold our nerve, instead of taking as gospel the warnings of President Macron or the claims of the socialist Spanish Prime Minister, who has regional elections just around the corner.
My hon. Friend brings a degree of realism. Of course, as we go into these negotiations, others will have interests that they wish to put forward and press. The whole point of negotiation is that it is the process by which we come to a result. We have resisted many of the pressures that have been put forward by member states and the European Commission in these negotiations so far, and we will continue to resist on the key issues to which my hon. Friend has referred in relation to fisheries and Gibraltar.
Many constituents have contacted me about this issue over the past week. Why does the Prime Minister think that the overwhelming majority, whether they voted to leave or remain, are urging me to vote against her deal?
I will continue to set out why I believe this is a good deal for the United Kingdom. I have set that out in answer to a number of questions in the Chamber this afternoon, and I will continue to do so.
In response to my right hon. Friend’s statement, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) claimed—predictably, I must say—that Scottish fishermen are being sold out somehow.
That is what the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Ross Thomson) said.
Not in the document. According to the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, this deal does enable the UK to become
“an independent Coastal State with full, unfettered sovereignty over our waters and natural resources.”
Whom should I tell my constituents to believe?
I suspect the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation knows the interests of Scottish fishermen, and how those interests should be provided for, rather better than the SNP does.
In this withdrawal agreement document, article 5 of the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, on the common travel area, confirms that
“associated rights and privileges can continue…in particular with respect to free movement for Union citizens and their family members, irrespective of their nationality, to, from and within Ireland.”
Surely, this either means that free movement will continue via Northern Ireland, or there will be a border in the Irish sea and people travelling from Northern Ireland will be subjected to extra checks.
The common travel area is an arrangement with Ireland that has been in place since the 1920s. It is absolutely right that we maintain that common travel area. That has been provided for in the withdrawal agreement, and it is the right thing to do.
I commend the Prime Minister for her determination to reach agreement between the UK and the EU in this agreement. In particular, I welcome the statement in the political declaration in relation to foreign, security and defence policy that the United Kingdom and the EU will be champions for a rules-based international order. Does she agree that one of the biggest opportunities for the UK, as we leave the European Union, is precisely to become that champion for a rules-based international order, leveraging our hard power and soft power around the world?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We will, indeed, be that champion for the rules-based international order. I have been making that point in a number of forums, and I expect to continue to do so when I attend the G20 later this week.
Looking at the people behind the Prime Minister—there were many more of them earlier—it is obvious why she wants to hit the road and get out of this place. If she has not yet booked her ticket, I am happy to provide a one-way ticket. Can she confirm where and when she will meet the leaders of Britain’s trade unions, the representatives of the working people across the United Kingdom? They might be able to give her some tips on negotiation.
We have had discussions throughout the process with the trade unions, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union met Frances O’Grady very recently.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), I have been knocking on doors in my constituency, and voters in Rugby and Bulkington have told me that one of the key reasons why they voted to leave was to give the UK the ability to control immigration. And businesses, especially those in manufacturing, have said that to keep jobs once we have left, it is vital to retain our just-in-time supply chains. Will the Prime Minister confirm that her agreement delivers on both those important issues?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that confirmation. Businesses are very clear about the importance of maintaining those just-in-time supply chains. Similarly, of course, many constituents are concerned to ensure that we are able to make decisions for ourselves about who should be migrating to the United Kingdom without having that free movement. This deal delivers on both.
The Prime Minister repeats again and again that this is a good deal, but not only has she failed to convince this House but the National Institute of Economic and Social Research says that, under her plan, tax revenue would fall by 1.5% to 2% annually—that is £18 billion to £23 billion less for public services. How does she account for the gap between her side of a bus-plus-plus spending promises for the NHS and this reality?
The spending promises on the NHS were clearly dealt with at the Budget in November.
When we consider this important issue, there will always be risks and there will always be trade-offs. When I assess the options in front of me, I consider that the Prime Minister’s deal—the one she has gone and fought hard for with the European Union—does honour the referendum: it makes sure that we get control of our borders, our money and our laws. It may not be an easy way to get there, but there was never going to be an easy way. I have been listening since the start of her statement, and I have heard many Opposition Members, and one or two Conservative Members, say that we should rerun the people’s vote of 2016. Can she reassure me that we will not countenance that because, in all this, it is a real risk to democracy?
First, may I apologise to the House because I think I just made a reference, as I did earlier, to the Budget being in November, and in fact it was in October? My hon. Friend is absolutely right; everybody needs to look at what is going to deliver on the vote of the British people. Saying to the British people, as some people who talk about a second referendum are, in a sense, doing, “You got the answer wrong. You’ve got to think again,” is not what we should be doing. Some 80% of the votes cast at the last general election were for parties that stood on manifesto commitments to deliver on the vote of the British people and deliver Brexit, and we should do just that.
Given everything that has been said today, is the right hon. Lady, like her predecessor, still not for turning?
I believe this is a good deal, and I continue to believe it is a good deal.
In 2014, I campaigned head, heart, body and soul to keep this United Kingdom together. The Northern Irish backstop would leave Northern Ireland in a separate regulatory regime. Brussels would have more say over trade and rules on goods in Northern Ireland than the UK Parliament. Northern Ireland would be left under the jurisdiction of a foreign court, and that undermines the UK internal market. As a Scottish Unionist, I cannot stand by and watch a nation within our United Kingdom be left behind. Does my right hon. Friend not share my concern that this backstop could fuel the arguments of nationalists in this country and therefore threaten to break up our precious United Kingdom?
Like my hon. Friend, I am a passionate Unionist, and I believe in protecting the integrity of our United Kingdom. He has raised issues and I have spoken before in this Chamber about this question of the regulatory differences between Northern Ireland and Great Britain—some exist already—and, in a temporary backstop period, the commitments that could be given by the Government to ensure that there was not regulatory divergence and we did see that regulatory similarity with Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In fact, there are many who consider that the Northern Ireland backstop is an advantage to businesses in Northern Ireland, which is one of the reasons why the EU would not want us to be kept in the backstop. I can assure him that I am passionately in favour of the Union and will do everything I can to protect it.
I am told that the repetition is not a vice, so may I ask the Prime Minister, in the last two weeks, what discussions have taken place on future arrangements in relation to the European health insurance card? On behalf of the 27 million UK citizens who have such a card, will she tell us what she expects the status of that card to be in January 2021?
The hon. Gentleman might care to look at the healthcare Bill that has had its Second Reading and is before this Parliament, which deals with these issues of healthcare.
I declare an interest, as a chair of the all-party group on animal welfare. Under the agreement reached between the British Government and the EU yesterday in Brussels, would it be possible for this country unilaterally to end live animal exports for slaughter?
The answer is that, obviously, there are aspects of the future relationship where the detailed determination will be coming in. At the heart of my hon. Friend’s question is the extent to which we wish to continue with the common rulebook on these sorts of matters. I would also remind him that I, and the Government, have been clear that we want to maintain high animal welfare standards in this country and, indeed, enhance them.
May I refer my right hon. Friend to paragraph 54 of the political declaration, which refers to social security arrangements, and ask what assessment the Government have made of the numbers involved? What estimate has been made of the cost to the British taxpayer?
This reference is exactly what I was thinking of when I responded to an earlier question in relation, for example, to pension payments that might take place once we have left the EU. As my hon. Friend will see from this, this matter is yet to be fully addressed within the future negotiations. Obviously, we will be looking at exactly the issues he has raised in doing so.
I pay tribute to the Prime Minister’s resilience in standing at the Dispatch Box for so long this afternoon—it has been a tour de force. The bitter truth is that more than half of Conservative Back Benchers have indicated that we will not be able to support the withdrawal agreement. There is no shame in proposing her deal to the House next month, but there would be in failing to ensure that, in parallel, comprehensive preparations for an exit on WTO terms are being made. Every day matters, and I do not believe the intensity that there should be has yet been seen to get us ready for that scenario. Will she please accelerate those preparations so that we can be ready for any eventuality?
I hope I can give some reassurance to my hon. Friend: as I said in the House last week, it is clear that we are looking ahead to a vote in this House on these matters and so we continue with our no-deal preparations.
Prime Minister, colleagues, thank you.