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Volume 653: debated on Wednesday 23 January 2019

I am sure that Members across the House will wish to join me in marking Holocaust Memorial Day this Sunday. It is an opportunity for us to remember all those who suffered in the holocaust and in subsequent genocides around the world. It is a reminder that we must all challenge and condemn prejudice and hatred wherever it is found.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

May I associate myself with the comments that the Prime Minister made in relation to Holocaust Memorial Day? May I also say as a proud Scot that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the most successful political union that the world has ever known? That said, does the Prime Minister agree that, when Nicola Sturgeon demands a second independence referendum, only four years after we had the last one, the UK Government should side with the majority of the people of Scotland and firmly tell her no?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As he points out, Scotland held a referendum in 2014. It was legal, fair and decisive, and the people clearly voted for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. More than that, at the last general election, the people of Scotland again sent a very clear message that they do not want a second divisive referendum, but the SNP sadly is out of touch with the people of Scotland and has not yet heard that message. The last thing we want is a second independence referendum. The United Kingdom should be pulling together, and should not be being driven apart.

Sunday is Holocaust Memorial Day, a time for us all to reflect on the horrors of genocide and to recommit to never again allowing the poison of antisemitism and racism to disfigure our society in any way. The Prime Minister was also right to acknowledge the other genocides that have happened since the second world war. It is up to us to try to prevent such horrors from ever happening again anywhere in the world.

After the overwhelming defeat of the Prime Minister’s deal, she says she wants solutions to the Brexit crisis that command sufficient support in the House. The Chancellor and the Business Secretary agree that there is a “large majority” in the Commons opposed to no deal, so will the Prime Minister listen to her own Cabinet members and take no deal off the table?

What I, members of the Cabinet and the whole Government are doing is working to ensure that we leave the European Union with a deal. That is the way to avoid no deal: to leave the European Union with a deal. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that what I have wanted to do—I have been doing it with Members across the House—is sit down and talk about how we can secure support in this House for a deal. He has been willing to sit down with Hamas, Hezbollah and the IRA without preconditions, yet he will not meet me to talk about Brexit. In this case, he is neither present nor involved.

Actually I reached out to the Prime Minister last September when I offered to discuss our deals with her. It appears that, while the door to her office may well be open, the minds inside it are completely closed. She has shown no flexibility whatsoever on taking no deal off the table.

The Chancellor reassured businesses that amendments would be put down that

“would have the effect of removing the threat of no deal...which is binding and effective”.

Given that those amendments are now tabled, will the Prime Minister confirm that, if passed, they would rule out no deal?

We have seen amendments that seek to engineer a situation in which article 50 is extended. That does not solve the issue that there will always be a point of decision. The decision remains the same: no deal, a deal or no Brexit. I am delivering on Brexit. I want to do it with a deal. Why will the right hon. Gentleman not come and meet me and talk about it?

The only consistency in the Prime Minister’s strategy seems to be running down the clock by threatening no deal as an alternative to her dead deal.

The CBI says that the “projected impact” of no deal on the UK economy “would be devastating”. Leaving with no deal would be a hammer blow to manufacturing in this country, costing jobs and damaging living standards.

Last week, the Justice Secretary was asked whether he ruled out a customs union. He said:

“I don’t think we can”.

However, that same day, the Leader of the House said that we cannot be in a customs union. Can the Prime Minister be clear? Do her Government rule out a customs union with the European Union?

The right hon. Gentleman talks about a customs union and I note that he has tabled an amendment. The Labour party used to refer to a comprehensive customs union, then it was a new customs union and now it is a permanent customs union, but the question—[Interruption.] I am happy to sit down to talk to him about what he means by that. Does he mean accepting the common external tariff? Does he mean accepting the common commercial policy? Does he mean accepting the Union customs code? Does he mean accepting EU state aid rules? If he will not talk about it, there is only one conclusion: he hasn’t got a clue.

My question was: does the Prime Minister rule in or rule out a customs union? It is not complicated. She could have said yes, she could have said no. It is a key part of what Labour is putting forward and it is backed by the TUC, representing millions of workers; by the CBI, representing thousands of businesses; by the First Ministers of Wales and Scotland; and indeed by many members of her own party, including apparently her own chief of staff. So can the Prime Minister explain why she is ruling out a customs union as a solution to the crisis? She could for once actually answer the question.

Perhaps I can try to help the right hon. Gentleman here. When many people talk about a customs union, what they want to ensure is that businesses can export to the EU without facing tariffs, quotas or rules-of-origin checks. I agree, and the deal we negotiated delivers just that, but it also allows us to have an independent trade policy and to do our own trade deals with the rest of the world—the benefits of a customs union and the benefits of our own trade policy.

The International Trade Secretary promised 40 trade agreements the second after Brexit. This morning, he could not name a single one. His own Business Minister said that he was not impressed by “sham trade agreements” and

“not prepared to sell business down the river for other people’s political dogma.”

So why is the Prime Minister prepared to sell people’s jobs and living standards down the river, rather than negotiating a customs union that would be part of a sensible deal for the future?

The deal that we negotiated did protect jobs—[Interruption.] And it was rejected by this House. There are some specific issues that Members across this House have raised in relation to that deal and we work on those. We have already responded on a number of issues—parliamentary involvement, workers’ rights, citizens’ rights—as a result of the conversations that we have had with Members of this House. What we want to ensure is that we get a deal that protects jobs, but the right hon. Gentleman is doing exactly what he always does. He just stands up and uses these phrases. The honest answer is that I do not think he knows what those phrases mean and what the implications of those phrases are. We will be protecting jobs in the UK with a good trade relationship with the European Union—enhancing and increasing jobs in the UK, and by the way I see that the right hon. Gentleman has not referred to this week’s employment figures, which show employment up in this country as a result of this Government.

What the Prime Minister clearly did not have time to mention was the rising levels of in-work poverty, personal debt and the problems that people face in surviving at work. The door of her office might be open, but the minds are closed—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister is clearly not listening—[Interruption.]

Order. People making an extraordinary noise from a sedentary position do not have the slightest prospect of being called to ask a question, unless it is on the Order Paper. I hope that they realise that and recognise their own folly.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Across the country, people are worried about public services, their living standards and rising levels of personal debt. While a third of the Prime Minister’s Government are at the billionaires’ jamboree in Davos, she says she is listening, but rules out changes on the two issues where there might be a majority: against no deal and for a customs union—part of Labour’s sensible Brexit alternative. If the Prime Minister is serious about finding a solution, which of her red lines is she prepared to abandon? Could she name a single one?

The right hon. Gentleman makes claims about minds being closed and asks about red lines. Why does he not come and talk about it? He talks about what people up and down this country are seeing. I will tell him what we have just seen this week: borrowing this year at its lowest level for 16 years; the International Monetary Fund saying we will grow faster than Germany, Italy and Japan this year; UN figures showing foreign direct investment in the UK up last year; the employment rate up; the number of people in work up; and wages up—and the biggest threat to all of that would be a Labour Government.

Q2. North Warwickshire and Bedworth voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU in 2016, and from the many conversations I have had with constituents since, I am in absolutely no doubt that if they were asked again, they would vote the same way. Does the Prime Minister agree therefore that there is no credibility in the argument for a second referendum and that our constituents want this Parliament to do what it promised and honour the referendum result, which, as Opposition Members seem to have forgotten, was to leave the EU? (908730)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Not just he, I and all Conservative Members, but all Labour Members stood on manifesto pledges to respect the result of the referendum and to leave the EU. I have set out several times my concern about returning to the British people in a second referendum. People sent a clear message. We asked them to make a choice, they made that choice, and we should deliver on it.

I join the Prime Minister in marking Holocaust Memorial Day. It is important that we reflect on man’s inhumanity to man at that time and subsequently, most recently towards the Rohingya people. More must be done to eradicate the risk of genocide that is suffered by peoples throughout the world.

Last November, the Government published an economic analysis of Brexit that looked at four scenarios, but it did not include the Prime Minister’s deal. Has she done an economic analysis of her deal?

The right hon. Gentleman obviously looked carefully at the economic analysis, and he will have seen that it looked at the impact of different issues in relation to the trade relationship and set that out very clearly. It made it absolutely clear that the proposal the Government had put on the table was the best in terms of delivering on the referendum result, maintaining people’s jobs and enhancing the economy.

I can only take it from that answer that there is no analysis of the Government’s plan. According to the paper last November, Brexit will lead to the loss of up to 9% of GDP throughout the UK. That will cost jobs. It is the height of irresponsibility for the Prime Minister to bring to Parliament a deal for which we have not seen the economic impact. People up and down the UK are going to lose their jobs and economic opportunities because of the ideology of this Government. It is important that the House reflects on that and on the economic security of our citizens. We have to be honest with people. We need to go back to them, have a people’s vote and let them determine what should happen.

We have been reflecting on the economic security of our citizens across the whole of the UK, and that is why we put forward the proposals that we did last summer and why the proposals in the deal—in the political declaration—we negotiated with the EU set out an ambitious future trade deal. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to reflect on the interests of the citizens of Scotland, he should reflect on the fact that being part of the UK—[Interruption.] He says he wants to know the figures and the economic analysis. In that case, it is no good his dismissing the figures and the economic analysis that show that being part of the UK is worth £10 billion in additional public spending and nearly £1,900 for every single person in Scotland. If he is interested in economics, he should want to stay in the UK and stop his policy of independence.

Q3. I can tell the Prime Minister that the people of Romford remain rock solid for leaving the European Union on 29 March. They do not want an extension of article 50; they do not want another referendum; they want out, deal or no deal. Will the Prime Minister assure the House that she will deliver on the biggest vote of the British people in history, come what may? (908731)

Yes. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is not just an arbitrary date. It is a date to which the House effectively agreed when it triggered article 50, because it understood that the article 50 process was a two-year process, and, as I said in response to the Leader of the Opposition, that process will end on 29 March 2019. I do not believe that extending article 50 resolves any issues, because at some point Members must decide whether they want a no-deal situation, to agree a deal, or to have no Brexit.

Q4. My constituent Denis Omondi is a British citizen. He has uncontested custody of his young daughter Ann, who is in Kenya. Although he visits her as often as he can, she has been denied a visa because the Home Office claims that he has not spent enough time with her. The problem is that Denis is a serving soldier in the British Army. He is stationed at Fort George, and has served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq and Cyprus at the behest of the UK Government. Does the Prime Minister believe that this situation is fair? Will she look into how this loyal soldier and loving father can be reunited with his daughter? (908732)

Let me first thank Denis for his commitment to serving in our armed forces. All our armed forces do an incredibly important and brave job for us.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not expect me to be able to look at the details of the case at the Dispatch Box on the Floor of the House, but I will ask the Home Secretary to look into it and respond to him.

Q5. Prime Minister, your Government is stuffed full of remainer Ministers who do not want to leave the European Union. Will you replace them with colleagues from these Benches who actually believe in upholding the decision of the British people to leave the European Union on 29 March? (908733)

I have heard some job applications in my time, but that was quite an interesting one.

My position, and the position of this Government and Ministers across this Government, is very clear. It is our duty to deliver on the vote of the British people to leave the European Union, and the two-year process ends on 29 March. That is the position of the Government. Of course I am always happy to consider job applications from my hon. Friend, but I have to say that the basis of his application was not correct, because the Government are committed to taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union.

Q6. Britain is facing a homelessness crisis, and homelessness, like food banks and child poverty, is linked to deprivation. How can the Prime Minister justify removing the deprivation levels from her new council funding formula, and taking money away from the weakest and the poorest in society just so that she could bail out failing Tory councils like Northamptonshire? (908734)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, there are many cases in which some of the measures that have been used do not properly reflect the situation on the ground, but obviously we look very carefully at the formula to ensure that we have that fair funding between local authorities.

Q7. To mark Holocaust Memorial Day a Chichester choir will be coming to Parliament to perform “Push”, a moving opera about the life of Simon Gronowski, who was pushed off a train by his mother to spare him from certain death at Auschwitz. His mother and sister died but Simon will be here to share his story, which shows us the best and worst of humanity. At a time when antisemitism is rising across Europe and here in our communities, does the Prime Minister agree that it is vital that we learn the lessons of history to eradicate antisemitism, and will she, if possible, join us at the performance in Speaker’s House next Monday? (908735)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue and highlighting that case, which shows the horrors that so many people went through during the holocaust. We welcome the Chichester choir to Parliament performing “Push”, and I commend it on its work in keeping alive the remarkable story of Simon Gronowski. As I have just indicated, his story reminds us of the millions who were killed in the concentration camps and the absolute horror of the holocaust. We should all remember that, and remember genocides that have, sadly, occurred since, and condemn hatred and prejudice in all its forms, including antisemitism wherever it is found. There is no place for racial hatred in our society. I apologise because I suspect I may not be able to attend the performance my hon. Friend referred to, but I hope she will pass on my thanks to the choir for coming here and for the work it is doing.

Q8. The Prime Minister promised after the Grenfell Tower fire that she would do whatever it takes to keep our people safe. Today, 19 months on, the vast majority—85%—of the hundreds of blocks draped in exactly the same highly flammable cladding are still covered in it. The Shurgard fire in Croydon shows that Grenfell is just the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of council and private buildings across the country do not have sprinklers, despite the fire services saying they are essential. The Government do not even collect data on the number of fires in tower blocks. As the Prime Minister wastes billions on her no-deal gamble there is a stench of complacency about these things that matter too. When will the Prime Minister be able to tell this country that she has honoured her promise? (908736)

It is obviously very important for all of us that people are able to feel and be safe in their homes, and I understand residents’ concerns over this issue of cladding. We fully expect building owners in the private sector to take action and make sure that appropriate safety measures are in place. Interim measures are in place where necessary on all of the 171 high-rise private residential buildings with the unsafe ACM—aluminium composite material—cladding, but permanent remediation is rightly the focus, and we have repeatedly called on private building owners not to pass costs on to leaseholders. As a result of our interventions 212 owners have either started, completed or have commitments in place to remediate; 56 owners are refusing to remediate. We are maintaining pressure on this but we rule nothing out.

Q10. Non-surgical cosmetic treatments is an industry with no proper regulation. My constituent Rachael Knappier suffered a terrible injury after a Botox filler was administered incorrectly. Will the Prime Minister assure me and this House that her Government will look into appropriate regulation of non-surgical cosmetic treatments? (908738)

First, may I extend my deepest sympathies to Rachael Knappier? We recognise that this growth in non-surgical treatments increases the need for consumer protection, and we are currently working with stakeholders to strengthen the regulation of cosmetics procedures. We are committed to improving the safety of cosmetic procedures and there are a number of ways in which that can be done: better training and robust qualifications for practitioners, but also clear information so that people can make informed decisions about their care. We would urge anyone seeking a cosmetic procedure to take the time to find a reputable, safe and qualified practitioner who is subject to statutory regulation or on an accredited voluntary register. My hon. Friend has raised an important issue.

Q9. In May 2018, Michel Barnier said that the only frictionless model for the future relationship with the UK would be Norway-plus—Norway being part of the single market, plus a customs union. This means that a Norway-plus Brexit would eliminate the need for the backstop and would also be agreed rapidly, thereby eliminating the need to extend article 50. If the Prime Minister really wants to do away with the backstop and really wants to leave the EU on 29 March without the need for an extension, why does she not pivot to the Norway-plus option today? (908737)

First, it is not the case that that is the only way to provide frictionless trade between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Other options have been put on the table. The question of the extent of that frictionless trade will be a matter for the second stage of the negotiations.