Yesterday British forces concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan. I know the thoughts of the whole House will be with the friends and families of every one of the 453 British soldiers who lost their lives in this long campaign. We will never forget their sacrifice for us.
When al-Qaeda attacked the twin towers in 2001, it planned that attack from Afghanistan, operating freely under the Taliban regime. Our incredible servicemen and women have driven al-Qaeda out, and they have built up and trained the Afghan forces—none of which even existed in 2001—so that the Afghans can take control of their own security. I said when I became Prime Minister that I would bring our combat troops home. Today they are coming home, and we should be incredibly proud of all that they have done to keep our country safe.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on last week’s European Council. Before turning to the issue of our contributions to the EU, let me first update the House on three significant agreements where the UK played an important role: on Ebola, on climate change and on the situation in Ukraine.
First, on Ebola, the world is facing one of the worst public health emergencies in a generation. Playing our part in halting the rise of this terrible disease is not just meeting our moral obligations, but the single most effective way of preventing Ebola from infecting people in the United Kingdom. Britain has been making a major contribution to the international response, pledging more than £205 million and sending troops and health workers to west Africa, but Britain must also use its influence to get other countries to step up their contributions. Before the Council, I wrote to all my fellow leaders, urging that we significantly step up our collective response. At the meeting member states agreed to my proposal to more than double the EU effort by pledging over €1 billion in assistance. The Council also agreed to increase the deployment of medical and support staff in the region, and for member states to guarantee proper care for our courageous health workers.
Secondly, it is vital that Europe plays its part if we are to secure a global deal on climate change in Paris next year. One problem we have faced in the past is that instead of just setting a binding target on carbon emissions, the EU has set binding national targets on things like renewables and energy efficiency. These diktats on how each country should reach its commitments can pile up costs on our industries, consumers and families who do not want to pay more on their energy bills than they have to, and they create an unnecessary trade-off between cutting carbon emissions and promoting economic growth.
At this Council, we have chosen a different path. We have reached a landmark commitment to deliver at least 40% reductions in greenhouse gases by 2030, but we have rejected any new binding national targets for renewables or energy efficiency, giving us full flexibility over how we reduce our carbon, allowing us to do so at the lowest possible cost for businesses and consumers. This is another example of where British leadership has helped the EU to step up and meet its international obligations, while at the same time protecting our national interest by keeping energy bills down for businesses and Britain’s hard-working families.
The Council also discussed the situation in Ukraine and relations with Russia. We welcomed the Minsk agreement between Kiev, Moscow and the separatists, but the Council was also clear that much more must be done to implement that agreement before the EU should consider lifting any of the sanctions put in place in response to the conflict and in response to Russia’s actions. The Council welcomed the parliamentary elections that took place in Ukraine yesterday, and it made it clear it would not recognise the outcome of any elections organised by the separatists outside the framework of Ukrainian law.
Let me turn to the issue over the UK’s contributions to the EU. I want to be clear with the House how the demand for the UK to repay money has come about, and why the scale and timing of this demand is unacceptable. Mr Speaker, in an organisation like the EU, if your economy grows a little faster or a little slower, then there can be adjustments every year to the amount that you pay. In some years, the UK adjustment has been negative—as it was in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012—and in some years we contribute a little bit more. This happens every year. And when the UK is growing at 3% a year and many European economies are growing much more slowly, it would not be surprising to find Britain being asked to pay a little bit more this year. But what has never happened is for €2 billion to be demanded. This represents around 20% of our net contribution to the EU last year.
Member states collectively are being asked to pay almost four times the highest gross figure requested in recent years. It is simply not acceptable for the EU to make these kinds of demands, and to do so through a fast-tracked process lasting barely a month. €2 billion is bigger than many countries’ entire gross contributions; it cannot just be nodded through by the EU bureaucracy as some kind of technical adjustment. It is British taxpayers’ money, and it is not small change, but it is a vast sum. So this has to be examined in detail and discussed properly. That is why I interrupted the Council meeting on Friday to seek an urgent resolution to this issue. I was supported by the Prime Ministers of Italy, Holland, Malta, Greece and others, and the Council agreed that there would be an urgent discussion with Finance Ministers to resolve the issue going forwards.
The issue is not just the scale of the money being demanded, but the timetable. The Commission admits that it does not actually need this—indeed, the President of the Commission was not even aware of it on Thursday evening—so there is no pressing need for the money to be paid. There are fundamental questions over the fairness of these payments. For example, the proposal is for funds to be taken from the UK to correct historic contributions to the EU budget dating back to 2002, and to be redistributed based on the current share of gross national income to countries which only joined the EU in 2004 and 2007. But it is not just that Britain would lose out. It is also perverse that a country like Greece—at the heart of the crisis in the eurozone—is being asked to find money to pay back to countries like Germany. The revised gross national income statistics on which these adjustments are based are also not yet finalised. The numbers are a “provisional estimate” and the EU-wide process to quality-assure the figures will not conclude until well into 2015.
Britain will not be paying €2 billion to anyone on
The events at last week’s Council will not—to use some British understatement—have enhanced the reputation of the European Union in the United Kingdom. As the Italian Prime Minister put it, even the EU’s founding fathers would turn to Euroscepticism when faced with some of the things that you have seen here. The European Union has to change. It has to regain trust, and that starts by understanding and respecting the fact that these payments and adjustments are about the hard-earned taxes of its citizens. This is just one of the many challenges in our long campaign to reform the European Union, but it is vital we stick to the task. We have already cut the EU budget, got Britain out of the bail-out schemes, vetoed a treaty that was not in our national interest, made vital progress on cutting red tape and completing the single market, and we are leading the push for what will be the biggest bilateral trade deal in history, between the EU and the US.
None of this is easy. Progress is hard-won. It requires perseverance and hard work. We will carry on defending our national interest and fighting with all we have to reform the EU over the coming years. At the end of 2017, it will not be the Brussels bureaucracy or the politicians of any party who will decide whether we remain in the EU. If I am Prime Minister, it will be the British people who make that decision through an in/out referendum. Others who aspire to this office and who refuse to give the British people their say, should explain themselves to the House and the country, and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. Let me start by echoing his words about the contribution of our armed forces in Afghanistan. All our thanks are with those who have served our country, and all our thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives. We will continue to support the Afghan Government through political and humanitarian aid, as well as our training mission. Every one of our troops who served in Afghanistan can take pride in their mission and what they achieved, and the House and the whole country are proud of them.
I also echo the Prime Minister’s words about Ukraine and support for its Government. On climate change, I welcome the climate and energy package, paving the way for the global UN summit in Paris next year. What action will he be taking in the coming months to encourage other countries, especially China and the United States, to bring forward ambitious targets and policies in advance of that conference?
Turning to the Ebola crisis in west Africa, the whole world has been horrified by the devastating scenes. Our hearts go out to the communities that confront the threat on a daily basis. I welcome the Government’s efforts to help affected countries. We are proud of the work of our armed forces, our health professionals and our aid community. What effort was made at the summit to encourage other countries to do what Britain has done by sending health workers and personnel to the affected region?
Let me turn to the EU budget change. The Commission’s handling of the matter has been cack-handed and unacceptable, and it has caused consternation in several other states. The urgent priority now is for the Government to pursue all diplomatic means to get the best deal for Britain, but the Prime Minister must also explain whether the Government carried out due diligence in their handling of the matter. He says that he was made aware of the matter only on
Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Office for National Statistics agreed to, and has been part of, these substantial and planned changes throughout Europe for at least two years—since 2012? Will he further confirm that the ONS stated publicly in May 2014 that the changes would impact our budget contribution? It said in a press release that GNI
“is used in the calculation of a Member State’s contribution to the EU budget.”
The Treasury was clearly aware of the situation, because I have here a letter that the then Economic Secretary, Nicky Morgan, wrote to a parliamentary Committee on Europe not seven days ago, but seven months ago—on
Is not the truth that this is a familiar pattern with this Prime Minister: months and months when he does not do the work, followed by last-minute pyrotechnics when it goes wrong? No one will be fooled by it. He spends all his time negotiating with his party about Europe, when what he should be doing is the basic work of getting a better deal for Britain. Once again he shows that, for all his bluster, he has been asleep at the wheel and the British people are paying the price.
Order. Mr Gwynne¸ I recognise your voice very distinctly, and simply erecting a piece of paper in front of your mouth does not hide the fact that it is you. Calm yourself, man. Let us hear from the Prime Minister.
Let me answer all the right hon. Gentleman’s questions. On climate change, he asked specifically what we would now do to push China and America to make bigger concessions. I think that the European Union now has the opportunity to give a real lead, because we have set out the major steps that we are prepared to take, with a reduction of at least 40% in carbon emissions.
On Ebola, the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we need not only money from other European countries—we got that at the weekend—but the commitment that they will help their health staff to travel to west Africa. There is now a clearing house for medevac arrangements, negotiated by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, which I think will make a real difference.
On Afghanistan, I welcome the support that the right hon. Gentleman has given. I think that it is good that there is cross-party support for the backing that the Afghan Government should know they will get from Britain in terms of aid and paying for the Afghan national security forces.
On the budget, let me say this to the right hon. Gentleman: the point is that we cannot know how much we are liable to pay until the European Commission produces the figures for every country in Europe. That information was not available weeks ago or months ago; it was discussed at a meeting in Brussels only on Friday. That is why Labour left the country in such a mess: they do not know the difference between gross contributions and net contributions. That is the problem.
Basically, the right hon. Gentleman’s case comes down to two complaints. The first is that somehow we are giving too much money to Brussels. That is from a party that gave away the British rebate and paid an extra £2 billion a year as a matter of official Government policy. The second complaint—we heard it from the shadow Chancellor—is that somehow under this Government the Chancellor and the Prime Minister do not properly communicate with each other. I have to say that we see in front of us the authors of the most dysfunctional Government in British history. The Prime Minister in that Government did not even know what was in the Budget the day before it was brought to the House of Commons. The idea that they should lecture us on how a Government communicate must be one of the most ridiculous ever brought before the House. With the shambles in the Scottish Labour party, we learnt one thing this weekend: even his own party does not see him as a leader.
People need a reason to believe that the EU is good for them, and late demands for €2 billion with six weeks to pay do not help, especially when the calculations include earnings from prostitution and drugs, none of which ends up in the Treasury. Is it any wonder that voters have their doubts about the merits of membership of the European Union?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. For those of us who want to argue that the European Union is capable of reform, this was not a good development. It is important to understand that these are provisional estimates and that EUROSTAT is still travelling to every country to work out what the numbers actually are. There are important challenges to be made. But clearly the idea of a bill being presented in that way, with so little time to pay, is not acceptable.
On migration from the European Union, may I ask the Prime Minister to name five towns which, in his view, have been swamped by it?
I would say to the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a huge amount of respect, that, to be fair to the Secretary of State for Defence, he corrected himself this morning, and I think he was absolutely right. It is right for politicians to raise concerns about immigration, but we should always choose our language carefully. He said this morning that he wished he had chosen his language in a different way, and I agree with that.
May I sympathise with the Prime Minister on being taken by surprise on a subject that everybody in the Foreign Office and the Treasury must have known was coming along for the past five months, because British officials carried out the huge revision of the British GNP? I congratulate him on now choosing the sensible points, which are how to challenge the methodology and get the size of this reviewed, and how to get rid of the nonsense that it is all to be paid in a lump sum in a fortnight. Many other countries will join him in trying to sort that out.
Did the Prime Minister raise the European arrest warrant and the 34 other desirable directives which, I trust, we are going to opt into? Does he agree with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that these opt-ins are absolutely essential for the sake of our policing and criminal justice system if we are to make sure that it is up to dealing with international crime?
Let me say to my right hon. and learned Friend that of course these changes happen every year—they are expected every year and discussed every year—but what has never happened before is a change on this scale, and no one was expecting that. As for the opt-out or opt-in on justice and human rights, it is very important to recognise that we have already achieved the biggest transfer of power from Brussels back to Britain by opting out of 100 different pieces of legislation. We now need to make sure that we keep our country safe.
A binding energy savings goal would have guaranteed €2.5 trillion in savings to consumers in the UK and across the EU, yet the UK opposed it. How can the Prime Minister pretend that this has anything to do with leadership when experts are claiming that it is a go-slow on efficiency? Far from being good for industry, it sends a strong signal to energy efficiency businesses to start to divest from the UK and from other European countries?
Respectfully, I disagree with the hon. Lady. We all want improvements in energy efficiency, and we are seeing them here in the United Kingdom. Having a proper market for carbon and a proper price for carbon helps that to happen. But it is not necessary to have additional binding targets for nation states as well as the target for reducing carbon emissions, because that skews the market and we end up spending more money than is otherwise necessary to get the outcome that both she and I want, which is to tackle climate change.
We continue to applaud the Prime Minister for his statement at Bloomberg that our national Parliament is the root of our democracy and for his demand for radical change in the European Union. As regards the outrageous behaviour over the £1.7 billion, but also the question of immigration, given its connection with the charter of rights and the need for treaty change, will he now agree that we should pass legislation in this House, as he himself supported on the Deregulation Bill when he was Leader of the Opposition, notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972, so that we will then regain power over legislation in this House and over the EU?
I have followed my hon. Friend’s arguments about the “notwithstanding” clause very closely over many years. I believe that the right approach is to have a renegotiation in order to deliver the things where we want to see change. We want change in terms of getting out of ever closer union, safeguards for the single market, and action on immigration, so the right approach is to conduct that renegotiation.
May I welcome what the Prime Minister has said about the Defence Secretary’s statement, because it did cause a great deal of offence? At the summit, did the Prime Minister have a chance to discuss with President Hollande the President’s suggestion of a reception centre in Calais, which is opposed by the mayor of Calais, who will be giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee tomorrow? Does he agree that the issue is also illegal migration, and that countries such as Greece and Italy must do their bit to stop people entering illegally in that area?
I look forward to the mayor of Calais appearing in front of the right hon. Gentleman’s Select Committee. It is very important that they are having those discussions. We are working with the French at every level to make sure we do not go back to the bad old days of Sangatte, but instead improve security around Calais. That is why the NATO fence is being erected even as we speak and why those conversations continue. I look forward to seeing how the Committee gets on tomorrow.
May I endorse my right hon. Friend’s remarks about Afghanistan and those who gave their lives there? On this occasion, however, could we spare a thought for those who have survived, but who none the less have been subject to grievous injury?
Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the most recent Ipsos MORI poll shows that support for the United Kingdom staying in Europe has risen to a 23-year high—56% for and 36% against? Does he believe that that will be of some comfort to him not only in forging alliances in Europe in order to bring about the reform we all think is appropriate, but in helping him combat UKIP and anyone else who wants to bring Britain out unilaterally?
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right in what he says about the injured who have returned from Afghanistan. Members on both sides of the House now need to make a commitment that Governments for many years to come will look after these people and make sure that we continue to funnel the LIBOR fines into defence and veterans’ charities, as we have been doing.
On the issue of European reform, the most popular and the right approach is not to accept the question of in/out today on the current terms, but to negotiate better terms and then give the British people the choice. That is the right approach.
Following on from the Prime Minister’s answer to Mr Clarke, will he confirm that he will give his own Home Secretary, the police and the security services the tools they need to fight international crime and terrorism by making sure we have a vote in this place on the European arrest warrant before the end of November?
We have not changed our plans on this in any regard at all: the plans we have set out are still the plans to have that vote. What matters most of all is that we give the police and the security services the powers they need to keep our country safe.
Does my right hon. Friend believe that the provisions for the UK rebate on the EU budget contribution apply to any additional demand made by the Commission? I think that they should and, therefore, that whatever the final calculation of any demand may be, up to two thirds of it should be rebated back to the United Kingdom.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the important questions that needs to be asked and properly answered about this proposed sum of money, which, as I have said, is still an estimate, is how much of it is applicable for the rebate. Obviously, that would make a potentially significant difference to the amount.
The public do not really care about who knew what when; what they really care about is the bottom line of £1.7 billion being paid back from our taxes. Will the Prime Minister do what any Government should do: say what they mean, mean what they say and then do it? In other words, do not pay, because that is exactly what this country would like to see happen.
As ever, the hon. Lady has hit the nail on the head: it is not the who knew what when, but the bottom line that matters. I have been very clear: we are not paying €2 billion on
May I remind my right hon. Friend that our net contribution to the European Union is already larger than our fastest growing expenditure programme on overseas aid and we are paying that money to an organisation that has not had its accounts signed off for 19 years? Therefore, may I commend him for taking a robust stand on this matter, and will he undertake to make sure that Parliament gets a vote before we pay another penny?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we should be seeking value for money for every penny that we give. Of course, we should not forget that every year we are effectively paying about £2 billion more because Labour gave away part of the rebate. That is what happens. Labour Front Benchers make plenty of noise now, but when they were sitting on the Government Benches they betrayed Britain by giving away the money. Let us remember: why did they give away the money? They gave away the money because there was a promise of reform of the common agricultural policy, and they got absolutely nothing.
Oh, dear. I will tell the hon. Gentleman what we have got: we have a Chancellor who has delivered the fastest rate of growth of any G7 country, and we have a Chancellor who has delivered the biggest fall in unemployment since records began. I would have thought that the Labour party would want to know about more people getting into work.
Does the Prime Minister agree that this country has a proud record of assisting countries in difficulties? What this Government have sent to west Africa to help with Ebola is just the latest example of that. Will he accept that such programmes can be delivered only by individual people—men and women from this country—going out there to help, and placing themselves in great danger? Young men such as Dr Oliver Johnson, who is only 28 years old, along with many other colleagues who have trained and are working in this country, have gone there. We thank the Government for sending the money, but will the Prime Minister remember them?
My hon. and learned Friend makes an incredibly important point. About 650 British health workers have volunteered to go to Sierra Leone to help in this way. They are people of huge courage, dedication and public service. What we must do is make sure that they have the logistical support, which is why we are sending over 750 troops and a warship equipped with helicopters. We will also establish a training centre to train over 850 local health workers every single week; that will soon be up and running. Crucially, if we want health workers to go to west Africa, we must have the medical evacuation capabilities to bring them home in the event of their becoming ill. We are putting that in place, and I believe that we are leading Europe on that issue.
May I join the Prime Minister in his remarks about the service and sacrifice of our servicemen and women in Afghanistan? That service and sacrifice must never be forgotten. May I commend him on what he is doing to try to get other countries to step up to the mark on contributions towards fighting Ebola? On the terms of the EU budget, does he accept—to coin a phrase often understood in Ulster—that sometimes it is right to say no and to mean it?
Yes. I have said no in Europe: I said no to a rise in the EU budget; I said no to an entire treaty; I said no to the European bail-out funds. People in Europe know that when I say no, I mean it.
Over the weekend, my joint listening campaign with Tom Pursglove, the excellent Conservative candidate for Corby, was out knocking on doors. One particular person who spoke to Tom said, “I’ve been a Labour voter all my life, but Dave has said no to paying £1.7 billion, Dave has said no to unrestricted immigration from the EU and he’s going to give us a referendum, so for the first time ever I’m going to vote Tory.” Does my right hon. Friend think that the rest of the country will follow that chap?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his very hard work in Wellingborough and next door in Corby. People can see that under this Government and my prime ministership—when it comes to the European treaty, when it comes to the bail-out fund and when it comes to the budget—we have got a good deal for Britain.
I am not accepting that we should pay anything like what has been asked. I think it is very important that we make that clear. I am always happy to have votes in this House. They can happen through Opposition days, Back-Bench days or, indeed, Government days.
The Prime Minister said at the start of his statement that he went asking for €1 billion to tackle Ebola and he got it, and that he went asking for a climate change agreement that had been piloted by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change with his green growth group and he got it. Does that not demonstrate that leadership from the UK can deliver results in Europe, and that we should stay in?
I very much agree with my right hon. Friend that, on climate change and Ebola, we demonstrated that Britain can lead in Europe and get results. However, as I explained at the press conference after the European Council, those successes were rather marred by the disappointment and, frankly, the anger over the way in which the bill was presented.
The Prime Minister has always made it clear that his support for EU membership in 2017 will depend on substantial reforms, which he will have to negotiate. To do that, he will need allies. He told the House that he had the support of the Prime Ministers of Italy, Holland, Malta, Greece and other countries on the rebate. However, the Dutch Finance Minister has said that his country will pay, the Irish have said that they will pay and the Maltese have said that they will pay. If that is the kind of support the Prime Minister gets from his friends, how does he think he will achieve anything for 2017?
The hon. Lady is not reflecting accurately what those countries have said. They are deeply unhappy with the bills with which they have been presented. They want the estimates to be re-examined and are very worried about the payments that they might have to make.
May I, too, take my right hon. Friend back to the beginning of his statement? Nearly four years ago, I attended the funeral of Linda Norgrove, a young woman from the Isle of Lewis who gave her life supporting widows and orphans in Afghanistan. As we rightly remember the contribution of our forces over the past 13 years, can we also remember those in the NGO community, some of whom lost their lives defending the people of Afghanistan and a number of whom will stay on to keep helping the people of Afghanistan and to fulfil this nation’s commitments?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the issue of aid workers, who have put so much into rebuilding Afghanistan. I will never forget meeting Linda Norgrove’s brave parents, who were desperately sad at the loss of their child. She put a great deal into Afghanistan and came very close to being rescued and brought home. I commend my right hon. Friend for all the work that he did on such consular cases as a Foreign Office Minister.
The Prime Minister said in his statement that he would check the statistics and the methodology, and “crawl through this in exhaustive detail”. However, it is clear that the Treasury knew about the matter way back in May. Will he confirm that the Government let the rules relating to the own resources package, which covers this area, go through the European Council on
The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong. It was not until the meeting in Brussels on Friday night that the scale of the payment was clear. Until we know what every country is required to pay, we cannot know what we are meant to pay. Those are the facts, even if they might be inconvenient for the story that he wants to put across.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question because one reason for fighting for a climate change deal that focused on carbon emission reductions, rather than on other targets, was so that we could reduce carbon at the minimum cost not only to our businesses, but to households through the bills that they pay. As he knows, we are helping steel producers and other high energy users with a specific scheme that has been drawn up by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Has the problem with such rows over the past 30 years not been that British Prime Ministers have been ambushed and have protested loudly, there have been useful headlines in the Daily Mail and The Sun, and then two months later, there have been shoddy compromises, usually on the basis that there is no alternative under the treaties? If there really is no alternative under the treaties, is not the obvious conclusion that the British people might be tempted to say that we should leave the European Union?
I am not quite as gloomy as my hon. Friend, and I think there have been occasions such as when we got out of the bail-out schemes, when we cut the European budget, and when we vetoed a treaty, where Britain taking a very firm stance has sent Europe in a different direction.
Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to recognise the important contribution to the European Union agreement of this country’s Climate Change Act 2008, which was introduced by the Leader of the Opposition and supported subsequently by this Government? Will he also take this opportunity to tell his Back Benchers that we would not have got the European Union agreement covering 28 countries if we had continued only to have national policies, and that therefore our membership of the EU is vital for our continent’s future?
I have always supported our Climate Change Act in Britain, and when I was Leader of the Opposition, I pressed Tony Blair—who then stood at this Dispatch Box—to introduce such climate change legislation. This deal ensures that those countries that do not have climate change legislation now have to live up to the expectations we have set for ourselves. Now what we need is for Europe to take a leading role in terms of China and America, as has been pointed out.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the latest £2 billion bill from the European Union provides a good opportunity to remind the British people just how much it costs each year for this country to belong to the European Union? I reckon it is about £44 billion net in this Parliament alone. That cost is just one reason why so many millions of people want to vote to leave the European Union.
Of course, the only way that people will have that vote is by having a Conservative Government after the next election, when they will get the choice. The other point I would make is that the bill is lower because we have cut the EU budget, and taken that step that will constrain EU spending all the way out to 2020. The real debate that then has to be held is about whether the money we are putting into the European Union, and what we get out of our membership, makes it worth it. My view is that if we can reform the European Union there will be a strong case for staying in. I say that simply because I put one simple test on these things: what will make Britain stronger and more influential in the world? What will enable us to act on the things that we care about? That is the test that we should put and argue about.
The Prime Minister and the Government told the European Scrutiny Committee that they were going to have a blocking minority to stop the port services regulation by which the European Union would take over regulatory services in all the ports. That is opposed by every employer association around the ports, and by all employment organisations and trade unions. The Prime Minister failed to get that blocking minority. Is that not an example of what is happening? He does not have the confidence of other people in Europe to stand up to the European Union.
That is simply not true. What we have done in case after case is build alliances in order to get the outcomes that we need within the single market. Of course, that has been made more difficult by the fact that the Government he supported gave away veto after veto after veto, but we are effective in building minorities and getting what we need.
The Prime Minister will know that the President, Jean-Claude Juncker, has a €300 billion investment plan that European officials are now openly saying is the start of fiscal union. Will the Prime Minister assure me and British taxpayers that the UK will never become part of an EU fiscal union while he is our Prime Minister?
I can certainly give my right hon. Friend that guarantee. In my view, the eurozone will do more things together. That is precisely why we need the treaty change, to give Britain a better place in a European Union where some members will be integrating faster. As for the €300 billion package proposed by Jean-Claude Juncker, it is not very clear at the moment how much of that is public, how much is private, how much is new, and how much will be generated by new money into the European Investment Bank. We will seek further answers on that in December.
Around the table in the Brussels, did any Minister bring up in a humanitarian way the crisis of hundreds of people dying in the Mediterranean as refugees from war, famine and environmental disaster? European policies as a whole and western policies in part have contributed this disaster. Was there any discussion of it?
We did not have a discussion at this Council on the migration pressures in the European Union, but we have done so before when I have made the point that some of the action taken in the Mediterranean has almost encouraged people to get on to completely unsafe craft and head off to sea. We need to ensure we tackle all those problems, but our aid budget does a huge amount to try to help people stay in their countries—dealing with the sources of conflict and poverty—rather than leave and seek a new life in Europe.
We have an opportunity to use the action Europe has taken—the 40% reductions by 2030—to argue that America and China need to take their steps to play into the Paris talks that will take place late in 2015. It is obviously difficult, because the EU cannot exactly have an agreement and hold back some of its eventual offer, but once again we have shown that we, some of the most advanced countries in the world, are prepared to put our own house in order.
I do not want an answer yet—I have not finished. Presuming I am right and that the Prime Minister supports Britain remaining in the European arrest warrant, and presuming that many of his Back Benchers do not support him, I have a pleasant surprise for him: he should table the measure next week before the Rochester and Strood by-election, and we will vote it through for him.
The Prime Minister has saved the European Union from the crime of living off immoral earnings. That has made him enormously popular. Will he follow up his popularity by refusing the European arrest warrant, and most importantly by telling the Home Office that it is not befitting a great Department of State to give briefings that are not entirely accurate factually?
We need to have a proper discussion about how we keep the country safe given all the risks we face and given that we have secured a massive act of repatriating powers from Brussels to Britain in the huge amount of opt-outs in justice and home affairs, which I am sure he supports. My point on the European arrest warrant is that we have made changes to it, so we can now refuse arrest warrants in minor cases. British judges are able to consider whether extradition is proportionate and can block any arrest warrant where the incident does not amount to a crime in UK law. Those things have changed since the arrest warrant was first put before the House.
As has been long predicted, the eurozone is proving to be an economic disaster, dragging down both the European economy and the world economy. It now appears that 25 eurozone banks are on the brink of failure, and the long-term future of the euro is in serious doubt. Is the Prime Minister advising his colleagues—his fellow Prime Ministers in Europe—of the advantages of a national currency?
I think my colleagues in Europe well know my views about the euro. My point—I made it at the European Council—is that we need a combination of structural reforms to improve the performance of labour markets, the benefit of which we have seen here in the UK; setting and meeting targets on reducing budget deficits; and an active monetary policy, which has been hugely helpful here and in America. The steps we have seen in Europe are welcome but, frankly, I would like to see more.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on standing up for Britain in Brussels. Did he hear Pierre Lellouche, the former Europe Minister for France, say on BBC Radio 4 yesterday that it was crazy for the European Commission to reward a failing socialist French Government for their economic failure while penalising the UK’s Conservative Government for their economic success?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I was so surprised when I heard that statement that I got together a clear copy. Pierre Lellouche says that the unemployment rate in Britain
“has gone down to half what it is in France. The growth rate is four times what it is in France—and we go and punish the British? It’s madness.”
This is a huge outbreak of good, sound thinking across the channel.
We have heard a great deal about what the Prime Minister will not pay in relation to the EU budget, so can he give us any indication of what he is prepared to pay? Will he confirm that the UK would face fines if anything was not paid by the appropriate date?
I was very clear in the statement that every year we have these adjustments, and they are normally modest adjustments, sometimes up a bit, sometimes down a bit. What is not acceptable is a bill for €2 billion with only a month to go.
Has not the time now come to make it clear to the EU that Britain will not even consider any form of rebate of £1.7 billion until the EU gets its shambolic accounts properly audited and signed off? Otherwise, how can we have any faith in any of the figures produced by that organisation?
Obviously, I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend on the fact that the EU accounts are not signed off every year, and further work is necessary on that front. What we need is some urgent work to get to the bottom of what these figures are meant to say, how they were drawn up and whether any errors were involved. I have been very clear about not paying on
The fact that a memo was drawn up in the Treasury on Tuesday and I was told on Thursday would be instantaneous, compared with a new Labour gap, and compared with Budgets being prepared by the then Chancellor for months and the Prime Minister being told sometimes just a few hours before the Budget was delivered, even after it had gone to the printers. The hon. Gentleman does not have a leg to stand on.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that significant repatriation from the EU is highly unlikely? I and, it seems, most of the country feel that common sense needs to prevail. We should go back to a trade agreement, as we originally had, and drop this whole socialist nightmare that leads to massive bills, which he is now facing.
It is worth one last effort to try to renegotiate Britain’s place inside the EU, to give the British public a proper choice between a reformed membership of the EU or leaving. That is what people want. That is what I will deliver. I think it is possible to get a deal that would make it in Britain’s interests to stay. My hon. Friend may take a different view, but let us get the deal and then trust the people.
The then Economic Secretary to the Treasury, now sitting next to the Prime Minister, sent a letter to Lord
Very well read, but we have dealt with this issue already. It is only when the figures are available from all the European Union countries that it is possible to see what the net contribution for Britain will be. It is only at that point that that judgment can be made.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on being the first Prime Minister since the great Margaret Thatcher to say no to Europe. Does my right hon. Friend agree with my constituents, who have just given me a survey to say that the only way to vote for an in/out referendum on Europe is to vote Conservative in 2017?
My hon. Friend is right. Whatever view people take about whether Britain should be in the European Union or out of the European Union, there is only one way to secure that referendum.
Given that the recalculation of GNI has been known about for two years, it is a bit rich for the Prime Minister to say that he wants to understand the detail of the methodology. Should he not have been engaging with that recalculation and investigating its exact implications on behalf of the British people?
As I have explained, these calculations take place every year, but not normally on the scale that has happened this year. It was only on the Friday before the European Council meeting that the figures were available.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. If an economy outperforms other economies, that can lead to an increase in contributions. We have obviously seen an out-performance of the UK economy, which means that it was likely—as I said in my statement—we would be asked to pay a little bit more, but not €2 billion more. That is the figure that is completely unacceptable—[Interruption.]
May I wish you, Mr Speaker, and the Prime Minister many happy returns on the 100th anniversary today of Dylan Thomas’s birth in Swansea? Will the Prime Minister support the Bill I will present today to provide for greater scrutiny by this House and the European Parliament of international trade agreements, including the transatlantic trade and investment partnership, so that such issues are not decided by eurocrats and negotiators from the US, which may lead to multinationals suing the Government for passing laws that protect citizens and workers? Should we look at it, or should it just be the eurocrats?
Let me join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to Dylan Thomas and to Tom Hollander for his superb performance in the drama about the former’s life in America. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need to scrutinise TTIP properly, but we must do so on the basis of the truth rather than scare stories. I worry that a lot of scare stories are going around about health services, food safety or investor protection clauses, and perhaps his Bill and closer scrutiny can lay some of those to rest.
We already hand over the best part of £20 billion a year to be part of an inward-facing, backward-looking protection racket, propping up inefficient European businesses and French farmers. The British public do not expect the Prime Minister to hand over a bit less money or to hand it over a bit later: they expect him to tell the European Union to stick the money where the sun does not shine. What is the worst that the European Union could do if we did that? Ask us to leave? In my dreams!
I do sometimes wish that my hon. Friend would tell us what he really thinks, instead of this shrinking violet approach. We do not necessarily agree on the future, but we do agree that there is only one way to give the British people that choice.
We have learned that of the upward revisions to GDP £4 billion is attributable to illegal drugs and £5 billion to prostitution. Is that the great fruit of the Tories’ long-term economic plan?
If the hon. Lady looks at the figures, she will see that quite a big change came about because of the way in which charitable income and charities’ finances are calculated. As I have said, the figures are horrendously complicated, because some of them date back to 2002, and some are based on a fundamental reassessment of how these things should be measured. But we will get to the bottom of what the figures mean only when we look at what happens in every single EU country.
Be it in Leeds or Brussels, I am pleased to see that our Prime Minister is no push-over. Every facet of the EU budget—how it is calculated and how it is spent—is horrendously complicated, opaque and remarkably unsatisfactory. If the Prime Minister does not get what he wants by the diplomatic route, I suggest that the British people would be happy for our country to be infracted by the European Commission and behind him 100% in the court case.
I thank my hon. Friend for his support on the issue of the EU payments. May I also thank him for what he said about the incident in Leeds? It would be nice to put on the record for once the debt I owe to the close protection team who look after me and the very good job they do. I was in a meeting in Leeds speaking to a group of city leaders and other politicians. John Prescott was in the room as I gave the speech. As I left the room I thought the moment of maximum danger had probably passed, but clearly that was not the case. [Laughter.]
The Prime Minister heralded the appointment of Lord Hill to a key economic portfolio in the Commission as evidence of his influence in Europe. Will he therefore explain to the House why the overwhelming majority of Conservative MEPs last week refused to support the nomination of Lord Hill and other commissioners, despite his attempts to persuade them otherwise?
First of all, let me agree with the first half of the hon. Gentleman’s question. It is excellent that Lord Hill has the crucial portfolio of financial stability and financial services, including much of banking union. This is exactly the sort of job that Britain should have in the European Commission to maximise our influence. That is very important. MEPs vote for a range of different reasons and I am sure some of them were bearing in mind other elements at the Commission, but I am clear that it is a great success for Britain that our commissioner has such an important job.
There has been significant speculation that the €2.1 billion surcharge is politically motivated in terms of timing if not amount. Does my right hon. Friend give that any credence? If so, does he think that legal redress could result?
My hon. Friend makes an important point to which I do not know the answer. Obviously, these numbers, which are estimates, were meant to be under intense discussion and scrutiny, and then have a proper announcement. Instead, they came out leaked to a newspaper on Thursday evening. I do not know who was behind that or what the intent was, but what one has to do is act on the information one has. As soon as I heard about it, I assembled the coalition of Italians, Dutch and others to make sure that this is properly looked at.
The Whips’ handouts have been effective because lots of people have read them out, but I am afraid they are based on a fundamental misunderstanding. It was only at the meeting on Friday in Brussels that the numbers on net obligations became clear. That is the point. Until everybody’s calculations are known, what Britain would be asked to pay cannot be known.
I was out selling poppies in Glossop on Saturday and constituent after constituent came to me to express their outrage at this unacceptable demand for €2 billion. In fact, one constituent even likened the EU to Dick Turpin, the difference being that Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a mask. Does the Prime Minister agree that the view expressed to me by my High Peak constituents represents the view across the country that this bill is unacceptable?
I entirely understand the reaction of my hon. Friend’s constituents. It is exactly the reaction I found in my constituency at the weekend: people outraged that so much money could be asked for with so little time to pay it and with so little thought for the taxpayers who would be called on to do so.
In a few months, the Prime Minister will begin the serious business of renegotiating our relationship with the European Union. Does my right hon. Friend truly believe that the leaders of the European Commission, in asking for this vast amount of money, have any understanding of how exasperated the British taxpayers are at continuous demands for money that could be spent on British hospitals and British schools?
The Commission will see how strongly people feel. One of the great puzzles is that on Thursday night, when this emerged, the President of the current Commission, José Manuel Barroso, knew nothing about the payments, which raises interesting questions in itself. Clearly, the Commission needs to understand that this is taxpayers’ money and that it is not acceptable to behave in this way.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision not to pay the €2 billion and his statement “or anything like it”. I wish to be helpful. Would it not help his own position if he agreed to bring back for a vote in the House the amount he finally proposes to negotiate?
I think we are some way away from that, because we have to go through the estimates, find out what is wrong with the figures and how we can best change them, and go through all those processes before we reach that eventuality.
Notwithstanding this unacceptable demand from the European Commission, does the Prime Minister agree that economic stagnation in the eurozone poses a significant risk to the UK’s economic recovery, and do we not need to redouble our efforts to encourage our European neighbours to make the necessary economic reforms to stimulate growth across the eurozone?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our growth figures came out during the European Council and demonstrated that Britain was growing at more than 3% this year and that manufacturing, construction and services were all contributing to that growth. There are very few countries in Europe with growth rates anything like that. Indeed, there is a risk to Britain from contraction in the eurozone, and as I said in answer to an earlier question, we need the eurozone to have not just proper fiscal targets, but an active monetary policy and structural reforms to get more of its people back to work.
They did not, and they could not have known, because it was only at the Friday meeting, the week before the European Council, that the figures became apparent; that was when what the Commission was proposing for every other EU country could be seen. As has been explained, the Treasury then drew up a memorandum on the Tuesday before the European Council, and I was told on the Thursday. Those are the facts, even if they are inconvenient for those who want some great conspiracy and who believe that in the wonderful days of Blair and Brown information was shared so openly across government. I am afraid that does not stand up to the facts.
ITV News is reporting online that Mr Dominik, the EU Budget Commissioner, has confirmed that UK civil servants knew the precise revised sum some weeks ago. Given that the Prime Minister acknowledges that he knew the mechanisms in place, and given that Treasury officials knew the precise sum weeks ago, what part of it did the First Lord of the Treasury not understand?
I am glad the hon. Gentleman raises the point about the lunchtime news programmes, because not all of them have been accurate. One made the assertion that these numbers were discussed at the October ECOFIN, but that is simply not the case. As I said, the key meeting was an officials’ meeting in Brussels on the Friday before the European Council—that was the first time the numbers were seen—and the Treasury drew up a memorandum on the Tuesday. One would expect the Treasury to look at such estimates and work out an action plan to deal with them, and then the Prime Minister is told. That is how things work. I do not know why Opposition Members are looking for a mystery here; it is very straightforward.
Is not the fact that EU Commission officials can describe a demand for €2 billion as “an adjustment” an indication of just how far they have lost touch with ordinary voters, not just in Britain, but throughout the whole EU? This is an accountability issue. In challenging these payments, is my right hon. Friend standing up not just for the citizens of Britain, but for citizens throughout the whole EU who want the EU to succeed, but want it to be more accountable?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The description of it as a “technical adjustment” is what caused the Italian Prime Minister, me and the Dutch Prime Minister to really be very angry. This is a huge amount of money. It was €2 billion for Britain, and—from memory—for Holland, a much smaller country, it was €600 million. This is serious money, not some small adjustment.
The Prime Minister’s statement on important threats such as climate change and Ebola shows just how important it is for us to work with our European neighbours. However, do not the points made by Mr Clarke and my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne that the Treasury knew about this EU surcharge well beforehand and that the Office for National Statistics was supplying data months ago show that the Prime Minister is just shedding crocodile tears?
Where the hon. Lady is right is that of course there is a process for statistics authorities to share statistics across Europe. That happens every year, but the key moment is when those statistics come together and we can see what a country’s draft obligations would be. That is what happened. I know there is a desperate search for a “Who knew what, when?” story, but I think Opposition Members are missing the point—put forward so brilliantly by Kate Hoey—that it is the bottom-line issue that matters. Labour does not want to go to that, because it is not prepared ever to face up to the challenges we are sometimes set in Europe.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the cost of Labour in this context since 2005 has been a reduction in our rebate of nearly £10.5 billion and that a further cost of Labour would be its Front Benchers caving in and paying this enormous sum if they were in government, something to which my constituents in Dudley South say no?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Labour gave away £7 billion of our rebate and our ability to veto what was not in our national interest, signed Britain up to a euro bail-out mechanism to bail out countries that were in the eurozone, and agreed to increases in EU budgets year after year. This Government have taken a very different approach.
My constituents, like people across the country, are doubly astounded, first, that our country effectively faces a fine for its success and hard work and, secondly, that the money would be used to prop up the failed economic policies of the likes of François Hollande—policies supported by the Leader of the Opposition in 2012. Can the Prime Minister assure my constituents that we will say no to the demand to pay this bill from the European Union? Instead of coming to Britain for a bail-out, the European Union should first of all put its own house in order.
My hon. Friend makes important points. I have made clear the approach we are going to take, and we should also continue to pursue the economic policies that are making Britain such a strong and growing success.
Order. I think the questions really ought to focus on the policy of the Government and not be a kind of back-door way of trying to talk about Opposition policies. It is improper, and unfortunately it was not very subtly disguised.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his strength of leadership on this specific issue, but will he confirm that if this €2 billion bill is not reduced or is increased, he will convert his “No, no, no” to a “Never”?
I have been very clear: we are not paying this on
Touching on economic issues, in paragraph 7 of the conclusions, the Prime Minister will be aware that the EU recently granted Pakistan favourable trading status, linked to its basic human rights. In the light of the recent decision by the high court in Pakistan to sentence under its completely unacceptable blasphemy laws Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five children, to death by hanging, 45 Members of Parliament from across the House have written to the Government of Pakistan urging them to review this miscarriage of justice. Will the Prime Minister ensure that our Government push Pakistan to review this miscarriage of justice?
If the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber at the start of the statement, I will call him, but if he was not, I will not.
I hate to say it, but had the hon. Gentleman been here throughout, he would have heard my answer, which is this. Paying a little bit more or a little bit less because of a normal annual adjustment is one thing; €2 billion is quite another.
It is a big success that we have managed to get the EU to move towards decarbonisation targets and away from renewables targets, but the Prime Minister may be aware that what was agreed on Friday is considerably less onerous than the targets set out in our own Climate Change Act 2008. Does he have any intention of reconciling those two positions over the next few years?
First of all, what we have agreed is less onerous than the package negotiated by a previous Government that set out binding targets for 2020 that have added costs to bills. My advice is that what we agreed is broadly consistent with our carbon budgets; we can achieve what we will be expected to achieve within our carbon budgets.
My constituents do not give a Yorkshire pudding about who said what and when. What they do care about is Labour-run Kirklees council looking at not filling in potholes, consulting on whether to keep libraries open and struggling on funding. Will the Prime Minister, on behalf of my constituents, continue to pledge to say no to this huge bill, so that we can spend money right here on our constituents?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: people want us to stand up against unacceptable bills from Brussels and make sure that money is spent on our people’s priorities.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his response to this outrageous £1.7 billion demand. Clearly, the EU is similar to the Labour party, in that it wishes to penalise success and reward failure. When he renegotiates our terms of membership, will he ensure that—second only to dealing with the free movement of labour—he will seek to reduce the power of officials, introduce real democratic accountability and return powers to this Parliament?
I think there is a lot in that agenda that we need properly to engage with. We have set out the things I most want to renegotiate. It is obviously going to be difficult, but as I have said, it is worth doing that to give the British people a proper choice between a reformed in and out.
I thank the Prime Minister on behalf of thousands of my constituents in Winchester. Seemingly, many of them of contacted me this weekend to say thank you for his defence of their money. To borrow a current phrase, the European Union is treating Great Britain like a kind of branch office. Does the Prime Minister understand—I know it is difficult—that many of my constituents see this as a further reason why, with a heavy heart, this club is just not working for us any more?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says about his constituents. I think it is worth while having that renegotiation so that we can give the British people a choice. We demonstrated at the European Council that when it comes to climate change and Ebola, we were able to push for action that will benefit people in our country and across the continents.
I do not accept that Britain cannot win in Europe; we can, but we need to make sure that we have the right deal to get public support behind this organisation. Clearly, what happened before the weekend in terms of this bill is not helpful.
I thank the Prime Minister for standing up to Brussels and for the cut in the EU budget. Given that the EU has had a negative impact on jobs and wages, particularly for low earners, is it not the EU’s responsibility to save hard-working taxpayers money rather than try to increase the taxes they pay? Does this not make the case, which he has made so well, for an in/out referendum on the European Union?
My hon. Friend is on to a very important point—that because of the difficulties in the eurozone, people have seen Europe as the source of some of our problems rather than the source of opportunities. That puts even further pressure on the EU to recognise that and to cut its cloth accordingly to try to save people money rather than cost them money.
Annexe II of the Gleneagles agreement of 2005 states:
“The EU has pledged to reach 0.7 per cent” of overseas development assistance as a percentage of gross national income by 2015. Given that we are nearly in 2015, will my right hon. Friend confirm whether the Commission has been sending out payment reminders on behalf of the poorest people on earth—in the case of Germany, for $11.8 billion a year; in the case of France, for $8 billion a year, and in the case of the United Kingdom, zero?
My hon. Friend has made a good point. We made a promise to the poorest in the world, and we have kept our promise to the poorest in the world. Other countries that made those pledges at that meeting—including Italy, France and Germany—have not kept their promises, and they should answer for themselves. When it comes to issues such as Ebola, however, it is necessary to spend money quite rapidly. I would say to people in our country that it is not just our moral responsibility to help people in west Africa, but it is essential in order to prevent Ebola from coming here. A country needs to have deep pockets and resources in order to take the action that is required.
The unwelcome scale of the surcharge does at least suggest that the European Commission has recognised the strength of the British economy, the value of the long-term economic plan, and the success of the Government’s approach to reducing our deficit. When the Prime Minister seeks to recalibrate the scale and pace, will he underline the need for the European Union to adopt the same economic strategies as us?
My hon. Friend is doing a very good job in finding a silver lining for this cloud, namely the fact that our economy is growing. As I said in my statement, that was going to involve our having to make some sort of additional payment, but the scale is completely unacceptable. As for the lessons that can be learnt from the success of what we are doing here in Britain, I think that there are examples that can be followed in the rest of Europe.
The constituents to whom I spoke over the weekend, on the doorstep and in community meetings, were certainly not amused by the irony of a surcharge of £1.7 billion from the European Union having to be paid because our economy is so successful, and they were very much behind my right hon. Friend in wanting to say no to the payment. Does the Prime Minister agree that we should take no lessons from the Labour party, who gave away £7 billion in terms of our rebate in return for absolutely no reform of the European Union?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. Not only was that money given away in terms of the rebate, but we saw EU budgets go up and up year after year because of a failure to control spending. That is the lesson that we must learn. We have to be very tough on these things in Europe, which Labour consistently failed to be.
Does the Prime Minister agree that if we are to keep Britain secure from the threat of Ebola at home, we need to contain it abroad? Should we not recognise the hundreds of people in our national health service who have volunteered to go out to west Africa, and congratulate them on their work in keeping us secure?
I think it quite extraordinary that 650 people in our country have already volunteered to go. As I said in my statement, we are sending out troops to help with the logistics and the planning. We must ensure that the medevac proposals are really robust, so that if any people do get into trouble, they can either be given excellent treatment in one of our facilities in the country, or be brought home.
I welcome the agreement entered into between the United Kingdom and France to tackle the chaos at Calais, where the mayor has lost control of the streets. May I urge him to initiate a pan-European push to tackle the evil of human trafficking, which is so often organised, and to tackle countries such as Italy—which is the first safe country for treaty purposes—rather than allowing people to be waved through to Calais?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As well as having proper controls at Calais and at our own border, we must ensure that when people arrive in the European Union, they claim asylum and register in the first country that they reach rather than being passported through to the channel ports.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. You were spoilt for choice then.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the euro bureaucrats have made a mistake? They thought that they could push this Prime Minister into doing what a Labour Government clearly would do, and accepting everything that was said. This Prime Minister and this Government will not be treated like that. They will not be treated like a branch office; they will not be treated in the way in which the Labour party has treated its Scottish comrades.
Labour did provide a rather odd distraction over the weekend, with the extraordinary meltdown of its party in Scotland. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we must demonstrate that when something unacceptable like this is put on the table, we are willing to say no.
May I inform the Prime Minister that the clear and strong view from the Kettering constituency is that absolutely no way should we be paying this extra money? Before he goes back to Brussels, may I encourage him to have a good rummage through the cupboards in Downing street, dig out the prime ministerial handbag which was last deployed by its original owner in the early 1990s, and clonk it around the head of the Commission?
My hon. Friend has made an excellent suggestion. I am not sure that the handbag is actually passed down in that way, but the metaphorical handbag is still available, and there are times when it needs to be used.