I know that the whole House will join me in welcoming David Natzler as the new Clerk of the House. Mr Speaker, you went to the ends of the earth in search of the best candidate, but I am glad that we found the right answer right here in Britain.
Before turning to the main focus of the Council, which was the situation in the eurozone, let me say a word about the discussions on Tunisia and Libya, on the situation in Ukraine and on the nuclear talks with Iran. I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the friends and family of Sally Adey, a British holidaymaker who was among at least 20 tourists and two Tunisians brutally murdered in the terrorist attack at the Bardo museum last week. I have written to President Essebsi to assure him that Britain will stand with the people of Tunisia as they seek to defeat the terrorists and build a peaceful and prosperous future. The EU has agreed to offer practical assistance, and Britain will play its part, deploying SO15 and military counter-terrorism experts and continuing to provide assistance in aviation security and tourist resort protection.
The suggestion that some of the terrorists involved had been trained in Libya is the latest evidence of the very difficult situation in that country. The Council agreed on the need for a political solution, supporting UN-led efforts to bring the different parties in Libya together to agree a national unity Government. Britain has provided Libya with aid and military training, and we will continue to do all that we can to assist. I know that some people are looking at this situation and asking whether Britain, France and America were right to act to stop Colonel Gaddafi when we did. We should be clear that the answer is yes. Gaddafi was on the brink of massacring his own people in Benghazi, and we prevented what would have been a wide-scale, brutal, murderous assault. It was the right thing to do, and we should be very proud of the British servicemen and women who carried out that vital task.
Turning to the situation in eastern Ukraine, the Council welcomed the significant reduction in fighting and the progress on the withdrawal of heavy weapons. But as President Obama, President Hollande, Chancellor Merkel and I agreed earlier this month, it is essential to send a clear signal that sanctions will not be eased until Russia delivers on its promises and the Minsk agreements are fully implemented. The European Council did exactly that. The conclusions say that
“the duration of the restrictive measures...should be clearly linked to the complete implementation of the Minsk Agreements.”
The conclusions also underline our readiness to take further measures if required.
One of the best things we can do to help Russia’s neighbours is to help them to fight corruption and strengthen their democracies. Just as the Know-How fund, set up by Margaret Thatcher, did a great job of helping eastern European countries after the fall of the Berlin wall, so we need the same approach today. At the Council, I announced a good governance fund with an initial £20 million to support reforms in countries in the eastern neighbourhood and the western Balkans. This will complement support from other donors, accelerating efforts to fight corruption, strengthening the rule of law, reforming the police and justice systems and supporting free markets by liberalising key sectors such as energy and banking. The fund will be up and running by the summer. As well as covering Ukraine, it will initially cover Georgia, Moldova, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Turning to Iran, I met Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande in the margins of the Council to discuss progress in the vital talks on Iran’s nuclear programme. We are absolutely clear and united in our purpose. Iran must never be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. But there is a peaceful path to civil nuclear energy, and we believe that a comprehensive, durable and verifiable deal is possible, but only if Iran shows greater flexibility and takes some tough decisions during the talks this week. We also discussed proposals for co-ordinating Europe’s energy policy, ensuring transparency of gas supply agreements and that Europe’s energy policies are consistent with reaching the vital deal at the climate change summit in Paris this December.
Turning to the eurozone, the Council welcomed the agreement between Greece and the euro area to extend their programme. Let me say again—this is the last of these statements in this Parliament and I have probably uttered this sentence 11 times: Britain is not in the eurozone and we are not going to join the eurozone. But we do need the eurozone to work properly. A disorderly Greek exit from the euro remains a major threat to Europe’s economic stability and it could be very damaging to the British economy. Protecting our economy from these wider risks in the eurozone means sticking to this Government’s long-term economic plan. Five years ago, Britain’s economy was close to the edge. We had the biggest budget deficit in our peacetime history. We had a deficit that was forecast to be bigger than that of Greece or of any other developed country on the planet. Five years on, the deficit has been halved and our national debt is falling as a share of GDP; we have the fastest growth of any major western economy; we have 1.89 million more people in work; and we have more jobs created in Yorkshire than in the whole of France, and more jobs created in the UK than in the rest of the European Union put together. We need to stay on this path, not abandon it just as it is leading our country to prosperity.
Just as we are acting in our national interest at home, so we have acted to protect our national interest in Europe, too: we have cut the EU budget for the first time in its history; we got Britain out of the euro bail-out schemes; we vetoed a treaty that was not in our national interest; we stopped attempts to discriminate against EU countries outside the eurozone, not least with our successful legal challenge last month; we have made vital progress on cutting red tape and completing the single market; at our G8 in Lough Erne, we kick-started the talks on what will be the biggest bilateral trade deal in history, between the EU and the US; we have put power back in the hands of our fishermen so they can sell what they catch; we have negotiated a new single European patent that will reduce cost for entrepreneurs, and part of that patent court will be based right here in London; we have ensured new safeguards to protect our vital financial services industry; we have returned over 100 powers from Brussels to Britain, giving us more control over our borders, policing and security; we have clamped down on benefit tourism; and in foreign policy, we have worked together with our European partners to get things done and keep our people safe, on matters ranging from sanctions on Russia and Iran, and practical assistance to help countries in north Africa fight terrorism, to international action to help those in desperate need around the world, including in west Africa, where British aid workers are risking their lives, helping to stop the spread of Ebola.
In the coming two years, we have the opportunity to reform the EU and fundamentally change Britain’s relationship with it. We have the opportunity to build a European Union that is more competitive, more flexible and more accountable to the people, where powers flow back to member states, not just away from them, and where freedom of movement is no longer an unqualified right. And for the first time in 40 years, we have the opportunity to give the British people their say on Britain’s place in Europe with an in-out referendum. If I am Prime Minister, that is what I will do. Those who would refuse to give the British people their say should explain themselves to this House and to the country. I commend this statement to the House.
May I thank the Prime Minister for his statement? He is obviously getting in his preparations for opposition now. Let me also join him in congratulating David Natzler on his appointment, which is a very well-deserved appointment.
I also wish to join the Prime Minister in condemning the appalling terrorist attack in Tunisia last week. Our thoughts go out to the family and friends of Sally Adey and all the victims who were involved in the attacks. This despicable act of terrorism once again reinforces our determination to stand united across Europe.
Before turning to other matters, I also want to note that since the last European Council we have had the Israeli elections, although they do not appear to have been discussed at the European Council. Let me say that there is now one overriding priority, which is restarting negotiations towards a two-state solution: a secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state. Can the Prime Minister, when he replies, say whether he agrees that we must put pressure on both sides now to restart negotiations? In the light of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments in the run-up to the election, has our Prime Minister sought reassurances about his continuing commitment to a two-state solution?
On Iran, we support the talks. We cannot allow an Iran with nuclear weapons. It is vital that we secure a successful outcome and we will support the EU in seeking to bring that about. Let me also echo the Prime Minister’s words on Libya. We supported the military action—it was the right thing to do—and we support the call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. However, the Prime Minister needs to tell the country why things have gone so wrong in Libya. Are people not entitled to conclude that the international community did not adequately plan for the aftermath of the conflict, and what does he realistically believe can be done now?
On Greece, rather than recycling his failing election slogans, can the Prime Minister tell us what the prospects are for a long-term agreement with Greece? That agreement is in the interests of Greece, the eurozone, and the United Kingdom.
Turning to the situation in Ukraine, it is vital that the international community stands united in ensuring that the Minsk agreement is implemented in full. We welcome the commitment, which the Prime Minister reiterated, that EU sanctions on Russia should be eased only in the event of the full implementation of that agreement. Given that the current situation on the ground is not showing signs of getting better, will the Prime Minister tell us whether discussions took place during the summit about increasing further the pressure on Russia, particularly on the so-called tier 3 sanctions on specific sectors?
It is clear that the security dimension of the EU is becoming more and more important. That has been particularly apparent over the past year. It demands common action, resolve and a clear commitment to our continuing place in the European Union—a commitment that the Prime Minister is incapable of delivering. As this is his 29th and last European statement, I had hoped that he might do what he has failed to do in the past 28 and spell out his negotiating strategy. All we had was the same empty rhetoric. Perhaps he can now specifically tell us what the non-negotiable reforms are that he is seeking in Europe. Is he seeking treaty change? Would he countenance voting for “out” in a referendum—[Interruption] Oh, the Minister for Europe says no from a sedentary position; he would not countenance supporting “out”. Perhaps, when the Prime Minister replies, he can confirm that the Minister for Europe said from a sedentary position that, under no circumstances, would he countenance an out vote in a referendum—the Minister knows that the national interest lies in staying in. Those are the questions to which the country deserves answers.
Was the Prime Minister disappointed last week when the President of the European Council, who is supposedly an ally of Britain, described his position as “mission impossible”? With the typical modesty that we have come to expect from the Prime Minister, he then compared himself to Tom Cruise. [Interruption.] I am coming to that; he will enjoy it. To be fair, he did admit to one crucial difference. He said, “He’s a little bit smaller than me.” I have to say to the Prime Minister that I am not sure that that is the main difference that comes to mind. One has a consistent and relatively coherent approach to international affairs and the other is the Prime Minister of Britain.
The Prime Minister mentioned his achievements. Let us remind ourselves of them. He talked about his veto of the treaty, but the treaty went ahead. He did not mention the stand he took against President Juncker; he lost that 26 votes to two. He did not mention either the £1.7 billion bill from Brussels. His attitude to that was: can’t pay, won’t pay, oh, all right, we will pay. But let me relay my personal favourite over the past five years. Who can forget his phrase that in this town, you need to
“lock and load and have one up the spout.”
Up the spout is exactly where his European policy is—not so much Tom Cruise, more David Brent. He cannot tell us what he is negotiating for—
No, I have not quite finished. The Prime Minister cannot tell us what he is negotiating for; he has no strategy for achieving change—[Interruption.]
I thought that Government Members wanted to talk about Europe—not any more. He cannot tell us what he is negotiating for. He has no strategy for achieving change and he cannot even tell us whether he will vote yes or no in a referendum. A Prime Minister who cannot tell us whether he wants to be in Europe or out of Europe is a weak Prime Minister. He cannot provide the leadership that our country needs. For that, Britain needs a Labour Government.
I had not been counting, but I think that reporting back to the House 29 times is quite an impressive record—too many. The right hon. Gentleman does have one thing in common with Tom Cruise: every policy he touches self-destructs in five seconds—tuition fees, spending, the deficit, taxes; it is all the same.
Let me deal with the right hon. Gentleman’s questions. On the very important matter of the Israeli elections, I am sure that we will all want to congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu on his election victory. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that we must put pressure on both sides to ensure that talks on a two-state solution get going. I will be talking with Prime Minister Netanyahu this evening, and I will make it very clear that I support a two-state solution. I think that is in the long-term interests of not only the Palestinians, but the Israelis, and Britain’s policy on that will not change.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said in support of the Government’s position on Iran and on Libya. He asked why we have seen the difficulties after the fall of Gaddafi. One of the things that we have to be clear about is that the Libyan people and the Libyan Government did not want some occupying force; they did not want to be remotely controlled by others. They were given opportunities to opt for a more unified future, but so far they have not taken them, so we have to do everything we can to keep putting those options on the table, not least through a national unity Government.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about Greece and the prospects for a long-term agreement. I still think that the prospects are quite worrying, because on one hand we have the creditor nations that want to see Greece fulfil its programme, and on the other hand we have a Greek Government who do not seem at the moment to be coming up with reforms that give their creditors confidence. One of the lessons that needs to be learned—the right hon. Gentleman needs to learn this—is that government involves difficult decisions, and the Greeks still have to make difficult decisions. [Interruption.] Yes, he was in government. I remember, because he completely crashed the economy, as a member of the Government who left this country in hopeless amounts of debt.
The right hon. Gentleman asked a very specific question on the Minsk agreement: will there be more sanctions if there is more destabilisation? The answer is yes. We should be prepared to consider more sanctions if the situation deteriorates. The key point about the Minsk agreement is that the difficult decisions for Russia will come at the end of the process, which is why it is so important to keep the sanctions right to the end.
The right hon. Gentleman wants to know why we want to renegotiate in Europe, and I will tell him why: we want to get out of ever-closer union; we do not want that to apply to Britain; we want control of our welfare system; we want safeguards for the single market; we want powers to flow back to Britain. Let me ask him this: if those are the things that we want, what is it that he wants? The answer, when it comes to Europe, is absolutely nothing. He told us that he does not think that Brussels has too much power. He refuses to rule out joining the euro because, as he said, “It depends how long I’m Prime Minister for”, so that is a hopeful message. He has made it clear that he will never give the British people a say in a referendum.
Frankly, I will compare my record on Europe with his party’s every day of the week. They gave away £7 billion of the rebate; we have protected the rebate. They gave away our ability to veto what is not in our national interest; we vetoed a treaty that was not in our national interest. They signed Britain up to being in the euro bail-out fund; we got Britain out of the euro bail-out fund. The truth is that we on the Government side of the House stand up for Britain in Europe and the Labour party just sells us out.
I commend my right hon. Friend for what he has just said, and for stating unequivocally in his Bloomberg speech that it is our national Parliament that is the root of our democracy, for which people fought and died, but in what specific respects will he repatriate the powers of the British people to govern themselves and return the powers of sovereignty to this Parliament so that we can govern this country as we wish?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have already returned a power to Britain by getting out of the bail-out fund. We have returned 100 specific powers as a result of the opt-out on justice and home affairs. I have been very specific that when it comes to the free movement of people, and particularly its interaction with our welfare system, we need powers to be returned to this country. Specifically, I have said that people coming from European Union countries to Britain should not be allowed to claim unemployment benefit, that they should have to leave after six months if they do not have a job, that they should have to pay in for four years before getting anything out of the tax credits system and that they should not be able to send child benefit or other child tax payments to families back home. Those things require serious change in Europe, including treaty change, and that is what we will secure, and what a contrast with the Labour party, which will do absolutely zip.
May I add my own congratulations to Mr Natzler as Clerk, and say how pleased I am personally that the cross-party process of the Governance Committee has led to one of many important decisions that have been made following it?
When the Prime Minister speaks to Mr Netanyahu this evening, will he underline two things—first, that in respect of the negotiations with Iran, a deal which is acceptable and honourable on both sides is more likely to help guarantee Israel’s security, as well as that of others, than no deal at all? Secondly, will he emphasise to Mr Netanyahu that what his party and Government have been involved in is trying to change the reality on the ground through settlement building, so that if it goes on, it will be impossible for there to be a separate state of Palestine, and that if he carries on like this, the patience of this House and of Europe will run out?
First, just in case it is the last time I look at the right hon. Gentleman across the Floor of the House of Commons and he does not catch the Speaker’s eye at the last Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday, may I pay tribute to him for all the work that he has done in government and in opposition, including in some very senior roles at some very difficult times for this country? The one pledge I make him is that if he continues to live where he does, his constituency MP will always stand up for him in this House of Commons and make sure that he receives a premium service.
The two points that the right hon. Gentleman makes about Israel are right and they are points that I will be happy to make. They are linked: if there is no two-state solution, the situation ends up moving towards a one-state solution, which I think will be disastrous for the Jewish people in Israel, so I really do believe in the two-state solution. We are very much opposed to the settlement building that has taken place. We have been very clear about that and will continue to be clear about that. It makes a two-state solution more difficult and that, in turn, will make Israel less stable, rather than more stable.
In his Bloomberg speech the Prime Minister set out five core principles for a 21st-century EU. If he has had a chance to look at the current European Commission work programme, he will have seen that, contrary to what the Leader of the Opposition has just said, there has now been significant movement towards these principles, particularly on migration and the single market. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we do not have to demand a renegotiation before a referendum? Europe is already offering us one.
My right hon. Friend is right. It is because we have been clear about the things that need to change that the European Commission is already looking at the sorts of changes that could be made. This is an organisation that responds not simply to pressure, but to political realities, so we have to make sure that the political reality after the next election is someone walking into the Berlaymont building or the European Council building and demanding change, rather than someone wandering in and just saying, “Relax—there’s nothing you need to do. We don’t have to have a referendum. We don’t need a renegotiation. One day we’ll join the single currency.” All the pressure would be off and, yes, some in Brussels would breathe a sigh of relief, because it would be business as usual with Labour and probably the Scottish National party too.
I endorse the Prime Minister’s welcome to our excellent new chief Clerk. I also welcome the fact, Mr Speaker, that you are proceeding speedily to the appointment of the post that will carry out the chief executive duties, the director general. That is very important.
On Greece, may I suggest to the Prime Minister that simply repeating the same dose of austerity on the Greek people and their Government will not achieve the objective any more than the last dose did? National debt went up in Greece as a result of the austerity programme. Of course, the Greek Government have to reform to collect their taxes and to get rid of corruption, and the Government have volunteered to do that, but going down the same austerity road is not going to revive the Greek economy or enable it to repay its debts. Those must be rescheduled and the reforms around that must ensure that Greece is capable of repaying its debts, not being strangled with austerity.
I do not entirely disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. The problem is, though, that the people who have lent the money to Greece want their money back, and they believe that Greece should carry out a series of reforms before they give it any more money. He or I can take a different view and argue as I would, although he would not, that Greece should never have joined the eurozone in the first place. That is not the right hon. Gentleman’s view because he is a fanatic about the eurozone. None the less, as we have not lent money to Greece, we are not in that position. If he had been at the European Council he would have heard, whether from the Germans, the Dutch and the Scandinavian countries, or from the Spanish, the Portuguese and the Irish, who have all been through these painful processes, that there is very little appetite to cut Greece a lot of slack.
On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I echo the Prime Minister’s congratulations to Mr Natzler. I welcome the Prime Minister’s remarks on Tunisia and Libya, where we must all still hope that the promise of the Arab awakening will be fulfilled and sympathise about the fact that uniting the Tory party on Europe really is “mission impossible”? On the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, does he agree that the UK should never ratify a treaty that would undermine the NHS?
Of course. But I do believe that all of us in this House who support free trade and want to see Britain as a success story in international markets should really get behind TTIP rather than listening to some non-governmental organisations that are raising entirely false fears about it. There is no way that TTIP can in any way undermine our NHS. Our NHS is determined by the policies we pass here in this House. One of the things that was so striking about the European Council was countries worrying about the so-called investor protection mechanisms, even though Britain has 94 of these things and we have never lost a case. There is an awful lot of scaremongering about TTIP. Any of us who want to see a successful British economy should get behind what could be a real jobs boost for our country.
“Public services are always exempted—there is no problem about exemption. The argument is abused in your country for political reasons but it has no grounds.”
The point I would make, though, is that it is local NHS commissioners who make decisions about who delivers services. One of the things that is being done with TTIP is that people or countries who want to raise concerns, like over the investor protection mechanisms, are asking for more things to be put in the treaty, which in the end we will have to pay a price for; and if they are not necessary and there is not a problem, why are we creating one? With the investor protection mechanisms, the country that was raising this problem was Austria, which has 60 of these agreements and has never, ever lost a case. Of course let us have the robust negotiation and seek any safeguards we might need, but let us not raise problems that do not really exist.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in contradistinction to the views expressed by the Leader of the Opposition, there are millions of ordinary voters in this country who want their say on whether Britain should remain part of the European Union—a say that is long overdue? Is it not absolutely crystal clear that they will get that say only if my right hon. Friend continues to occupy Downing street after the election and is in a position to deliver on that promise?
I think there are millions of people in our country who want to have that say. We have not had a referendum since 1975. We cannot remain in these organisations without the full-hearted consent of the British people behind us. So it is time to have the referendum, but let us have it on the basis of a renegotiation. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: there is only one way to get that referendum, and that is to make sure that there is a Conservative majority and a Conservative Prime Minister after the next election.
The crisis in Libya is having catastrophic consequences. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has said that of the 170,000 people who entered Italy illegally last year, 92% did so from Libya, and the figures for this year show a 64% increase. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is not enough to give more resources to Frontex—we also have to deal with the source countries to help them stop migrants putting their lives at risk or being profited from by traffickers?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We will not solve the problem simply by more sea patrols—nor, indeed, by returning to the Mare Nostrum policy, which sounded humanitarianly sound, but deaths at sea during the period of its operation increased fourfold. So there is no alternative to trying to stabilise these countries and deal with the problem at source. We are able to use our aid and other budgets, with European partners, to do that, and we should certainly do so.
A few weeks ago I went to No. 10, along with my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone and Tom Pursglove, the excellent Eurosceptic Conservative candidate for Corby, to deliver the results of the north Northamptonshire referendum, in which 81% of the people of north
Northamptonshire voted to come out of the EU. Unfortunately, when we knocked, the Prime Minister was not in, but he kindly wrote to me stating, rather importantly, that, if it was at all possible, he would be delighted to bring forward the EU referendum. I think there is a misunderstanding that it has to be held at the end of 2017, so will the Prime Minister confirm that it could take place earlier?
First, may I apologise for not being in? It is not that I have an adverse reaction when I see the men in grey suits approaching Downing street, but I obviously was not there on the right day and I am very sorry about that. What I have said is that the referendum must take place by the end of 2017, but if it is possible to complete the renegotiation and hold it earlier, no one would be more delighted than me. I think it would be—[Interruption.] The Leader of the Opposition complains from a sedentary position, but there would be no referendum or choice with Labour. They would literally just turn up in Brussels and say, “Tell me how much to spend. Where do I sign? No renegotiation or referendum.” It is absolutely clear that there is only one way to give the British people a choice, and that is to make sure I am at this Dispatch Box after the next election.
Does the Prime Minister accept that thousands of small and medium-sized businesses and companies throughout the United Kingdom would love, and are desperate to see, a different relationship with the European Union? Does he accept that promising a referendum is a better way of getting that ultimate change?
I agree with the hon. Lady and wish she could talk some sense into her Front-Bench colleagues. She is absolutely right. By holding a —[Interruption.] The Leader of the Opposition says that the hon. Lady does not agree with me, but she just stood up and made the case for a referendum rather better than I did. I will take careful note of what she said. The point is that, by having this pledge and renegotiation, we can get things done for businesses large and small.
We are all being a bit unfair on the Labour party. After all, 40 years ago it was the Labour party that gave us a referendum and, to be fair to the Liberals, they promised one in the last Parliament, although I do not understand why they have gone wobbly on trusting the people. Perhaps it is because the people may give the wrong answer. Is not the answer to the Leader of the Opposition that every single person in this country, no matter how important they are—whether they are the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition—gets one vote? Will my right hon. Friend therefore give a categorical assurance that any Government of which he is Prime Minister will deliver this choice to the British people?
I have been absolutely clear: I will not be Prime Minister in a Government that do not hold a referendum. I could not be more clear about it. My hon. Friend makes an important point. I remember Tony Blair standing at this Dispatch Box as Prime Minister
—I was sitting somewhere on the Opposition Benches—and saying with respect to the European constitution, “Let battle be joined,” and making a great pledge. He could have held a referendum, but he did not. That is one of the things that has poisoned the well in this country and that makes a referendum even more important today.
We have spent about £800 million helping refugees in Syria, which makes us the second largest bilateral donor to the programme. We have taken 140 people under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme, and it is right that we have done that, but we have to be frank with ourselves and with the public. In a refugee crisis of this scale, which runs into millions of people, the idea that even a small part of the solution is for our country to take in hundreds or thousands is completely wrong.
Does the Prime Minister agree that inward investment from the European Union, including Sartorius Stedim investing in my constituency, is a sign that Europeans believe in a reformed European Union and that we have a large number of allies in Europe who want to reform the EU in a constructive way, ready for a referendum?
My hon. Friend makes the important point that Britain is a magnet for inward investment. In fact, we are getting 50% more inward investment than either France or Germany, the next two biggest recipients of such investment. The interesting point is that, since I made my Bloomberg speech and that referendum commitment, there has been no sign of change in the inward investment from countries in the rest of the world coming into the United Kingdom, because they know that it is right to hold that renegotiation and that referendum.
We can all wish for a political solution and a national unity Government in Libya, but the reality is that it is not happening and an al-Qaeda or ISIL-linked state is being established on parts of the coast, which is a serious threat to our country and the rest of Europe. What are we going to do about the situation in Libya, rather than just wishing for a change?
It is not a question of simply wishing for a change; we are working with our allies to help to bring one about. The aim so far has been to produce a national unity Government by bringing together the different parties that there are in Libya. We have not taken the approach that some in the region have taken of trying to pick sides and creating conflict between the various parties. I accept, however, that as we see the growth of ISIL in Libya, we are going to have to challenge all those who could take part in a national unity Government to oppose ISIL and any formation it is able to achieve in Libya. That will be an important part of the stability that we seek not just for the sake of the Libyan people, but for that of our own.
In my last week as a Member of Parliament, may I commend my right hon. Friend not just for his statement, but for his work over the past five years in re-establishing the United Kingdom as a serious and respected player in international affairs?
Turning specifically to the good governance fund that he mentioned with regard to Ukraine and eastern Europe, will the Prime Minister look at the money that has been transferred to this country, particularly from Russia? Oligarchs and others seem to have thought that here and western Europe were good places to put their money, most of which was looted from the good people of Russia. Part of the reason why there is a problem in Russia is that money has been taken out of Russia and placed here.
First, may I thank my right hon. Friend for the valuable work that he has done for his constituents in this House, but also as part of the Government both in Northern Ireland and at the Ministry of Defence? He has played an absolutely crucial role, and he will be missed.
On the issue of Russian money, we have some of the toughest controls anywhere in the world in terms of money laundering and other such issues. I would make the point that Britain has very much been in the vanguard of arguing for sanctions on Russia and Russian individuals, even though it could be argued that this might in some way disadvantage investment coming into the United Kingdom. We have put the interests of Europe and the interests of the Ukrainian people first.
Is the Prime Minister aware that many of us on the Labour Benches who are pro-European want what our allies want, which is a strong Britain in a strong Europe? Yes, we want a reformed Europe—all of us are in favour of reform in Europe—but we are not in favour of weakness and vacillation, which manufacturers and exporters in my constituency say will damage this country over the next three years while we wait for a referendum.
The hon. Gentleman says that he is in favour of reform, but I have not heard one single proposal from the Labour party about anything it wants to reform. He is presumably standing on his leader’s ticket, but I do not know whether he has his picture on his leaflets. When I met my Labour opponent in Chipping Norton market square this week, I had a look at his leaflet, and there was not a dicky-bird when it came to the Leader of the Opposition. It could have been from a totally different party. There are plenty of pictures of me. The Leader of the Opposition has said:
“I don’t think Brussels has got too much power”.
That is the official position of the Labour party: it is not for reform, but for the status quo.
As the only major party leader to trust the British people with an in/out referendum on EU membership, my right hon. Friend has certainly reassured the patriotic British electorate. Will he now go the whole way by reassuring them that throughout the next Parliament, when he is Prime Minister, Britain will not fall below the NATO recommended minimum of 2% of GDP on defence?
I would say to my hon. Friend, who I know cares passionately about this issue, as I do, that we are one of the few countries in Europe to meet 2%. We have met it through this Parliament, and we are meeting it this year and next year. He has very specific guarantees about a full replacement for Trident, a £160 billion equipment programme that will go up in real terms each year and no further reductions in regular personnel in our armed forces. I think those are bankable assurances, which will resonate on the doorsteps as he goes house to house.
Even at this late stage, I think that the Prime Minister might thank my right hon. Friend Mr Brown for keeping us out of the euro. As he knows, the euro has been sinking like a stone in recent weeks and there are terrible stresses inside the eurozone, arising from the rigidities of the euro. Is not the only serious solution to dissolve the euro and recreate national currencies? Is he not in a strong position to say that?
I believe strongly in maintaining our national currency, but it is not a realistic option to tell all other countries in Europe which currency they should use. Many of them are hugely enthusiastic about the euro. However misguided I feel that is, arguing that they should all break up their currency is not a viable option. Obviously, being in the euro and not being able to devalue have damaged Greece’s ability to respond to the problems, but we cannot lay all the problems with the Greek economy at the door of the euro. Greece has a long history of not making structural reforms, having ludicrously early retirement ages—[Interruption.]—having problems with its working practices and all the rest of it. Mr Skinner asks what is wrong with ludicrously early retirement ages. He has enjoyed making such comments from a sedentary position for many, many years and I am sure that he will do so for many years to come. There is a slight irony there.
Did my right hon. Friend have any discussions at the European Council about the jobs miracle in this country, in that there are more people employed here than at any time in our islands’ history? Did he ask members of the European Council to come and see that miracle at first hand in Harlow, where unemployment has halved, youth unemployment is down by nearly 60% and apprenticeships are up by 116%?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. We discussed the employment situation across Europe and I was able to give a very strong report on what is happening in Britain: the 1,000 jobs that are being created every day and the plummeting levels of unemployment and youth unemployment. I said that that is evidence of the combination of long-term structural changes and economic recovery. There are European countries with very high structural rates of unemployment that need to take action to deal with that.
On the Tory European referendum, what will happen if the UK votes to leave the European Union, but Scotland votes to remain within it? Should the Scottish people just put up with being yanked out of Europe against their will? Would it not be better if all the siblings in the Prime Minister’s family of nations agreed individually before they were taken out of Europe?
What I want to know is, where are the rest of the Scot nats? They are preparing for power and writing Labour’s Budget. They are obviously very busy. What I would say about referendums is that the hon. Gentleman lost the first one and he will lose the next one.
You will have noticed, Mr Speaker, that my hon. Friend Mr Bone no longer talks about his wife, but about the excellent Conservative parliamentary candidate in Corby, Thomas Pursglove. I believe that that is because Mrs Bone is going to become a councillor in my constituency and so has been talking to me. She regrets the fact that the Liberal Democrats have not allowed the Government to negotiate formally on a renegotiation in Europe, but she wonders whether the Prime Minister has taken advantage of his meetings on the sidelines of the European Council to talk about our renegotiation with our European partners.
I must say, I did not know that those sorts of things happened in Northamptonshire. They are obviously very exciting events. I congratulate Mrs Bone on trying to become a councillor. I am sure that she will make a great contribution, as she did to the film about this place. Of course I have had discussions with our European partners about what Britain wants to see renegotiated and I will continue to do so.
I have been absolutely clear: I want Britain to stay in a reformed European Union. That is the aim I have and I am confident I will achieve it.
Although my hon. Friend and I do not always see eye to eye on issues European, he is making a strong point. We have not seen much of a boost to the British economy from the eurozone because it has been relatively stagnant. We have had to achieve economic recovery by selling to other parts of the world and getting our own economy moving. If we do see a recovery in the eurozone—which we hope to—that will obviously be very good news for Britain.
If we ask a group of lawyers their opinion on whether TTIP would apply to the NHS, we will get as many answers as there are lawyers. The Prime Minister cannot get away with saying that it will not apply, because by opening up the NHS to market tendering and market forces in the way he did with the Health and Social Care Act 2012, he has opened the door to treaties such as TTIP applying to the national health service. That is the problem he needs to protect the NHS against.
I am baffled by Labour’s position on this as I thought it was a party that believed in free trade and backing Britain’s exporters. There are so many areas where we are disadvantaged in our trade with America and where we could be creating jobs and growth, but instead Labour Members want to read out a script handed to them by the trade unions to oppose the trade deal. It makes you weep for the time when the Labour party was in favour of progress and trade.
At the Council did anyone raise the treatment of journalists? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the witch hunt that has seen several journalists from The Sun, for example, put through three years of hell and cases that juries keep throwing out is un-British, in that the Crown Prosecution Service is seeking to neuter the abilities of journalists to obtain information in the public interest? Should there be a rethink of CPS policies for similar prosecutions, because that reflects across the whole of Europe?
That issue was not raised with me or at the press conference. Obviously, the CPS is independent in our country, as it should be, but my hon. Friend is right to say that justice delayed is justice denied and these things should always be resolved as speedily as possible.
Many jobs in my constituency depend on continued investment by leading manufacturing companies that also have companies on mainland Europe. Labour Members can say that a Labour Government would give them a categorical reassurance that the UK will remain in the EU. What would the Prime Minister say to those companies if his shilly-shallying over Europe about some sort of referendum were to drive them to invest elsewhere?
Interestingly, at the conference of the British Chambers of Commerce—probably the biggest business trade body in Britain—it supported my approach of a renegotiation and referendum, and did not support the alternative of just meekly going along with whatever the European Union is doing today. Business is on the side of the changes I am putting forward.
I am a big fan of the public sector. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Greece teaches us a lesson that we can have a strong public sector only if we have a strong economy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we look at what happened in Greece with the economic difficulties it has had, we see that it had to make sweeping cuts to its national health service because it was in so much economic trouble. That underlines the point that we will make every day from now and for the next 45 days, which is that if we want a strong NHS, schools and policing, we must have a strong economy.
I am very confident that we will get the changes we need, not least on the operation of our welfare system. Back in European history, there was a time when freedom of movement was about accepting a job that had been offered, rather than simply the freedom to move to look for work. I have been clear, and we will be clear on the doorsteps, including in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency: no unemployment benefit for visiting EU migrants; after six months if someone has no job they have to go home; someone must work for four years before they get in-work benefits; and no sending home of child benefit. Those are things that I suspect each and every one of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents wants put in place.
With regard to the Iranian nuclear deal, may I urge great caution on the part of the Prime Minister and, indeed, other members of Europe? The road between a civil nuclear energy Iran and a military nuclear Iran is a very short one. Contrary to what at least one of my right hon. Friend’s constituents has said, it would be better for the middle east to have no deal than a bad deal.
I absolutely understand and share the concerns that people right across the world, including in Israel, have about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. The deal should keep Iran away from having a nuclear weapon, with proper inspection and verification so that if there were any changes to those circumstances, they could be seen. Obviously, we should not do a deal at any price, but the alternatives to doing a deal are not attractive. Frankly, they are not attractive for Iran. The sanctions we put in place—Britain led the charge in Europe—have done such damage in Iran that it is in its interests to conclude a deal.
Earlier this month, I met a group of talented young people at John Fisher and Thomas More Roman Catholic high school in Colne, who, through CAFOD, are helping to raise the profile of climate change. They have all made their own climate change pledges, which they presented to me. Will the Prime Minister say more about his discussions on energy policy and the prospects of our reaching a long-term agreement in Paris this December?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I think the prospects are good, because of the deal Britain helped to broker at the previous EU Council. It shows that the European Union will be making a very serious contribution to reducing carbon emissions. We obviously had to allow some countries, such as Poland, some flexibility, but the overall numbers for Europe are impressive. Now what we need to do, with the movement by the Americans and the Chinese, is discuss the matter with all the countries which might, if we are not careful, put a spoke in the wheel of progress, so that, with others, we will help to ensure that the sort of mitigation that they will need in their countries goes ahead.
In his statement, the Prime Minister spoke about opportunity. Does my right hon. Friend agree that people will have an opportunity to reform the EU and have an in/out referendum on this country’s membership of the EU only by voting Conservative, and that voting for any other party will kill that opportunity?
My hon. Friend is right. Voting for another party is really opening the back door to a Labour Government, who would not renegotiate or have a referendum. It would just lead to a sigh of relief in the corridors of Brussels that none of those changes was necessary. If people are serious about wanting reform and a referendum, there is only one box they can put their cross in.
On foreign policy, did the European Council look at the coup in Yemen against the legitimate Government of President Hadi? Taking into account the words of the Yemeni Foreign Minister in today asking for Gulf Co-operation Council countries to send in their forces to avoid civil war, the Saudis have asked their ambassador to operate from Aden to show support for the legitimate Government. Will we be doing the same?
We did not discuss Yemen specifically at the Council because we were very focused on Tunisia, Libya, Ukraine, energy union and the eurozone crisis, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right that what is happening in Yemen is deeply worrying. It is extremely unstable. We still, obviously, support and believe that President Hadi is the legitimate power. Frankly, what is needed in that country is what is needed in so many other troubled countries in the middle east, which is inclusive government that includes representatives of all the people of that country, so there can be some sort of progress.
Despite yet another eurozone crisis, the UK economy continues to grow strongly, creating more jobs than the rest of Europe added together. Does the Prime Minister agree that it would have been a huge error of judgment, especially by someone who aspired to be Prime Minister, to have backed Francois Hollande’s failed socialist policies when he should have been backing our long-term economic plan?
We all remember what the Leader of the Opposition said. He stood on the steps of the Élysée and said he wanted Britain to follow the French course. If we had done that, unemployment would be twice as high as it is and growth would be one seventh of what we have achieved, so I am sure that when it comes to the choice at the election, people will recognise that we should follow not the French course but the British course, which means voting Conservative.
Before I call the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General to make his statement to the House, it might be helpful to colleagues to know that the final day’s debate on the Budget is very heavily subscribed, with no fewer than 38 colleagues seeking to catch the eye of the Chair. As a consequence, it will be important to be very pithy in the statement now, both from the Back Benches and the Front Bench. We will then proceed with the main business of the day.