Informal European Council

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:42 pm on 6th February 2017.

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 3:42 pm, 6th February 2017

The right hon. Gentleman opened his remarks by referring to what I think he called the “curiously named” informal Council. It is the convention that at every new presidency—there are two new presidencies each year—the presidency holds an informal Council in which people are able to talk about a number of issues looking ahead to the formalities of the Council. There we are; that is what happens; and that is what we were doing in Valletta.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to my meeting earlier today with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I have to say that this was not a subject for discussion at the European Union Council last week. However, I have made the UK Government’s position on settlements clear, and I continued to do that today.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of UK nationals. As he said, it is absolutely right that we value the contribution that EU citizens are making here in the United Kingdom—their contribution to our communities, our economy, our society, and, as I have said, to our public services—but I think it is also right that we ensure that the rights of UK citizens living in other European states are maintained. It is clear from the conversations that I have had with a number of European leaders about this issue that they think that it should be dealt with in the round as a matter of reciprocity, but, as was made plain by, for example, the conversations that I had with Prime Minister Rajoy of Spain, we are all very clear about the fact that we want to give reassurance to people as early as possible in the negotiations.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about the issue of refugees, and about people drowning in the Mediterranean. Of course the loss of life that we have seen has been terrible, as is the continuing loss of life that we are seeing despite the best efforts of the United Kingdom: the Royal Navy and Border Force have been there, acting with others to protect and rescue people. That is why it is so important that we stop people making that perilous journey in the first place and risking their lives, and that is why the work that we discussed at the EU Council in Valletta on Friday is so important.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about our relationship with Greece. We continue to support Greece: we have a number of experts providing support on the ground, giving the Greeks real help with the task of dealing with the refugees. I made a commitment that we would want to continue to co-operate with our European partners on this issue after leaving the European Union, because it is indeed not confined to the European Union; it affects us as a whole, throughout Europe.

The right hon. Gentleman made a number of comments about defence. Indeed, he devoted a fair amount of his response to the whole question of defence. At one point, he said that the fact that we were spending 2% on defence cast doubt on the competence of the UK Government in matters relating to it. I think this is the same right hon. Gentleman who said that he wanted to send out our nuclear submarines without any missiles on them. You couldn’t make it up.