European Council

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:43 pm on 14th March 2017.

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 12:43 pm, 14th March 2017

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned a range of issues. He spoke again about the issue of EU nationals. As I have said in the House and as has been said by others from this Dispatch Box, we do want to ensure that the issue of the status of EU nationals who are living in the UK is dealt with at an early stage in the negotiations, but we also have a consideration for the UK nationals who are living in the EU. He said that the EU nationals living here are individuals who have contributed to our society. Indeed they are, but UK nationals living in EU member states are individuals who have contributed to their society and economy. I want to ensure that their status is also ensured. We hope and expect that this will be an issue that we can address at an early stage.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about the need to come forward and be very clear about the need for a transitional period. I refer him to the speech I gave in Lancaster House in January and to the White Paper that we published. The need for an implementation period so that we have a smooth and orderly Brexit process is one of the objectives that was set out in that speech and in that document.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about refugees from north Africa and the middle east. What we want to ensure is that people do not feel the need to make the often dangerous, life-threatening journey across the central Mediterranean. Many of these people—more than three quarters of the people who are doing this—are not refugees; they are economic migrants. We need to ensure that we are providing facilities and working with countries in Africa—which the EU and other countries are doing—to ensure that the circumstances are such that people do not try to make a life-threatening journey. We also need internationally to be able to make a better distinction between refugees and economic migrants, so that we can give better support to those who are refugees.

The right hon. Gentleman appeared to suggest that the UK Government are doing absolutely nothing to break the vile smuggling rings. In my statement, I quoted a recent example of the work of the National Crime Agency; I might add that it was a Conservative-led Government who set up the NCA and the Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce. The Government are dealing with these issues. He talks about abuses and the movement and trafficking of people, but it is this Government who brought in the Modern Slavery Act 2015. I am very proud that it is this Government who did so.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to global Britain and what it means. I will tell him what it means. It is about a strong, self-governing Britain, a Britain that is trading around the world with old friends and new allies alike, and a Britain that is proud to take its place on the world stage.