I am sure the whole House will join me in offering condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Police Constable James Dixon from Thames Valley Police, who was killed while on motorcycle duty yesterday, and also to the family and friends of the passenger in the car involved in the collision. I am sure the whole House will also join me in offering condolences to the family and friends of the former Member of this House, Jim Hood, who was a former miner and a strong voice for Lanarkshire in this place for nearly 30 years.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
My constituent, Kate, has run a successful nursery for more than 14 years, but after two months on the Government’s funding for three and four-year-olds, she says that she cannot make it work. She is having to sell her home to pay her staff’s redundancy payments. More than 1,000 nurseries have already closed, and 58% say that they cannot continue. If nurseries close, parents cannot work. Please will the Prime Minister meet me and the nursery owners to discuss these widespread and critical problems?
I have indeed recently met some nursery owners to look at this issue, and they have given a clear message that there are parts of the country where local authorities are operating the system very efficiently and very well, and parts of the country where that is not happening. What underpins this issue is the decision taken by this Government to improve the childcare offer for parents so that they have a better opportunity to ensure that their children get into the childcare that they need.
Will the Prime Minister give us a quick update on the Brexit negotiations? Does she agree that, post-Brexit, it will be absolutely crucial that we enhance skills and apprenticeships in the construction and housing sector? Does she also agree that now is not the time for the Construction Industry Training Board to be proposing to close its site at Bircham in West Norfolk, putting at risk 600 jobs in a rural area? Will she meet me to discuss this, and will she help me in my campaign?
My hon. Friend is a great champion for his constituency, and he has been a great supporter of the CITB at Bircham. I am very happy to support his campaign; I wish him well, and I am happy to meet him.
My hon. Friend asked about Brexit, and what we are doing in the Brexit negotiations is ensuring that we can indeed build those houses and build the country for the future that we want to see. The principles that we are working to are that the text that is currently being discussed is a report on the progress of the negotiations, on which basis the European Commission will decide whether sufficient progress has been made to enable us to move on to the next stage of talks. It is for those future talks to agree precisely how we ensure cross-border trade while maintaining the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom. We are leaving the European Union, and we are leaving the single market and the customs union, but we will do what is right in the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom, and nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
I join the Prime Minister in expressing condolences about the police officer and the passenger who lost their lives in the tragic event yesterday. I also join her in paying tribute to the late Jimmy Hood, who represented Clydesdale and, later, Lanark and Hamilton East. He was a good friend of all of us, and he was a great fighter for the coal industry and the mineworkers union during the strike and after that, during his time here. We thank Jimmy for his work for the labour movement.
“the easiest in human history”.
Does the Prime Minister still agree with that assessment?
I am very pleased to report to the right hon. Gentleman that the negotiations are in progress, as I have just said, and very good progress has been made in those negotiations—[Interruption.] What the Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, my right hon. Friend Dr Fox has been focusing on is the trade negotiations for the future. Indeed, because we are already a member of the European Union, when we leave we will not be have the same relationship with it as, say, Canada had in negotiating a trade agreement. We therefore expect to be able to get the deal that is right for the whole of the United Kingdom. To be able to do that, we need to move on to phase 2. If the right hon. Gentleman is so concerned about easing negotiations, why did his MEPs vote against enabling us to do that?
“Yesterday proved beyond doubt that” the Prime Minister
“is not only weak but that it’s her incompetence that is hobbling the UK.”
He was not very kind about the rest of her Front Benchers either, describing them as a
“bunch of jellyfish masquerading as the cabinet”.
This is truly a coalition of chaos. At the start of the week it all seemed to be going so well: the Prime Minister had scheduled a lunch with Jean-Claude Juncker, followed by a press conference, and then was to return triumphantly to the House to present her deal. [Interruption.]
Order. Let me make it clear for the umpteenth time—[Interruption.] I know what is going on. I am grateful to Mr Skinner, but I can look after these matters. No one in this Chamber is going to be shouted down. It will not happen. If people think that they can sit where I cannot see them and make a raucous noise, they are very foolish, because I know where they are and I know what they are up to, and it is not going to work—end of subject.
It was a little difficult to detect a question within that interruption. As President Juncker said on Monday, there are still a couple of things that we are negotiating, and he is confident that we will be able to achieve sufficient progress. But if the right hon. Gentleman wants to wonder about plans for negotiations, perhaps he should look at his own Front Bench. The shadow Chancellor used to say that staying in the single market was “not respecting the referendum”, but now he says that it is “on the table”. The shadow Trade Secretary used to say that staying in the customs union was “deeply unattractive”, but now he says that it “isn’t off the table”. We now know from the shadow Chancellor what their approach really is: it is not to have a plan at all. When asked what the Labour party’s plan was, he said, “Well, that’s difficult for us.” As we all know, the only thing that the Labour party is planning for is a run on the pound.
The Prime Minister was unable to support her Brexit Secretary when he tried to explain that a deal was supposed to have been done in October but still has not been done by December. The leader of the DUP told Irish television that she got sight of the deal only on Monday morning, five weeks after she first asked for it. Two months after the original deadline for the first phase of talks, and after Monday’s shambles, is the Prime Minister now about to end the confusion and clearly outline what the Government’s position is now with regard to the Irish border?
I am very happy to outline to the right hon. Gentleman the position that I have taken on the Irish border with Northern Ireland; it is exactly the same position that I took in the Lancaster House speech, that I took in the Florence speech and that we have taken consistently in the negotiations. We will ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. [Hon. Members: “How?”] We will do that while we respect the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom, and while we respect and protect the internal market of the United Kingdom. [Hon. Members: “How?”] I say to those Labour Members shouting “How?”, that is the whole point of the second phase of the negotiations, because we aim to deliver this as part of our overall trade deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union, and we can only talk about that when we get into phase 2. We have a plan; he has none.
Eighteen months after the referendum, the Prime Minister is unable to answer the question. On Monday, as she thought she was coming here to make a statement, it was vetoed by the leader of the DUP—the tail really is wagging the dog here.
“In my job I don’t think out loud and I don’t make guesses…
I try and make decisions. You make those based on the data. That data is being gathered. We’ve got 50—nearly 60—sectoral analyses already done.”
This House voted to see those analyses, but today the Brexit Secretary told the Brexit Committee that the analyses actually do not exist. Can the Prime Minister put us out of our misery? Do they exist, or do they not? Have they done the work, or have they not? That is surely one question she can answer after 18 months.
May I make a gentle suggestion to the Leader of the Opposition? He asked me a question on the Northern Irish border, and I answered the question. He then stood up and said that I had not answered the question. Perhaps he should listen to the answers that I give.
The House requested, as I understand it, 58 sectoral impact assessments. There were no 58 sectoral impact assessments; there was sectoral analysis. Over 800 pages of sectoral analysis have been published and made available to the Select Committee, and arrangements have been made available for Members of this House to see them. We are very clear that we will not give a running commentary on negotiations as they proceed, but what we will do is work for what this country wants. We will ensure that we leave the European Union in March 2019. We will leave the internal market; we will leave the customs union at the same time; and we will ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland when we do it.
This really is a shambles. All the Government have done is offer a heavily redacted, abbreviated version, which has not been widely shared. The Brexit Secretary said in September that a £50 billion divorce payment was “complete nonsense.” The Foreign Secretary rejected any payment and said that the EU could “go whistle.” Can the Prime Minister put before the House a fully itemised account of any proposed payment that could be independently audited by the Office for Budget Responsibility and the National Audit Office?
We are at the point of progressing on to the next stage. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, so the final settlement will not be agreed until we have got the whole deal agreed. The right hon. Gentleman asked me earlier about hard borders. Half the Labour party wants to stay in the single market and half the Labour party wants to leave the single market. The only hard border around is right down the middle of the Labour party.
Eighteen months since the referendum, there are no answers to the questions. Today, the Government have not yet concluded phase 1, and there are no answers to the questions and the DUP appears to be ruling the roost and telling the Prime Minister what to do.
Whether it is Brexit, the national health service, social care, our rip-off railways, rising child poverty, growing pensioner poverty or universal credit, this Government are unable to solve important issues facing this country. In fact, they are making them worse. The economy is slowing; more people are in poverty; and the Brexit negotiations are in a shambles. This Government are clearly not fit for the future. If they cannot negotiate a good deal, would it not be better if they just got out of the way?
Week in, week out, the right hon. Gentleman comes to this House making promises he knows he cannot deliver, and Labour Members keep doing it. At the election, he told students that they would write off their student debt, and then he said, “I did not commit to write off the debt.” But what is the Labour party doing? It is putting around leaflets that say, “Labour will cancel existing student debt”. It is time he apologised for the grossly misleading Labour leaflets.
Order. We have a closed question from Mr Michael Fabricant.