With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the negotiations for our departure from the European Union. On Friday morning, the Government and the European Commission published a joint report on progress during the first phase. On the basis of this report, and following the discussions I held throughout last week, President Juncker is recommending to the European Council that sufficient progress has now been made to move to the next stage and begin talks on the future relationship between the UK and the EU. President Tusk has responded positively by proposing guidelines for the next phase of the negotiations.
I want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and our whole negotiating team for their calm and professional approach to these negotiations. We have argued robustly and clearly for the outcomes we seek: a fair and reciprocal deal that will guarantee the rights of more than 3 million EU citizens living in the UK and 1 million UK nationals living in the EU, so that they can carry on living their lives as before; a fair settlement of the accounts, meeting our rights and obligations as a departing member state in the spirit of our future partnership; and a commitment to maintain the common travel area with Ireland, to uphold the Belfast agreement in full and to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland while upholding the constitutional and economic integrity of the whole United Kingdom. Let me set out for the House the agreements we have now reached in each of these areas.
More than 3 million EU citizens make an extraordinary contribution to every part of our economy, our society, our culture and our national life, and I know that EU member states similarly value the contribution of the 1 million UK nationals living in their communities, so from the outset I have made protecting citizens’ rights my first priority. But for these rights to be truly reciprocal, they need to be interpreted consistently in both the UK and the EU.
The European Union started by wanting all EU citizens’ rights to be preserved in the UK by a prolongation of EU law. They said these rights should not require any UK process to implement them, and that they should be supervised by the Commission and enforced by the European Court of Justice. Those proposals were not acceptable. When we leave the European Union, our laws will be made and enforced here in Britain, not in Luxembourg. So the EU has accepted that we will incorporate the withdrawal agreement into UK law, and citizens’ rights will then be enforced by our courts—where appropriate, paying due regard to relevant ECJ case law, just as they—[Interruption.] Wait for it: where appropriate, paying due regard to relevant ECJ case law, just as they already decide other matters with reference to international law when it is relevant.
In the interests of consistent interpretation of citizens’ rights, we have agreed that where existing law is not clear, our courts—and only our courts—will be able to choose to ask the ECJ for an interpretation prior to reaching their own decision, but this will be a very narrow remit and in a very small number of cases, and unlike now the courts will not be obliged to do so; this will be voluntary. The case itself will always be determined by the UK courts, not the ECJ, and there will also be a sunset clause, so after eight years even this voluntary mechanism will end.
The end point of this process is very clear. EU citizens living in the UK will have their rights enshrined in UK law and enforced by British courts, and UK citizens living in the EU will also have their rights protected. The jurisdiction of the ECJ in the UK is coming to an end. We are taking control of our own laws once again, and that is exactly how it should be.
Let me turn to the financial settlement. Following some tough conversations, we have agreed the scope of our commitments and the principles for their valuation. We will continue to pay our net contributions under the current EU budget plan. During this time, our proposed implementation period will see us continuing to trade on current terms, and we will pay our fair share of the outstanding commitments and liabilities to which we committed during our membership. However, this is conditional upon a number of principles we have negotiated over how we will ultimately arrive at a fair valuation of these commitments, which will bring the actual financial settlement down by a substantial amount. This part of the report that we agreed on Friday, like the rest of it, is also subject to the general reservation that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. This means we want to see the whole deal now coming together, including the terms of our future deep and special partnership, as I said in Florence.
These are the actions of a responsible nation honouring the commitments that it has made to its allies, having gone through those commitments line by line, as we said we would. It is a fair settlement for the British taxpayer, who will soon see significant savings compared with remaining in the European Union. It means we will be able to use that money to invest in our priorities at home, such as housing, schools and the NHS, and it means the days of paying vast sums to the European Union every year are coming to an end.
Our departure from the European Union presents a significant and unique challenge for Northern Ireland and Ireland, so it is absolutely right that the joint report makes it clear that we will uphold the Belfast agreement in full. This agreement, including its subsequent implementation agreements and arrangements, has been critical to the progress made in Northern Ireland over recent decades. Our commitments to those agreements, the principles that underpin them, the institutions they establish, and the rights and opportunities they guarantee remain steadfast. The joint report reaffirms our guarantee that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. So much of daily life in Northern Ireland depends on being able to cross the border freely, so it is right that we ensure that no new barriers are put in place.
We have also been absolutely clear that nothing in this process will alter our determination to uphold the constitutional and economic integrity of the whole United Kingdom. It was right that we took time last week to strengthen and clarify the joint report in this regard, listening to Unionists across the country, including the Democratic Unionist party. On Friday, I reinforced that further by making six principled commitments to Northern Ireland.
First, we will always uphold and support Northern Ireland’s status as an integral part of the United Kingdom, consistent with the principle of consent. As our Northern Ireland manifesto at the last election made clear, the Government I lead will never be neutral when it comes to expressing our support for the Union.
Secondly, we will fully protect and maintain Northern Ireland’s position within the single market of the United Kingdom. This is by far the most important market for Northern Ireland’s goods and services, and Northern Ireland will continue to have full and unfettered access to it.
Thirdly, there will be no new borders within the United Kingdom. In addition to there being no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, we will maintain the common travel area throughout these islands.
Fourthly, the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, will leave the EU customs union and the EU single market. Nothing in the agreement I have reached alters that fundamental fact.
Fifthly, we will uphold the commitments and safeguards set out in the Belfast agreement regarding north-south co-operation. That will continue to require cross-community support.
Sixthly, the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, will no longer be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
As the joint report makes clear, our intention is to deliver against these commitments through the new deep and special partnership that we will build with the European Union. Should this not prove possible, we have also been clear that we will seek specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. Because we recognise the concerns felt on either side of the border, and we want to guarantee that we will honour the commitments we have made, we have also agreed one further fall-back option of last resort. If we cannot find specific solutions, the UK will maintain full alignment with those rules of the internal market and the customs union that, now or in the future, support north-south co-operation, economic co-operation across the island of Ireland and the protection of the Belfast agreement. The joint report clearly sets out that cross-community safeguards and consent are required from the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly for distinct arrangements in that scenario, and that in all circumstances, Northern Irish businesses must continue to have full and unfettered access to the markets in the rest of the United Kingdom on which they rely. So there can be no question about our commitment to avoiding barriers both north-south and east-west.
We will continue to work with all Northern Irish parties and the Irish Government in the second phase of the talks, and continue to encourage the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive so that Northern Ireland’s voice is fully heard throughout this process.
Finally, in my Florence speech I proposed an implementation period to give Governments, businesses and families the time they need to implement the changes required for our future partnership. The precise terms of this period will be for discussion in the next phase of negotiations. I very much welcome President Tusk’s recommendation that talks on the implementation period should start immediately and that it should be agreed as soon as possible.
This is not about a hard or a soft Brexit. The arrangements we have agreed to reach the second phase of the talks are entirely consistent with the principles and objectives that I set out in my speeches in Florence and at Lancaster House. I know that some doubted we would reach this stage. The process ahead will not be easy. The progress so far has required give and take for the UK and the EU to move forward together, and that is what we have done. Of course, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, but there is, I believe, a new sense of optimism now in the talks, and I fully hope and expect that we will confirm the arrangements I have set out today in the European Council later this week.
This is good news for people who voted leave, who were worried that we were so bogged down in tortuous negotiations that it was never going to happen, and it is good news for people who voted remain, who were worried that we would crash out without a deal. We are going to leave, but we will do so in a smooth and orderly way, securing a new deep and special partnership with our friends while taking back control of our borders, money and laws once again. That is my mission. That is this Government’s mission. On Friday we took a big step towards achieving it. I commend this statement to the House.
I would like to thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of the statement. Eighteen months on from the referendum result, the Prime Minister has scraped through phase 1 of the negotiations after 18 months, two months later than planned, with many of the key aspects of phase 1 still not clear.
This weekend, Cabinet members have managed to contradict each other. Some have managed to go even further and contradict themselves. We respect the result of the referendum, but due to the Government’s shambolic negotiations it is getting increasingly difficult to believe this is a Government who are even capable of negotiating a good deal for Britain. These negotiations are vital for people’s jobs and for our economy. Our future prosperity depends on getting them right. So let us hope that today we can elicit some uncharacteristic clarity from the Prime Minister.
First, on the financial statement, can the Prime Minister confirm the figure quoted by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union that we will pay between £35 billion and £39 billion in exit payments? After this weekend’s confusion, can the Prime Minister clarify whether this payment is conditional on securing a final deal, as the Brexit Secretary said, or whether it is an obligation for the UK to pay, as the Chancellor said? If it is conditional, how much is it? When can the Prime Minister publish a full breakdown of the settlement, and does she agree that the settlement should be audited by the National Audit Office and the Office for Budget Responsibility? Does she yet have any indication of what level of ongoing payments the UK will make to the EU for ongoing participation in joint EU programmes and ongoing membership of EU agencies?
Secondly, on the issue of citizens’ rights, can the Prime Minister confirm that the Government have agreed that the European Court of Justice will oversee the deal on EU citizens’ rights for the next eight years, and that the UK courts will have “due regard” to ECJ decisions indefinitely? Can she therefore update the House on her red line that there will be no future role for the ECJ? What will that mean for trade negotiations?
Importantly for British citizens living in EU countries, can the Prime Minister confirm that the Government’s negotiations mean that they will maintain all their existing rights indefinitely? Will she confirm today that UK pensions will continue to be paid and uprated for all British citizens?
Thirdly, on the complex question of the Irish border, there are again conflicting statements—this time between the Brexit Secretary and, of course, the Brexit Secretary. Can the Prime Minister confirm whether the deal reached last week is legally enforceable? Article 46 of the agreement seems pretty clear that it
“must be upheld in all circumstances, irrespective of the nature of any future agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom.”
What does regulatory alignment mean? Does it mean the exact same rules, or different rules with similar outcomes? If it is the latter, who will adjudicate on whether those different rules are similar enough? Which policy areas are covered, and how long will regulatory alignment last? Is it only for the transition—the implementation period, as the Prime Minister calls it— or is it permanent?
Finally, on deadlines, the Government wasted time on phase 1, partly with a general election that I am sure the Prime Minister now regrets calling. The Government originally aimed for phase 1 negotiations to be complete in October. Then everything was ready for an announcement last Monday. Ultimately, we saw a rather fudged agreement late last week. Has this experience given the Prime Minister reason to consider dropping the unnecessary exit date of
The second phase of negotiations will have a huge impact on our relationship with our largest trading partner. The Brexit Secretary committed to deliver the “exact same benefits” as now. Does that remain the Government’s aim? I assume it does, as the Prime Minister has just said that the UK will maintain full alignment with the rules of the internal market and the customs union.
I have left the trickiest question till last. Can the Prime Minister explain what the Brexit Secretary actually meant when he said that he wanted to have trade relationships in the future that are CETA-plus-plus-plus? Can she explain what on earth he was talking about? [Interruption.] The Foreign Secretary is trying to bring clarity to the situation. I wish the Prime Minister well in adjudicating that debate.
I hope the next crucial phase of negotiations is not punctuated by the posturing, delays and disarray that have characterised the first phase. I am sure the whole country would welcome clarity from the Prime Minister on exactly what has just been agreed.
The right hon. Gentleman talks quite a lot about alignment. I set out our objectives for the Brexit negotiations very clearly in my Lancaster House speech, and I set them out further and in some more detail in the speech I gave in Florence. Meanwhile, the Labour party has had 12 different Brexit plans. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman has had so many Brexit plans he cannot even reach alignment with himself.
To answer the right hon. Gentleman’s questions, he started off by saying he wanted to uphold the referendum result. Later in his comments, however, he said he did not want to accept the leave date of
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the financial settlement. We have agreed the scope of commitments, and methods for valuations and adjustments to those values. The calculations currently say that the valuation would be £35 billion to £39 billion, so the answer to his question is yes. He asked whether that was conditional on securing a deal. It is clear in the joint progress report, and I have repeated it in my statement just now, that the offer is on the table in the context of us agreeing the next stage and the partnership for the future. If we do not agree that partnership, then the offer is off the table.
The right hon. Gentleman asked how much we were going to pay into joint programmes. That is all part of the negotiation in phase 2, and it will be negotiated depending on the programme and depending on the agency, should we wish to remain part of it. He asked whether I would confirm that the European Court of Justice would oversee the rights of EU citizens for the next eight years. The answer to that is no, because it will not be overseeing the rights of EU citizens for the next eight years. I made it absolutely clear that citizens’ rights would be determined by the courts here in the UK. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the legal nature of that agreement. It will be brought into law in this country in the withdrawal and implementation Bill that will be presented to the House. He asked about the payment of pensions for UK citizens. Yes, that will continue. He asked whether the arrangements that were in place in relation to citizens’ rights in the ECJ would have an impact on other parts of the deal. Paragraph 41 of the joint report makes it very clear that this in no way prejudges discussions on other elements of the withdrawal agreement.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about alignment. What is necessary is that we have the same objectives. We may reach those objectives in different ways, but what we need to ensure—and this is not a theological argument; it is about the practical decisions that need to be made—is that the trade across the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland can continue, and that is what we will be looking at. The Taoiseach and I have been very clear in our discussions: we both believe that we should be working to ensure that that can be achieved through the overall agreement between the UK and the EU, and that is indeed what we should be aiming for.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the trade deal, and about CETA-plus-plus-plus. We have always said that we are not looking for a deal that is Norway, and we are not looking for a deal that is CETA. What we are looking for is a deal that is right for the United Kingdom. Sadly, we know what a Labour approach to these negotiations would mean. It would mean paying the European Union billions of pounds every year in perpetuity. It would mean following EU roles with no say on them. It would mean no divergence whatsoever from EU rules in the future. It would mean zero control of immigration. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that that would not make a success of Brexit; it would be no Brexit at all.
Let me first congratulate the Prime Minister on her triumph last Friday. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I hope that that is maintained, because I have never previously known the days following a British Government’s entry into a treaty-like agreement with 27 friendly Governments to be followed by Ministers and their aides appearing to cast doubt on whether we have agreed to anything finally, and regard ourselves as bound at all.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” is a well-known phrase which means that details can be revisited once you have sorted out what the ultimate destination is, but which does not mean that you are going to tear everything up and start all over again on EU citizens and paying money and regulatory convergence if something goes wrong in the future? Will she confirm that we have settled the rights of EU citizens, that we know how we are going to calculate the financial obligation that undoubtedly falls on this country because of past commitments by British Governments, and that open borders do require some regulatory alignment in any country in the world if we are to have an open border—and we are committed to an open border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which in part, of course, means between the United Kingdom and the European Union?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his positive comments about the stage that we have reached in the negotiations. The report that was issued is a joint progress report on the point that we have reached and the agreements that we have reached. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, it enables us to go on to the detailed negotiations on various of these issues. The area on which we have had perhaps the most detailed negotiations so far is that of citizens’ rights, which covers a range of issues relating to benefits and so forth for EU citizens who are here. Obviously, we have also had negotiations on the other elements, which are not just about Northern Ireland and the financial settlement, but about a number of issues connected with the withdrawal. Of course, that withdrawal agreement, as we have set out in this joint progress report, will be brought into UK law at the point at which that Bill is brought before this House, and this House will have an opportunity to vote on that Bill.
My right hon. and learned Friend made the point at the end about trade deals, and he is absolutely right that in any trade agreement there is a necessity for both sides to agree certain regulations, rules and standards on which they will operate. This will be no different from that; it will be different only in the sense that we are already operating on—mostly—exactly the same rules and regulations as the European Union, so we start from a slightly different place than we would do if we were negotiating with another country.
What a difference a day makes! Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said that the agreement reached in Brussels on the UK’s withdrawal was “a statement of intent” rather than “a legally enforceable thing”. The Secretary of State was put in his place by the Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland, who tweeted:
“The commitments and the principles...are made and must be upheld in all circumstances”.
This morning, the Secretary of State hit the radio waves to reveal that the deal is “more than legally enforceable”. So, for the avoidance of any doubt, can the Prime Minister tell the House today that in no circumstances will we be returning to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic? Let us make that commitment in this House today.
Last week, we had the humiliating scene of the Prime Minister being forced out of the original deal by the DUP, and rushing back to London. The Government had to rewrite the agreement so as to reach the DUP’s approval. We really have to wonder who is running the UK: is it Arlene Foster or the right hon. Member for Maidenhead?
While Members on the SNP Benches welcome both sides moving into phase 2 negotiations, the next phase will be significantly tougher and it is essential that all Governments across the UK are fully involved in the negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU—something that has not happened to this point. The provisions relating to Northern Ireland in the agreement raise major new questions over proposed UK-wide frameworks. Let me be clear: any special arrangements for Northern Ireland must now be available to all nations of the UK. The SNP will continue to speak with one loud and clear voice. The Prime Minister must commit today to keeping the UK in the single market and the customs union; to do otherwise would be catastrophic for jobs, workers’ rights, people’s incomes and living standards.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me to confirm in this House that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. I have to say to him that this is not the first time that I have made that statement in this House; he can google it and find from Hansard how many times I have said it. Indeed, if he had listened to and looked at my statement, he would have learned that I said that “the joint report reaffirms our guarantee that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”
The right hon. Gentleman asks about the circumstances and anything that relates to Northern Ireland being given to Scotland. Northern Ireland is, of course, in a different position from Scotland: it is the only part of the UK that has a land border with a country that will remain in the European Union, and it is in fact already the case that there are a number of unique and specific solutions that pertain to the island of Ireland, such as the common electricity market and the single phytosanitary area. Various resolutions have already been put in place to recognise that physical relationship between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
The right hon. Gentleman asks yet again for the UK to stay in the single market and customs union. I said, again, in my statement that we will be leaving the single market and the customs union, and we will be doing that because we will be putting in place the vote that took place in 2016 to leave the EU. I repeat to the right hon. Gentleman: he talks about the statement I have made and the commitments of this Government, but it would be good for him to stand up and say he supports, as I have in this statement, the continued constitutional and economic integrity of the whole United Kingdom.
I join my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on driving through an improved agreement on Friday, which many thought would not be feasible. She has been incredibly clear in the past about the fact that the two-year period that follows our departure will be an implementation period. Is it still the Government’s position that that implementation phase will be used to implement all that has been agreed, and not, as some say, just to carry on with no change at all?
The point of the implementation period is exactly as my right hon. Friend says—namely, to ensure that the changes necessary for the new relationship to work can be put in place. Examples include the registration of EU citizens here in the UK, which the Home Office will be running during that period. It is also about ensuring that businesses and citizens have the confidence and reassurance of knowing how they will be operating during that period, that there is no double cliff edge for businesses and that they have a smooth process of change. That is the point of the implementation period. Further details of it will be negotiated in the next phase, and I am pleased that the European Commission and the President of the EU Council are clear that that should start immediately.
The most important part of this agreement is paragraph 49, which I welcome. It says clearly that
“the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.”
Given that those words are prefaced by the words:
“In the absence of agreed solutions,” can the Prime Minister please confirm to the House today that this crystal-clear commitment will apply in all circumstances, including if no trade deal is reached with the European Union?
The point of saying “In the absence of agreed solutions” in paragraph 49 is that we believe that the solution we find in relation to the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland will come from the negotiated trade settlement that we have with the European Union in the overall relationship of the UK and the European Union. If we fail to get it through that, specific solutions will be put in place for Northern Ireland. If we fail that—this is why I have described it as a last resort—we will look to the arrangement that is described in paragraph 49.
Unusually, I join my right hon. Friend Mr Duncan Smith and my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke—[Interruption.] Chingford, forgive me. I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe in welcoming the Prime Minister’s achievements this weekend. Will she have spent as much time as I have in recent weeks and months speaking to European friends and reminding them that we are leaving the EU, not leaving Europe, and that the next stage should involve our working together to build a prosperous future together?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat that we are leaving the European Union but not leaving Europe. This is a statement that we have made on a number of occasions. We will continue to work with our European allies in a whole variety of areas in the interests of Europe as a whole. Indeed, just this morning, I had a meeting with my opposite number from Bulgaria to talk about the work we can continue to do with Bulgaria on the western Balkans, where much work needs to be done by us in Europe. We will continue to do that whether we are in the European Union or not.
Ah, yes—the Member with the bright jumper! I call Mary Creagh.
The Brexit Secretary has captivated the House with tales of regulatory impact assessments that do not exist. The Chancellor has said that the divorce bill will be paid in all circumstances, but the Brexit Secretary contradicted him at the weekend, saying that it would be conditional on a trade deal. The Prime Minister’s deal with the Taoiseach, promising full regulatory alignment, has been dismissed by the Brexit Secretary as a statement of intent. If she cannot even get her Brexit Secretary to agree with her, how on earth is she going to get a good deal that protects jobs, investment and growth in this country?
Across the Government Benches, there is complete unanimity about congratulating the Prime Minister on securing the agreement. If I may say so, it was a pitiful performance from the Leader of the Opposition, and I still do not know whether he actually welcomes the agreement, but he should support this major step forward. Looking to the future, around this time next year we should have begun to conclude the trade negotiations towards the trade deal, so does the Prime Minister anticipate that we will have details of our new trading relationship with the EU, or will there be a set of heads of agreement?
We have always said that we will be working to negotiate our full agreement on the future relationship that we have with the EU. Of course, it will not legally be possible for the EU to sign up to that agreement until after we have left and become a third country, because it is not possible for such an agreement to be signed while we are in the EU. The pieces of work that will now go forward will include the details of the implementation period, the details of the withdrawal agreement, which will have to go through certain parliamentary processes in European member states and will also be put to Parliament here in the UK, and our future relationship with the EU on trade, security and other areas.
In order to strengthen the Prime Minister’s leverage in the next stage of negotiations, may I suggest that she suspend tribal politics and invite the Leader of the Opposition and his Front-Bench colleagues to join her negotiating team? Whatever their tactical differences, they agree with her on the fundamentals of Brexit and on withdrawal from the single market and the customs union—disastrous though that may be.
There is a huge assumption underlying the right hon. Gentleman’s question, because he says that the Labour party actually agrees with us on membership of the customs union and the single market, but there are many views on that in the Labour party. It is not at all clear that it agrees with the Government on the future relationship with the internal market and the customs union, because it keeps taking different positions. If the right hon. Gentleman has inside information on the Labour party’s position, I would be very glad to hear it.
Does my right hon. Friend welcome the outbreak of unity on the Government Benches regarding the outcome of the progress report? Does she agree that a number of matters still need to be resolved? Serious questions will be addressed, and the European Scrutiny Committee will be paying serious attention to those questions. Does she also agree that the Opposition have demonstrated not only today but over past weeks a complete inconsistency on every point of principle and detail? They are simply a national disgrace.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, and I am grateful to him for his reference to the statement of unity. I know that the European Scrutiny Committee has always taken its role very seriously and will continue to do so. Its role is particularly important as we reach this point in time and as it considers these particular arrangements. Yes, there are serious issues that still need to be addressed and will be addressed in phase 2 of the talks, but the important thing was getting on to phase 2 so that we can look at such issues in much more detail. As he says, the Labour party has distinguished itself only by the fact that it has had 12 different Brexit plans over the past 18 months. It really does not know what its view is on this at all.
Last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer told me that the Cabinet had never even discussed the decision to leave the single market and the customs union. As we move on, we need to be absolutely clear about the Cabinet’s view, so will the Prime Minister inform the House when the Cabinet last discussed the negotiating objectives for the final trade deal?
The Cabinet has had a number of discussions on various aspects of the negotiations, and it will continue to have those discussions. The Cabinet was united behind the Florence speech, which set out the objectives, and it was behind the Lancaster House speech. The objectives for the Government have not changed, and they have been agreed by the Government.
I wish the Prime Minister every success in negotiating a comprehensive free trade deal. Does she agree that when we leave, with or without a deal, we will be trading under World Trade Organisation terms, which now include the extremely helpful and comprehensive trade facilitation agreement that allows good progress over borders for all WTO members? Does not that strengthen our position when she negotiates a good deal?
My right hon. Friend refers to the developments at the WTO, and they will of course be interesting to us as we look ahead and negotiate our deal for the future. I hope the optimism that has been shown by the European Union as we progress on to the next stage will give everybody confidence and reassurance that we can indeed agree the comprehensive free trade agreement we want for our future relationship with the European Union.
For phase 2 of the discussions, the Brexit Secretary has set a benchmark of securing a free trade agreement with the exact same benefits that we currently enjoy. Does the Prime Minister agree with her Environment Secretary and many others that if the public do not like the terms of the final deal, they have every right to change their mind?
That is a misinterpretation of what the Environment Secretary said at the weekend. I have been very clear that there will be no second referendum on this issue. This Parliament overwhelmingly voted to give the British people the decision on membership of the European Union. The British people voted, and we will now deliver on their vote.
On behalf of the thousands of EU citizens living in the Loughborough constituency and across the country, may I thank the Prime Minister for the Christmas present she has given them by providing certainty about their future in this country? It is a shame that that part of last week’s deal has not had the coverage it should have had because of the other important issues. Does she agree that her work last week is testament to the power of continued dialogue between the parties, and that those who suggest that when things get tough, we should walk away do not represent the way she attacks these issues?
My right hon. Friend is right. I hope people will look seriously and carefully at the negotiated agreement on citizens’ rights, which is important. We are in a negotiation, which takes hard work on both sides. It also takes determination, and this Government have shown the determination to get it right for the UK.
The right hon. Gentleman and a number of others keep talking about membership of the single market and the customs union. The point is that the European Union has made it very clear that the four pillars are indivisible. We are leaving the European Union, and therefore we will be leaving the European single market and the European customs union. What we will negotiate is a separate trade deal, which we want to be as tariff-free and frictionless as possible.
Constituents of mine who have parents and grandparents living in the European Union are very concerned by comments made by the Labour party, which wanted to conclude an early deal that would rightly protect Europeans living in the United Kingdom, but would sell down the river those British citizens who live in Europe. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the primary role of the Prime Minister is to defend the interests of British citizens? Will she explain in a tiny bit more detail precisely what the protections will be for British people living in Europe after Brexit?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important that not only I, as Prime Minister, but this Government give priority to UK citizens and ensure that they are not left behind. That is why we wanted to make sure that the agreement on citizens’ rights was reciprocal, as it indeed is. UK citizens will enjoy the rights they have on issues such as benefits payments and access to healthcare. All these issues have been addressed in this first phase of the negotiations and are reflected in the joint progress report that we have set out. What is important is that both EU citizens living here and UK citizens living in the EU27 will be protected.
The Prime Minister said at her Friday press conference that the deal arrived at represented a significant improvement from Monday, and we on these Benches agree wholeheartedly with that. May I thank the Prime Minister for her personal devotion to working to get the text, as she put it today, “strengthened” in relation to the “constitutional and economic integrity” of the whole United Kingdom? Will she confirm that the text of this agreement now makes it clear that in the event of a deal, Northern Ireland will not be separated politically, economically or by any regulatory requirements from the rest of the UK—this is along with the aim of having no hard border on the island of Ireland—but that in the event of no overall deal, nothing is agreed?
May I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I am grateful for the contributions that were made, as I said in my statement, by the DUP and others who were concerned about the Union of the United Kingdom? The joint progress reported was strengthened to make it absolutely clear, as he says, that of course under the Belfast agreement we recognise the principle of consent, but nothing in that agreement will lead to a separation of Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her reaffirmation that British citizens resident throughout the EU will continue to receive uprated pensions and, as I now understand it, healthcare and health-related exportable benefits. May I ask her to indicate whether those will continue into the foreseeable future?
Yes, I can. The point of the agreement is to ensure that those rights and obligations do carry on in the future. A number of these issues are set out in the joint progress reports; there are specific references to the rules on healthcare, on social security systems and so forth. We are very clear that it is important that those rights be available for UK citizens in the EU, and they will be.
I wonder whether the Prime Minister will help us to clarify what is meant by “full alignment”. There was speculation in the newspapers this weekend that No. 10 had been selling it to the Foreign Secretary as a meaningless concept. I do not want her to say, “Full alignment means full alignment”; I want her to say whether she means it to apply to all areas of trade, or whether it is limited to agriculture and energy. Will she explain what she means by “full alignment”?
Full alignment means that we will be achieving the same objectives. I set out in my Florence speech that there are a number of ways in which we can approach this. There will be some areas where we want to achieve the same objectives by the same means. In others we will want to achieve the same objectives by different means. If we look at the areas covered currently by north-south co-operation, we see there are six of those areas. Two of them are not covered generally by the acquis—education and health—but there are other issues, such as the environment, waste and water management, the electricity market, agriculture, and questions relating to road and rail transport.
The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford looks poised to begin a 100-metre sprint. I call Mr Nicholas Edward Coleridge Boles.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am no cricket fan, but may I tell my right hon. Friend that that was a performance worthy of Geoffrey Boycott? May I ask her to clarify an important point? When it comes to the settling of the accounts—the second batch of payments—it is little understood among my constituents that these payments will be made over 20 or 30 years as they fall due, and that there is never going to be a moment when she signs some humungous cheque to settle the accounts. It would be incredibly reassuring for people to hear that from her at the Dispatch Box.
This is a little bit of repetition, but to be absolutely clear, will the Prime Minister confirm that leaving the single market—the internal market, as I prefer to call it—and the customs union is not an option, and that anyone who is pushing for that is really still trying to stay in the EU?
The hon. Lady asked me to confirm that anybody wanting to leave the single market and the customs union effectively wants to stay in the EU; I think she meant that anybody who wants to stay in the single market and the customs union wants that. [Interruption.] She is nodding her affirmation. Yes, that is absolutely right. It is clear that actually leaving the EU means leaving the single market and the customs union.
Despite all the prophecies of doom and gloom, the Prime Minister, with her calm, true grit, has shown that Brexit can and will be done. We congratulate her on that. Of course it is a compromise, but when Brexiteers like me look at the alternative—namely, a Labour Government staying in the single market forever and having no control over immigration—it is amazing how our minds are concentrated in support of the Prime Minister. Will she confirm that, although as a great country we can of course choose to align our regulations with those of other countries, once the implementation period is over, we will have full regulatory autonomy?
That is the whole point. Once we are outside the European Union, we will be able to determine our regulations and where we wish to diverge from the regulations of the European Union. As I said in my response to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, in any trade agreement there is an agreement about the rules, regulations and standards on which both sides will operate, but also an agreement about what happens when one side wants to diverge from them. The important point is that this Parliament will be the body deciding those rules and regulations.
As I said earlier, the offer in the progress report is there, as the report itself makes very clear, on the basis that we will be making an agreement with the European Union on our trading relationship, and on our relationship in other areas, such as security.
In her reply to Sir Edward Leigh, the Prime Minister seemed to confirm that she believes that we will have full regulatory autonomy after we leave the European Union. Will she explain how that is compatible with regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and no hard border?
The point I made in response to my hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh was that decisions about the future rules and regulations on which this country operates will be made by this Parliament. We have said very clearly that we will avoid, and guarantee that we will not have, a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. In any trade agreement, a decision will be taken as to those rules and regulations on which we wish to operate on the same basis, those areas where we have the same objectives but will operate on a different basis, and those areas that are irrelevant to the issue of the trade agreement.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the skill and pragmatism she has shown in steering a course to this point. Does she agree that the very positive response of business over the weekend underlines the importance of maintaining an approach that is both pragmatic and ambitious? Those are the qualities on which we need to stay focused if we are to land that free trade deal with the EU.
My right hon. Friend is right, and I am pleased that business has welcomed the progress we have made as we move on to the next stage of the negotiations. It is important that we retain that optimism and ambition for the future. It is possible to achieve a really ambitious comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union, and that will be not only to our benefit but to the benefit of the EU27.
We are told that this first-stage deal is a statement of intent that is not legally binding. Does the Prime Minister agree that the same could be said of her article 50 letter, and that if a satisfactory deal is not reached overall at the end of the day, it would be open to this sovereign Parliament, as a matter of EU law and in accordance with our constitutional requirements, unilaterally to revoke the article 50 letter?
The hon. and learned Lady started off by referencing the issue of the status of this joint progress report. It is a joint progress report on the agreements that have been reached so far in the negotiations, which has enabled the European Commission to determine that sufficient progress has been made to pass on to the next stage of negotiations. Further details on certain aspects of withdrawal will need to be determined as we go ahead in the coming months, alongside the work on the implementation period and the future partnership with the European Union. As I have said on a number of occasions, that withdrawal agreement will be put into legislation here in this House.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on what has been achieved thus far, which we must hope will translate into mutually beneficial withdrawal and trade agreements, but given that that cannot be guaranteed, will she give instructions for the sum set aside by the Chancellor in his Budget last month to be expended on upgrading our customs infrastructure, in order to secure smooth international trade after Brexit and reassure business in this country?
As my right hon. Friend knows, in addition to the £700 million already allocated by the Treasury to the current year for the changes that will be needed for the contingency arrangements to be put in place, £3 billion was put forward in the autumn Budget. That will be allocated to Departments, obviously, according to their need and requirement. On the specific issue of customs arrangements, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is moving forward on them, and will have in place what is necessary in order for us to have a customs system when we leave the European Union.
Frequently with this Prime Minister, we have found that when she says nothing has changed, everything has changed. In particular, this statement talks about residents of Northern Ireland being able to cross the border freely and there being no hard border. If she thinks that it is in the best interests of Northern Irish residents to continue to benefit from freedom of movement, why is she denying equal rights to my constituents?
The hon. Lady says that something significant has changed. I suggest that she looks back in history a little, because she will find that the common travel area has been in place since 1923.
I advise the House that, in the first hour, we have had 27 Back-Bench contributions, but there are no fewer than 57 Members still wishing to participate. The Prime Minister has been commendably succinct in her replies, but some questions have erred on the side of prolixity, so there is now a premium on brevity, which is brilliantly exemplified, on almost every occasion, by Sir Desmond Swayne.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for proving my point.
Full alignment means that we will ensure that we can operate in a practical sense on a basis that will enable that continued trade to take place between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We have put forward a number of suggestions in relation to the customs union arrangements that currently exist and the customs arrangements that we will have in the future. One of those included different arrangements in relation to the external tariff. We will ensure that there is no hard border, but I think that we can come to a customs arrangement that will mean that we can have that tariff-free and frictionless trade between the United Kingdom and the whole of the EU.
The Prime Minister said in her statement that “significant savings” would be made through the Brexit agreement. Will she tell us how she knows what those significant savings will be before she has reached an agreement? If she does know them, will she publish their value to allow the whole House to see what they are?
Of course, significant savings will be made when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union and is no longer paying the price of membership of the European Union to the European Union every single year.
The Prime Minister said that there has been give and take in these negotiations. Of course she is absolutely right: we are giving the EU tens of billions of pounds, and the EU is taking them. She said that the money will not be paid unless there is a final agreement. By definition, that must mean that we are not legally obliged to make these payments because otherwise that option would not be available to us. Will she explain why she is paying tens of billions of pounds that are not legally due to the European Union when she is continuing a policy of austerity at home? Many of my constituents simply do not understand where all this extra money is coming from.
I said in my statement, and have repeated, that the offer we have made is in the context of us achieving that agreement on the future partnership between the United Kingdom and the European Union. I said in my Florence speech—I have repeated this on a number of occasions—that we are a country that honours our commitments, and it is important that we do that.
The draft phase 2 guidelines say:
“negotiations in the second phase can only progress as long as all commitments undertaken during the first phase are respected in full and translated faithfully in legal terms as quickly as possible.”
When are we going to get the legislation?
I congratulate the Prime Minister on a very detailed agreement. Paragraph 73 says that the UK
“may wish to participate in some Union budgetary programmes…post-2020” as a third country. Is it likely that those programmes could include co-operation on the three S’s—security, scientific research and student exchanges?
The simple answer is that those areas could be included. I have said—my hon. Friend will not be surprised by this, given my background— that we may wish to include a number of security programmes. We may also very well wish to remain involved in the other areas that my hon. Friend identifies. Those decisions will be part of the next stage of the negotiations, and they will be taken on the basis of what will be in the best interests of the United Kingdom.
I thank the Prime Minister for prior sight of her statement. On
“I will be cutting the best deal for the United Kingdom—all parts of it.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 616, c. 281.]
On Sunday, the Brexit Secretary said that he would seek a trade deal that would be Canada-plus-plus-plus. Will the Prime Minister therefore identify the particular sectors referred to under “plus-plus-plus”?
There is no inconsistency in this. We want the best trade deal for all our trade with the European Union, and that is what we will be working to.
Will the Prime Minister agree that finding agreed solutions is critical not just for the Northern Ireland border, but for the channel ports, including the port of Dover? Will she make it a key priority of the trade talks that we ensure that we have a smooth flow of trade and the option of diversity?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We recognise the importance of Dover as a border port and, indeed, that of other ports around the United Kingdom. The future customs relationship will be a key part of negotiating the trade deal. We have said that we want to be as tariff-free and frictionless as possible, and that is what we will be working to.
The issue of regulatory divergence is an ongoing matter of concern for many sectors of our economy. When the Prime Minister read the summary outcomes of the Brexit sectoral analyses, did she happen to read about the impact of Brexit on chemicals? The Chemical Industries Association has today written to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ask the Government
“to do all it can to remain within or as close as possible” to the EU’s rule book for the sector, the exports of which are worth £50 billion a year. What reassurance will the Prime Minister give to the association?
We have been very clear that we were looking at a variety of areas in which the question will be asked as to whether we wish to retain the same arrangements, or arrangements that achieve the same outcomes but are not necessarily the same arrangements, or if we wish to diverge completely. We recognise the importance of the pharmaceutical industry to the United Kingdom—it is a key industry in the industrial strategy, which my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary published only a couple of weeks ago—but these will be matters for negotiation in the second phase.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on displaying almost Zebedee-like qualities of resilience in terms of the Brexit magic roundabout, but on the figure she has quoted of up to £39 billion, will she confirm that there will not be any more offered in the continued negotiations? Could she also set out a detailed cost-benefit analysis that I can present to my constituents?
As I indicated, if we look at the scope and analysis that has been done, the estimate is that the sum of money would be £35 billion to £39 billion, but we have said, as my right hon. Friend will have heard in answer to previous questions, that there may be some programmes of which we do wish to remain a member, and therefore we would be willing to pay an appropriate price for the cost of that. But a very good piece of work has been done on these financial arrangements, and, obviously, we take that forward, as I said, in the context of agreeing that future relationship.
Paragraph 49 of the agreement says very clearly:
“In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.”
In making that undertaking, can the Prime Minister provide the reassurance that British people, businesses and public services are looking for—that she has finally closed the door to the disastrous no-deal scenario that so many Government Members have advocated?
No. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the joint progress report, he will also see that these things are all set in the context of agreeing the future partnership and the future trade arrangement between the United Kingdom and the European Union, but I remain of the view that no deal is better than a bad deal.
I came to the Chamber today thinking that we were going to leave the European Union on
I thank my hon. Friend, and I can confirm that we will be leaving the European Union on
Will the Prime Minister confirm that Northern Ireland could have different customs arrangements from the rest of the UK?
No. What we have said is that we will put practical arrangements in place to ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, but we have also been clear that we will respect the internal market of the United Kingdom. That means no border down the Irish sea.
Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the many benefits of leaving the EU customs union is that we will be able to forge our own trade deals with countries across the world—deals that the EU has failed so far to strike? Is it not the case that that would benefit the whole United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, which would actually lose out if it stayed in the customs union, because it would not then get that full benefit?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We will be able to strike those trade deals around the world, and Northern Ireland will benefit from those trade deals, as will the rest of the UK.
In answer to a question I asked about the tampon tax, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said that the Government continue to press for a VAT zero rate for women’s sanitary products at the EU level. If the Government cannot negotiate, in two years, a zero rate for the tampon tax, what hope do we have of a trade deal?
I thank my right hon. Friend for confirming very clearly that the so-called EU divorce bill will be paid only if we are successful at negotiating an acceptable trade deal with the European Union. Does she agree that this will certainly focus the minds of EU negotiators and is our best chance of obtaining an acceptable outcome for the UK?
I am optimistic about getting that good trade deal for the United Kingdom with the EU, because actually it is in the EU27’s interests for their businesses to be able to continue to trade on good terms with the UK.
The European Union says that we will stay in the single market and the customs union during the implementation phase. The Prime Minister is saying, I presume, that we will leave at the start of the implementation phase, but will she confirm that the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will continue throughout the two years or so of the implementation phase?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the details of the implementation period are to be negotiated. Assuming that the EU Council takes the decision to move ahead on Thursday or Friday of this week, that will happen very quickly. He talks about leaving the single market and the customs union. We will do that when we leave the European Union in March 2019, but we will then have a relationship with the European Union during the implementation period to ensure that businesses and individuals have the reassurance of not needing to make two stages of adjustments to our future partnership.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on her sheer determination and stamina in reaching the stage of having this joint report? To the extent that we do have an agreement in March 2019, and that thereafter, for many years to come, we do make payments to the EU as agreed, will she consider publishing the amount of money that we are not paying to the EU so that the British people can see the benefit that they are deriving in the years to come?
I thank my hon. Friend for his suggestion. I think that in due course we will be able to show not only the amount of money that we will not be spending through the European Union, but the positive ways in which we can spend that money here in the UK.
That little-known French newspaper, L’Opinion, today quotes Mr Verhofstadt as claiming that the Prime Minister is relying on “those little Protestant allies in the Democratic Unionist party”. Will the Prime Minister make it clear to Mr Verhofstadt that she is implementing the will of the British people unashamedly on behalf of all the British people, including those of us from Ulster? Will she also confirm that the trade negotiations will include control of our fishing policy going forward?
Yes, I am very happy to say to the hon. Gentleman that what I and the Government are doing is delivering on the vote of the people of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. In terms of going forward on the trade deals, when we leave the European Union, we will of course leave the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, and we will have to determine arrangements in relation to those for the United Kingdom in the future.
My right hon. Friend has been very busy in recent days, but may I thank her very much indeed for the birthday card that arrived on my desk this morning? Sadly, Mr Juncker’s is yet to arrive.
The Prime Minister will know that many people in this country want us to get on with leaving the European Union, so what guarantee can she give that I will not have to suffer another significant birthday before that is achieved?
I am sure that the whole House will want to wish my hon. Friend a very happy birthday today. I hope that he and others will take reassurance from the fact that we have achieved sufficient progress and we can move on to the second phase. That shows that through determined work we can achieve what we want to achieve, which is a good withdrawal agreement, a good future relationship with the European Union, and leaving on
Within a few paragraphs of the Prime Minister’s statement, she reaffirms that the UK will leave the single market and the customs union, says that the Government “will fully protect and maintain Northern Ireland’s position within the single market of the United Kingdom”, and says that there will be “no hard border” and “regulatory harmonisation”. Are not those three statements contradictory?
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on acting in the national interest? I urge her to continue to show the spirit of pragmatism and compromise when regulatory alignment will benefit businesses, for example in the north-west. I am thinking of the energy, aerospace, chemicals and pharmaceuticals sectors, all of which employ tens of thousands of people in the north-west.
We are very conscious of the impact of decisions that are taken. We want to ensure that the industries that are so important to my hon. Friend’s constituency, and to others in the north-west and elsewhere in the UK, are able not just to continue, but to grow, expand and be world leading in a number of areas. We will take those considerations into account as we look at our future trade arrangements.
The Prime Minister has negotiated a financial package for exiting the European Union. Can she confirm that there is a further bill to be paid for access in the future, and that there is absolutely no question of our leaving the European Union without settling our tab for the commitments that we made prior to the referendum?
We are not talking about paying for access to something in the future. There might be certain programmes and areas of which we do want to remain a member—[Interruption.] I have given examples in the past. In justice and home affairs, there may be some areas in which it makes sense for the United Kingdom to continue to operate with members of the European Union. The commitments that are set out in the joint progress report are very clear. This is about honouring the commitments that we have made in the context of agreeing the future partnership.
In congratulating the Prime Minister and the Brexit Secretary on this very significant achievement, may I point out that when the Brexit Committee met Mr Barnier recently, he spoke about decoupling future security discussions from future trade discussions? I would be interested to hear my right hon. Friend’s views on whether that is the right way forward.
As we move into the next phase, we will be negotiating our future relationship and future partnership with the European Union. That will be across all aspects of our current relationship with the European Union, so it will be about negotiating on trade and negotiating on security. I set out in my Florence speech that we expect to negotiate a separate treaty on our security arrangements and co-operation.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly claimed today that the financial settlement is subject to the conclusion of the future deep and special partnership. May I draw her attention to paragraph 96 of the progress report, which clearly states that the financial settlement is contingent only on conclusion of the article 50 withdrawal agreement and the transitional arrangements? Will she please provide some clarity on this vital issue and confirm that her precise understanding of paragraph 96 is that the settlement is contingent only on the withdrawal agreement and the transitional arrangements, not on the future partnership?
No, that is not my understanding of the joint progress report or the position that we will be in. It is very clear at the beginning of the joint progress report that this is a set of proposals that have been put forward in the context of negotiating that final agreement. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reference to the framework for the future relationship in paragraph 96.
The Prime Minister has shown not only pragmatism and determination, but a lot of courage. I congratulate her on that, as do the 36% of my constituents who work in the financial services sector. Given the key importance of the sector to our economy, will she undertake to show the same pragmatism as we develop the proposals in paragraph 91 of the joint report, particularly when it comes to finding a pragmatic means of seeking regulatory co-operation and grandfathering existing services contracts, as suggested by TheCityUK?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the reference he has made. Indeed, the paragraph he refers to is obviously one of those that set out a number of separation issues other than citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the Northern Ireland border, which were discussed in phase 1. It is important, to pick up the point he made about pragmatism, that we adopt a practical, pragmatic approach to the future, ensuring that we have the relationship we want with the European Union that will be good for the United Kingdom, but also good for the EU27.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement and also for her strength of character. Will she confirm that any regulatory alignment required to ensure north-south co-operation will not require either the United Kingdom or Northern Ireland to be a member of any single market or customs union?
I am very clear that we will not be a member of the single market or the customs union, and we were not proposing that any part of the United Kingdom will be a member of the single market or the customs union separate from the rest of the United Kingdom. The whole of the United Kingdom will be out of the internal market and the customs union.
I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress she has made. We are getting there, but I shall be relieved when we get to March 2019. For clarity’s sake, may I ask whether, if no deal is struck on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland come March 2019 and the issue is still on the table, I am right in assuming that when we leave the EU, Northern Ireland will still be influenced by EU regulations? I think that is what she said—or have I got that completely wrong?
No, the agreement that has been reached—the terms are set out in the joint progress report—is against the background of securing the agreement on the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Of course, we do want to ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and we will be looking to ensure that in all circumstances.
When the Prime Minister and her colleagues were patting themselves on the back last week for surviving the first round of negotiations, Irish freight handler John Dunne told ITV News it was “a fudge”. He said:
“You’re either in the customs union or you’re outside of it. It’s like you can’t be a little bit pregnant, so either there is customs clearance required or there isn’t”.
He is right, is he not?
The hon. Lady will know that there are various aspects of the customs union, so actually it is not quite as simple as that. We have set out already—we did this in the summer—arrangements that we believe could be in place, which we will now be able to discuss in detail with the EU27 as we move into phase 2 of these negotiations. They would enable us to retain tariff-free and frictionless access across borders, while at the same time ensuring that we are not a member of the customs union and the single market.
While we recognise that Britain will respect any liabilities that are properly owed, will the Prime Minister reassure my constituents that the United Kingdom will not be making payments that are not paid by countries remaining in the European Union, so that there can be no question of punishment payments?
I am absolutely clear that we are not talking about punishment payments. I have said on a number of occasions that we will honour our commitments. We have come to an agreement about the scope of commitments and how those should be valued, but as I said earlier, this is in the context of agreeing the future partnership.
I thank the Prime Minister for her strong statement of support for Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom. Businesses in Northern Ireland do not want a hard border, and we in the DUP are fully committed to working closely with the Prime Minister to find solutions and a good outcome in relation to that. However, will the Prime Minister confirm and commit that, in finding solutions, not only will Northern Ireland businesses have full and unfettered access to the UK market, but UK businesses will have full and unfettered access to Northern Ireland markets?
Yes, I am very happy to confirm that. What we are talking about is ensuring that the internal market of the United Kingdom is maintained, so that that flow for businesses both in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland can continue.
I join colleagues in congratulating the Prime Minister on largely excluding the influence of the European Court of Justice; others said that could not be done. With respect to the eight-year period during which courts can refer to the ECJ, will that run from the date when the UK leaves the EU, the end of the implementation period or the date from which EU citizens apply to enforce their rights, which could of course be a later date?
I apologise, I have not found the specific reference in the report, but it will be at the point at which the citizens’ rights are implemented. The expectation is that it will be on the date when we leave the European Union.
I would hope that there is confidence in the process from our being so clear in the joint progress report, which has been published by us and the European Commission, about the importance of respecting the Belfast agreement. As a Government, we have said that consistently throughout the negotiations. There is no difference in our position: we are very clear that we will uphold the Belfast agreement.
One year ago, I said in the Chamber to my right hon. Friend that it would be inconceivable for me to vote to take away the rights of my parents or other EU nationals. Incidentally, I understand that my parents are watching proceedings closely today. I thank the Prime Minister for honouring her commitment to me, which she gave earlier this year, in return for which I gave her my full loyalty. I look forward to the agreement in principle becoming a proper legal agreement in due course.
I thank my hon. Friend for the attention that he has given to EU citizens’ rights throughout this period, and for the discussions that he and I have been able to have on the matter. I am pleased that the agreement has been reached, as reported in the joint progress report. I also congratulate my hon. Friend, who has recently been honoured by the Italian Government. Many congratulations.
The Prime Minister must have had a different ballot paper from the one we had in Bristol West last year. There was no mention on mine of the single market or the customs union, nor was there any mention of Euratom, to which item 89 of the report refers. Will the Prime Minister please tell us which other organisations she believes she has a mandate to sweep off the table as we go through the negotiating period?
What was in the decision that people took in the referendum—what they were asked to decide—was whether to stay in the European Union. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady shakes her head and says that it did not mention the single market or the customs union. It was made very clear during the debate what leaving the European Union meant, and the British people voted for it.
Thank you, Prime Minister. It is no mean feat to balance remainers and leavers inside and outside the House, and to balance the rights of British citizens abroad—we think about that a lot, and my constituents have raised it with me—with those of the 3 million EU citizens here, many of whom work in our public services, as well as balancing people who live in the past and have not accepted the result. Does the Prime Minister agree that the agreement bodes well for the second phase and that all our constituents, and UK plc, should look positively to the future?
Yes, I absolutely agree. We have shown that we can achieve what we want to achieve for the United Kingdom. That bodes well for the next phase of the negotiations. I am optimistic about that next phase and I hope others will be, too.
Of course, the credit ratings are determined by external bodies, but one thing is certain: if the hon. Lady wants to ensure that we have good credit ratings in the future, we do not want a Labour Government and a run on the pound.
The Prime Minister is to be commended for her perseverance and her commitment to delivering the result of the referendum for us all. We acknowledge that this is a vital step forward, so will she confirm that she remains absolutely committed to delivering the best deal for the whole of the UK?
I can absolutely confirm that. That is exactly what we are working to, and I am optimistic that it is exactly what we are going to achieve.
The Prime Minister will understand that there is real scepticism about squaring all the various circles needed to deliver the frictionless border and the ambition she has set forward for our national interests—a proper agreement with the EU on the whole of Ireland. Will she give a guarantee to the House that there can be no veto, from those on her Back Benches or in the DUP looking for the maximum regulatory freedom, if that will put at risk a proper agreement on the island of Ireland?
We have set out in the report that we intend to ensure that there is no hard border. We are guaranteeing that we will do what is necessary to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. I imagine that there is not a single person in the House who thinks that a hard border should be returned between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We are also clear that we need to retain the constitutional and economic integrity of the whole of the United Kingdom. I believe that it is possible to do that. We have already set some ideas out earlier this year on customs, and we are now able to move on—post Thursday and Friday, if the Council confirms that sufficient progress has been made—to discuss that in detail.
May I thank the Prime Minister for her tremendous work and for the letter that she has written to citizens today, which is incredibly helpful? When does she think we will get a clear picture of what the transitional or implementation period will look like? Mr Barnier has mentioned that it will possibly be by March.
As I said earlier, assuming that the EU Council confirms on Thursday and Friday that we can move on to phase 2 of the negotiations, I expect that work on the transitional or implementation period will start immediately. There are some details to be sorted out, but the general agreement is that it will be agreed as early as possible in the new year. As my hon. Friend says, Michel Barnier has indicated that it could be during the first quarter.
I put it to the Prime Minister that if, for instance, Mr Duncan Smith and Mr Clarke are in full agreement, than either one—or probably both—must be mistaken about what has really been agreed. With respect, the Prime Minister cannot have full autonomy and full alignment at the same time. Cross-border trade in services will require some sort of long-term regulatory co-operation to be in place. When, for instance, will we find out whether solvency II still applies, whether the prospectus directive is still in operation, and whether we are still in the single euro payments area? Those are all genuine questions for consumers and businesses, but we still have no idea about the answers.
I welcome the give and take that has been shown in these negotiations, especially the sense that we will not crash out without a deal, which gives a sense of optimism even to wannabe remainers. While Taunton Deane is a wonderful place to live, I have had several people come into my constituency office who also have homes in the EU. They are very concerned about whether their rights will be protected, and whether they will have to make a choice to stay there or come back here. Can the Prime Minister make it clear that even for them, we are making good progress?
One of the things we wanted to ensure was that we were not just coming to an agreement on the rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom, but that it would be reciprocal for UK citizens in the EU27. That is exactly what we have achieved through these negotiations, and I am grateful to the negotiating team for the detailed effort that they have put in to ensure that UK citizens can have that confidence for the future.
The Prime Minister did not answer the second part of the question from Mr Bone, who has just resumed his place, about the exit date of
We put that amendment down because we believe it is important to confirm, and so that people have the confidence of knowing, the date we will leave the European Union, which is
The basis on which we have agreed various arrangements relating to the rights that will apply to EU citizens here and to UK citizens in the EU27 is the principle that they can maintain the life choices they have already made. We want somebody who has moved here with a set of expectations to be able to carry on living as they have done and with the same expectations for the future.
If EU citizens’ rights were the Government’s No. 1 priority, it is frankly shocking that they have taken 18 months to get an agreement. The Prime Minister undercut that agreement by twice saying in her statement that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. That insinuates that they still might be bargaining chips. So that I can give my constituents some sort of reassurance, will she tell me when the voluntary application process outlined in the technical note will be up and running?
We triggered article 50 in March this year, and we have been engaged in detailed negotiations. The hon. Gentleman refers to the phrase
“nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”,
which is in the joint progress report. It is language used by the European Union in relation to the negotiations going forward. One issue for EU citizens here has been the ease of the process of applying for settled status. The Home Office is developing that process and will bring it forward. It is very clear that it will be a very easy and light-touch process, so that nobody need have fears about the arrangements they will have to go through.
I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. We are very clear about the importance of the aviation sector and maintaining the free flow of flights to the United Kingdom. It is a priority.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that once we leave the European Union we will no longer send billions of pounds a year to Brussels, a Brexit dividend that could instead be spent on our schools, hospitals and housing? Does she share my surprise that those on the Opposition Benches do not welcome the opportunity for more public spending on our public services? The Leader of the Opposition had nothing to say about it.
I absolutely confirm to my hon. Friend that once we have left the European Union we will not be paying huge sums of money every year to the European Union. That money will be available to us to spend on our priorities here. Perhaps the silence of the Leader of the Opposition on this issue, rather than welcoming that money potentially going into public services, is because the Labour party’s position is to be willing to pay any price to the European Union regardless of how big the bill is.
A number of businesses in my constituency manufacture goods that they then ship direct to end customers in the Republic of Ireland. Will those businesses continue to benefit from a special deal or full alignment in the same way as businesses that manufacture in Northern Ireland?
As I have said, the full alignment position in paragraph 49 is the final backstop. We expect to get a good agreement on the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union that will ensure not just north-south trade but east-west trade. It is not just about businesses here in the UK—the trade between Great Britain and the island of Ireland is more important to Ireland in financial terms than the trade from north to south. It is important that we do not have a hard border and that we maintain east-west trade.
One issue that certainly was not debated during the run-up to the EU referendum was membership of Euratom. Will the Prime Minister now inform people working in nuclear medicine—such as my sister, and many of my constituents—where they will obtain radioactive sources to treat and diagnose cancer when we are outside Euratom?
The hon. Lady will know that membership of Euratom is linked to membership of the European Union. That is the legal position, and that is why, as we triggered coming out of the European Union, we triggered coming out of Euratom. However, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is putting in place arrangements that will ensure that we have the same capabilities and can operate in the same way as we do today. We recognise the importance of the issue; it will just be handled in a different way in future.
Will the Prime Minister provide some clarity about the progress of negotiations on the other border that we share with the EU, the border between Gibraltar and Spain?
We are continuing to work with the Government of Gibraltar. They are part of our considerations as we proceed with these matters. That issue will be part of the wider negotiation on the trade relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom in the future, and we will continue to work on it with the Government of Gibraltar.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement—it was certainly optimistic.
Last week the Irish Government showed the UK Government what effective negotiation looks like. Given that there was zero mention of any devolved Government in her 10-minute statement, may I ask the Prime Minister why the Irish Government have more influence on the UK’s position than the democratically elected Scottish Government?
We have regular dialogues with the Scottish Government about the negotiations and the future arrangements that we want between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Those arrangements will take into account the concerns and interests of the whole United Kingdom, and will constitute a deal that will be good for the whole United Kingdom.
The agreement, as written on Friday, states that commitments relating to Ireland will be
“upheld in all circumstances, irrespective of the nature of any future agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom.”
Can the Prime Minister confirm that that is absolute?
We are very clear about the fact that we will not see a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. That is what we have put in place, and that is what we will be working to ensure that we deliver.
I am most grateful to the Prime Minister. She was at the crease for an hour and 45 minutes, which was a very substantial commitment, although I am not sure that Geoffrey Boycott would view it in those terms. He would probably think that it was a pretty short space of time for him to get his first few runs on the board.