June European Council

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:54 pm on 2nd July 2018.

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 4:54 pm, 2nd July 2018

First, the right hon. Gentleman talked about the issues raised in relation to migration. As I said, uncontrolled migration and the numbers of people we have seen attempting to come to Europe, some of whom have lost their lives in that attempt, do pose a serious challenge to Europe, and we have been working with our European colleagues to be able to address these issues.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about the right to claim asylum. In 2016, when I went to the United Nations, I set out the three principles that we believe underlie these issues: first, that people should claim asylum in the first safe country that they come to; secondly, that it should be possible to differentiate better between economic migrants and refugees, which I think will enable more support to be available for refugees; and thirdly, that countries have a right to be able to defend their borders, but they must also accept returns of those individuals who have gone illegally elsewhere and should be returned to those countries.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the alleviation of the burden on Italy and Greece. We have been working for some time now with both Italy and Greece in a number of ways to alleviate the burden on them. In particular, we have had Border Force staff working in Greece to help in terms of the processes there for claiming asylum and identifying refugees and others. We have been working similarly in Italy, but also working, as I indicated in my statement in relation to the organised immigration crime taskforce, to ensure that we are identifying the people smugglers who are the people behind the misery that so many individual migrants find themselves subjected to.

These people smugglers have no care for the humanity—for the lives—of the people that they are dealing with; they are quite happy to put them into boats that they know will sink and send them off from the Libyan coast. That is why we have been part of the search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean and, as I say, we are working to identify those smuggling groups. As I said in my statement, I agreed with Prime Minister Tsipras that we are going to work towards further action—a new action plan of UK support for Greek and European efforts—and that will include a further Border Force patrol vessel, which will be working with the Greek coastguard.

The right hon. Gentleman then came on to reference the issue of Brexit. He talked about the issue of whether or not there had been progress on Brexit. I have to say that, at virtually every stage, Labour Members have said that there was no progress on Brexit; at every stage, we have delivered. They said we would not deliver article 50 —we did. They said we would not, but I laid out our plans at Lancaster House, at Florence, at Munich and in the Mansion House speech. We got agreement on phase 1 in December, and we got agreement in March to an implementation period. We are on schedule. The question is: why does the Labour party spend all its time trying to frustrate Brexit and stop the vote of the British people?

The right hon. Gentleman asked about trade. Yes, we do want to ensure that we continue to have a good trading relationship with the European Union, but we also want to ensure that we have an independent trade policy that allows us to get good trade deals with the rest of the world. That will be for the prosperity and benefit of people and jobs here in this country.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the national health service. Well, months ago Labour were complaining that the national health service was not preparing for a no deal, and now they are complaining that it is. Labour really need to get themselves straight on what they are talking about. When it comes to getting a position straight, the right hon. Gentleman wanted to trigger article 50 the day after the referendum, but now he refuses to rule out a second referendum. It is not just a question of who in the Labour party agrees with who else; the right hon. Gentleman cannot even agree with himself on his Brexit policy.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman said that I should pick a side. I am very clear: I have picked the side of the British people, and they will be the ones I deliver for.