The Prime Minister made a statement, yesterday, at the House of Commons, on the most recent European Council. Bill Cash made the following intervention:The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on last week’s European Council. The main focus of the Council was on migration, but there were also important discussions on Syria and the UK’s renegotiation. Let me take each in turn.
The European Union is under massive pressure over the migration issue. The numbers arriving remain immense. Some countries have attempted to maintain and police external borders; others have waved migrants through. Some 8,000 people are arriving in Germany every day. The response of the Schengen zone is to establish hotspots in the countries where most migrants are arriving so that they can be properly processed, and then to have a mechanism for distributing them across the EU. That is what most of the Council’s discussions and debates were about.
Of course, the UK does not take part in Schengen. We have maintained our borders while others have taken theirs down. We are not participating in the quota system for migrants who have arrived in Europe. Instead, we are taking 20,000 Syrian refugees straight from the camps. We think that that is the right approach.
I will turn to some of the specifics of how the EU is planning to ease the crisis. First, on aid to the affected area, Britain was praised for its contribution to the World Food Programme. We have provided $220 million of the $275 million that was needed to close the funding gap for the rest of the year. The Commission President made a particular point that the rest of the Council members should do more and follow Britain’s lead on that. It is still the case that the United Kingdom has spent more on aid for Syrian refugees than any other EU country—indeed, more than any other country in the world save the United States of America.
Secondly, the EU agreed in outline a new joint action plan with Turkey. That includes potential additional financial support to help with the huge volume of refugees—there are more than 2 million in Turkey—and assistance with strengthening its ability to prevent illegal migration to the EU. Although the terms of the EU’s assistance remain to be finalised, any visa liberalisation agreed under the action plan will not, of course, apply to the UK, and we will continue to make our own decisions on visas for Turkish nationals.
Thirdly, we agreed more action to stop criminal gangs putting people’s lives at risk in the Mediterranean. The EU’s naval operation is now moving to a new phase, in which we can board ships and arrest people smugglers. Britain played a leading role in securing the United Nations Security Council resolution that was required to make that possible, and Royal Navy ships HMS Richmond and HMS Enterprise will help to deliver that operation.
Fourthly, obviously the most important thing is to deal with the causes of the crisis, and in particular the war in Syria. The Council condemned the ongoing brutality of ISIL, and when it comes to Assad its conclusions were equally clear:
“there cannot be a lasting peace in Syria under the present leadership.”
I presented to the Council the facts about Russia’s intervention, with eight out of 10 Russian air strikes hitting non-ISIL targets. The Council expressed deep concern over Russia’s actions, and especially attacks on the moderate opposition, including the Free Syrian Army. Our view remains the same: we want a Syria without ISIL or Assad.
Ahead of the Council I convened a meeting with Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande, and we agreed the importance of a renewed diplomatic effort to revive the political process and reach a lasting settlement in Syria. We agreed that, together with our US allies, we must seek to persuade Russia to target ISIL, not the moderate opposition. The three of us also discussed the situation in Ukraine. We welcomed recent progress, and agreed the need to maintain the pressure of sanctions on Russia until the Minsk agreement has been fully implemented.
On the UK’s renegotiation, I set out the four things that we need to achieve. The first is sovereignty and subsidiarity, where Britain must not be part of an “ever closer union” and where we want a greater role for national Parliaments. Secondly, we must ensure that the EU adds to our competitiveness, rather than detracts from it, by signing new trade deals, cutting regulation and completing the single market. We have already made considerable progress.
There has been an 80% reduction in new legislative proposals under the new European Commission, and we have reached important agreements on a capital markets union, on liberalising services, and on completing the digital single market. Last week the Commission published a new trade strategy that reflects the agenda that Britain has been championing for years, including vital trade deals with America, China and Japan. But more needs to be done in that area.
Thirdly, we need to ensure that the EU works for those outside the single currency and protects the integrity of the single market, and that we face neither discrimination nor additional costs from the integration of the eurozone. Fourthly, on social security, free movement and immigration, we need to tackle abuses of the right to free movement, and deliver changes that ensure that our welfare system is not an artificial draw for people to come to Britain.
As I have said before, those are the four key areas where Britain needs fundamental changes, and there is a clear process to secure them. The European Union (Referendum) Bill has now passed through this House and is making its way through the other place. I have met the other 27 leaders, the Commission President, the President of the European Parliament, and the President of the European Council, and will continue to do so. Technical talks have been taking place in Brussels since July to inform our analysis of the legal options for reform. There will now be a process of negotiation with all 28 member states leading up to the December European Council. As I said last week, I will be writing to the President of the European Council in early November to set out the changes that we want to see.
Throughout all this, what matters to me most is Britain’s national security and Britain’s economic security. I am interested in promoting our prosperity and our influence, and we have already made some important achievements. We have cut the EU budget for the first time ever, we took Britain out of the eurozone bail-out mechanisms—the first ever return of powers from Brussels to Westminster—and we vetoed a new treaty that would have damaged Britain’s interests. Through our opt-out from justice and home affairs matters, we have achieved the largest repatriation of powers to Britain since we joined the EU. We have pursued a bold, pro-business agenda, cutting red tape, promoting free trade and extending the single market to new sectors.
I want Britain to have the best of both worlds. Already, we have ensured that British people can travel freely around Europe, but have at the same time maintained our own border controls. We have kept our own currency while having complete access to the single market. I believe we can succeed in this renegotiation, and achieve the reform that Britain and Europe needs. When we have done so, we will put the decision to the British people in the referendum that only we promised and that only this Conservative majority Government can deliver. I commend the statement to the House.
Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): On renegotiation, will my right hon. Friend recognise that even if the words “ever-closer union” were removed from treaties in the future, it would not change any of our existing EU obligations and laws, nor fundamentally change our relationship with the EU under the existing treaties? Will he please comment on that?
The Prime Minister: The issue of ever-closer union is important both symbolically and legally. It is important symbolically because the British people always felt that we were told we were joining a common market, and were never really told enough about this political union, which we have never been happy with. I want to make it explicit that for us it is principally a common market and not an ever-closer union, but this concept does have legal force because ever-closer union has been used by the courts to enforce centralising judgments and I want that to change.