Theresa May made a statement yesterday in the House of Commons on last week’s European Council, Sir William Cash made the following intervention:
The Prime Minister (Mrs Theresa May): With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on last week’s European Council.
Long after we have left the European Union, the UK will continue to be a strong and committed partner, standing alongside our neighbours and working with them to advance our shared values and interests. This Council provided a further opportunity to demonstrate that ongoing commitment, through discussions that included migration, the digital single market, Turkey, North Korea and Iran, and it made important progress in moving towards the new, deep and special partnership with the European Union that we want to see.
On migration, the UK is playing its full part. The Royal Navy has intercepted 172 smuggling boats and saved more than 12,000 lives since Operation Sophia began. Our National Crime Agency is working with Libyan law enforcement, enhancing its capability to tackle the people-smuggling and trafficking networks. At the Council, we welcomed the reduction in migrant crossings and the renewed momentum behind the Libyan political process; but we must also continue to address the root causes driving people across the Sahara and the Mediterranean, so the UK is also continuing to invest for the long term in education, jobs and services, both in countries of origin and countries of transit.
On the digital single market, it is right to keep up the pressure on completing its implementation by the end of 2018. That will continue to benefit us even after we have left the European Union. At the Council, 1 also argued that the free flow of data was key to unlocking the potential of Europe’s digital trade, and we secured conclusions which recognised that. As the Government set out in a paper over the summer, such arrangements will be an important part of the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
Let me now turn to the discussions on Turkey. We share the concerns over the arrests of EU nationals and others defending human rights. I raised that personally with President Erdogan when we met at the UN General Assembly, and we are publicly calling on Turkey to protect freedom of expression and to release those defending human rights. At the same time, I believe that we must take a long-term view of the enduring importance of our relationship with Turkey, which is a vital partner in ensuring a secure and prosperous European neighbourhood. We must also continue to recognise the challenges to which it is responding, not least the military coup that it faced only 16 months ago.
We must continue to work with Turkey as our ally and partner, particularly as we respond to the shared challenges of terrorism, migration and instability in the middle east. In so doing, however, we must do all that we can to convince Turkey that it must demonstrate its commitment to human rights and the rule of law. To turn away from Turkey now would undermine those who seek to secure a European future based on our shared values.
On North Korea, we welcomed the EU sanctions that were adopted last week, and reaffirmed our clear condemnation of North Korea’s aggressive and illegal missile and nuclear tests. We urged all states, including China, to play their part in changing the course that Pyongyang is taking. As for Iran, the Council built on the joint statement made by Chancellor Merkel, President Macron and myself last week, reiterating its firm commitment to the nuclear deal. The deal was the culmination of 13 years of diplomacy and is a major step towards ensuring that Iran’s nuclear programme is not diverted for military purposes, which is vitally important for our shared security. We are continuing to work particularly closely with our French and German allies on that crucial issue.
Turning to our negotiations to leave the European Union, I shared the vision I set out in Florence for a creative and pragmatic approach to a new, deep and special partnership between the United Kingdom and the European Union: a partnership based on the fundamental beliefs we share—in democracy and the rule of law, but also in free trade, rigorous and fair competition, strong consumer rights, and high regulatory standards. I have also been clear that the United Kingdom is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security. Both sides have approached these talks with professionalism and in a constructive spirit, and we should recognise what has been achieved to date.
On citizens’ rights, both sides share the same objective of safeguarding the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and of UK nationals living in the EU. This has been my first priority from the very beginning of the negotiations, and it remains so. The negotiations are complicated and deeply technical, but in the end they are about people, and I am determined that we will put people first. EU citizens make an extraordinary contribution to our national life and we want them to stay. I know that EU member states also value the UK nationals living in their communities, and I want them to have their rights protected, too. We are united on the key principles, and while there are a small number of issues that remain outstanding, we are in touching distance of a deal.
This agreement will provide certainty about residence, healthcare, pensions and other benefits. It will mean that EU citizens who have paid into the UK system, and UK nationals who have paid into the system of an EU27 country, can benefit from what they have put in. It will enable families who have built their lives together to stay together, and it will provide guarantees that the rights of those UK nationals currently living in the EU, and EU citizens currently living in the UK, will not diverge over time.
We will also ensure that the implementation of the agreement we reach does not create complicated and bureaucratic hurdles. For example, I have said that applying for settled status will cost no more than a UK passport, and that people applying will no longer have to demonstrate comprehensive sickness insurance. We will also do everything possible to work closely with EU member states to ensure that their processes are equally streamlined for British nationals living in their countries.
We have also made significant progress on Northern Ireland, where it is absolutely imperative that joint work on the peace process is not affected in any way. The Belfast agreement must be at the heart of our approach, and we have clearly agreed that the unique circumstances across the whole of the island of Ireland will require specific solutions. There will not be any physical infrastructure at the border, and we have also developed joint principles to ensure the continuation of the common travel area. These principles will fully preserve the rights of UK and Irish nationals to live, work and study across these islands, and protect the associated rights to public services and social security.
This Council provided an opportunity to assess, and reflect on, how to make further progress in the negotiations. My speech in Florence made two important steps which have added a new impetus. First, I gave two clear commitments on the financial settlement: that the UK will honour commitments we have made during the period of our membership, and that none of our EU partners should fear they will need to pay more or receive less over the remainder of the current budget plan as a result of our decision to leave. As the House would expect, we are going through our potential commitments line by line, and that detailed work continues. Secondly, I proposed a time-limited implementation period based on current terms, which is in the interest of both the UK and the EU.
At this Council, the 27 member states responded by agreeing to start their preparations for moving negotiations on to trade and the future relationship we want to see. The Council conclusions call for work to continue with a view to being able to move to the second phase of the negotiations as soon as possible, and President Tusk in his press conference was clear that the EU’s internal work
“will take account of proposals presented”
in the Florence speech, and, indeed, that this agreement to start preparatory discussions would not be possible without the new momentum given by that speech.
So I am ambitious and positive about Britain’s future and these negotiations. If we are going to take a step forward together, it must be on the basis of joint effort and endeavour between the UK and the EU, but I believe that by approaching these negotiations in a constructive way—in a spirit of friendship and co-operation —we can and will deliver the best possible outcome that works for all our people, and that belief was shared by other European leaders.
We are going to leave the European Union in March 2019, delivering on the democratic will of the British people. Of course, we are preparing for every eventuality to ensure we leave in a smooth and orderly way, but I am confident that we will be able to negotiate a new, deep and special partnership between a sovereign United Kingdom and our friends in the European Union. That is my mission, that is this Government’s mission, and I commend this statement to the House.
The Prime Minister: As I just said in my response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), an implementation period is about a period of adjustment to the future relationship. That is the basis on which I have put it forward to the European Union, and that is the basis on which we will be negotiating an agreement on it.
Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is a potential bear trap if the European Court is directly involved in any implementation period? Its case law asserts its supremacy over our Parliament and our courts and includes a commitment to the charter of fundamental rights and political integration.
The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend knows, I have been clear that one of the intentions of people who voted for the UK to leave the EU was to ensure that in future the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice no longer covered the United Kingdom. We will of course have to negotiate the basis of the implementation period. If we are going to ensure that we have the greatest possible certainty for business during that period, it will be necessary for us to see as little change during that period as is commensurate with that certainty for business. Indeed, one of the purposes of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is to bring the EU acquis—the EU law—into UK law to give that certainty to businesses and individuals here.