My response to Theresa May’s G20 Summit statement

The Prime Minister

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the G20 summit in China.

Before I turn to the G20, however, I would like to say something about the process of Brexit. On 23 June the British people were asked to vote on whether we should stay in the EU or leave. The majority decided to leave. Our task now is to deliver the will of the British people and negotiate the best possible deal for our country. I know many people are keen to see rapid progress and to understand what post-Brexit Britain will look like. We are getting on with that vital work, but we must also think through the issues in a sober and considered way.

As I have said, this is about getting the kind of deal that is ambitious and bold for Britain. It is not about the Norway model, the Swiss model or any other country’s model—it is about developing our own British model. So we will not take decisions until we are ready, we will not reveal our hand prematurely, and we will not provide a running commentary on every twist and turn of the negotiation. I say that because that is not the best way to conduct a strong and mature negotiation that will deliver the best deal for the people of this country. As the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union told the House on Monday, what we will do is maximise and seize the opportunities that Brexit presents. That is the approach I took to the G20 summit.

This was the first time that the world’s leading economies have come together since the UK’s decision to leave the EU, and it demonstrated the leading role that we continue to play in the world as a bold, ambitious and outward-looking nation. Building on our strength as a great trading nation, we were clear that we had to resist a retreat to protectionism, and we had conversations about how we could explore new bilateral trading arrangements with key partners around the world. We initiated important discussions on responding to rising anti-globalisation sentiment and ensuring that the world’s economies work for everyone, and we continued to play our part in working with our allies to confront the global challenges of terrorism and migration. Let me take each in turn.

Trading with partners all around the globe has been the foundation of our prosperity in the past, and it will underpin our prosperity in the future. So under my leadership, as we leave the EU, Britain will seek to become the global leader in free trade. At this summit we secured widespread agreement across the G20 to resist a retreat to protectionism, including a specific agreement to extend the roll-back of protectionist measures until at least the end of 2018.

The G20 also committed to ratify by the end of this year the World Trade Organisation agreement to reduce the costs and burdens of moving goods across borders, and it agreed to do more to encourage firms of all sizes, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises and female-led firms, to take full advantage of global supply chains. Britain also continued to press for an ambitious EU trade agenda, including implementing the EU-Canada deal and forging agreements with Japan and America, and we will continue to make these arguments for as long as we are members of the EU.

But as we leave the EU, we will also forge our own new trade deals, and I am pleased to say that just as the UK is keen to seize the opportunities that leaving the EU presents, so too are many of our international partners, who recognise the attractiveness of doing business with the UK. The leaders from India, Mexico, South Korea and Singapore said that they would welcome talks on removing the barriers to trade between our countries. The Australian Trade Minister visited the UK yesterday to take part in exploratory discussions on the shape of a UK-Australia trade deal. And in our bilateral at the end of the summit, President Xi also made it clear that China would welcome discussions on a bilateral trade arrangement with the UK.

As we do more to advance free trade around the world, so we must also do more to ensure that working people really benefit from the opportunities it creates. Across the world today, many feel these opportunities do not seem to come to them. They feel a lack of control over their lives. They have a job but no job security; they have a home but worry about paying the mortgage. They are just about managing, but life is hard, and it is not enough for Governments to take a hands-off approach. So at this summit I argued that we need to deliver an economy that works for everyone, with bold action at home and co-operation abroad. That is why, in Britain, we are developing a proper industrial strategy to improve productivity in every part of the country, so more people can share in our national prosperity through higher real wages and greater opportunities for young people.

To restore greater fairness, we will be consulting on new measures to tackle corporate irresponsibility. These will include cracking down on excessive corporate pay, poor corporate governance, short-termism and aggressive tax avoidance, and giving employees and customers representation on company boards. At the G20, this mission of ensuring the economy works for everyone was echoed by other leaders, and this is an agenda that Britain will continue to lead in the months and years ahead.

Together, we agreed to continue efforts to fight corruption—building on the London summit—and do more to stop aggressive tax avoidance, including stopping companies avoiding tax by shifting profits from one jurisdiction to another. We also agreed to work together to address the causes of excess global production in heavy industries, including in the steel market, and we will establish a new forum to discuss issues such as subsidies that contribute to market distortions. All these steps are important if we are to retain support for free trade and the open economies which are the bedrock of global growth.

Turning to global security, Britain remains at the heart of the fight against Daesh, and at this summit we discussed the need for robust plans to manage the threat of foreign fighters dispersing from Syria, Iraq and Libya. We called for the proper enforcement of the UN sanctions regime to limit the financing of all terrorist organisations and for more action to improve standards in aviation security, including through a UN Security Council resolution which the UK has been pursuing and which we hope will be adopted later this month. We also agreed the need to confront the ideology that underpins this terrorism. That means addressing both violent and non-violent extremism and working across borders to tackle radicalisation online.

Turning to the migration crisis, Britain will continue to meet our promises to the poorest in the world, including through humanitarian efforts to support refugees, and we will make further commitments at President Obama’s summit in New York later this month. But at the G20 I also argued that we cannot shy away from dealing with illegal migration, and I will be returning to this at the UN General Assembly. We need to improve the way we distinguish between refugees and economic migrants. This will enable our economies to benefit from controlled economic migration. In doing so, we will be able to get more help to refugees who need it, and retain popular support for doing so. This does not just protect our own people. By reducing the scope for the mass population movements we are seeing today, and at the same time investing to address the underlying drivers of mass migration at source, we can achieve better outcomes for the migrants themselves. As part of this new approach, we also need a much more concerted effort to address modern slavery. This sickening trade, often using the same criminal networks that facilitate illegal migration, is an affront to our humanity, and I want Britain leading a global effort to stamp it out.

When the British people voted to leave the European Union, they did not vote to leave Europe, to turn inwards, or to walk away from the G20 or any of our international partners around the world. That has never been the British way. We have always understood that our success as a sovereign nation is inextricably bound up in our trade and our co-operation with others. By building on existing partnerships, forging new relationships and shaping an ambitious global role, we will make a success of Brexit—for Britain and for all our partners—and we will continue to strengthen the prosperity and security of all our citizens for generations to come. I commend this statement to the House.


Jeremy Corbyn

I thank the Prime Minister for her statement on the G20 statement and for giving me an advance copy of it.

I first went to China in 1998 to attend a United Nations conference on human rights—the same year in which the European convention on human rights was incorporated into UK law in our Human Rights Act. That legislation has protected the liberties of our people and held successive British Governments to account. That is why Labour Members share the concerns of so many at the Prime Minister’s Government’s plans to repeal the Human Rights Act.

On the issues of Brexit and the G20, the Prime Minister said that she was not going to reveal her hand on this subject. Nobody would blame her, because she has not revealed her hand, or indeed any of the Government’s many hands, on this particular thing; they are unclear about what they are trying to do. The G20 met in the wake of the vote to leave the European Union. We have to be clear: we accept the decision taken by the majority of our people. However, we cannot ignore the fact that the outcome has left this country divided, with increased levels of hate crimes, huge uncertainty about what comes next for our country, and an extraordinary lack of planning and preparation on how to navigate the post-referendum situation in relation to Europe.

That uncertainty and division have been made worse by Government Ministers’ political posturing and often very contradictory messages, which do not seem to add up to a considered position. Yesterday the Brexit Secretary said that staying in the single market was “improbable”; the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said that was not the case. It is one or the other; it cannot be both. So can the Prime Minister tell the House what the Government’s policy actually is?

The negotiations for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU must focus on expanding trade, jobs and investment, and on defending social, employment and environmental protections. Many colleagues raised during Prime Minister’s Question Time the uncertainty facing universities, for example. The question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) is a very important one. They need certainty about their relationship with European universities immediately—it cannot wait. Parliament and the public cannot be sidelined from this, the greatest constitutional change this country has embarked on for 20 years.

Corporate globalisation is a key issue that has to be addressed, and I am pleased that the G20 did address it—or apparently so. The G20 was formed in response to the global financial crisis of 2008: a devastating event that was triggered by reckless deregulation of the financial sector. It is a model of running the global economy that, as the Prime Minister acknowledges, has produced huge increases in inequality and failed in its own terms. I raised this issue with President Obama during his visit earlier this year. It is clear that rising levels of inequality in all our economies fuel insecurities and pit people and communities against each another.

It has been 40 years since the UK has had to engage in bilateral trade negotiations. The free trade dogma that the Prime Minister spoke of has often been pursued at the expense of the world’s most fragile economies, and has been realised with destructive consequences for our environment. We need a UK trade agenda that protects people and the environment. I urge the Prime Minister to stand with me against the use of Britain’s aid and trade policies to further the agenda of deregulation and privatisation in developing countries. We need a trade policy that values human rights and human dignity.

In particular, could the Prime Minister inform the House about her talks with the Chinese president in two crucial areas, the first of which I raised with him in my meeting last autumn? The UK steel industry continues to face deeply challenging times. A key reason for this is the scale of cheap, subsidised Chinese steel that is flooding European markets. What assurances did President Xi give that this practice will stop, and stop now, because of the damage it is doing to the steel industry in this country, and indeed in others? On the question of Hinkley, during the summer the Prime Minister announced that she was postponing the decision on the new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point. Could she take this opportunity to explain to the House why she decided to postpone the decision, and also set out which aspects of the contract she is apparently re-examining?

The Prime Minister was involved in discussions at the G20 about global challenges to security. As the complex, brutal conflicts continue across the middle east, I agree that we need a concerted global response to these challenges. The human cost of the refugee crisis, including the thousands drowning in the sea each year, must be our No. 1 concern and our No. 1 humanitarian response. That is why I remain concerned that at the heart of this Government’s security strategy is apparently increased arms exports to the very part of the world that most immediately threatens our security. The British Government continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia that are being used to commit crimes against humanity in Yemen, as has been clearly detailed by the UN and other independent agencies. Will the Prime Minister commit today to halting the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia that have been used to prosecute this war in Yemen, with the humanitarian devastation that has resulted from that?


The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of issues. First, he referred to the question of hate crimes that have taken place in the United Kingdom. We have a proud history in the UK of welcoming people into this country, and there is no place in our society for hate crime. The Government have already published a new action plan to take action against hate crime. We are concerned about the levels of hate crime that we have seen. My right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary met Polish Ministers earlier this week to discuss the particular concern about some terrible attacks that have taken place on Polish people here in the UK. We are very clear, and the police are very clear, that they will act robustly in relation to hate crime. Anybody who has been a victim of this or who has allegations of hate crime taking place should take those allegations to the police.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about what we will be doing in our negotiations with the European Union. I covered this in my statement, but just to reiterate: what we will be doing as we negotiate our leaving the European Union is negotiating a new relationship with the European Union. That will include control on the movement of people from the EU into the UK—I do not think he referred to that—but it will also be about getting the right deal for trade in goods and services that we want to see. It will be a new relationship. As I indicated in my statement, and indeed in Prime Minister’s questions, I will not be giving a running commentary, and the Government will not be giving a running commentary, on our negotiations. There is a very good reason for that. We want to get the best deal. We want to get the right deal for the United Kingdom, and if we were to give a constant running commentary and give away our negotiating hand, then that is not what we would achieve.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the issue of steel. I raised the issue of over-production in the plenary session. That was important, because it was not just being raised with the Chinese Government but with all the leaders around the table. Crucially, the G20 has recognised the significant of this and recognised the steps that some Governments are taking, which are leading to some of the problems that we see. That is why the new forum has been introduced, which will be looking at these issues. The Chinese will be sitting on that forum, and they will be part of those discussions.

On Hinkley, I have said it before and I will say it again: the way I work is that I do not just take a decision without looking at the analysis. I am looking at the details and looking at the analysis, and a decision will be taken later this month.

On Saudi Arabia, I met the deputy crown prince at the G20, and I raised with him the concerns about the reports of what has happened in Yemen. I insisted that these should be properly investigated. The Leader of the Opposition referred to our relations with Saudi Arabia, and I think he implied that what happened in Saudi Arabia was a threat to the safety of people here in the UK. Actually, what matters is the strength of our relationship with Saudi Arabia. When it comes to counter-terrorism and dealing with terrorism, it is that relationship that has helped to keep people on the streets of Britain safe.

Finally, I hold the very clear view, as does the Conservative party, that if we are to see prosperity and growth in the economies around the world, the way to get there is through free trade. Free trade has underpinned the prosperity of this country. I will take no lessons from the right hon. Gentleman on action to help developing countries and those who are in poverty elsewhere in the world, because this Government have a fine record of humanitarian support, educating girls and others around the world and helping to give people access to the medical care, water and resources that they need. It is free trade that underpins our growth, and we will be the global leader in free trade. Free trade can also be the best anti-poverty policy for those countries. I will unashamedly go out there and give the message that we want a free trade country, and I am only sorry that the Labour party is turning its back on something that has led to the prosperity of the United Kingdom.