Prime Minister’s Questions | 25 January 2017

Questions to the Prime Minister

Jeremy Corbyn

I join the Prime Minister in expressing the condolences of, I am sure, the whole House to the family of the police officer who lost his life over the weekend in Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister has wasted 80 days between the original judgment and the appeal. She has finally admitted today, after pressure from all sides, that there will be a White Paper. May we know when that White Paper will be available to us, and why it is taking so long for us to get it?


The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman asked for debates. I made very clear that there would always be debates in the House, and there have been and will continue to be. He asked for votes. There have been votes in the House; the House voted overwhelmingly for the Government to trigger article 50 before the end of March this year. He asked for a plan. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), I have set out a clear plan for a bold future for Britain. He and others asked for a White Paper, and I have made clear that there will be a White Paper.

What I am also clear about is that the right hon. Gentleman always asks about process—about the means to an end. The Government and I are focusing on the outcomes. We are focusing on a truly global Britain, building a stronger future for this country, the right deal for Britain, and Britain out of the European Union.


Jeremy Corbyn

My question was not complicated. I simply asked when the White Paper would come out. Will it be published before or at the same time as the Bill that is apparently about to be published?

Last week I asked the Prime Minister repeatedly to clarify whether her Government were prepared to pay to secure tariff-free access to the single European market. She repeatedly refused to answer the question, so I will ask her again. Are her Government ruling out paying a fee for tariff-free access to the single market or the bespoke customs union to which she also referred in her speech?


The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the issue of timing. There are actually two separate issues. The House has voted overwhelmingly that article 50 should be triggered before the end of March 2017. Following the Supreme Court judgment, a Bill will be provided for the House, and there will be proper debates on it in the Chamber and in another place. There is then the separate question of the publication of the plan that I have set out, a bold vision for Britain for the future. I will do that in the White Paper. The right hon. Gentleman knows that one of our objectives is the best possible free trade with the European Union, and that is what we will be out there negotiating for.


Jeremy Corbyn

Some of this is very worrying for many Members, but, more important, it is worrying for many other people. For example, the chief executive of Nissan was given assurances by the Prime Minister’s Business Secretary about future trade arrangements with Europe, but now says that Nissan will

“have to re-evaluate the situation”

in relation to its investments in Britain.

The Prime Minister is threatening the EU that unless it gives in to her demands she will turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven off the coast of Europe. Labour Members are very well aware of the consequences that that would have—the damage that it would do to jobs and living standards, and to our public services. Is the Prime Minister now going to rule out the bargain basement threat that she made in her speech at Lancaster House?


The Prime Minister

I expect us to get a good deal for trading relationships with the European Union, but I am also clear that this Government will not sign up to a bad deal for the United Kingdom. As for the threats that the right hon. Gentleman claims might happen—he often uses those phrases and talks about workers’ rights—perhaps he should listen to his former colleague in this House, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who today said,

“to give credit to the Government…I don’t think they want to weaken workers’ rights”,

and goes on to say,

“I’ve seen no evidence from the conversations I’ve had with senior members of the Government that that’s their aspiration or their intention or something they want to do. Which is good.”

As usual with Labour, the right hand is not talking to the far-left.


Jeremy Corbyn

The evidence of what the Tory party and this Government really think about workers’ rights was there for all to see yesterday: a private Member’s Bill under the ten-minute rule by a Tory MP to tear up parts of the International Labour Organisation convention, talking down the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) to protect European workers’ rights that have been obtained in this country. That is the real agenda of the Tory party.

Is doing is petulantly aiming a threat at our public services with her threats about a bargain basement Britain. Is her priority our struggling NHS, those denied social care, and children having their school funding cut, or is it once again further cuts in big business taxation to make the rich even better off?


The Prime Minister

I simply remind the right hon. Gentleman that I have been very clear that this Government will protect workers’ rights; indeed, we have a review of modern employment law to ensure all employment legislation is keeping up with the modern labour market. One of the objectives I set out in my plan for our negotiating objectives was to protect workers’ rights.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about threats to public services. I will tell him what the threat to public services would be: a Labour Government borrowing £500 billion extra. That would destroy our economy and mean no funding for our public services.


Jeremy Corbyn

The threat to workers’ rights is there every day: 6 million people earning less than the living wage; and many people—nearly 1 million—on zero-hours contracts with no protection being offered by this Government. What they are doing is offering once again the bargain basement alternative.

Will the Prime Minister also take this opportunity today to congratulate the 100,000 people who marched in Britain last weekend to highlight women’s rights after President Trump’s inauguration, and to express their concerns about his misogyny? Many have concerns that in the Prime Minister’s forthcoming meeting with President Trump she will be prepared to offer up for sacrifice the opportunity for American companies to come in and take over parts of our NHS or our public services. Will she assure the House that in any trade deal none of those things will be offered up as a bargaining chip?


The Prime Minister

I again point out to the right hon. Gentleman that it is this Government who have introduced the national living wage and this Government who have made changes to zero-hours contracts.

On the issue of my visit to the United States of America, I am pleased that I am able to meet President Trump so early in his Administration. That is a sign of the strength of the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States of America—a special relationship on which he and I intend to build. But I also say to the Leader of the Opposition that I am not afraid to speak frankly to a President of the United States; I am able to do that because we have that special relationship—a special relationship that the right hon. Gentleman would never have with the United States.


Jeremy Corbyn

We would never allow Britain to be sold off on the cheap. How confident is the Prime Minister of getting a good deal for “global Britain” from a President who says he wants to put America first, buy American and build a wall between his country and Mexico?

Article 50 was not about a court judgment against the Government. What it signified was the bad judgment of this Government: the bad judgment of prioritising corporate tax cuts over investment in national health and social care; the bad judgment of threatening European partners while offering a blank cheque to President Trump; and the bad judgment of wanting to turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven. So will the Prime Minister offer some clarity and certainty and withdraw the threats to destroy the social structure of this country by turning us into the bargain basement she clearly threatens?


The Prime Minister

We will be out around the world with the EU, America and other countries negotiating good free trade deals for this country that will bring prosperity to this country. The right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about Brexit, but I have to say to him that he is the leader of his party and he cannot even agree with his shadow Chancellor about Brexit. The shadow Chancellor cannot agree with the shadow Brexit Secretary, the shadow Brexit secretary disagrees with the shadow Home Secretary, and the shadow Home Secretary has to ring up the leader and tell him to change his mind. He talks about us standing up for Britain; they cannot speak for themselves and they will never speak for Britain.