Questions to the Prime Minister
Let me start by welcoming the child refugees who have arrived in Britain in the last few days. They are obviously deeply traumatised young people, and we should welcome, love and support them in the best way that we possibly can.
Irrespective of party, when Members go through health problems we reach out the hand of support, solidarity and friendship to them. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) for the message that he sent through social media this morning. It showed amazing humour and bravery. We wish him all the very best, and hope that he recovers fully.
There are now to be regular sessions of the Joint Ministerial Council to discuss Brexit, but it seems that the Prime Minister’s counterparts are already feeling the same sense of frustration as Members of the House of Commons. The First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, has said that there is a “great deal of uncertainty”, but that it is clear that there must be “full and unfettered access” to the single market. Can the Prime Minister help the First Minister of Wales—and, indeed, the other devolved Administrations—by giving them some clarity?
The Prime Minister
Let me first—in response to the right hon. Gentleman’s opening comments—commend the Home Office for working so carefully and in the best interests of the child refugees so that they have the support that they need when they come to the United Kingdom. Let me also join the right hon. Gentleman in commending my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) for his willingness to be so open about his health problem. We wish him all the very best for the future, and for his place here in the House.
On the issue of clarity on the Government’s aims in relation to Brexit, I have been very clear and I will be clear again. There are those who talk about means and those who talk about ends; I am talking about ends. What we want to see is the best possible arrangement for trade with and operation within the single European market for businesses in goods and services here in the United Kingdom.
I thought for a moment the Prime Minister was going to say “Brexit means Brexit” again. [Interruption.] I am sure she will tell us one day what it actually means. The Mayor of London also added that this is causing “unnecessary uncertainty”.
It would also be very helpful if the Prime Minister could provide some clarity over the Northern Ireland border. Will we continue membership of the customs union or are we going to see border checks introduced between Northern Ireland and the Republic?
The Prime Minister
The Leader of the Opposition tries to poke fun at the phrase “Brexit means Brexit”, but the whole point is this: on Brexit, it is this Government who are listening to the voice of the British people. “Brexit means Brexit” means we are coming out of the European Union. What the right hon. Gentleman is trying to do is frustrate the will of the British people by saying that Brexit means something completely different.
In relation to the Northern Irish border, a considerable amount of work was already taking place with the Irish Government to look at the issues around the common travel area, and that work is continuing. We have been very clear, the Government of the Republic of Ireland have been very clear, and the Northern Ireland Executive have been very clear that none of us wants to see a return to the borders of the past, and I simply remind the right hon. Gentleman that the common travel area has been in place since 1923, which was well before either of us joined the European Union.
On Monday the Prime Minister said that the customs union was “not a binary choice”. I cannot think that whether we have a border or do not have a border is anything other than a binary choice; there is no third way on that one. On Monday her friend the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) expressed concern about the automotive and aerospace industries, while the British Bankers Association said that its members’
“hands are quivering over the relocate button.”
Every day the Prime Minister dithers over this chaotic Brexit, employers delay investment and rumours circulate about relocation. This cannot carry on until March of next year; when is the Prime Minister going to come up with a plan?
The Prime Minister
The fact that the right hon. Gentleman seems to confuse a customs union with a border when they are actually two different issues shows— [Interruption]—shows why it is important that it is this party that is in government and dealing with these issues and not his.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the plan. I have been very clear that we want to trade freely—both trade with and operate within the single European market. I want this country to be a global leader in free trade; the Labour party is against free trade. I want to introduce control on free movement so that we have an end of free movement; the Labour party wants to continue with free movement. I want to deliver on the will of the British people; the right hon. Gentleman is trying to frustrate the will of the British people.
There was no answer on the border, which was what the question was about. On Monday the Prime Minister told the House:
“We have a plan, which is not to set out at every stage of the negotiations the details of those negotiations”.—[Official Report, 24 October 2016; Vol. 616, c. 31.]
I have been thinking about this for a couple of days, and—[Interruption.] I think when we are searching for the real meaning and the importance of the Prime Minister’s statement, we should consult the great philosophers. [Interruption.] The only one I could come up with—[Interruption.]
Mr Cleverly, calm yourself. You are imperilling your own health, man, which is a source of great concern to me.
The only one I could come up with was Baldrick, who said that his “cunning plan” was to have no plan. Brexit was apparently about taking back control, but the devolved Governments do not know the plan, businesses do not know the plan and Parliament does not know the plan. When will the Prime Minister abandon this shambolic Tory Brexit and develop a plan that delivers for the whole country?
The Prime Minister
I am interested that the right hon. Gentleman chose to support Baldrick. Of course, the actor who played Baldrick was a member of the Labour party, as I recall. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what we are going to deliver. We are going to deliver on the vote of the British people. We are going to deliver the best possible deal for trade in goods and services, both with and operationally in the European Union. And we are going to deliver an end to free movement. That is what the British people want and that is what this Government are going to deliver for them.
Three years ago, the United Kingdom backed Saudi Arabia for membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council. On 28 October, there will again be elections for the Human Rights Council. A UN panel has warned that Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemen has violated international law. Amnesty International has stated that
“executions are on the increase…women are widely discriminated against…torture is common…and human rights organisations are banned”.
Will the Government again be backing the Saudi dictatorship for membership of that committee?
The Prime Minister
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, where there are legitimate human rights concerns in relation to Saudi Arabia, we raise them. In relation to the action in the Yemen, we have been clear that we want the incidents that have been referred to properly investigated, and if there are lessons to be learned from them, we want the Saudi Arabians to learn those lessons. I reiterate a point that I have made in this House before: our relationship with Saudi Arabia is an important one. It is particularly important in relation to the security of this country, to counter-terrorism and to foiling the activities of those who wish to do harm to our citizens here in the UK.
Taher Qassim, a Yemeni man who lives in Liverpool, told me this week:
“Yemen is quickly becoming the forgotten crisis. If people aren’t being killed by bombs, it’s hunger that kills them. The UK needs to use its influence to help the people of Yemen”.
Bombs exported from Britain are being dropped on Yemeni children by Saudi pilots trained by Britain. If there are war crimes being committed, as the United Nations suggests, they must be investigated. Is it not about time that this Government suspended their arms sales to Saudi Arabia?
The Prime Minister
The issues are being investigated, and we have taken action. The right hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the humanitarian crisis in the Yemen, and this country is one of those at the forefront of ensuring that humanitarian aid is provided. That is a record of action of which I believe this country and this Government can be proud around the world. There was a cessation of hostilities in the Yemen over the weekend. It lasted 72 hours. As I said in the House on Monday, I spoke to the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi at the weekend, and one of the issues we discussed was the importance of trying to find a political solution in Yemen and to see whether that cessation of hostilities could be continued. It has not been continued, but we are clear that the only solution that is going to work for the Yemen is to ensure that we have a political solution that will give stability to the Yemen.