Response to Cameron’s statement on his EU renegotiations

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement.

I note that the issue of the UK’s in/out referendum was deferred, yet again, to the December European Council meeting. I think that all of us across the House and people across the country would echo the words of Chancellor Angela Merkel when she asked the UK to “clarify the substance of what it is envisaging”.

There have been indications from Government advisers that the Prime Minister is trying to diminish the rights of UK workers through opt-out or dilution of the social chapter and the working time directive. However, other sources say the Prime Minister has retreated on those proposals. Working people in Britain are losing trust in a Government who attack their trade union rights and cut their tax credits, while giving tax breaks to millionaires. Will the Prime Minister today finally confirm to the House whether there will be an attempt to opt out of, or dilute, the social chapter and the working time directive?

Following reports in the weekend press, which seems to have been extremely well briefed, will the Prime Minister confirm that Britain will remain signed up to the European convention on human rights and will not repeal the Human Rights Act 1998? The lack of clarity and openness from the Prime Minister means we do not know on what basis he is negotiating. Too often, we have been guided by anonymous press briefings from his inner court. Let me say this to the Prime Minister: we will be on his side to support the proposed “red card” mechanism to give national Parliaments greater powers of influence over European legislation. In fact, it is such a good thing that it was in Labour’s manifesto at the general election. Does he agree with Angela Merkel, as we on the Labour Benches do, that “there are achievements of European integration that cannot be haggled over, for example the principle of free movement and the principle of non-discrimination”?

Again, clarity from the Prime Minister on that would be welcomed not just, I suspect, by his own Back Benchers but by millions of people across the country.

We believe we need stronger transnational co-operation on environmental and climate change issues, on workers’ rights, on corporate regulation and on tax avoidance.

We will continue the European reform agenda. Labour is for staying in a Europe that works for the people of the UK and for all the people of Europe. We will not achieve that if all we are doing is shouting from the sidelines. On the referendum, will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government will now accept votes at 16 for the referendum, as per the amendment in the House of Lords?

I turn now to the refugee crisis. We are concerned that some within Europe would like to outsource the refugee crisis to Turkey to solve it. There is a responsibility for all European nations to act in a co-ordinated way, first to help the refugees, and secondly to try to resolve the conflict that is driving so many Syrians to flee. I have said it before and I will repeat it in the House today: I praise the Government for the level of aid they have provided for the camps in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region. That is welcome and it is supported on the Labour Benches. However, we must do more to aid those who have come to Europe. Turkey, I understand, has made a request for £2.2 billion in aid to support it in dealing with the 2.5 million refugees in its country. Will the Prime Minister give the House a little more detail on these negotiations and inform the House what negotiations there were at the Council for all the countries of Europe to welcome their fair share of Syrian refugees, including, of course, this country?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who is heading up Labour’s taskforce on refugees, has said:

“There is chaos at borders across Europe, people are dying and children are walking miles, sleeping in the open despite the falling temperatures. It is unbelievable we are seeing scenes like this in a continent which includes four out of the top ten richest countries in the world.”

European Council conclusion 2(d) states that we should be

“providing lasting prospects and adequate procedures for refugees and their families, including through access to education and jobs, until return to their country of origin is possible”.

Will the Prime Minister consider any necessary amendments to the Immigration Bill to ensure this is the case?

The Under-Secretary of State for Refugees, the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), was unable to provide figures to the Home Affairs Select Committee last week. Will the Prime Minister now inform the House how many Syrians have been accepted under the Government’s vulnerable persons relocation scheme, and will he give a substantive reply to the letter from 84 bishops calling on him to accept 50,000 refugees? If Britain played a more positive role on this front, it might create the good will in Europe to make headway in his other forthcoming negotiations. In addition, is it not right that we should take firm action against the evil trade of people smuggling? I note what the Prime Minister said about the naval operation and the role played by the Royal Navy, but will he give us more details to clarify the command structure and rules of engagement for this operation, given that innocent refugees will be in close proximity to them?

Does the Prime Minister agree that the refugee crisis will not be solved and that therefore there should be a duty on all European nations to fulfil the UN target of spending 0.7% of GDP on international development, as is happening, with cross-party support, in the UK?

Will he work with us to put pressure on fellow EU nations to increase their aid to that level? Currently, only Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark and we achieve that figure.

The situation in Syria is complex, and I welcome the words from the European Council that the

“EU is fully engaged in finding a political solution to the conflict in close cooperation with the UN and the countries of the region” and its recognition of the “risk of further military escalation”.

The humanitarian crisis has seen half the population of Syria flee their homes—including, let us not forget, millions to neighbouring countries, which have borne the greatest burden—as well as hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrian civilians killed, the vast majority of them at the hands of Assad’s forces. The people of Syria need a political solution, and the world needs an answer to ISIL’s abhorrent brutality, which indeed threatens us here too.

We need concerted action to cut off the supply of money, arms and fighters to ISIL, and a co-ordinated plan to drive it back from Iraq and Syria. I once again urge the Prime Minister to consider working with our allies to establish safe zones in Syria so that some of the millions of displaced people can return to their homes, humanitarian aid can get in and we can stop the killing. Does he agree we should urgently be seeking a new UN Security Council resolution on a comprehensive approach to the Syrian crisis, including action against ISIL? What action is he taking in that regard?

Briefly on Libya, the European Council conclusions state:

“The EU reiterates its offer of substantial political and financial support to the Government of National Accord as soon as it takes office.”

Will the Prime Minister indicate when this will take place?

Finally—[Hon. Members: “Hooray!”]—I turn to a subject that will be of great interest to all Government Members, and that is Redcar and the other steelworks. Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether he took the opportunity to speak to his Italian counterpart about the role the Government could play in protecting vital infrastructure, such as the steelworks in Redcar, while keeping within EU state aid rules? Will he learn from other European Governments so that a similar fate does not befall Tata steelworks in Scunthorpe or sites in Scotland? Was the dumping of Chinese steel raised at the European Council, and will he be raising the dumping of subsidised Chinese steel on European markets with the Chinese President when he meets him this week, especially given today’s announcement that Caparo steel, which employs 2,000 people in Britain, is about to go into administration?

We need a full debate in Government time and ahead of the December meeting on the negotiating points the Prime Minister has raised in response to the European Council. I hope he will give us some positive news on at least that point.