Jeremy Corbyn (Urgent Question): To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the proposal for discussion of the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union, to be published later today by the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk.
The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): At about 11.35 this morning, the President of the European Council, Mr Donald Tusk, published a set of draft texts about the United Kingdom’s renegotiation. He has now sent those to all European Union Governments for them to consider ahead of the February European Council. This is a complex and detailed set of documents, which right hon. and hon. Members will, understandably, wish to read and study in detail. With that in mind, and subject to your agreement, Mr Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will offer an oral statement tomorrow, following Prime Minister’s questions, to allow Members of the House to question him, having first had a chance to digest the detail of the papers that have been issued within the last hour.
The Government have been clear that the European Union needs to be reformed if it is to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The British people have very reasonable concerns about the UK’s membership of the European Union, and the Prime Minister is determined to address those. He believes that the reforms that Britain is seeking will benefit not just Britain, but the European Union as a whole. Therefore, our approach in Government has been one of reform, renegotiation and then a referendum. We are working together with other countries to discuss and agree reforms, many of which will benefit the entire European Union, before holding a referendum to ensure that the British people have the final and decisive say about our membership.
The House will recall that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a statement after the December meeting of the European Council. At that meeting, leaders agreed to work together to find mutually satisfactory solutions in all the four areas at the European Council meeting on 18 and 19 February. My right hon. Friend’s meetings in Brussels on 29 January, and his dinner with President Tusk on 31 January, were steps in that negotiation process.
We are in the middle of a live negotiation and are now entering a particularly crucial phase. The Government have been clear throughout that they cannot provide a running commentary on the renegotiations. However, I am able to say that much progress has been made in recent days, and it appears that a deal is within sight. The publication of the texts by President Tusk this morning is another step in that process, but I would stress to the House that there is still a lot of work to be done.
If the texts tabled today are agreed by all member states, they will deliver significant reforms in each of the four areas of greatest concern to the British people: economic governance, competitiveness, sovereignty and immigration. On sovereignty, the texts show significant advances towards securing a United Kingdom carve-out from ever closer union.
On the relations between euro “ins” and “outs”, the documents offer steps towards significant safeguards for countries outside the eurozone as euro members integrate further. On competitiveness, we are seeing a greater commitment by the entire Union to completing the single market for trade and cutting job-destroying regulations on business.
On free movement, there are important ideas in President Tusk’s drafts on reducing the pull factor of our welfare system and on action to address the abuse of freedom of movement of persons.
We believe that real progress has been made, but I would stress that there is more work still to be done and more detail to be nailed down before we are able to say that a satisfactory deal has been secured.
Jeremy Corbyn: First, Mr Speaker, may I thank you for allowing this urgent question to be placed before the House today?
It is rather strange that the Prime Minister is not here and that only two of his Cabinet colleagues appear to be in attendance. The Prime Minister—I should be pleased about this, I suppose—seems to think that he should be in Chippenham, paying homage to the town where I was born, making a speech about negotiations with the European Union, rather than first, as is his duty, reporting to this House, to which he is accountable as Prime Minister.
The Minister says that the Prime Minister does not wish to give a running commentary on the negotiations, but that is exactly what he is doing. He has gone to a selected audience in Chippenham this morning to give a commentary on the negotiations but cannot come here to report to this House. He is trumpeting the sovereignty of national Parliaments as part of the renegotiations, but does not seem to respect the sovereignty of this Parliament in coming here today to make the statement he should have done. Also conspicuous by his absence is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Where is he this morning? He is across the road making a speech there, but cannot come here to this House—to this Parliament.
Additionally, it appears that journalists were given a very heavy briefing and copies of the document earlier this morning, if not yesterday. No Member of this House received it before them; they were given the briefing. Once again: no process of coming to Parliament, and every process about engagement with the media rather than this House.
If the Prime Minister has an unbreakable commitment in Chippenham—it is a wonderful town and I hope he enjoys his visit there—he could get back to London in about an hour by train and give a statement here later on today. Why cannot he do that?
The truth of the matter is that this whole process conducted by the Prime Minister is not about engaging with Parliament and not about engaging with the necessary questioning by MPs—it is about managing the problems within the Conservative party. I believe, Mr Speaker, that this indicates a lack of respect for the democratic process and this House. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that the Prime Minister will come here tomorrow, will take questions, and will in future come to this House first rather than going to selected audiences to say what people want to hear.