A statement from the Prime Minister

[21/07/16 — Now updated with Theresa May as prime minister]


Some time in the future…

Mr Speaker: Statement from the Prime Minister…

Rt Hon Theresa May: Mr Speaker, I wish to make a brief statement about the government’s progress in discussions with our European partners, the latest of which was held at the weekend in Bonn. Mr Speaker, as honourable and right honourable members will know, these talks have been ongoing since June 2016 when the British people rejected the proposition that we should be given a mandate to remain in the European Union. Had they accepted that proposition, we would likely have soon moved into an Inter-Governmental Conference to negotiate the next treaty.

[Interruption]

Rt Hon Theresa May: Mr Speaker, I am happy to report that we have been able to reach a conclusion to these talks — a conclusion which will require a much fuller debate than this brief statement allows. That is why I have asked my honourable friend the Leader of House to meet with you to arrange a suitable time as soon as possible.

Rt Hon Theresa May: Mr Speaker, the verdict of the British people was that we should no longer remain a member of the European Union. That after more than 40 years of membership it was time to take a different path and to allow the European Union to proceed with its new treaty and political union. While I made clear on my election to leader of the Conservative Party that Brexit meant Brexit, it was clear during the referendum campaign itself that there was no single vision of what that meant and it was also clear that the concerns of business about losing access to the single market made an impact on both sides of the debate. The subject of immigration also featured highly during that campaign, as many expected it would. The government’s task has therefore been three-fold: Firstly, to ensure the UK gives up membership of the European Union. Secondly, to ensure the UK continues to have access to the single market. And thirdly, to ensure that we take greater action on freedom of movement.

Despite the protestations of honourable members opposite, I can report to the house today that we have achieved all three.

[Cheers from Conservative members]

Mr Speaker: Order Order ! Order ! No, not now [to the member for Clacton].

[Further cheers and jeers]

Rt Hon Theresa May: Mr Speaker. This deal was finally agreed between myself, the Foreign Secretary (Mr Johnson), the Secretary of State for Leaving the EU (Mr Paterson) and the heads of government last night, after some of the toughest negotiations we have engaged in. And I am very thankful to my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary for his sterling efforts over a long and very arduous period.

[Calls of ‘Hear Hear’]

Rt Hon Theresa May: And so to the detail which will become the subject of a debate in this house next week. In the first instance, the UK will formally exit EU membership on 1st January next year. [Sir William Cash rose] No I must make progress…

On that date, commissioners and staff will be recalled to the UK with a smaller staff remaining to manage final matters and also the ongoing new relationship with our former European Union partners. All Members of the European Parliament and their staff will also be recalled after vacating their seats in that parliament.

And our EU membership contributions will cease.

[Cheers]

But members of this house will understand that after 40 years of entanglement with the European Union, it will take some time to get back full control of our affairs. It will be a process and a long one at that. We will be putting the relationship on a completely new footing from our new position outside the EU but that will require very careful handling such that we do not affect a very large part of our trade by our exit. This is a difficult time and we therefore want to reduce all the risks around separation to an absolute minimum. And the risks are many.

To that end, the UK will do the reverse of what we did when we joined the EEC back in 1973 and indeed what has been practiced in other moves to independence around the world. We will absorb the body of EU law that applies to the UK now, such that nothing changes overnight.

[Interruption]

Mr Douglas Carswell: I’m thankful to the right honourable lady for giving way. Is she really saying that the UK will still be subject to EU law despite leaving?

Rt Hon Theresa May: No that’s exactly what I’m not saying and if the honourable gentleman will permit me, all will become clear.

The purpose of this move is to maintain legal continuity and stability which is absolutely vital to our economy at this time. It will continue the framework of law that everyone understands and, to the honourable gentleman’s point, we can then gradually address that body of law for the first time in 40 years to make it fit for Britain’s own unique set of circumstances.

[Cheers]

Now, the other key aspect to this is the single market. Mr Speaker, we must all realise how intertwined our own domestic market has become with that of the continent such that many of our exporters’ supply chains have been built around the reality of the single market.

It is for this reason that we have negotiated FULL continued access to the single market.

[Sir Edward Leigh rose]

Rt Hon Theresa May: I will give way shortly. This point about continued single market access is immensely important for our economy and will safeguard ALL of our trade with the EU. Including that of Scotland.

[Shouts of ‘Aah’; interruption; cheers]

Mr Speaker: Order order ! No, please resume your seat [to the member for Gordon]. And if I may remind the honourable gentleman , it is customary on these occasions for the house to hear from the member for Moray first. Prime Minister…

[Laughter and hooting from Conservative benches]

Rt Hon Theresa May: I’m sure the honourable member was only standing to thank me.

[More laughter from Conservative benches]

Mr Speaker: The house will come to order!

Rt Hon Theresa May: So the single market is safe with this government and business may at last carry on as before the referendum, with the fog of uncertainty now fully lifted.

And so to freedom of movement provisions. This was always going to be one of the more difficult areas of the negotiations but as I said at the start of my leadership, it was necessary to end uncontrolled free movement and that remains true despite the persistent falls in net migration from the EU in recent times. As my right honourable friend the member for Witney (Mr Cameron) stated during the height of the referendum— there was a choice to be made: to maintain the single market or to stop freedom of movement.

We have now chosen to maintain the single market and that choice made the negotiations over freedom of movement particularly difficult, as we always knew it would.

Therefore we and our European partners have come up with a compromise and, at this point, I would particularly like to further thank my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Leaving the European Union (Mr Paterson) for his support and advice on this difficult issue.

The compromise is as follows.

Firstly, despite some earlier objections from the French, they have again agreed to maintain all existing arrangements at Channel ports thereby immunising the UK from the worst of the ongoing refugee crisis and making immigration from refugees one of the lowest in Europe. This for me is a significant triumph.

Secondly, we will also bring in measures to further ensure that immigration is reduced by policy choices that, from outside the EU, we can now set out in a joint white paper to be published soon by the Home Secretary, the Employment Secretary, the Work and Pensions Secretary, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Among other related measures, that will include delivering on our manifesto commitment to replace the Human Rights Act.

[Cheers; interruptions]

Caroline Flint: That is so…. [imperceptible]

Mr Speaker: Order !

Rt Hon Theresa May: Thirdly, in order to give the British public full confidence, we will put in place a brand new emergency brake mechanism on immigration from the EU, entirely within the British government’s power, that will allow the government to limit immigration at will.

[Cheers; jeers; interruptions]

Mr Speaker: Order ! NO, Order !

Rt Hon Theresa May: Mr Speaker, we have therefore achieved all the objectives that I believe the British people handed to us in June 2016. We will crucially exit the European Union as was requested by that referendum. But we have also maintained access to the single market just as business was asking. And further, we have made great strides towards greater control of immigration as was also a concern for many people in the referendum campaign.

But that is not quite all. We along with our European Partners have agreed a roadmap for further negotiations on a longer term settlement for the UK. That will partly require a full EU inter-governmental conference and multilateral discussions about a reshaped Europe which simply could not be done in the time we had available. We have also lined up no less than three trade deals with Anglosphere countries including the United States.

The best is therefore yet to come.

[Cheers]

Rt Hon Theresa May: Mr Speaker, Great Britain is a great country. I have delivered on my promise that Brexit means Brexit and I now believe that with this deal we can be an even greater country and begin the process of retaking our rightful place on the world stage.

[Cheers, pandemonium, order papers being waved]

Mr Speaker: Order, ORDER, Order…….ORDER……..


Explanation: Theresa May is clearly spinning. The “existing arrangements at Channel ports” which May sees as a significant triumph are not really in doubt because they solve a very real practical problem as explained here. And that’s despite the noises and threats from some French politicians. Such threats become even less likely in the single market deal that May has sealed.

Because over all, Mrs May’s deal is an EEA one— the “EEA Option” to use its more common name — she just doesn’t call it that. Indeed she may have greater political leeway on the free movement provisions as net migration falls naturally. So full single market access is retained at the point of exit and a unilateral “emergency brake” on free movement becomes available (although this has not been invoked by EEA countries to date). The choice of this option may be why David Davis has gone from his ministerial job.

As for the “White Paper” on joined-up policy options across government, that could be done now — today — but the government chooses not to. Mrs May is therefore making it look like it is associated with Brexit.

Finally, remember that this speech will likely be delivered with a general election looming. It can therefore be nothing other than a huge triumph for the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party, which is why Conservative MPs will cheer a lot, punch the air, and clap like seals.

All very plausible.