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Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): May I point out to my right hon. Friend that article 50 did not exist in the treaties until the Lisbon treaty, which he used to oppose and now agrees with? There are many ways of leaving the European Union that might not involve article 50. He does not want to bind himself into the article 50 framework. Will he give this some thought, rather than committing himself to a policy that he obviously does not support?

The Prime Minister: Whether we like it or not—frankly, I do not particularly like it—the treaty on European Union sets out the way in which a country leaves. It is called article 50 and I think people should read it. If you want to leave, leave. If you want to stay, stay. What I find slightly odd is the idea of voting to leave to try and half stay. I do not think the British public would understand it, I do not think our European partners would understand it and I am at a loss to understand it as well. I thought that we wanted to have a referendum and to make a choice.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister think President Putin would rather see a strong Britain staying in a strong Europe or Britain breaking away from the European Union and, potentially, Europe breaking apart?

The Prime Minister: It is certainly true that Vladimir Putin likes to see disunity in the west, whether it is over sanctions, Syria or Russian conduct in other issues. There is no doubt in my mind, having sat at the European Council table, that the alliance between the Baltic states and Poland—which see at first hand the problems being created by Putin—countries such as Britain, which should always stand up to aggression, and the French and Germans has made Europe’s position stronger. If we were not there, I do not think we could guarantee that that would be the case. I do not believe that that is an overstatement of the position.

Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): In October, Lord Rose, the chairman of the pro-EU BSE campaign, said:

“Nothing is going to happen if we come out of Europe in the first five years, probably. There will be absolutely no change.”

I hope that my right hon. Friend finds it reassuring to hear that from the head of the campaign to stay in. Does he agree that it is inevitable that after the public vote to leave, there will be a period of informal discussions before the formal process is triggered?

The Prime Minister: I have great respect for my hon. Friend who is leading the campaign with great vim, vigour and passion, but surely if you want Britain to leave the EU you want things to change rather than not to change. The truth is that article 50 is the only way to leave. It says that you spend two years negotiating your status outside the EU and that if that cannot be agreed at the end of those two years then, unless all 27 other member states agree to extend the process, you leave. On leaving, if you have not got a deal, you do not know what your relationship is with the single market and you do not know what your relationship is with the 53 countries covered by the trading deals. You do not really know very much. My argument is: do not take that risk. Stay in a reformed European Union. What I think the leave campaign will have to do at some stage is explain what it is they want once we have left.

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Dr Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast South) (SDLP): I thank the Prime Minister for his detailed statement. Does he accept that, with Ireland and Britain so closely connected economically and living, as it were, in each other’s shadow, a UK exit from the European Union would have particular implications for Ireland, north and south? Indications suggest there may be some initial financial savings for the UK, but that huge losses are likely to follow. We have seen today the impact on sterling. That financial impact would be negative and slow—we would not see the full impact today or tomorrow. Recent polls suggest that 75% of people in Northern Ireland want to stay in the EU. Does the Prime Minister agree that a UK exit from the EU would have a particularly detrimental impact on Northern Ireland’s economy, and on its hard-won peace process and stability?

The Prime Minister: First, let me pay tribute and thanks to the Taoiseach, the leader of the Republic, who was probably one of the strongest voices in support of Britain’s renegotiation and in making sure we achieved a good settlement. In terms of Northern Ireland, everyone in Northern Ireland will have a vote and every vote counts the same. I urge people to exercise their democratic right. I look forward to going to Northern Ireland, as part of the campaign, to talk directly to people about why I believe we should stay.

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) (Con): Acknowledging that some people believe that our European neighbours want to do us down at every turn, is it credible to suppose that if we were to leave, those self-same people could believe that our former partners would fall over themselves to give us free access to the single market, which is the vital foundation for our business and industry to trade across the world?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I feel that very deeply. Having tried to build up the good will for a special status for Britain within the EU, which is what we have achieved, I do not believe that that good will would in any way be there were we to decide to leave. My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. That is why the safe option, the certain option, the option without risk is to stay in the reformed EU, rather than to take this leap in the dark.

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): As the Prime Minister outlines the potentially grave consequences for the UK of leaving in terms of our economy and our security, we can perhaps all reflect on the wisdom of the leadership decisions that will lead to us perhaps facing those consequences in a few months’ time.

The side that wants to leave has put sovereignty and control at the heart of its argument. Does the Prime Minister agree that if we swap from a position where we are a decision-maker at the top table, we will be moving from a position of being a rule-maker to being a rule-taker, and that that is not sovereignty, it is not control and it is not the best future for the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister: I do not agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said in the first part of his question. I think it is time for a referendum. Too many treaties have passed through this House with no referendum, whether Maastricht under the Conservatives or Lisbon

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under Labour. I think that sapped people’s faith in our democracy and in our accountability. I particularly remember the moment when Tony Blair stood here and said, “Let battle be joined” and all the rest of it. We really thought a referendum was coming and then it was taken away. It is right to have this referendum, and we should not be frightened of asking the people and trusting the people.

I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that if we want to ask the question of how we can have greater control and greater influence, the answer is to be in there helping to make the rules, rather than outside simply taking the rules.

Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): I congratulate the Prime Minister on securing for Britain the special status he talked about earlier. Does he agree that the problem with the debate so far is that those who want to leave Europe are completely unable to agree on an alternative arrangement for Britain in the EU that would deliver the same sort of economic and security benefits that his renegotiation secures?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Today’s discussions have revealed a lack of agreement not only about what Britain’s future looks like outside the EU, but about whether we really should leave, as some people want to vote leave in the hope of a different deal. Then there is not really agreement about how we should leave, whether it be via article 50 or through some other process that can be followed. I am absolutely clear that the only way of leaving is through article 50. There is no second renegotiation; there is no second referendum. The choice is in or out. I think we now need to move on to debate what those things really mean.

Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP): Can the Prime Minister tell us, beyond the areas specifically addressed in the deal agreed last week, in which way his Government’s plans have been constrained by European legislation or regulation?

The Prime Minister: There is no doubt that we do face constraints, because the single market works through a common set of rules that have to be agreed. As has been said, we do not always get our way, although I would argue that we get our way far more often than we do not. There are occasions when we lose a vote and we are constrained by EU regulation or legislation. The question I think we now need to put in a very hard-headed “Realpolitik” sense is this: “If you are outside, does this give you the full control and sovereignty that you seek?” It does not, because we still have to trade with Europe and accept the rules. The only thing achieved is to have removed ourselves from the conversation and taken away our vote.

Sir Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): The Prime Minister has said that this will settle the issue for a generation. I am blessed with five grandchildren and I believe that it is in their best interests that I vote to remain within the European Union. There is another generation that is a matter of some concern. Thousands of people who have paid UK taxes and national insurance

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over the years are now living in other parts of Europe. My right hon. Friend knows that I have sought to represent the interests of those people. They are very frightened indeed. Can he tell them what will happen to them if we leave the European Union?

The Prime Minister: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for deciding to support the case for remaining in the EU. He raises an important point. We often look at free movement in terms of people’s decision to come here, but we also need to think about the many British people who have chosen to work, live or retire in other parts of the EU. The short answer to my hon. Friend’s question is that I can tell those people what it will be like if we stay, but I cannot be absolutely certain about what would happen if we leave. It would depend on a complex and difficult negotiation, and I think there would be a lot of uncertainty. I would urge all those people, who have the right to vote, to make sure that they exercise it. We should perhaps think particularly about people in Gibraltar who are all able to vote in this referendum.

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment in his statement today to speak plainly over the next four months about what he believes is right for our country. As he develops that argument, will he bear it in mind that 9 million people voted Labour at the last general election and that their sympathies and values do not naturally lie with his party so he needs to develop a conversation with them as well?

The Prime Minister: I certainly take on board the right hon. Gentleman’s point, but this is not a party political issue. This is an issue for all people and all voters to get involved in. They might vote Conservative at a general election but decide to vote either in or out in the referendum—and the same with Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green or whatever. This should be a giant democratic exercise in accountability. We are asking questions about sovereignty, but this is a huge sovereign decision by the British people. I know I can sometimes upset Labour voters, but I would say to them, “Put aside what you think about this Government or that rule or that law, and think about the future of your country. Think about the big picture and then make the choice.”

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Be nice for a change.

The Prime Minister: I’m always nice.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Prime Minister said that crime should be at the forefront of our thoughts when we are voting in the referendum. Can he therefore tell us how many crimes were committed in the UK by other EU nationals in the year before free movement of people came into effect, and how many were committed by other EU nationals last year? How many other EU nationals were in the UK prison system before free movement of people came into operation and how many are there now? I am sure that my right hon. Friend must have that information, given that crime is such a big thing for him. If he has not got it, perhaps he will write to me with that information.

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The Prime Minister: I do not have all those figures to hand, but what I can say to my hon. Friend is that because of the very hard work done by the Home Secretary, we will be able to bar more criminals from coming to Britain, and we will have longer re-entry bans. We are solving problems that the European Court of Justice has put in our way. As for prisoners, the prisoner transfer agreement that we negotiated will mean that we can get foreign prisoners out of our prisons and into their jails. Outside the EU, that would be far more difficult—perhaps impossible—to achieve.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): I think that I am the only Member who was elected to the European Parliament in 1979, at the same time as the father of the Mayor of London—who, I must say, talked a lot more sense than his son. We were then on opposite sides. I was against membership of the EU, while the Mayor’s father was in favour of it. However, I changed my mind. After two years in the European Parliament, I saw the benefits of working with people from other nations. [Interruption.] Cynics! We talked about acid rain, and about restructuring and its social effects on people who worked in the older industries. I gained enormously from working with people of other nationalities, and I hope that the Prime Minister will emphasise, again and again, the importance of internationalism.

The Prime Minister: I thank the right hon. Lady for her honesty in saying that she had changed her mind when she was sitting with Stanley Johnson: two blonde bombshells, if you like, in the same European Parliament. I remember campaigning with Stanley Johnson, and if the good people of Newton Abbot had decided to vote the right way in, I think, 2005—or perhaps it was 2010— he would be sitting here, and we would have been able to hear from him as well as from the Mayor of London.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): With respect, why does the Prime Minister “bang on” so much about east European migration? After all, the Poles have a wonderful record in this country of coming here, not for benefits but to work hard and integrate. Is it not much more worrying that millions are pouring into Europe from north Africa and the middle east? Has the Prime Minister any idea of the proportion of those people who will exercise their right to come here once they have their German passports? If we remain in the EU, the channel will be about as useful in stopping them as a trifling Macedonian stream.

The Prime Minister: I promise to “bang on” for the next four months, but I hope to “bang on” considerably less about this subject after that.

My hon. Friend has made an important point. Obviously we have the advantage of being outside Schengen, so foreign nationals coming to other European countries do not have automatic access to the UK. We can stop them coming in, as indeed we can stop European citizens who we think may be a risk to our country. The factual answer to my hon. Friend’s question, however, is that, after 10 years, only about 2.2% of the refugees and others who have arrived in Germany have German citizenship, so the evidence to date is that there is not a huge risk of very early grants of citizenship to these people. Nevertheless, I agree that we need to act, and if we are involved, we are more likely to act to try and stem the flow of migrants in the first place. What is

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happening now in the NATO-led operation between Greece and Italy is happening partly because of a UK intervention in this debate, taken with the French, the Germans and the Italians. When we are around that table, we can get things done.

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister agree that the claim that staying in the European Union would make an attack on our shores more likely is deeply irresponsible and factually wrong?

The Prime Minister: I am struggling to find the right page in my notes, on which there is a quotation. Ah, here we are.

I think that this is important, because we should be clear about the advantages and the disadvantages of the organisation. I have become convinced of this: when we are fighting terrorism and crime, we rely on the police, the security and intelligence services and the “Five Eyes” partnership, and I have seen at first hand that our partnership with America is incredibly powerful when it comes to keeping us safe, but I have also seen in recent years just how much this European co-operation matters. I am thinking of, for instance, the Schengen Information System and the European Criminal Records Information System, and the passage of information between our organisations. Hugh Orde, former president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, was very clear yesterday. He said that staying in Europe and co-operating with our European allies is essential to keeping British people safe:

“The European arrest warrant lets us deport terrorist suspects back to their country of origin, Europol helps our police co-operate with their European counterparts, and EU data-sharing measures allow our security services to access information on threats from anywhere in Europe within minutes.”

That is a very powerful statement from someone who clearly knows what they are talking about.

Of course, outside the EU we could try to negotiate bilateral agreements either with every country or with every system and every organisation, but I do think people will ask: “Why give up a system that is working to keep us safe when it could take so long to try and replicate it?” And then, even when we have replicated it, as Norway has tried to do with Europol, Europol is very clear: the Norwegians do not get the access or the personnel or the extra safety we get by being a full member.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): Two hundred thousand of our UK firms trade with the EU and it accounts for just under half our total trade. Given that the EU is the only big world trading bloc in which we have a say in setting the rules, would it not be absurd to give away that say? Would it not betray those 200,000 firms and lead to fewer jobs, less growth and damage to our economy?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend makes an important point. While it would be good if the World Trade Organisation was signing more multilateral trade deals, there has not been a successful round for 22 years. So if we are interested in driving free trade and market access in the world today, we need to be part of a bloc that can sign good and effective deals. We have seen that with Korea and with Singapore, and we now need to see it with all the other countries that the EU is doing these

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deals with. As I have said, of course outside the EU we can sign deals, but the information I have from country after country is “Yes, we’d do a deal but only after we’ve fixed our deal with the EU,” and that is likely to be a bigger deal and a better deal. So I think the argument on this trade deal issue very much goes one way.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Britain has an enormous trade deficit with the rest of the EU, amounting to over £60 billion a year, equivalent to over 1 million jobs exported from Britain to the continent, half of them to Germany. Is it not obvious that the EU needs us much more than we need it and the last thing the EU is going to do is start a trade war with Britain?

The Prime Minister: The problem with the hon. Gentleman’s statistics is this: obviously, 50% of our trade is with the EU, but if we take the EU as a whole only about 7% of its trade is with us. So were we to leave the EU and then contemplate the negotiation that would follow, clearly we would not be in the stronger position. I think that is important. The second point I would make—I made this point earlier—is that, yes, we have a trade deficit in goods, but we have a massive trade surplus in services and it is in the single market in services where the prospects for progress are greatest today. So there would be a danger if we were to leave that maybe we would get that deal on goods relatively quickly because of our deficit, but if they held up the deal on services where would all our service companies be? Where would those jobs be? What would we say to those companies about how long it could take to get a deal to safeguard the incomes and prospects of families across our country?

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on spending 40 hours—apparently four clean shirts and a packet of Haribo—in implementing the Labour party manifesto in his conversations in Brussels? Does this not actually show the problem: that for so much labour he has achieved so little, and that the EU is a failing organisation—a failed common fisheries policy, a failed common agricultural policy, a single market that shackles us with regulation that makes us fundamentally uncompetitive, an immigration system that is betraying people who get to Europe, not to mention the eurozone which, thank heavens, we are not a member of? In this failed organisation, the Prime Minister has said in his statement that we are to make a final decision. It is the one sentence of his statement that I fundamentally agree with: a final decision to be made in June as to whether we stay with a failed body or whether we leave and make our own path. Is the Government’s policy basically,

“And always keep a-hold of Nurse

For fear of finding something worse.”?

The Prime Minister: Obviously, my hon. Friend and I have a profound disagreement about this issue. I very much respect his views because he has held them in good faith for many years, and I have held my view that we need reform, but reform within the EU, for many years. I am sure that we can respect each other in the months of debate ahead.

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I do want to take issue a little with my hon. Friend on manifesto delivery. I will not run through the whole thing, but we said that we would legislate for a referendum —we’ve delivered it. We said that we will protect our economy from further integration of the eurozone—that is covered in the settlement. We said that we want powers to flow away from Brussels—that is covered in the settlement. We want national Parliaments to be able to work together to block unwanted European legislation —covered in the settlement. We want an end to our commitment to ever close union—covered in the settlement. We will ensure that defence policy and national security remain firmly under British national control—covered in the new settlement. We will insist that EU migrants who want to claim tax credits must live here and contribute to our country for four years—covered in the settlement. It is there time and again.

We all stood under this manifesto, and I am proud of it and of the team who put it together and are implementing it. While I say, “Yes, let’s have this vigorous argument”, let us not pretend that we have not delivered the manifesto on which we stood in front of the British people.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): You will be aware, Mr Speaker, that in Slough I am proud to represent an area that has more international headquarters of multinational companies that are investing in Britain than any other place of a similar size. Those companies say to me that they have come here because of the English language, our good transport links, and because we are a gateway to the European market. The bosses of those companies are not saying that very publicly, and during this referendum campaign I invite the Prime Minister to encourage them to talk to those people whose jobs depend on that investment, and to say what would happen if we left Europe, because they tell me that they would leave Britain.

The Prime Minister: I am certainly having that conversation. My message to businesses is: if you have a view, make sure you tell people. Talk to your customers and your suppliers, and above all talk to your employees, your staff and your colleagues, because this issue is so important.

In truth, the business voice, large and small, is very much in favour of Britain staying. Many of them have said quite generous things about this renegotiation because they recognise the dangers, particularly in the area of safeguarding ourselves against discrimination because we are not in the euro. Given that, I hope that business and enterprise will speak clearly in the next four months.

Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): Much of the protection of the euro-outs in this agreement rests on a safeguard mechanism that is set out in annex 2, but as far as I can tell, that requires nothing more than that a discussion be held about the UK’s concerns at ECOFIN—not even the European Council. That leaves eurozone members free to enforce their will by qualified majority voting. Will the Prime Minister explain what—beyond the discussion, which can be ignored—has been achieved by the safeguard mechanism?

The Prime Minister: I absolutely can answer that, and I think it is an important question. There are two things here. First, a set of principles is set out in section A on economic governance, and they are principles of non-discrimination, no cost, and no disadvantage. Crucially,

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paragraph 4—this was of real concern to the Bank of England and I know it will be of concern to my right hon. Friend’s Committee—makes it clear that the financial stability of member states whose currency is not the euro is a matter for their own authorities and own budgetary responsibility. Those principles are very important, and what is exciting about this is not only that they have been set out for the first time, and not only has Europe for the first time accepted that there are other currencies inside the European Union, but those changes will be incorporated into the treaties. The mechanism is something over and above a new way of ensuring that issues are raised, should we wish to raise them, at the level of the European Council. We do not have that protection today, but making the principles part of the treaty—already an international legally binding decision—is hugely important. If my right hon. Friend listens to people who speak on behalf of financial services, the Bank of England and others, he will recognise that this is really important progress for Britain.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): There is still plenty that divides the Prime Minister and me politically, but on this and in the national interest I think he is right to be campaigning for Britain to remain in the European Union. Let me read a quote to him:

“leaving would cause at least some business uncertainty, while embroiling the Government for several years in a fiddly process of negotiating new arrangements, so diverting energy from the real problems of this country”.

That was on 7 February. The Mayor of London was right 15 days ago, wasn’t he?

The Prime Minister: What I would say to the hon. Gentleman—and to everyone—is that we must examine what the alternatives are, how much uncertainty there will be, and how long these processes will take. Therein lies the importance of this decision for businesses, families and people’s prospects up and down our country.

Sir Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the key benefits of his agreement is to give legal clarity to Britain’s special status within the EU? He will be aware of the uncertainties there have been for those advising the Government on the law, which this resolves. Does he also agree that it is wrong to say that this is not legally binding when it is, and that it is irreversible unless we choose otherwise? For those who want to look at the legal niceties, I point to a very long opinion by Professor Sir Alan Dashwood, Queen’s Counsel, the leading EU constitutional lawyer in this country, which can be read on the Henderson chambers website.

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for what he has said, given that he was a senior Law Officer in the Government. I have also listened very carefully to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who could not have been clearer on this point. I have also read the judgment by Dashwood and seen the Government’s own legal advice, all of which says that this is legally binding and irreversible. People who question that should look at the Danish protocol, which has been in existence and worked very well for 23 years.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Prime Minister share my concerns and worries that after 70 years of peace and prosperity any nation begins

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to take that for granted, as well as the institutions that created that peace and prosperity? I was born on the August weekend in London at the height of the battle of Britain—




Unimaginable. My generation and many people in this country with longer memories know that peace and prosperity are not guaranteed unless we work together across Europe to maintain them day after day, month after month and year after year.

The Prime Minister: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is worth remembering why this came about in the first place, which was the appalling bloodshed on our continent. People of my generation, very much post-war children, should remember that and then look afresh at the institutions of the EU and try to ensure that this organisation works for this century rather than the last one. That is part of what this agreement is about. I absolutely agree, and I remember, for instance, a meeting of the European Council we once had at the Cloth Hall in Ypres: one cannot sit in that building without thinking of the slaughter that European countries have engaged in in the past.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I, too, salute my right hon. Friend for honouring his commitment to the British people to offer them a referendum and for his extraordinary stamina over the last week or so while we have been enjoying the recess, but I am afraid that for me that this is not the fundamental reform that we were promised. My right hon. Friend has made much of security in his answers today and in the past few weeks, but does he not agree that the security of Europe is dependent on NATO and not on the EU, that it is NATO that is protecting us from further incursion by President Putin, and that we do NATO no good by suggesting that somehow the EU has some competence in this area?

The Prime Minister: I have huge respect for my hon. Friend, who served brilliantly in the last Government, helping to strengthen our defences. I have to say that perhaps 10 or 15 years ago, I might have said the same —that defence was really about NATO and our partnership with America and not about the EU. However, when we consider defence and security in the round today, and how we fight terrorism, yes, it depends on those other relationships, but it also depends on what we do through the EU. I see that every day through the exchange of information. For example, let us take the agreement we also reached at this Council to ensure a strong NATO mission to try to help the situation between Greece and Turkey. It is a NATO mission, which backs up my hon. Friend’s point, but where was some of the conversation about it going on? Where were the Germans, the British and the French sitting together to work out what assets we could supply and how we could get real power into it? It was done around the European Council table. The fact is that we need both. To keep safe in the modern world, to fight terrorism, to fight criminality and to stand up to evil around the world, we must use all the organisations, not just some of them.

Natalie McGarry (Glasgow East) (Ind): The Prime Minister has played fast and loose with our cultural, social and economic future in Europe for a series of concessions that seem to do nothing to satisfy his Eurosceptic Front Benchers and Back Benchers. Will he now guarantee that his Government’s case for remaining in the EU will stop appeasing them, and instead focus

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on the many positives of the EU, counteract the leave campaign’s narrow, negative focus on immigration, and commit to ensuring that the public have sufficient information to make a positive, informed choice?

The Prime Minister: We will certainly be fighting a very positive campaign. That campaign will involve a series of documents, some of which were mandated by the other place when it amended the referendum Bill, so we need to set out the alternatives to membership, and the rights and obligations here—the things you get out of and the obligations you have in the EU. We will be talking about the economic case. We will address all those issues. I say to those who are interested in some of the cultural or educational arguments that they should come forward, too. We need a strong voice from universities, as they have a lot to say about this issue—they get a lot out of Europe—and cultural organisations should be speaking out, too.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that when this country, in our national interest, makes an international agreement of any kind, it may involve a loss of sovereignty? That may be the case through any trade deal, through trading under World Trade Organisation rules and on the single most important decision this House of Commons could take: whether or not to engage in military action. We are treaty-bound by NATO, under article 5, to go to the defence of a fellow member that is under armed attack—that obliges us. In that sense, we have lost sovereignty because we believe it is in the interests of the country to enter that agreement and that it has made us safer. If the claim of “sovereignty” and its loss were the trump card, would not all those international agreements have to be torn up?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend makes an important point: if your only determination was never to cede any technical sovereignty, you would never join any of these organisations, you would not do a trade deal and you probably would not be a member of the UN, the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. Therefore, the question really is: what maximises our power, influence and ability to get things done? As the Transport Secretary put it so brilliantly at the Cabinet meeting, “I would love to live in utopia but I expect the EU would probably be there, too.” That is to say, you do not abolish the EU by leaving it; you simply cut yourself off from something and therefore possibly make yourself, in many ways, less powerful, rather than more powerful.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. May I gently remind the House that people who wish to take part in the exchanges should have been here at the start and remained throughout? People who have gone in and out of the Chamber, and may have come back in again, should not then be standing. That is very much in breach of the traditions of the House, and we need to be clear about that.

Mr Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) (Lab): One of the bogeymen policies for me was closer political union. If this country votes to stay in the EU on 23 June, what guarantees has the Prime Minister got that these things will be put in statute or written into a treaty at that time?

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The Prime Minister: First, this is already an agreement and it will shortly be deposited at the UN as an international law decision. Therefore, it will already by then be legally binding and irreversible. Getting out of ever closer union, and indeed redefining closer union, is so important that I think it needs to go in the treaties, and the agreement here is that when the treaties next change, that will be written into those treaties. We have a double lock on this, a vital point.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): I suggest that this is tinkering; it is certainly not fundamental change. The red card is not a veto; it will not stop the majority of the EU forcing unwanted taxes and regulations on this country. May I put it to the Prime Minister that he should at least accept the possibility that the red card could be turned against us, in that UK-sponsored initiatives could be blocked by the majority of the EU—initiatives that could be in our best interests, such as access and further enhancement of the single market?

The Prime Minister: I do not overstate the red card. It is a new mechanism, not to delay but to properly block initiatives, that is available to national Parliaments should they want to avail themselves of it. To me, this is about another thing that makes this organisation more democratically accountable to national Parliaments. If my hon. Friend is saying that, on some occasions, that might work against us because other national Parliaments might want to stop something on which we were keen, I have to say that I suppose that that is accountability and democracy. The point is that, because of my decision, this organisation will be more democratic rather than less democratic.

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP): As the Prime Minister seems to be getting “nul points” from his own side for these European renegotiations, may I commend him for coming round to Chancellor Merkel’s view on freedom of movement? On freedom of movement, will he assure the House that there will be absolutely no implications from this deal for the hundreds of thousands of UK citizens living in the EU?

The Prime Minister: Of course if we stay in the European Union, British people will continue to be able to work abroad, live abroad and retire abroad, as they do now. It is not for me to set out what would happen to them in different circumstances. I think the leave campaign will want to try to address that point, but people know with certainty what they will get if the remain side wins.

Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con): In his statement, the Prime Minister observed that leaving the EU might briefly make us feel more sovereign. Does he not accept that for many hon. Members, the issue of parliamentary sovereignty will be the central one of the debate in which we are about to engage—namely, that so long as we are subject to the fiat of the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, we will not be truly sovereign, and that very little changed last weekend in that respect?

The Prime Minister: What changed last weekend in that respect is that because we are getting out of ever closer union, we now know that we cannot be forced into further political union against our will; that is very important. On this issue of sovereignty, let me repeat that,

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if we leave the EU, we might feel more sovereign, because we could pass this law or that law, but if we still want to sell into Europe, we have to meet all the rules over which we will have no say. To me, that is a diminution of sovereignty rather than an increase of sovereignty.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP): On the issue of sovereignty, it has been reported by several news media organisations that the Prime Minister intends to unveil a British sovereignty Bill in the next few days. Will he confirm whether that is the case? If it is, will he tell us what provision he will make in that Bill to recognise that the principle of unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle that has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law?

The Prime Minister: What I have said we should do is to build on what we did in 2011 when we set out that Parliament is sovereign, and just as Parliament can choose to join the EU, it can also choose to leave the EU. That is good for the whole of the United Kingdom. We do have a sovereign Parliament. There are ways that we can add to that, as other countries have done, and I look forward to bringing forward some proposals in the coming days.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On Friday, 2,500 people packed the QEII Centre to see GO launch the national cross-party leave campaign. Among the speakers were two UK Independence party MEPs, a renowned economic commentator, a senior trade unionist, a much respected Labour MP, the co-chairman of Conservatives for Britain, four Conservative MPs, and the leader of Respect. In 2014, Ruth Davidson, our excellent Conservative leader in Scotland, linked arms with George Galloway in the national interest. Does the Prime Minister agree that Ruth Davidson was right and that sometimes we have to work with people we do not like?

The Prime Minister: Everyone will have to make the choice about what platform they appear on and whom they appear with. I think that the disadvantage of appearing on any platform with either Nigel Farage or George Galloway arises when considering who their friends are, whom they support and the overseas politicians whom they seem to support. Everyone will have to think carefully about whom they want to appear with.

Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab): There has been a lot of talk, quite rightly, about the City of London and big multinational companies working here and investing in this country, but the beating heart of our economy is the small and medium-sized enterprise sector. Some 39% of SMEs in this country export to EU countries, so does the Prime Minister agree that it would be madness to slam the door in their face?

The Prime Minister: I think the overwhelming majority of SMEs that export support the case that I am making. Many companies that are not exporters are involved in the supply chain with companies that do export. That is a point that many business service organisations, banks, accountants and lawyers are very well placed to make.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I, too, thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and all right hon. and hon. Members who voted to have a referendum on EU membership. Will the Prime Minister say whether the agreement that he has reached alters the Lisbon treaty?

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The Prime Minister: Obviously, it does. When we change these treaties, this will be, as it were, one of the founding documents of the EU, so the international law agreement, and then in time the treaty changes, will sit alongside other treaties that have been produced in the past. Like my hon. Friend, I regret that so many treaties were made with so little democratic accountability, and I think we are putting that right in two ways: first, with things such as getting out of ever closer union—a distant dream for many of us who used to argue for that but never got it—and secondly, through the democratic accountability of holding a referendum.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): The Prime Minister has stated explicitly that people who vote to leave the European Union do not love their country. I represent many veterans of the armed services whose patriotism cannot be questioned. Will the Prime Minister apologise to those people?

The Prime Minister: I absolutely did not say that. What I said was that I loved my country, and I think that our country—an amazing country—will be greater and more powerful if we remain in organisations through which we can project our power and influence, and do great things in the world. I do not question the patriotism of anyone in our country—we are all going to have to make a choice—but I believe that Britain’s greatness is not simply the parliamentary democracy that we enjoy and the rights that we have in this country. We are an outward-looking country, and I am proud of the fact that we help, whether with Syrian refugees, chasing down pirates off the Somali coast, or trying to stabilise countries from which many problems come. We can do that, yes, because we are strong; yes, because we have great defence; but also because we are members of NATO, we have a permanent seat at the UN, and we are part of the EU. I think it is technical jargon to call it a force multiplier, but that is what it is, and we should be proud of the role we play in the world.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): My right hon. Friend always made it clear that if these negotiations did not succeed he would have no hesitation in recommending that we leave the European Union. Will he place in the Library the papers that cover the contingency plans that would have been used in that eventuality, and will he confirm that in that circumstance he would have had to make the very leap in the dark that he is now vilifying?

The Prime Minister: I have great respect for my hon. Friend, as he has held his views for many years, and believes that Britain would be better off outside the EU. I hope that he respects my views. I have always believed that if we can get reform we are better off in the EU, and that is what I said.

As for the documentation, we will publish something about the alternatives to demonstrate what we believe they are and to demonstrate that we are thinking about what would need to happen if that eventuality came about. As for what we achieved, I am happy to write to my hon. Friend with a list of the things that we said in our manifesto and that we achieved in the renegotiation. I quite accept that colleagues are going to say, “I am going to take a different path from you. I am going to make my own decision.” What I do not accept, however, is that somehow we have not delivered the overwhelming majority of what we promised to the British people at the election.

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Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether he thinks rural communities in Britain would be better or worse off in the EU?

The Prime Minister: I represent a rural community—400 square miles of beautiful west Oxfordshire. There will be a range of views in my constituency, but I know when I talk to many of those who are responsible for producing food and for looking after our local environment that they see strong advantages from remaining in the European Union.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that negotiating a special status deal, which he has done, is a demonstration of sovereignty at its best, because he is promoting this country’s interests in a rigorous way, ensuring that we are stronger, safer and more economically prosperous, and that that manifests itself in many aspects of the deal and in the way that we will behave as a nation state within the European Union in the future?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful for what my hon. Friend says. I think it demonstrates that although that organisation is imperfect and sometimes can be inflexible, it did show flexibility. One country came along with a manifesto pledge to renegotiate its position and a set of changes that it wanted to achieve, and by and large we have achieved them. That is a sign that the organisation can be flexible, which is incredibly important. If we had not been able to achieve any of this, I would have had deep questions about whether we could stay in such an organisation, but it has demonstrated flexibility and that is all to the good.

Danny Kinahan (South Antrim) (UUP): As many Members know, I am fiercely proud of Northern Ireland and its place in the world as a global trader, and I know we benefit a great deal from the EU. Will the Prime Minister make clear the benefits to us on our borders and for our farmers, our fishermen and all the people who rely on international trade?

The Prime Minister: I look forward to coming to Northern Ireland to make exactly those points. When we look at the special status that Northern Ireland has been given in terms of vital grants, the important co-operation as part of the common travel area with the Republic, and the way we have already reformed the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, it is clear that there is more to be done, but money goes into Northern Ireland through those programmes. I am happy to talk about all those things in the Province.

Jeremy Quin (Horsham) (Con): The Prime Minister referred to resolving the issue for a generation. Will a treaty change to incorporate our changes and perhaps to allow greater integration of the eurozone require a further referendum in the UK?

The Prime Minister: That is a very good question. It would depend on what was in that treaty. If the eurozone members were to bring forward treaty changes to change the nature of the eurozone, but without in any way affecting competencies here in Britain, I suspect we would be able to get our changes on ever closer union and on the governance surrounding the eurozone into

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that treaty. Whether or not such a treaty change requires a referendum simply depends on whether it passes competencies from Britain to Brussels. If the answer is yes, we have to have a referendum; if the answer is no, we do not.

George Kerevan (East Lothian) (SNP): In his statement the Prime Minister said, “Responsibility for supervising the financial stability of the UK will always remain in the hands of the Bank of England”, but we already share that responsibility with the European Banking Authority and we are already signed up to the single rulebook of that authority. How is the Prime Minister’s statement compatible with the view of Mr Andrea Enria, the head of the European Banking Authority, who says that that institution must be the dominant player in setting rules, particularly if Britain wishes to keep the pound and stay within a single European financial regulation?

The Prime Minister: The answer to that question required something like 35 hours of negotiation because it is so important. Let me try to précis it. Of course there are the banking union arrangements, and the eurozone countries need to have their banks properly scrutinised and regulated at a European level. We have our own currency and our own banking supervision arrangements. In trying to supervise a complex, large economy such as Britain, which has one of the largest financial centres anywhere in the world, not just banks but other financial institutions such as central counterparties are systemically important. That is so important because ultimately we need to make sure that whatever the eurozone does, we are protected by the Bank of England playing the role and being able to intervene to resolve and to supervise those systemically important institutions. That is what paragraph 4 is about.

Although that sounds very technical, at its heart is actually something fantastically important: if Britain—fifth largest economy in the world, important financial centre—cannot have fair rules in an organisation where the euro is obviously a very large currency, there really would be a case for saying, “Hold on a second. This is a single currency-only organisation. We’d better leave.” So it was absolutely crucial to get it settled—technical but, in the end, fundamentally important—whether we can get fair treatment inside this organisation, and the answer is yes we can.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): This great exercise in democracy is not about what we say in this House, but about what our constituents decide, and my constituents, like many others, will be interested in the things that affect them: the economic protection and the jobs that the new reformed EU and the single trade zone can bring. They do not want the euro, they do not want the Euro superstate and they do not want something for nothing in welfare. Will the Prime Minister confirm for my constituents and for constituents across the country that that is what he has negotiated and that that is why it would be wrong to take a leap in the dark?

The Prime Minister: I am very happy to make that point. I do not know whether I will make it to Wimbledon, but I hope to make it to many parts of our country over the next four months to make exactly that point. We have not solved all of Britain’s problems with Europe—we

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have not solved all of Europe’s problems—but we have fundamentally addressed four major problems: too much of a single currency club, too much regulation, too much of a political union and not enough national determination over free-movement abuse and welfare. Those four things go to the heart of the problems we have had with this organisation.

Mr Speaker: As the Prime Minister knows very well, it is always worth while going to Wimbledon.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Will the Prime Minister welcome the support he has received today, surprisingly, from the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, who has joined his campaign and who supports it, or will he encourage the people of Northern Ireland to stay in tune with his Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who has indicated very strongly, in tune with them, that they should leave? If he is not going to support his Secretary of State, will he, then, follow the Deputy First Minister’s advice that she should resign? Will he now support his Secretary of State?

The Prime Minister: The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland does an excellent job. She is exercising her ability to reach a personal decision and to campaign for Britain to leave the EU, and it is absolutely right she is able to do that. The key thing is that everyone in Northern Ireland should make up their own mind based on the evidence, and I look forward to coming to try to help persuade them to remain in a reformed EU.

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Does the Prime Minister accept that the thousands of my constituents, the hundreds of thousands of constituents in London and the millions of constituents across the UK who work in financial services will be glad that he, at least, values their jobs, even if the Leader of the Opposition appears to dismiss them? Will he also recognise that the economic governance package is an important win for a strategic British interest and, therefore, that the pragmatic and businesslike thing is not to walk away from a market we are in, but to stay in it, improve it and make it work better?

The Prime Minister: I certainly agree with that. We should recognise that there are something like a million jobs in finance in Glasgow and Edinburgh—I think there are almost a million jobs in Manchester and Birmingham. The key point here is this: because we are in the single market, we have the right to passport—that is, to have a bank or a financial services company here in Britain that can trade throughout the EU. Leave the single market, and you lose that right. What would then have to happen is that companies based in the UK would have to move at least some of their jobs to another European country—that is why HSBC said the other day they would lose 1,000 jobs. So real jobs, real people’s salaries and real prosperity are under threat. We really need to explain this. It is complicated, but there is no doubt in my mind: leaving the single market for financial services would mean fewer jobs in Britain.

Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab): It was interesting to hear the Prime Minister use the word “divorce” in connection with some of the less than helpful comments from the Mayor of London. I think we are all now fully aware that hell hath no fury like a Bullingdon boy

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scorned. I will be voting to stay in the European Union, and I will help the Prime Minister to convince others. However, if he has had such a good deal, why is he struggling to convince so many in his own party?

The Prime Minister: Some people have very long-standing views about wanting to leave the EU. The point I was making about starting divorce proceedings on the basis of renewing the wedding vows is that that is what some people seem to be suggesting, not just the Mayor of London but others—that somehow starting the process of leaving will mean being offered a better deal to stay. I think that is just not the case. We could think about it like this: divorcing not just one person but 27 potentially unhappy partners. While I yield to no one in my belief that I can bring people back, I have seen multiple weddings take place but I have never seen multiple divorce negotiations resulting in a multiple wedding—that would be something!

Ben Howlett (Bath) (Con): May I join other Members in congratulating the Prime Minister and the Minister for Europe on their sterling work in Brussels last week? I agree that this reform produces a fundamental change in British-EU relations, at least in my living memory. Speaking as someone who started out on my career in 2008, at the beginning of the great recession, the possibility of entering into new turmoil within the economy fills an awful lot of young people with dread. That is why I will be joining the Prime Minister on the in campaign. Does he agree that it is absolutely vital for Britain’s economic security that we remain inside the European Union?

The Prime Minister: I very much hope that young people will have a very strong voice in this campaign, because, as my hon. Friend says, we have been through difficult economic times, and at a time of uncertainty, why add extra risk?

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Does the Prime Minister agree with me and with London’s Mayor, who said two weeks ago that

“it is in Britain’s geo-strategic interests to be pretty intimately engaged in the doings of a continent that has a grim 20th-century history, and whose agonies have caused millions of Britons to lose their lives”,

and that the best way of staying “pretty intimately engaged” is to remain a member of the European Union?

The Prime Minister: I do agree with that. As I have said, if we leave the EU, it does not cease to exist, but it would continue to have an impact on our lives and on our world, so the best thing to do is to try to alter it from within.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I will try to accommodate remaining colleagues, but short questions are now required. We are having pithy answers but we need short questions.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): As someone who has an open mind and can see competing arguments on both sides, may I ask that we ensure that the information used in the campaign is factually correct? A few weeks ago, a letter criticising the Prime Minister appeared in The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, apparently signed by a local Conservative activist from

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my constituency, linking the association to the letter, yet no one had ever heard of that person. May I ask that information put forward by both sides is fair, accurate and factually correct so that the British public can decide on the basis of fair evidence?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are producing a series of documents and we must make sure that the information is accurate.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Prime Minister reiterate what is surely at the heart of this matter—that if the UK left the EU, we would almost certainly end up having to continue to implement the vast majority of EU rules and regulations if we wanted to access, on the same sort of terms, the single market, and the only difference would be that we would no longer get a say in those terms?

The Prime Minister: I think that is right. I have had a lot of conversations with the Norwegian Prime Minister about this. Of course, you do not have to opt for the Norwegian option, but if you do, you implement the directives but have no say over how they are put in place.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): For the first time in my lifetime, people in Worcester will be able to have a genuine say on this issue. I thank the Prime Minister for that fact, and also for the huge effort that he has put into negotiating Britain’s corner in Europe. In the 2010 election manifesto on which he was made Prime Minister and I came to this House, we said that we would bring in a UK sovereignty Bill to assert the sovereignty of our country and make sure that this Parliament took final decisions. Does he agree that sovereignty can be asserted by this House and is not just something for us to argue over?

The Prime Minister: We introduced a sovereignty clause in the referendum provisions of the European Union Act 2011, and I am looking at enhancing that and adding it to the proposals that will come forward.

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab): Given that so many of my constituents work in the City of London, I welcome what the Prime Minister has said about making sure that we have a strong global financial centre but one that enjoys all the benefits of access to the largest single market. Given that, may I offer the Prime Minister a once-in-a-Parliament opportunity to campaign in my constituency on this issue? Given that there are those in Frankfurt and Dublin who would love to get their hands on Britain’s financial services, and that the Mayor of London has given up his day job to think about his next job, may I also ask the Prime Minister to send a very clear message to my constituents and all Londoners that London is stronger in Europe?

The Prime Minister: I would be delighted to come to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and to case the joint for the future. He is right. It is interesting that Chris Cummings, the chief executive of TheCityUK, has said:

“The City is Europe’s financial centre and the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU) is of strategic importance to the financial and related professional services industry. Business opinion

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both within and beyond our industry is that continuing membership is important to Britain’s competitiveness”.

Business organisations covering finance, insurance, manufacturing and engineering are all making their views clear, and I think we should listen to them.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): The Prime Minister will be aware that since 2010 unemployment has fallen by 50% in my constituency, that investment in the black country has gone up and that the west midlands economy is growing. Does he agree that full access to the single market, which focuses on jobs and growth, is critical for the security and jobs of people in my constituency and across the west midlands?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have seen an industrial renaissance in the west midlands, with more people in work and with growth, particularly in the automotive sector. Such sectors are a part of complex supply chains right across Europe and it would be a huge dislocation if we were to leave.

Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): Access to labour and the protection of workers’ rights and of human rights are just some of the benefits of our membership of the EU; they are beneficial for our workers, businesses and citizens. It must perturb the Prime Minister, therefore, that his Justice Secretary, Work and Pensions Secretary and Minister for Employment are poster boys and girls for the out campaign. How will he ensure that those positive reasons for remaining are at the forefront of this campaign?

The Prime Minister: We are dealing with an issue that has caused divisions and differences within parties right across this House. Twenty-three of the people who sit around the Cabinet table are very much convinced that we should be better off in the EU, and six take a different view. I do not think we should be concerned about that. This is a referendum—it is the people’s choice, not the politicians’ choice.

Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that now is the time for realpolitik? We are no longer an imperial power able to demand what we want and get it. We live in a fragile and increasingly volatile world in all senses of those terms. Does not our membership of the EU, together with our seat on the Security Council of the United Nations, our membership of NATO and our position at the head of the Commonwealth, provide an ideal platform for us to promote Britain both here and abroad? That is why we should stay in.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Membership of those organisations helps us not only to get things done for our people and our country, but to make progress on the issues we care about around the world.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): The Prime Minister deserves credit for the deal he has got; I will be able to campaign for it with confidence. He is right to say that the three different leave campaigns are unable to say what leave would really look like, but given that he will have to do the negotiations in the event of an out vote, it is also incumbent on him to tell us what leave would

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look like. When he sets out the alternatives, will he explain specifically what leave, as well as stay, would look like?

The Prime Minister: We will, as a Government, set out what we believe the alternatives are. There is the Swiss model, which took nine years to negotiate, and we have discussed the Norwegian model today. The World Trade Organisation option means that we could face tariffs every time we try to sell a car into the EU. The Canada free trade deal has not yet been agreed, but it does not cover all services so we could be seriously disadvantaged. We need to go into detail on each of those and put accurate information in place so that people can see what is on offer.

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that critical to the success of his campaign will be his ability to convince people that, by giving up some sovereignty in Britain, we have gained sovereignty and authority in Europe?

The Prime Minister: Clearly, that is going to be the challenge of the coming months. As I have said, I have no selfish interest in this; I will just tell it as I see it. As I have learned over six years of being Prime Minister, this organisation is imperfect and can sometimes be frustrating, but we are better off in it. I profoundly believe that and I will take that message around the country.

Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP): People in Scotland are entitled to hear the clear and positive case for remaining in the EU, and to make their decisions on the basis of hearing all the arguments in full. The Prime Minister spoke today about the importance of taking account of the express will of the people. Will he undertake to take full account of the express view of the Scottish people and ensure that if we vote to remain, we are not removed from the EU against our will?

The Prime Minister: I very much look forward to taking this message to Scotland and campaigning in Scotland. I enjoyed doing that during the independence referendum, and I look forward to making the argument again that we are better off together. It is a one United Kingdom decision.

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): The out voices have been dominant for a long time. If my right hon. Friend had come back as emperor of Europe, they would have complained that it was an idea from Rome. The biggest questions that I have been asked by my constituents are: what are the positives, and what should we be voting on? I urge my right hon. Friend to speak in this campaign about the positives to the economy, to security and to the military, and to make the point that nothing can be more sovereign than 46 million people having their say.

The Prime Minister: Absolutely right. We should talk not only about the conceptual benefits of free trade and open markets, but about the simple and practical benefits. We are free to travel, work, live and retire anywhere in Europe. Because of open skies, the price of going on holiday and taking a flight anywhere in Europe has come down by something like 40%. When you travel, you will hopefully soon be able to access your digital content on

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your iPad, so that you can watch whatever you are watching wherever you are in Europe.




I think I have been doing this for too long, but you get the point.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): Many of my constituents are somewhat nonplussed about the EU question, but they are hugely concerned about the future of the UK steel industry. Does the Prime Minister believe that the UK steel industry will have a brighter future if we remain in Europe or if we leave?

The Prime Minister: That is a very important point. There are huge challenges not just in our steel industry but right across Europe, and that is increasingly being talked about around the European Council table. However difficult it is—and it is difficult—I think we have a better chance of dealing with Chinese overcapacity, dumping and all the rest of it if we work as the biggest market in the world of 500 million people. Of course, we can get some things done as the fifth largest economy talking to China, but as part of 500 million, I think we can get more action.

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): The number of unemployed claimants in my constituency has fallen by 80% since 2010. Does the Prime Minister agree that to leave the EU now, at a time of economic global uncertainty, would risk a reversal of the progress that has been made?

The Prime Minister: I am delighted with the unemployment performance in my hon. Friend’s constituency. There is a simple point here: we live in uncertain times. We have made good progress on the economy. We should try to take the risks away from that economic performance, and clearly changing our status in such a radical way would be a risk.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP): We have been enriched by freedom of movement, we have been made safer by co-operation and we remain relevant in global terms because of our seat in the European Union. All of that and more is, unfortunately, now at risk. With that in mind, will the Prime Minister put some punch into a positive fight to remain in Europe? Would it not be ironic if this Conservative Prime Minister left it to the Scottish National party to save Britain from itself?

The Prime Minister: I hope I have demonstrated today that there is plenty of punch in this campaign, and it will be positive, too. I make no apology for saying that in making a positive campaign about jobs, about business and about competitiveness, we should also examine the alternatives. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing that.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): As a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, I have seen NATO operations around the world, including Operation Ocean Shield against Somali pirates. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is the 28 member nations of NATO—including non-EU countries such as Norway, Turkey, Iceland, the United States and Canada—that are delivering our international security, not an EU army?

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The Prime Minister: We do not want an EU army, and the document clearly says that our national security is a reserved matter for nation states. It puts that beyond doubt. When you look in detail at what, for instance, both NATO and the EU are doing off the coast of Somalia, or at what is happening in the Mediterranean with NATO in the east and the EU in the south, you see that we need to be in both organisations. You do not just talk about one organisation while you are in that organisation; you address NATO questions when you are sitting around the table with other EU leaders.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): The UK’s membership of the EU has been a force for good for trade, jobs, investment and international co-operation. As the Prime Minister has recognised, the EU is a fundamental part of the architecture that has promoted prosperity and kept the peace in Europe after the ravages of two world wars. Does he agree that those who are campaigning so aggressively to reject his renegotiations and cut Britain loose in the modern world are on the wrong side not only of the big arguments but of history?

The Prime Minister: How best to engage in Europe has always been a challenge for our country. There is a strong case for saying that when we have tried to cut ourselves off, it has ended in disaster and the need to re-engage. We should always work to get our engagement right, which is what this deal is all about.

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): There is nobody in this House more Eurosceptic than myself, but I am standing at the side of the Prime Minister on this one, because the Prime Minister has always stood by me and my people in Morecambe. In my constituency, we have the port of Heysham, through which 10% of our GDP passes, most of it from Northern Ireland. We also have two EDF nuclear power stations, which are sponsored by the French Government. I do not want jobs to be lost in my constituency, especially as its unemployment rate is the lowest it has been for generations. Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree with me on that synopsis?

The Prime Minister: I certainly agree that this is about jobs and about livelihoods. My hon. Friend stands up very well for his constituents. I remember visiting not that long ago, when we looked at the Heysham link road. I even hammered a rivet into one vital bridge; I just hope it survives.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): The Prime Minister indicated in the House on 3 February and today that a series of documents would be published in relation to the reform proposals. On 3 February, he referred to the impact of an exit on the free movement of people within Ireland—in particular, the removal of that free movement. Will he confirm when those documents will be made available to enable us, as people who want to remain in the EU, to have a full, robust and earnest discussion?

The Prime Minister: I do not have the dates for the hon. Lady of when those documents will be published, but I will try to make sure that when we look at alternatives and consequences, we address the question

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of the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, and the issue of movement of people that could be triggered by that.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): One word that seemed to crop up around the reporting of the summit was “contagion”, as though other states following the Prime Minister’s lead would be a bad thing. Does the Prime Minister agree that contagion could be a good thing and that we should encourage it? The one-size-fits-all Europe of the 1970s and 1980s is a thing of the past, and the recognition of more than one currency is a good example of that. We have taken a lead that has set reform in train.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right. Europe will never work if we try to make everyone be one-size-fits-all. If a country such as Britain raises concerns, it is right that they are addressed, and I am glad that they have been.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): Approximately 30,000 of the UK citizens living in the European Union whom my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) referred to—interestingly, we call them expats rather than economic migrants—claim benefits in the European Union countries in which they live. How will the package that the Prime Minister has negotiated affect them?

The Prime Minister: What we have negotiated is a welfare mechanism that the European Commission has said applies to Britain now, so we are able to pull this emergency brake and restrict benefits for seven years. It is for other countries to determine whether they qualify and whether they are able to do that, but I am in no doubt that it applies right away in the UK, which is what I was determined to secure.

Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): The Prime Minister will be aware that we have trading partners and military allies outside the EU. Has he had any representations from those allies and trading partners about whether they see us as being better in the EU or outside?

The Prime Minister: I would say that in all the conversations I have had with our partners, our neighbours and countries around the world that look to us as friends, I have been quite surprised by just how unanimous and how passionate they have been. I would totally disabuse people of the idea that, for instance, there is any sense that some of the countries of the Commonwealth might want Britain to step back from Europe and form some sort of new relationship with them. The Prime Ministers of New Zealand, Canada and Australia, and the President of America, could not be clearer in thinking that Britain should stay in a reformed European Union, and in that way make sure that Europe is looking out to them and signing trade deals with them, which is exactly what we should do.

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): While the referendum campaign is in progress in the United Kingdom, Europe will continue to host and witness the worst humanitarian crisis we have seen in the past 70 years. Last summer, shameful attempts were made in the media and elsewhere to link that crisis to our membership of the European Union. Will the Prime Minister give us an assurance that whatever happens in the Mediterranean over the

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next three months, the United Kingdom’s response will be based solely on humanitarian necessity and will not be influenced by how it might impact on the referendum campaign?

The Prime Minister: Of course, we will do what is right. In the context of our membership, it is important to address the issue of migration. I would make a number of points. First, we are obviously outside Schengen and will remain outside Schengen, so people coming to the EU do not have an automatic right to come to Britain. Secondly, I would make the point that we are doing a very responsible thing in taking refugees directly from the region. Thirdly, we are working with our European partners to secure the external border. At the end of the day, whether we are in the EU or out of the EU, we are affected by this problem in Europe, so we should be working with our partners to make sure that they can better control, and in some cases stop, the flow of people to Europe.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): Some argue that we will be able to forge better deals across the world by leaving the European Union, but in the three years that I have been a trade envoy I have not yet met a single representative of any of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that believes our trade and investment prospects would be better if we left the EU. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that the referendum is not about whether we should do business with Europe or with the rest of the world, but about the fact that we should and must do business with both, as we are, and that those with whom we most want a free trade agreement will always prioritise the EU?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend puts it in absolutely the right way. It is not an either/or. We are expanding our trade in south-east Asia—we have doubled our trade with China since I became Prime Minister—but I am struck, as he is, by the fact that countries are not saying, “Get out of the EU and sign a trade deal with us”. They are saying, “Stick in the EU and make sure it signs a trade deal, because it will be bigger and it will be better.”

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): The Prime Minister articulates the case in the national interest well. However, I have heard unconfirmed rumours that he has been exploiting the situation among Conservative Members for his own self-interest by opening a private book on his successor. Will the Prime Minister confirm that? Will he give us an inkling of where the money is flowing, and will he guarantee to extend the syndicate to the rest of us?

The Prime Minister: My father, whom I miss every day, was an inveterate gambler. I remember nothing so much as sitting with him on a Saturday and watching him bet on race after race. While I enjoyed all that, I have tried to stick away from it myself, so I am not running a book. All I know is that I will do the right thing for this country, and the right thing for this country is to remain in a reformed EU.

James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con): Moody’s has today warned that it could cut Britain’s credit rating in the event of Brexit. It justifies that thus:

“Unless the UK managed to negotiate a new trade arrangement with the EU that preserves at least some of the trade benefits of

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EU membership, the UK’s exports would suffer. It would likely lead to a prolonged period of uncertainty, which would negatively affect investment.”

Is that “Project Fear” or a warning from the real world?

The Prime Minister: There are important economic consequences that we need to lay out so that people can see the potential downsides of what I think is a leap in the dark. We have set out a lot this afternoon about how long it would take to put trade deals in place and about how damaging that could be. It would be irresponsible not to be put in front of the British people the consequences of the outcomes.

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP): There is one deal the Prime Minister has always had control over, which is the disbursement of common agricultural policy payments to farmers. Will he pledge to pass on the €187 million convergence uplift that the EU has provided to the UK? It is actually based on the payments that Scottish farmers receive, which are the lowest in Europe. That would make it much easier to campaign in Scotland with farmers.

The Prime Minister: I will look carefully at what the hon. Gentleman says. My memory of the CAP deal—the finance deal and its consequences—is that we actually gave the devolved Administrations a huge amount of leeway to determine the right way to spend their money. I think farmers actually benefit from the way in which this is done, but I will look carefully at the point he makes.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): May I thank the Prime Minister for all his work on behalf of our country over the past weeks, months and, indeed, years?

Exports to China from Germany, France and the UK have all shown significant increases. Does that not that show that the opportunities for trade outside the EU are not, as some would have it, constrained by membership of the EU?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. You do not expand your trade with China by doing less trade with the EU. We want to do both.

Alberto Costa (South Leicestershire) (Con): Last year, every colleague on the Government side of the House stood successfully under the leadership of my right hon. Friend and under the one nation Conservative team banner. Does the Prime Minister agree that whatever the views of Conservative Members—I am fully supportive of him—and whatever the outcome of the European Union referendum, we must unify once again as a party to ensure that whoever leads our party into the 2020 election does not accidentally allow Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour colleagues into government?

The Prime Minister: I agree. This is always going to be a difficult process. In the Labour party, as well as in the Conservative party, there are people on both sides of the debate. However, this is such a big question—one that will ultimately be answered by the people, rather than by politicians—that we should all be big enough to have an honest and open, but polite disagreement, and then come back together again afterwards.

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Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): May I take the Prime Minister back to another election commitment? In 2014, he and I, along with thousands of Conservative activists, campaigned on a promise, which was emblazoned across our leaflets, to restore control of our borders. The Prime Minister followed that up in the same year, saying that

“I will go to Brussels, I will not take no for an answer and when it comes to free movement: I will get what Britain needs.”

What changed last week?

The Prime Minister: What changed last week is that we are reforming free movement to make sure that we can keep out fraudsters, criminals and those peddling sham marriages, and to make sure that we can apply British rules to foreign nationals coming in as European citizens, just as we do to our own citizens. There are a whole set of changes. To be fair to the Home Secretary, she negotiated incredibly hard, knowing that this was the one moment in which we had the ability to make these changes—reversing European Court of Justice judgments—and to reform free movement, and that is exactly what we have done.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): May I first thank my right hon. Friend for the referendum? He and I fundamentally disagree, as he knows. My concern is about immigration, which he said he would contain. We have net migration to this country of about 240,000 every year at the moment. In three years—I repeat, every three years— that is between 700,000 or 750,000, which is the size of the city of Leeds. Surely that is unsustainable. What he has negotiated will not prevent that from happening.

The Prime Minister: Where I agree with my hon. Friend is that we have got to do more to control immigration. If we look at net migration to the UK, it is now made up roughly half and half of those from outside the EU—there is still more we need to do to shut down the bogus colleges and to make sure that people are not coming in unfairly—and those from within the EU, where one of the most important things we can do is to withdraw the artificial draw of additional welfare payments. The fact that people can get £10,000 in the first year they come to this country is surely an important determining factor. I am convinced that, with the correct measures, we can get immigration down while remaining a member of the European Union.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): During the general election, it was reported that the Prime Minister had expressed some concern about the BBC’s coverage of the election and its impartiality. What assurances can he give me, so that I can relay them to my constituents, that the BBC will not abuse its position again?

The Prime Minister: Politicians complaining about the BBC is a pretty common activity. I remember the former First Minister of Scotland getting quite heated about this issue. Every media organisation is under an obligation—sorry, let me restate that, because it is certainly not true of the newspapers. Every regulated television business is under a duty of impartiality, and I am sure the BBC will carry that out.

Mr Speaker: I thank the Prime Minister, other colleagues and, indeed, all 103 Back Benchers who have taken part in this important exchange.

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Points of Order

6.9 pm

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have made the office of the Minister for Community and Social Care aware of my intention to make this point of order, as well as your good office. Last week, after much delay, the long- awaited report by the mental health taskforce, which was commissioned by NHS England, was published. On the same day, the Government made a series of apparent announcements to the media in response to the report—a courtesy that is yet to be afforded to this House.

This is a vital moment for mental health in England, so it is highly regrettable that the report was published during recess, preventing Members from all parts of the House from scrutinising its findings and questioning the Government’s response to it. Will you advise me, Mr Speaker, of whether you have received any indication from Ministers that they intend to make a statement on the mental health taskforce report and allow Members the opportunity to question the Government on the announcements they have made?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order and for her courtesy in giving me notice of it. The short answer to the last part of her point of order is no. I have received no indication that a Minister intends to make a statement on the matter. What I would say provisionally, having learned of this matter only a small number of moments ago, is that significant announcements of changes of policy should be made first to the House. That means, save in cases of emergency, that they should be made to the House while it is sitting. Of course, right hon. and hon. Members and others can and do access reports whether or not the House is sitting and may pursue their contents in debate and in questions. I will cause further inquiries to be made on the content and timing of this particular announcement.

Alberto Costa (South Leicestershire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) may inadvertently have misled the House when referring to parliamentary sovereignty and its effect across the United Kingdom. Specifically, I seek your guidance on how we can put it on the record that parliamentary sovereignty, according to Diceyan jurisprudence, applies equally in Scotland and England, notwithstanding the 1953 MacCormick case, which was obiter dicta of course?

Mr Speaker: I say two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, I say very gently—I am trying to be kind to him because he is a new Member, albeit an extremely distinguished fellow—that if he wants to raise points of order and argue the toss about the proprieties of parliamentary procedure, perhaps he might learn that he should refer to the Leader of the Opposition as the Leader of the Opposition, not call him by name. People have to be careful that they are on sound ground if they start playing the procedural card.

Secondly, I say very kindly to the hon. Gentleman, whose intellect and eloquence are evident to all, not least to the hon. Gentleman himself, that this does not seem to be a point of order. It is an argument, albeit a cerebral and doubtless high-minded argument, between opposing lawyers. We will leave it there for now.

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Northern Ireland (Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan) Bill

Second Reading

6.13 pm

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mrs Theresa Villiers): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill gives effect to key elements of the fresh start agreement of 2015 and the Stormont House agreement of 2014. It is an important stage in the implementation of those agreements, which, taken together, have the potential to help us to secure a more peaceful, stable and prosperous future for Northern Ireland.

Before turning to the detail of the clauses, I will remind the House of the background to their contents. As the House will recall, following just over 10 weeks of intensive talks, the Government, the Northern Ireland Executive parties and the Irish Government reached the Stormont House agreement on 23 December 2014. It addressed many of the most significant challenges facing Northern Ireland. Some of those challenges, such as the long-standing disagreements over flags, parading and the past, were deeply damaging to political relationships within the devolved Executive and were fuelling community divisions. Others, particularly the state of the Executive’s finances and disagreements over welfare reform, were jeopardising the effectiveness and sustainability of devolution itself.

The Stormont House agreement included proposals to give the Executive a workable and sustainable budget; to set a path towards resolving contentious issues around flags, symbols and parading; to establish new bodies to help to tackle the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past; and to deliver reforms at Stormont to make devolution work better. All of that was underpinned by a financial package that gave the Executive about £2 billion of extra spending power.

The Stormont House agreement was and remains a good deal for Northern Ireland. However, by last summer, it was clear that implementation had stalled. That was largely due to disagreements in the Executive over the budget and finances, at the heart of which was the decision by the nationalist parties to withdraw their support for the welfare reform package agreed at Stormont Castle the preceding December. As the stand-off continued, it had the knock-on effect of preventing decisions on other elements of the agreement from being taken. Sadly, the sense of crisis was intensified by two brutal murders in Belfast, one in May and one in August, which once again raised the spectre of the malign influence of continued paramilitary activity on the streets of Northern Ireland.

As we entered last autumn, the political situation looked increasingly perilous. We faced the prospect that resignations might trigger early Assembly elections. That could easily have led to the collapse of the devolved institutions and a return to direct rule from Westminster. That would have been a major setback after all that has been achieved under successive Governments during the past 20 years. It was an outcome that the Government acted strenuously and decisively to avoid.

First, in a speech in Cambridge on 5 September, I made it clear that we could not let the financial impasse continue indefinitely and that if there was no resolution to the dispute, we would be left with no option but to legislate in Westminster for welfare reform.

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Secondly, following discussions with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, it was decided that the time was right to convene a second round of cross-party talks, which began at Stormont House on 8 September. Once again, the talks included the five largest parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Irish Government on matters for which they are responsible, in accordance with the long-established three-stranded approach to Northern Ireland affairs. The objectives we set ourselves were twofold: to secure the full implementation of the Stormont House agreement and to deal with the impact of continued paramilitary activity.

The talks once again lasted for 10 weeks and concluded on 17 November with a document entitled “A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan”, which was agreed between the UK Government, the Irish Government and the two parties representing a majority of Unionists and nationalists in the Executive. In the Government’s view, that agreement goes a long way towards satisfying the objectives that the participants in the talks set themselves. It gives the Executive a stable and sustainable budget that includes welfare reform; it unblocks progress on other crucial elements of the Stormont House agreement, including institutional reform; and it strongly reaffirms support for the rule of law and places fresh obligations on Northern Ireland’s political representatives to work together with determination to rid society of paramilitary activity and groups. This agreement, like the previous one, was underpinned by a financial package from the UK Government, this time worth up to £500 million.

I can inform the House that progress on the implementation of the fresh start agreement has been good. On 18 November, the day after it was reached, the Assembly passed a legislative consent motion for Westminster to go ahead with welfare legislation. The subsequent Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Act 2015 was given Royal Assent on 25 November and the related order was passed in early December. The Government are working closely with the Executive on the extensive secondary legislation that is required to deliver the new welfare system in Northern Ireland. We hope to be in a position to begin bringing that forward shortly, with a view to completing its passage through both Houses as soon as we can.

On 21 December, the UK and Irish Governments, along with the Northern Ireland Executive, established a Joint Agency Task Force to reinforce efforts to tackle cross-jurisdictional organised crime. The Executive have established the three-person panel envisaged by the agreement to make recommendations for a broad-ranging strategy to disband paramilitary groups. The appointments process for the new flags commission is under way. A Bill to reduce the number of Government Departments from 12 to nine has completed its consideration in the Assembly. A further Bill to reduce the number of Members of the Legislative Assembly per constituency from six to five is set for its final stage of consideration in the Assembly tomorrow.

The Bill before the House today represents further significant progress, dealing with elements of the fresh start agreement that require UK Government legislation. Clauses 1 to 5 make provision to put into effect a treaty, to be agreed between the UK and Irish Governments, that will establish the independent reporting commission. The Bill sets out the commission’s primary objective to promote progress towards ending paramilitary activity

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connected with Northern Ireland. It will report on progress towards that objective and on the implementation of relevant measures by the UK Government, the Irish Government and the Executive that were agreed in the fresh start agreement. The Bill makes provision for key aspects of the new commission’s work, including the duties to which it will be subject and the legal privileges to be conferred on it as an international body. These are intended to ensure that the commission is able to engage with a range of sources of information in performing its important functions, but will avoid doing anything that might put life, safety or national security at risk. I appreciate that hon. Members will wish to see the text of the treaty. It has not been possible to provide that today, because it has not yet been agreed between the UK and Irish Governments, but we will of course place a copy in the Library of the House in due course as soon as we can.

Clause 6 and schedule 1 will extend the time available for the allocation of ministerial positions in the Executive from seven to 14 days after the Assembly meets following an election. The purpose of the change, as set out in the Stormont House agreement, is to allow parties more time to agree a programme for government on a cross-party basis prior to the allocation of ministerial positions. It is hoped that this will encourage a more bipartisan approach to the programme for government.

Clause 7 will amend the pledge of office for Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive, reflecting strong commitments set out in the fresh start agreement to give unequivocal support for the rule of law and to work collectively to achieve a society free of paramilitarism once and for all. Clause 8 will introduce a similar undertaking by all Members of the Assembly.

Clause 9 will implement the commitments in the fresh start agreement for the UK Government to legislate, with Assembly consent, to increase fiscal transparency in Executive budgets, thus helping the Executive to deliver an affordable and sustainable budget.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): If I may take the Secretary of State back to clause 8, I am very pleased about the introduction of a new pledge for all MLAs. They will not be able to participate in any proceedings, or do anything within the Assembly, unless and until they have taken the new pledge. When they have taken the new pledge, however, what sanctions will there be if they fail to honour it and who will decide?

Mrs Villiers: Naturally enough, any sanctions relating to the actions of MLAs are matters for the Assembly, rather than for the Chamber and the legislation proposed here today. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention.

Clause 9 provides that the Northern Ireland Finance Minister will have a duty to specify—

Lady Hermon: I am terribly sorry to intervene on the Secretary of State again, but if I may say so that was a rather flippant response and not at all characteristic—she is always so well briefed. Clause 8 actually states:

“Standing orders shall provide for the procedure for giving the undertaking.”

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It does not say in clause 8 that Standing Orders will be passed in the Assembly on sanctions for MLAs who do not honour the new pledge, so it must be in this proposed legislation.

Mrs Villiers: I am very sorry. I did not mean for my answer to sound flippant or not serious. It remains the case that the Bill does not provide for sanctions and nor does the fresh start agreement. In terms of internal matters of discipline within the Assembly, that really is a matter for the Assembly itself to determine. What I can provide further clarification on is that an individual who refuses to give the undertaking will not be able to participate in Assembly proceedings, or receive any of the privileges of office or salary.

Clause 9 provides that the Northern Ireland Finance Minister will have a duty to specify to the Assembly the amount of Government funding available, as notified by the Secretary of State. The Minister will have to show, when delivering a draft budget, that the amount of Government funding required by that draft budget does not exceed the amount specified as being available.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Before the Secretary of State moves on to that more detailed point, does she agree that the provisions outlined in the Bill should be extended here? Members who do not take their oath in this place receive privileges and benefits, and are not excluded. Maybe we should learn something from the situation in Northern Ireland and apply it to this place.

Mrs Villiers: I am very much aware of the concerns the hon. Gentleman and his party have on such matters. Issues relating to privileges and expenses are House business, and he and his colleagues are welcome to raise them at any time for the House to consider. In due course, we will look at Short money too.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): Just to take a step back in relation to the cross-border task force, I understand a meeting was held in December 2015 to establish it. Can the Secretary of State clarify today how often the task force will meet or is it scheduled to meet?

Mrs Villiers: I think we need to distinguish between the ministerial meeting, which was a one-off, and the agency task force, which will meet regularly. I do not know that it has scheduled a timetable of meetings as yet, but I am sure that once it does I can supply the hon. Gentleman with details. One would expect it to meet regularly to conduct its important work. The membership has been formulated, so it is already cracking on with its work.

Conor McGinn (St Helens North) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State agree that cross-border co-operation on a whole range of issues, not least organised crime, is made much easier by the fact that the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK are members of the European Union?

Mrs Villiers: I was wondering when that subject would come up. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there are a whole range of reasons why the relationship between the UK and Ireland has improved massively in recent years.

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I have outlined the main features of this short, but important, piece of proposed legislation on Northern Ireland.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): There is one area that is not in the Bill. Will the Secretary of State inform the House when the legacy Bill will come forward? Many people throughout Northern Ireland are grieving deeply and want to know when the proposals will come forward.

Mrs Villiers: The hon. Lady raises a very important issue, which I was about to come on to. Sadly, I am not able to give her a date for the presentation of that proposed legislation, but, as I will go into, I am determined to work as hard as I possibly can to build the consensus necessary to enable us to introduce it. I agree with her: it is very important that we press ahead.

I must put on record my gratitude for the co-operation of Her Majesty’s Opposition in agreeing to a somewhat faster than usual passage of the Bill through the House. This should enable measures relating to the pledge of office, the undertaking and the extension of the time available for ministerial appointments to be in place in time for the new Assembly when it meets in May. It will enable the new independent reporting commission to be established as soon as possible.

I am very conscious, returning to the point made by the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), that some important elements of the Stormont House agreement are not, sadly, in the Bill we are discussing today.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Given that the welfare reform legislation was microwaved through here and that this Bill will be fast-tracked, can the Secretary of State give an undertaking that the legacy Bill will not be fast-tracked and that her commitment to building consensus will extend to proper consideration for victims and the wider public interest, and not just be something cobbled up between parties?

Mrs Villiers: I need to reflect on that, but I definitely agree with the hon. Gentleman that the legacy Bill will be in a very different category from the other two pieces of legislation—the Bill today and the welfare legislation. In those circumstances, we should do everything possible to make sure that it has an ordinary timetable. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will not give an absolute undertaking on that for today’s purposes, but if we get to the stage of being able to present that Bill to Parliament, it is highly likely that we will want to proceed with it on the basis of an ordinary timetable rather than an expedited one, given the sensitivity of the issues.

As I set out in my speech in Belfast on 11 February, the Government are and remain committed to establishing these legacy bodies. We have a manifesto commitment to do so. We will continue our efforts to build the consensus needed to allow us to present legislation to this House. We have made more progress than any of our predecessors in getting close to achieving an agreed way forward on the past. We are now closer than ever, I think, to resolving the main outstanding problems standing in the way of getting these new bodies set up and operating.

I shall continue to engage with the political parties in Northern Ireland, with victims and survivors and with those who represent them, and I am particularly grateful

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for the input and work of the Commission for Victims and Survivors in trying to facilitate this process and for working hard to try, with me, to build consensus for the new bodies.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Does the Secretary of State agree that one element of the legacy issue that is paramount in the minds of many survivors of the troubles is that under no account and under no circumstances must Northern Ireland be seen to go forward on the basis of treating the perpetrators of violence in the same way as those who were innocent victims of that very violence?

Mrs Villiers: I entirely agree. We on the Government side would never accept a rewriting of history. I think we should always recall the dedication of, and sacrifices made by, both the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the armed services in Northern Ireland. We should salute that sacrifice, and I am absolutely convinced that in the vast majority of cases, the members of the security forces performed their duties with the utmost integrity and professionalism.

I want to pay tribute, too, to the dignity and determination with which victims and survivors approach the legacy matters under discussion. I have been deeply moved on many occasions when I have met victims and survivors to hear of their experiences and their tragedies. I have welcomed the chance to meet many of them over my years as Secretary of State. They have different and divergent views on a number of issues, but almost all are agreed that the current mechanisms for tackling legacy cases are not working as they should.

The legacy bodies proposed in the Stormont House agreement will not be perfect and, sadly, even when they are set up, they will not provide every answer to every question. Sadly, no set of solutions that we could devise here or in Stormont could ever achieve that, but I believe that those bodies would deliver significantly better outcomes for victims and survivors than the status quo. For that reason, we will continue to pursue them with diligence and dedication.

As a result of the Stormont House and fresh start agreements, I think politics in Northern Ireland is probably more stable now than it has been over the past three years. Economically, although there was undoubtedly some heart-breaking news from Bombardier last week, it is still the case that 46,000 more people are in work since 2010 and the unemployment register is down by more than 40% since its peak in 2013. The fresh start agreement also takes us closer to the point where we can complete the transfer of corporation tax powers to the Executive—a move that I believe can have a transformative effect on the economy there.

As we go forward there will continue to be difficulties and challenges. I need hardly remind the House that despite some success in suppressing their activities, the threat from dissident republicans is severe and the need for vigilance is constant. We are also, of course, approaching some very sensitive centenaries—commemorations that can have very different meanings for different parts of the community. Northern Ireland has, I think, entered 2016 more positively than for some time. For our part, the Government remain determined to deliver our manifesto commitment to help build a brighter, more secure future for Northern Ireland. The Bill is intended to help that process, and I commend it to the House.

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6.35 pm

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State to the debate, and I hope she stays in.

The Bill delivers some of the key aspects of the 17 November 2015 fresh start agreement and the 2014 Stormont House agreement. These agreements ended a financial and political impasse in Northern Ireland that threatened the survival of the devolved institutions and exposed us to the very real possibility of a return to direct rule, which would of course have been disastrous. The Bill is therefore very welcome.

As we address the substance of the Bill, it is crucial for us to stress the importance of economic development. As the Secretary of State acknowledged, the job losses announced at Bombardier last week were a terrible blow to advanced manufacturing in Northern Ireland and a personal tragedy for those who will lose their jobs and for their families. They will now, of course, have to seek employment elsewhere. Jobs in Northern Ireland, as across the UK, are crucial as the strength of the economy and opportunity help to deliver continued progress for everyone.

Of course Bombardier operates in an incredibly competitive global market and demand in that world market has not been as strong as we would have liked. However, the Government have a responsibility, so what are they doing to support those who remain at Bombardier? What are they doing to help ensure that those workers find a route back to employment as swiftly as possible? When the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) winds up the debate, will he say what support has been offered to the workforce and to the Northern Ireland Executive? What discussions will he and the Secretary of State have with the rest of the Government to encourage more direct foreign investment into Northern Ireland?

As we begin to discuss this Bill, let us remind ourselves that the previous 12 months have not been the easiest in Northern Ireland. The murders of Gerard Davison and Kevin McGuigan in the summer and the budgetary stalemate around the issue of welfare led to a political crisis that required all the skill and commitment of those involved to get an agreement to break the stalemate and allow progress to be made. I have said before and I want to put it on record again that all of those involved—the Secretary of State, all the parties in Northern Ireland, many of whom are represented here, and the Irish Government —deserve huge credit for achieving the fresh start agreement. Without that agreement, there was the real risk of the collapse of devolution or indeed the return to direct rule, either of which would have been unthinkable.

I know there was huge disappointment, as well, that no agreement could be reached on how to deal with the past. I and many others have raised this issue here over the last few weeks and months. As I said, however, I know that huge progress was made and I am glad that the Secretary of State has reiterated that now is not the time to give up, but to build on the progress that has been made while recognising the challenges and difficulties that remain.

The publication of the draft treaty on the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval was, I think, welcome—to show not only the direction of travel, but how much progress was made in the talks. Victims must

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be at the heart of any future agreement, as of any agreement—that is clear to us all. The recent allegations with respect to various atrocities of the past demonstrate more than ever the need for a process to be agreed. Victims must not feel that they are locked out of any progress, which is why I urge the Secretary of State to be as transparent as possible, even where difficulty remains, and to continue to seek agreement.

Agreement has not been reached on how to deal with the past so it could not be included in the Bill, but I say to the Secretary of State that we need to take an urgent look at the resources available to the Police Service of Northern Ireland and indeed the Coroners Service for Northern Ireland to support investigations and to speed up the inquests that they continue to be required to do. More and more delay for victims is unacceptable.

Conor McGinn: Does my hon. Friend agree—as I do—with the First Minister of Northern Ireland, who has said that we need to get real when it comes to the funding of investigations of legacy cases? The PSNI operates within stringent budget constraints. It has to prioritise front-line policing, but it is being asked to do more and more. While the current impasse exists, should it not receive funds from this place rather than having to use some of its own resources to deal with the legacy of the past?

Vernon Coaker: I very much agree with my hon. Friend, and with the First Minister and others in Northern Ireland who have pointed out that, although agreement has not been reached on how to deal with the legacy issues, the PSNI, the Coroners Service for Northern Ireland and others are still required to deal with the consequences of those issues. Given that the Secretary of State has put aside money pending any agreement, surely it would be acceptable to give at least some of it to those bodies in order to reflect the continuing work that they must do in trying to investigate and resolve some of the difficulties. I think that that the First Minister has made a perfectly reasonable request, and, although I know that the Secretary of State will not be able to respond to it now, I hope that she and the Minister—and, indeed, the Government as a whole—will consider it.

Mrs Villiers: May I intervene briefly to offer some assistance? The fresh start agreement makes it clear that the £150 million package to support the legacy work is linked to the establishment of the new bodies. However, we are listening carefully to representations, particularly those relating to inquests. If a credible reform package for inquests is put together, we will of course take very seriously any request for funds to support it.

Vernon Coaker: That is a helpful response. I think that everyone in the House—and, indeed, in Northern Ireland—will have heard what the Secretary of State has said, which implies that she is open to making money available both to the PSNI and to the Coroners Service. I think that that is what victims would expect. They know that it is difficult to reach an agreement on how to deal with the past—and, although the institutions, or the proposed institutions, are there, agreement has not been reached—but, at the same time, work has to be done. Given that the money is there, we would support the Secretary of State if she—or, for instance, the Treasury—estimated at any point that at least some of

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the money could be released to enable that work to be done as soon as possible, because I think that people in Northern Ireland would expect it to be done as soon as possible. The First Minister would have been pleased to hear what the Secretary of State has said.

The House has been in the habit of dealing with Northern Ireland legislation in one day, but we believe that that should happen only when the need is truly urgent. We supported an emergency procedure with respect to welfare reform, and I promised the Secretary of State when I resumed my current role that we would maintain a bipartisan approach based on the principle of consent. I hope that our actions have demonstrated that commitment, but l want to make it clear that in this instance we have agreed to an expedited procedure rather than an emergency process. This procedure allows us more time to consider the Bill, while still making it possible for us to secure Royal Assent before the approaching Northern Ireland elections. I assume that any necessary legislative consent motion will be forthcoming in order to ensure that measures relating to the pledge of office, the MLA undertaking, and extension of the time available for ministerial appointments are in place in time for the Assembly's return. I am told that the Northern Ireland parties themselves are keen for that to happen.

The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) made a fair and reasonable point about discussion of the legacy issues in due course. I think that anyone in Northern Ireland would expect discussion of those significant and important issues to take place by means of due process in the House, and not to be speeded up.

Lady Hermon: Will Her Majesty’s Opposition be tabling amendments to clause 8 to make it absolutely clear that a sanction will be applied to MLAs who make the pledge and take their seats, but then do not abide by the pledge that they have made? There is a code of ministerial responsibility for members of the Executive, and there are sanctions, but there are no sanctions in the Bill, and that is an obvious omission.

Vernon Coaker: I will say something about pledges later in my speech, but, whether we table amendments or not, I think that the hon. Lady is right to ask for clarification. I shall be quoting one of the pledges which contains a qualification, and I shall be asking what that means. Even if we accept that this is Stormont business, I think it is right for such questions to be asked in the House of Commons.

The Bill will establish an independent reporting commission to monitor progress towards ending paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. That is a key aspect of it. Paramilitary activity is totally unacceptable and has no place in Northern Ireland, but we shall have to consider in Committee what progress has already been made, and why this initiative will work when others have not. How will progress be judged, and what will happen if it stalls?

The issue of disclosure will also have to be explored in Committee. It is bound to arise, because the Bill requires the Secretary of State to provide guidance on how national security and individuals are to be protected. We shall need an explanation in order to ensure that the problems that prevented an agreement on how to deal with the past do not happen again and prevent the Commission from working effectively—or, indeed, from working at all.

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The Bill modifies the pledge of office to be taken by Northern Ireland Ministers, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). The revised pledge will include fresh obligations to work together on a shared objective of ridding society of all forms of paramilitary groups and activity, and the Bill introduces a parallel undertaking for Members of the Assembly, who must commit themselves to demonstrating a peaceful pursuit of change and progress. That is to be welcomed. However, the revised pledge includes seven newly agreed commitments, one of which is

“to accept no authority direction, or control on my political activities other than my democratic mandate alongside my own personal and party judgement”.

I think that, in Committee, Members may want to hear a full explanation of the qualification in that pledge.

The Bill extends the period allowed for the appointment of Northern Ireland Ministers, once the Assembly is elected, from seven to 14 days, which we hope will allow more time for a programme of government to be agreed. It also provides for the promotion of fiscal transparency and support for the Executive’s delivery of a stable and sustainable budget. It must be made clear what block grant the UK Government will provide, and how spending above that will be funded. I look forward to some interesting discussion of that in Committee.

Ian Paisley: Given the principle that the hon. Gentleman has accepted this evening, does he also accept the principle that if Members of the House of Commons do not take the oath, all the privileges that they gain here should be removed from them?

Vernon Coaker: As the Secretary of State has said, that is House business, but we expect all Members of this House to commit themselves to the pursuit of democracy and the making of decisions by democratic means.

Ian Paisley: If the hon. Gentleman accepts that principle, will he—through the usual channels, and with the support of the Opposition and the Government—table a motion in order to resolve, finally, the anomaly that allows Irish Republican Sinn Féin Members to benefit from privileges in the House without taking the oath?

Vernon Coaker: As I have said, that is House business and I therefore cannot commit myself, but the hon. Gentleman has heard what I have said. We expect all Members of this House to commit themselves to democracy and the democratic process, and I think that that is what all of us have done.

I was talking about the budget, the promotion of fiscal transparency, and support for the Executive’s delivery of a stable and sustainable budget. This is another area that will need to be examined in Committee.

Northern Ireland is not out of conflict; it is coming out of conflict. Huge progress has been made, but challenges remain. The cloud of paramilitary activity still hangs over too many communities and impacts on too many people. This activity, whether republican or loyalist, never had a place in society, and it certainly has no place now.

The major elements of this Bill represent another step towards the principle that must be at the heart of any democracy: that the rule of law is paramount in every community—law enforced by the police and subject to an

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independent judiciary. The success of this Bill, the new pledges and the independent commission will be judged on how far they bring that goal about.

6.50 pm

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I just want to make a fairly brief intervention in this debate. Before I do so, Mr Deputy Speaker, I wonder whether you will allow me a few seconds to refer and pay tribute to my constituency assistant who died very suddenly a few days ago. His name was Mark Calway, and he worked for me for 14 years and took a particular interest in matters Northern Ireland—and indeed in matters the Republic of Ireland—helping me quite a bit with my work on the Select Committee and as co-chairman of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. His death is a stunning shock, and my heart goes out to his parents, Brian and Maureen. I do hope it is in order for me to pay the greatest tribute to him possible today. All hon. Members know how much we depend on our staff, and when they are personal friends as well, such a loss, at the age of 49, is terrible. Thank you very much indeed, Mr Deputy Speaker.

May I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for the work she has done in getting us to this point? I know—or I think I know—how difficult things were back in September when it looked as though the institutions in Northern Ireland might collapse. I know how much work she put in—or I am guessing I know that. Her dedication was total. She was absolutely determined that the institutions would not collapse and that we would in fact find some degree of agreement and a solution that would enable us to move forward. The fact that we are here today demonstrates that she was successful in that, so I really do want to pay tribute to her—and her team—for the very hard work and extraordinarily long hours put into this.

Before I was Select Committee Chairman, I served as shadow Minister for about five years. During some of that time we dealt with an awful lot of legislation—statutory instruments—in Committee upstairs, taking major decisions on behalf of the Province and the people in Northern Ireland. On many of those occasions, at the beginning of my speeches I said how wrong and inappropriate it was to govern the Province in that way, yet we really did face the prospect of going back to the previous situation, and that worried and frightened me. It came about as a result of a couple of tragic murders in Northern Ireland and the linkage between them and people in the Assembly who were allegedly sympathetic to that kind of activity. I am very pleased that this Bill makes it clear that there is no place, either in this place or the Assembly in Northern Ireland, for people who hold those beliefs.

Many years ago we heard the famous and chilling statement that some people would proceed with the Armalite in one hand and the ballot box in the other. Those days are long gone, and anybody who tries to practise that or carry out politics in that way should be in prison, deprived of their liberty. There is no place in the Northern Ireland Assembly for that kind of people. We would not want to work on Committees in this House or anywhere else with people who by day are in the debating Chamber and at night are on the streets causing trouble and wreaking havoc. We would not

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accept it in this place, and it should not be accepted in Northern Ireland, so I am very pleased that the Bill paves the way for removing that kind of behaviour.

Ian Paisley: I appreciate the point the hon. Gentleman is making. Sometimes we do have to stop and pinch ourselves and recognise how far Northern Ireland has come in recent years. The point he is making about Northern Ireland politicians taking decisions about the needs of the people of Northern Ireland is emphasised today, as there have been something like 26 amendments on the Floor of the Northern Ireland Parliament today, being voted and consulted on and considered by Northern Ireland’s elected representatives. That shows that instead of decisions being taken in Committee Rooms here, they are being taken in Northern Ireland by the elected representatives on the Floor of the Assembly, and they are very prosperous and good decisions.

Mr Robertson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, which emphasises far more strongly than I was able to the importance of the Assembly’s functioning. When we sat in Committee taking big decisions, the great problem was that by the nature of the arithmetic of this House, there were very few people on the Committee from Northern Ireland. The decisions were taken by people like me and many others from English constituencies, with very few representatives from Northern Ireland, so the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to make that point.

The most urgent priority was dealing with the paramilitary aspect, but there were other issues, which are dealt with in the Bill. One was the agreeing of the budgets. I have mentioned before what happens when there is power-sharing rather than the straight democratic system that we have in this House. We all know why we have that power-sharing, and it has brought people together, but there may be times when there has to be compromise in the way the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive do business. There may be times when politicians in the Assembly and the Executive take their stances, make their points and make their objections, but at the end of the day there has to be agreement; if not, and if there is an overuse of the petitions of concern—I accept that both sides have used them to excess—it is not going to be very helpful. If we cannot get agreement on important issues such as the budget, we face the rather dark prospect of the institutions collapsing, as we almost saw, and power being brought back to this House. That is not something I want to see.

Mr Gregory Campbell: The hon. Gentleman refers to issues on which consensus and agreement were reached. Does he agree that the issue of corporation tax was one on which consensus was reached eventually, and that people were and are looking forward to the prospect of possibly tens of thousands of jobs being created in Northern Ireland? How does he feel about the fact that the delay in reaching that consensus was principally down to Northern Ireland’s and the UK’s membership of the EU? It seemed to delay it for many years.