David Cameron made a statement yesterday in the House of Commons on the last European Council. During the debate Bill Cash made the following intervention:
David Cameron, The Prime Minister: With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on yesterday’s European Council. This was the first Council since Britain decided to leave the European Union. The decision was accepted and we began constructive discussions about how to ensure a strong relationship between Britain and the countries of the EU, but before the discussion on Britain there were other items on the agenda. Let me briefly touch on them.
On migration, the Council noted the very significant reductions in illegal crossings from Turkey to Greece as a result of the agreement made with Turkey in March, but it expressed continued concern over the central Mediterranean route and a determination to do all we can to combat people smuggling via Libya. Britain continues to play a leading role in Operation Sophia with HMS Enterprise, and I can tell the House today that Royal Fleet Auxiliary Mounts Bay will also be deployed to stop the flow of weapons to terrorists, particularly Daesh, in Libya.
On NATO, Secretary General Stoltenberg gave a presentation ahead of the Warsaw summit and the Council agreed the need for NATO and the EU to work together in a complementary way to strengthen our security.
On completing the single market, there were important commitments on the digital single market, including that EU residents will be able to travel with the digital content they have purchased or subscribed to at home. On the economic situation, the president of the European Central Bank gave a presentation in the light of the outcome of our referendum. Private sector forecasts discussed at the Council included estimates of a reduction in eurozone growth potentially between 0.3% and 0.5% over the next three years. One of the main explanations for that is the predicted slowdown in the UK economy, given our trade with the euro area. President Draghi reassured the Council that the ECB has worked with the Bank of England for many months to prepare for uncertainty and, in the face of continued volatility, our institutions will continue to monitor markets and act as necessary.
To return to the main discussions around Britain leaving the EU, the tone of the meeting was one of sadness and regret, but there was agreement that the decision of the British people should be respected and we had positive discussions about the relationship we want to see between Britain and our European partners and the next steps on leaving the EU, including some of the issues that need to be worked through and the timing for triggering article 50. Let me say a word about each.
We were clear that, while Britain is leaving the European Union, we are not turning our backs on Europe—and they are not turning their backs on us. Many of my counterparts talked warmly about the history and values that our countries share and the huge contribution that Britain has made to peace and progress in Europe. For example, the Estonian Prime Minister described how the Royal Navy helped to secure the independence of his country a century ago. The Czech Prime Minister paid tribute to Britain as a home for Czechs fleeing persecution. Many of the countries of eastern and central Europe expressed the debt they feel to Britain for standing by them when they were suffering under communism and for supporting them as they joined the European Union. President Hollande talked movingly about the visit that he and I will be making later this week to the battlefields of the Somme, where British and French soldiers fought and died together for the freedom of our continent and the defence of the democracy and values that we share.
Therefore, the Council was clear that, as we take forward this agenda of Britain leaving the European Union, we should rightly want to have the closest possible relationship that we can in the future. In my view, that should include the strongest possible relationship in terms of trade, co-operation and of course security, something that only becomes more important in the light of the appalling terrorist attack in Turkey last night.
As I said on Monday, as we work to implement the will of the British people, we also have a fundamental responsibility to bring our country together. We will not tolerate hate crime or any kind of attacks against people in our country because of their ethnic origin, and I reassured European leaders who were concerned about what they had heard was happening in Britain. We are a proud multi-faith, multi-ethnic society and we will stay that way.
I now turn to the next steps on leaving the EU. First, there was a lot of reassurance that, until Britain leaves, we are a full member. That means that we are entitled to all the benefits of membership and full participation until the point at which we leave. Secondly, we discussed some of the issues that will need to be worked through. I explained that in Britain there was great concern about the movement of people and the challenges of controlling immigration, as well as concerns about the issue of sovereignty. Indeed, I explained how those had come together. In turn, many of our European partners were clear that it is impossible to have all the benefits of membership without some of the costs of membership, and that is something that the next Prime Minister and their Cabinet are going to have to work through very carefully.
Third, on the timing of article 50, contrary to some expectations there was not a great clamour for Britain to trigger this straightaway. While there were one or two voices calling for this, the overwhelming view of my fellow leaders was that we need to take some time to get this right. Of course, everyone wants to see a clear blueprint in terms of what Britain thinks is right for its future relationship with the EU, and, as I explained in my statement on Monday, we are starting this work straightaway with the new unit in Whitehall, which will be led by a new permanent secretary, Oliver Robbins.
This unit will examine all the options and possibilities in a neutral way, setting out the costs and benefits so that the next Prime Minister and their Cabinet have all the information they need with which to determine exactly the right approach to take and the right outcome to try and negotiate. But the decisions that follow from this, including the triggering of article 50, are rightly for the next Prime Minister, and the Council clearly understood and, I believe, respected that.
I do not think it is a secret that I have, at times, found discussions in Brussels frustrating, but, despite that, I do believe we can be proud of what we have achieved, whether it is putting a greater focus on jobs and growth, cutting the EU budget in real terms for the first time, reducing the burden of red tape on business, or building common positions on issues of national security, such as sanctions to stop Iran getting a nuclear weapon, standing up to Russian aggression in Ukraine, and galvanising other European countries to help with the lead that Britain was taking in dealing with Ebola in Sierra Leone.
In all these ways, and more, we have shown how much more we have in common with our European partners as neighbours and allies and friends who share fundamental values, history and culture. It is a poignant reminder that while we will be leaving the European Union, we must continue to work together, for the security and prosperity of our people for generations to come. I commend this statement to the House.
Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee: My right hon. Friend has quite rightly referred to trade and co-operation with the European Union, and we on the leave side have always argued for that. Will he, however, give us some further advice? He is talking about very precise blueprints and about alternative models. Will he give us an absolute assurance that any such models or blueprints will be exclusively based on the assumption that we are repealing the European Communities Act 1972?
David Cameron David Cameron The Prime Minister: We are leaving the European Union, so surely that must be the case. The reassurance that I can give my hon. Friend is that I am not saying that there are only four or five blueprints and that Britain has to follow any one of those. Obviously, we can try to amend blueprints and have Norway-plus or Norway-minus or a better trade deal than Canada. It is important for colleagues in the House and people in the country to understand that there are some quite fundamental questions about whether we want full unrestricted access to the single market and the price we might have to pay in return, or whether we will be satisfied to have less than full access along with some other compensating advantages. We have to go through all those questions, and the more we can attach facts and figures to them, the more we will enable people to make an informed choice.