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News | Published October 23 2018

Theresa May updates Commons following European Council summit 

Theresa May addressed MPs in the Commons last night, touching on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, recent developments in the Brexit negotiations and the results of the meeting of the European Council that occurred last week.

May began by condemning the killing of Khashoggi “in the strongest possible terms” and vowed that “we must get to the truth of what happened.” She then moved on to detail what was agreed at the recent European Council summit, beginning with the introduction of a new EU sanctions regime on the use of chemical weapons which was agreed by the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his French counterpart. May detailed how she had pressed for further measures, including sanctions, to be applied to cyber-attacks, to try and respond to existing instances and deter future threats.

Key Facts
  • May condemns killing of Jamal Khashoggi; vows to get to the truth
  • Targets Asia for increased British trade
  • States that "95 per cent" of the Withdrawal Agreement is completed

May referenced the recent attempted hacking of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the Hague, terming it “a stark example of the very real threats we face.” May stressed that “we must impose costs on those who seek to do us harm” and commended the Council for agreeing to take this work forward. May also referenced the marking of anti-slavery day, with EU leaders reaffirming their commitment to stamp out any form of people trafficking.

Turning to Brexit, May gave updates on the progress of the UK’s withdrawal deal. Reiterating a previous statement that promised most of the deal had been achieved, she stated that “the shape of the deal across the vast majority of the Withdrawal Agreement is now clear.” 

After the Council, May met with Premier Li of China, President Moon of South Korea and Prime Minister Lee of Singapore. Charting the development of British trade in Asia, May stated that, since 2010, trade in the continent has grown by almost 50 per cent, and expressed her intent to “develop that further.” Putting a positive spin on the current status of negotiations, she argued that “the ability to develop our own new trade deals is one of the great opportunities of Brexit.”

Turning to Brexit, May gave updates on the progress of the UK’s withdrawal deal. Reiterating a previous statement that promised most of the deal had been achieved, she stated that “the shape of the deal across the vast majority of the Withdrawal Agreement is now clear.” She added that a protocol has now been developed relating to the UK Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus and a similar agreement reached for Gibraltar, terming this development as “heralding a new era in our relations.”

May recounted what had already been achieved, including agreements on “citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the Implementation Period." She also announced her belief that “95 per cent of the Withdrawal Agreement and its protocols are now settled.”

She continued by singling out the possibility of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland as the “one real sticking point left.” Restating her commitment to avoiding a hard border, she argued that “the original backstop proposal from the EU was one we could not accept” as it would create a customs border down the Irish Sea. She emphasised that “I do not believe that any UK Prime Minister could ever accept this. And I certainly will not.” 

Describing the nation’s “responsibility” to find a solution to this problem, she described a counter-proposal for a temporary UK-EU joint customs territory and stated that “in a substantial shift in their position since Salzburg, the EU are now actively working with us on this proposal.”

In order to address these remaining issues, May said that “there are four steps we need to take.” The first of these is to make this commitment to a temporary UK-EU joint customs territory legally binding, which will “not only protect relations North-South, but also, vitally, East-West.” 

She refused the possibility of a second referendum, terming it a “politician’s vote.” Describing the final goal of the negotiations, May termed a post-Brexit Britain as the “prize that lies before us.”

The second step she outlined was the creation of an option to extend the Implementation Period as an alternative to the backstop. Although May stated that “I do not want to extend the Implementation Period”, she argued that the “impasse we are trying to resolve is about the insurance policy if this [an agreement made before 1 January 2021] does not happen.” In terms of how the proposal would work, May announced that “the UK would be able to make a sovereign choice between the UK-wide customs backstop or a short extension of the Implementation Period” if a deal could not be agreed.

The third step was ensuring that both of those “insurance policies” could not be extended indefinitely. The final step, she added, was to make sure the government delivers on their commitment to “ensure full continued access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the UK internal market.”

May ended by stressing her commitment to solve the problems abounding in the negotiation process, remarking that “We have to explore every possible option to break the impasse and that is what I am doing.” She refused the possibility of a second referendum, terming it a “politician’s vote.” Describing the final goal of the negotiations, May termed a post-Brexit Britain as the “prize that lies before us.”

A full transcript of May’s statement can be found here.