Prime Minister David Cameron has updated Parliament on the outcomes of the European Council on 25 March, which focussed on the situation in Libya, the European economy and Japan.
In Parliament today the Prime Minister said:
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on Libya and report back on last week’s European Council.
On Libya, I want to update the House on military action on the steps we are taking to strengthen and deepen the alliance on our efforts to ensure humanitarian aid gets through and on plans for the future - including the conference we are holding tomorrow.
First on military action, it is quite clear that allied operations have had a significant and hugely beneficial effect. We have stopped the assault on Benghazi and helped to create conditions in which a number of towns have been liberated from Qadhafi’s onslaught.
In towns like Ajdabiya, Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad people are now free to return to their homes.
The No Fly Zone is now fully operational and effective. When it has been challenged, Qadhafi’s planes have been shot down. He can not terrorise the Libyan people from the air.
In terms of the UK contribution, our pilots have now made over 120 sorties and flown over 250 hours. Over the weekend RAF Tornados continued to conduct armed reconnaissance sorties, hitting a total of 22 tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery pieces around Ajdabiya and Misurata.
This involved some extremely skilful and courageous work by British pilots seeking out and destroying tanks whilst doing everything possible to avoid civilian casualties. Our thoughts are with them and their families at this time.
I can also tell the House that during the early hours of this morning our Tornado pilots flew deep into the desert to strike against major ammunition bunkers at Sabha which we believe was being used to re-supply Qadhafi’s forces, including those terrorising people in Misurata.
Initial reports suggest that the bunkers have been destroyed. There remain, of course, real issues of concern the situation of civilians in Misurata and Zintan is extremely grave, with both under heavy attack and the situation for civilians in other towns under the regime’s control is also deeply concerning, with widespread reports of human rights abuses.
But we have moved quickly and decisively over the last week and we will stick to our task, as set out in the UN Resolution, and take all necessary measures to protect civilian life.
Second, on strengthening and deepening the alliance I told the House last week we believed that NATO should take on the command and control of Libyan operations.
This has now been agreed.
NATO is already co-ordinating the arms embargo and the No Fly Zone.
Now it will take on command and control of all military operations - including those to protect the civilian population.
And Canadian Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, NATO’s Deputy Commander at the Allied Joint Force Command in Naples has now been appointed as the commander of the Joint Task Force for the Operation.
Mr Speaker, I have also made clear the crucial importance of the further active involvement of Arab nations.
On Friday the United Arab Emirates confirmed they will provide 12 fast jets six F16s and six Mirages.
And on Saturday jets from the Qatari Royal Air Force flew over Libyan airspace to patrol the No Fly Zone for the first time. We look forward to welcoming representatives from five Arab states, the Arab League and the African Union tomorrow.
Third, it is critically important that humanitarian aid gets through to those who need it.
It is absolutely clear that when the Qadhafi regime occupies a town like Ajdabiya the people suffer most terribly.
When the regime leaves a town, the way is open for proper humanitarian access. The important thing now is to make sure that happens.
Our strategy is to help fund the humanitarian organisations that are able to get in, to help the UN play its co-ordinating role, and to provide assistance at Libya’s borders.
We have funded the International Committee of the Red Cross - who are now present in Misurata - to provide support for up to 100,000 people for basic necessities, and to treat 3,000 walking wounded.
We flew 12,000 migrant workers trapped on the Tunisian border back to their countries and their families and we delivered 2,000 large tents and 38,000 blankets to the border.
We will continue to give intense focus to humanitarian access in the coming days.
Fourth, on plans for the future.
In order to make the pressure on the Qadhafi regime as effective as possible, it is vital that we have the maximum political and diplomatic unity around the world.
At the European Council, Europe came together over Libya. The Council conclusions endorsed UN Security Council Resolution 1973 set out Europe’s determination to contribute to its implementation and recognised the lives saved by our action so far.
This is an important step forward and it shows that Europe is now on fully board with this mission.
And today, alongside British and French aircraft, there are Danish, Dutch and Spanish aircraft taking part in the action over Libya, flying from Italian bases, working with warships from the UK, France, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands and Poland. Romania is sending a frigate and the Turks are planning to make available naval assets too.
Mr Speaker, tomorrow Britain will be hosting a broad international conference in London to review progress and plan for the future.
This will include representatives from more than 40 countries, including all the military contributors to the operation as well as the United Nations Secretary General.
I can tell the House this afternoon that France and the UK will be issuing a joint statement to the conference participants setting out what is at stake as we gather to support a new beginning for Libya.
That new beginning requires three things.
First, to strengthen the alliance with more support from new countries including in the Arab World.
Second, to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid, including to newly liberated towns
Third, to help plan for the future of Libya after the conflict is over.
It is for the people of Libya to choose how they are governed and who governs them. But they have a far better chance of doing that as we stand today than they did ten days ago.
Had we not acted, the future would already have been decided for them.
Mr Speaker, let me turn to the economic issues discussed at the Council
Britain had two goals at this Summit. Fiirst, to support the euro area’s efforts to bring stability to the eurozone, while fully protecting Britain’s sovereignty and second, following our Budget for growth last week, to win support for a similarly ambitious pro-growth, pro-market agenda for Europe as a whole.
Let me take the two in turn.
I have always said that a successful Eurozone is in Britain’s national interest.
Forty percent of our trade is with Eurozone countries and so we want the Eurozone to deal with its problems and challenges.
So we should welcome the steps that euro zone countries are committing to take with the Euro Plus Pact.
But I’ve also said that Britain isn’t in the euro, and isn’t going to be joining the euro and so it is right that we shouldn’t be involved in the euro area’s internal arrangements.
That’s why we are not intending to join the “pact” that euro area countries have agreed. It is also why I believe we should not have any liability for bailing out the Eurozone. With the current emergency arrangements, established under Article 122, we do.
This was a decision taken by the previous government. It is a decision which my Rt Hon Friend, the Chancellor specifically objected to when it was taken by his predecessor after the election, but before this Government took office.
Frustratingly we are stuck with it for the duration of the emergency mechanism. But that is why last December I ensured that the Eurozone treaty change carves Britain out of Eurozone bailout arrangements when the new permanent arrangements come into place in 2013, and I specifically secured agreement that from that point Article 122 would not be used for this purpose.
This ends our current potential liability and makes it clear that from 2013 Britain will not be dragged into bailing out the Eurozone.
My second goal was growth.
There was clear agreement at the Council about the link between action on deficit and action for growth.
As the conclusions state clearly: “Fiscal consolidation should be frontloaded in Member States facing very large structural deficits or very high or rapidly increasing levels of public debt.”
We agree. And it is worth noting that the UK still has one of the highest budget deficits in the EU - higher than Greece, Spain and Portugal but because of the actions we have taken we have interest rates nearer to those of Germany.
It is also worth noting that the EU forecast is for the UK to grow in 2011 faster than France, Spain, Italy, the Eurozone average and the EU average.
Mr Speaker, just as we have a Budget for growth in the British economy, we need a plan for growth in the European economy.
In advance of the Council I organised a letter which was signed by nine countries, making the case for specific actions to support growth.
Completing the single market and extending it to services. Boosting trade, opening up and connecting European and global markets. Reducing regulation, supporting innovation and unleashing enterprise.
This has had real impact. It is now not just Britain making the argument but also Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.
As a result, the European Council endorsed much of our approach. We agreed that we should focus on concluding the Doha Round and other free trade agreements in 2011.
And we also agreed that “the overall regulatory burden should be reduced” …and that micro enterprises should be exempted from certain future regulations.
This moratorium, which mirrors the moratorium on regulation for small businesses in last week’s Budget, is a positive endorsement of the approach we’re taking in Britain.
Finally, Mr Speaker, the Council discussed how Europe could help Japan to recover from the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami.
I spoke to the Japanese Prime Minister on Friday. As you know, we have provided search and rescue teams and stand ready to help in other ways.
I know everyone in the House will want to applaud the resilience and courage of the Japanese people during these tragic times.
Looking to the future, we should show solidarity with the Japanese and help both our economies by pushing forward with a free trade deal between Japan and the EU.
At Britain’s instigation, the Council conclusions explicitly refer to the “potential launch of negotiations for a free trade agreement.”
Mr Speaker, at this Council Europe was faced with a choice: to rise to the challenges facing our continent or take the path of least resistance.
On Libya, Europe chose to come together around the stand taken by Britain, France and the United States to respond to the call of the Arab League and save people on our continent’s doorstep from slaughter.
And on the economy, Europe chose a new direction, based on the principles set out by Britain and other member states, for stronger growth and prosperity.
For too long Europe has focused on issues of process and structure.
Last week Britain helped Europe focus on policies and people - creating prosperity for its citizens and confronting a humanitarian crisis on its Southern border. And I commend this Statement to the House.