With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the European Council meeting which took place before Christmas.
The Council focused on 3 issues – migration, terrorism and the UK’s renegotiation.
I’ll take each in turn.
First, on migration, even in winter there are still many migrants coming to Europe, with over 3,000 arriving via the eastern Mediterranean route each day.
Now of course, Britain is not part of the Schengen open border arrangements and we’re not going to be joining.
We have our own border controls and our border controls apply to everyone attempting to enter the UK and every day those border controls help to keep us safe.
Let me repeat: these controls apply to all – including EU citizens and we have stopped nearly 95,000 people at our borders since 2010, including almost 6,000 EU nationals.
These people were not allowed to come in. What Schengen countries are now trying trying to put in place are a pale imitation of what we already have.
What they do is, of course, a matter for them. But it is in our interests to help our European partners secure their external borders.
So we have provided more technical expertise to the European Asylum Support Office than any other European country including practical assistance to help with registering and fingerprinting of migrants when they arrive in countries like Greece and Italy.
We have also focused on the root causes – not just the consequences – of the migration crisis.
That is why we continue to play a leading role in the efforts of the International Syria Support Group to end the conflict in Syria through a political process and that’s why we have backed the agreement reached in Morocco which should pave the way for a new united, national government in Libya.
We have deployed HMS Enterprise in the Mediterranean to go after the people traffickers. We have provided £1.12 billion in humanitarian assistance for the Syrian conflict – by far the largest commitment of any European country, and second only to America.
And the donor conference that I am hosting next month together with Germany, Kuwait, Norway and the United Nations will help further, raising significant new funding to help refugees in the region this year.
Mr Speaker, the Council focused on implementing the previously agreed measures on refugee resettlement.
In Britain, we said that we would resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees during this Parliament, taking them directly from the camps.
And I can tell the House that – exactly as promised – over 1,000 Syrian refugees from camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon were resettled here in time for Christmas. These people are now in homes, their children are starting this new year in our schools and they can look forward to building a new life here in Britain.
I know many in this House have called for us to take more refugees, or take part in EU relocation and resettlement schemes.
The reality is that we have already done significantly more than most of our EU partners in this regard.
Indeed the House might be interested to hear the figures. By the time of the December Council, only 208 refugees had been relocated within the EU – that was out of the 160,000 agreed. And in all other member states put together, according to the most recent statistics, just 483 refugees had been resettled from outside the EU under the EU’s voluntary resettlement scheme.
The point is clear: we’ve said what we would do – and got on and done it.
Turning to terrorism, the latest appalling video from Daesh is a reminder of their brutality and barbarism. It is desperate stuff from an organisation that hates us not for what we do, but for what we are – a democratic multi-faith, multi-ethnic nation built on tolerance, democracy and respect for human rights.
Mr Speaker, Britain will never be cowed by terror. We will stand up and defend our values and our way of life. And with patience and persistence we will defeat these extremists and eradicate this evil organisation.
Mr Speaker, I am sure the whole House will want to join with me in paying tribute to the British servicemen and women who have spent this Christmas and New Year away from their families.
In the last month RAF aircraft have conducted 82 strikes in Iraq and Syria. In recent weeks the priority of the international coalition has been supporting the Iraqi Security Forces’ successful recapture of Ramadi, to which our air strikes made an important contribution. They have also helped Kurdish forces repel major Daesh counter-attacks in northern Iraq.
In Syria, there have been 11 RAF strike missions, 10 against Daesh controlled oil infrastructure and 1 against Daesh terrorists near Raqqah. And we continue to fly intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, providing vital support to our other coalition partners.
In terms of the discussion at the Council, we now have a clear agreement on new rules to share passenger name records. This is a vital breakthrough but we still need to go further.
So the Council agreed to take forward urgent proposals on more systematic data-sharing on stepping up our co-operation on aviation security and on working together to do even more to starve Daesh of money and resources – choking off the oil and clamping down on firearms and explosives, to stop them getting into the hands of terrorists.
We also agreed to do more across Europe to counter the extremist propaganda and the poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism that is the root cause of the terrorism we face.
The Daesh threat is a threat to us all – and we must stand together to defeat it.
Mr Speaker, turning to the UK renegotiation, I have set out the 4 areas where Britain is seeking significant and far-reaching reforms.
On sovereignty and subsidiarity, where Britain must not be part of an ‘ever closer union’ and where we want a greater role for national Parliaments.
On competitiveness, where the EU must add to our competitiveness, rather than detract from it, by signing new trade deals, cutting regulation and completing the single market.
On fairness for countries inside and outside the eurozone, where the EU must protect the integrity of the single market and ensure there is no disadvantage, discrimination or additional costs for a country like Britain – which is not in the euro and which is never, in my view, going to join the euro.
And on migration, where we need to tackle abuses of the right to free movement, and deliver changes that ensure that our welfare system is not an artificial draw for people to come to Britain.
Mr Speaker, this is the first time a country has tried to renegotiate its membership of the EU from a standing start.
Many doubted it was even possible.
But at this Council we had an entire session focused on this issue, lasting several hours, and with almost every European leader contributing.
I am happy to go into detail on what was an extensive discussion.
But the key points were these.
There was strong support for Britain to stay in the EU. European leaders began their remarks not by saying Britain is better off in Europe, but that Europe would be better off with Britain staying in it. And all wanted to reach an agreement that would address the concerns we have raised.
There was extensive discussion on all 4 areas. Difficulties were raised with all 4. And the most difficult issues were around free movement and welfare. But there was a great deal of goodwill.
And at the end of the discussion the Council agreed – and I quote directly from the conclusions – that we would “work closely together to find mutually satisfactory solutions in all the 4 areas”.
I think it is significant that the conclusions talk about solutions – not compromises.
And I made clear that these solutions would require changes that are legally binding and irreversible.
So Mr Speaker, while each of these areas will require hard work, I believe there is now a pathway to an agreement.
Later this week I am continuing my efforts to secure that agreement with further discussions in Germany and Hungary.
And I hope we can reach a full agreement when the Council meets again next month.
But what matters is getting the substance right, not the speed of the deal.
If we can see this through and secure these changes, we will succeed in fundamentally changing the UK’s relationship with the EU and finally addressing the concerns that the British people have over our membership.
And if we can’t, then as I have said before I rule nothing out.
My intention is that at the conclusion of the renegotiation, the government should reach a clear recommendation and then the referendum will be held.
It is the nature of a referendum that it is the people not the politicians who decide.
And as indicated before Christmas, there will be a clear government position, but it will be open to individual ministers to take a different personal position while remaining part of the government.
Ultimately it will be for the British people to decide this country’s future by voting in or out of a reformed European Union in the referendum that only we promised and that only a Conservative majority government was able to deliver.
And I commend this statement to the House.