John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con) (Urgent Question): To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on what new financial and other obligations apply to the UK in the EU-Turkey agreement.
The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): Agreements reached in principle at the EU-Turkey summit on Monday represent a basis on which in future all migrants who arrive in Greece could be returned to Turkey. That would, if implemented, break the business model of the people smugglers, and end the link between getting in a boat and getting settlement in Europe. That is something for which the Prime Minister and the Government have been arguing for nearly a year.
The agreement would not impose any new obligations on the United Kingdom in respect of either resettlement or relocation. As we are not members of the Schengen area, we are able to maintain our own border controls and make our own decisions on asylum. Nor would the United Kingdom be obliged to resettle any additional refugees. We are already resettling 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrians directly from the region through our own national scheme. We will not be part of the process of liberalising visas—that is a matter for Schengen countries—and we will still require visas for Turkish citizens to visit Britain.
The European Union also agreed on Monday to consider in due course extending the current financial support to help Turkey. There are currently no formal proposals for further funding on returns, and we will wait to see any proposals before commenting. We have already agreed to pay our £250 million share of the existing €3 billion Turkey refugee facility, and I made a written ministerial statement about that earlier this week. This builds on our existing £1.1 billion bilateral support for the Syria crisis and the additional bilateral commitment that we made at the recent London conference on Syria. The Turkey refugee facility is designed to provide immediate humanitarian support and also to fund the schools, hospitals and housing required over the longer term to support refugees and the communities that host them.
The agreement at the EU-Turkey summit on Monday will ensure that the €3 billion commitment agreed at last November’s EU-Turkey summit is properly and expeditiously disbursed. Intensive work will take place over the coming week with the aim of reaching final agreement at the next European Council on 17 and 18 March, after which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement to the House as usual.
John Redwood: One of the reasons why I asked for this urgent question was that the statement from the EU Heads of State or Government issued yesterday makes it very clear that the visa liberalisation applies to all member states of the European Union, not just the Schengen area. I quote from the official document, which says that the EU Heads of State or Government agreed
“to accelerate the implementation of the visa liberalization roadmap with all Member States with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016”.
Will the Minister therefore be seeking clarification and amendment to this statement, given that he told us that these visa requirement waivers will not apply to all member states, or will he negotiate some kind of opt-out to make it very clear that those waivers will not do so? It will obviously be a matter of concern if the text issued from the Heads of State or Government meeting is at variance with the clear statements that we have been getting from Ministers here and through the media in the past few hours.
Secondly, I am surprised that the Minister has not mentioned that there was an agreement to an accelerated process to get Turkey to join the European Union as a full member, so will he comment on the United Kingdom’s position on the pace of the proceedings to get Turkey into the European Union, on what arrangements, if any, he thinks will need to be made when Turkey joins over freedom of movement, on whether there would need to be transitional arrangements, and on whether Britain would wish to be part of the freedom of movement area without proper transitional arrangements and protections?
Thirdly, I find it curious that we still do not know what we might be paying. If our share of the €3 billion is £250 million, plus the contribution that we have made through the EU budget, presumably we are looking at more than £250 million on top of that if the sum is doubled from €3 billion to €6 billion, because I presume that that will also be a levy on the member states. This should be properly reported to the House of Commons because it is an additional contribution to the EU, on top of the normal budget.
Mr Lidington: Let me respond to my right hon. Friend’s three questions. We already have an opt-out from Schengen; that is written into the treaties. Similar arrangements apply to Ireland and Denmark in slightly different respects. The legal measure that would be used for any liberalisation of visa arrangements for Turkey would be a Schengen measure that would be brought forward under the appropriate treaty base, so it would not apply to the United Kingdom, Denmark or Ireland. I made it clear in my initial response to my right hon. Friend that the Government do not intend to liberalise our visa arrangements with Turkey.
On my right hon. Friend’s second point, it has of course been the policy of successive British Governments, including the one in which he served with such distinction, to support the eventual accession of Turkey to EU membership. That is not going to happen in the near future. The statement of the Heads of State or Government said on Monday that they would prepare for the decision on the opening of new chapters in the accession negotiations as soon as possible. To open a chapter such as chapter 23, which deals with the rule of law, might well be very helpful to strengthen the dialogue that we shall be having with Turkey about the rule of law, human rights and the standards that are expected of candidate members of the European Union but, again, no agreement has yet been reached on any aspect of opening new chapters, and many member states will have their views about that.
On my right hon. Friend’s point about Turkish accession—or any new member’s accession—and freedom of movement, the Government have said repeatedly that we will not agree to any further EU enlargement
unless we first have in place new arrangements for transitional controls on freedom of movement so that we do not take on the risk, as we did in 2004, of very large movements of people in the aftermath of a new accession. Every decision to do with EU membership requires unanimity, so every country has a veto on every such step.
Thirdly, my right hon. Friend asked about finance. As I said, there are no formal proposals on the table. There is an ongoing negotiation at EU level in which there are many different moving parts. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement after the European Council next week, but the refugee facility agreed last year is budgeted for and is causing the Commission to reprioritise its various spending programmes, which seems a sensible thing for it to do.