Speech: European Council October 2016: Prime Minister's press statement


War Hero
Good afternoon everyone. I am pleased to be here at my first European Council.

It has been an opportunity to talk to all 27 leaders about the UK’s departure from the EU. To make clear that Britain will continue to play a full and active role inside the EU until we leave. And to also make clear that Britain will be a confident, outward-looking country, enthusiastic about co-operating with our European friends and allies, after we leave.

At this Council, we’ve talked about working together to address the root causes of mass migration, ensuring a robust European stance in the face of Russian aggression and championing free trade around the world.

And of course the UK remains committed to trading freely with our European neighbours, and co-operating with them on matters including law enforcement and counter-terrorism.

Let me say a few words about the subjects we’ve covered over the last 2 days.


The UK is leaving the EU but we are not leaving Europe – and we are not turning our backs on our friends and allies.

While we have not yet formally started the exit negotiations, here at this summit I have been clear that my aim is to cement Britain as a close partner of the EU once we have left.

Yes, the United Kingdom will be a fully independent, sovereign country, free to make our own decisions on a whole host of different issues such as how we choose to control immigration.

But we still want to trade freely – in goods and services – with Europe. And the UK will continue to face similar challenges to our European neighbours. We will continue to share the same values. And so I want a mature, co-operative relationship with our European partners.

I recognise the scale of the challenge ahead. I am sure there will be difficult moments. It will require some give and take.

But I firmly believe that if we approach this in a constructive spirit – as I am – then we can deliver a smooth departure and build a powerful new relationship that works both for the UK and for the countries of the EU – looking for opportunities, not problems.

That is in British interests. And it is in the interests of all of our European partners too.


Turning to other issues, we have also discussed what more we can do to respond to the migration crisis.

From the outset, the UK has called for a comprehensive approach which addresses the root causes of migration.

Here in Brussels, I reiterated the case I made at the UN for a new global approach to migration based on 3 fundamental principles – ensuring refugees claim asylum in the first safe country they reach; improving the way we distinguish between refugees and economic migrants; and recognising that all countries have the right to control their borders and that all countries must commit to accepting the return of their own nationals when they have no right to remain elsewhere.

It includes working more closely with source and transit countries and here we have agreed to do more to help these countries prevent illegal migration and to return migrants who have no right to stay in EU countries.

Alongside this, the UK will continue to provide practical support to our European partners, whether that is deploying specialist staff to Greece to help them process individual cases or maintaining our naval presence in the Aegean and the Mediterranean.

And on that subject, I can announce today that HMS Echo will take over from HMS Enterprise on operations in the Central Mediterranean early next year.


It was thanks to the UK that Russian action in Syria was on the agenda for this summit.

I argued, along with Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande and others for a robust and united message calling on the Syrian regime and Russia to stop their attacks on Aleppo and making clear that the EU will consider all options if the atrocities continue.

And that is what we have agreed.

It is vital that we keep up the pressure on Russia to stop the assault on Aleppo and to create the space for a genuine political transition in Syria.

In the meantime we will continue to do all we can to help alleviate the horrific suffering of the Syrian people.

Today in Geneva, the UK has secured an extraordinary session of the UN Human Rights Council to press for a ceasefire to enable humanitarian access to Aleppo.

There are millions of innocent civilians trapped there and in other besieged locations across Syria in desperate need of food, shelter and healthcare.

The UK is already the second largest bilateral humanitarian donor to this crisis. And if we can secure the access needed to Aleppo and other besieged areas, we stand ready to accelerate over £23 million of aid for the UN to distribute on the ground to help the most vulnerable in the hardest-to-reach parts of Syria.


Finally, this morning we have discussed trade.

The UK has long been one of the strongest advocates in Europe for free trade. And we will continue to be so. Indeed, I want the UK to become more active, not less, in making the case for free trade around the world.

That means that while we remain a member of the EU, the UK will continue to back the EU’s free trade negotiations.

And, as we prepare to leave the EU, I have been clear that the UK is discussing our future trading relationships with third countries.

This will not undermine the EU’s trade agenda. It is not even in competition with it: we will continue to help the EU reach these important trade agreements.

It is about seizing the opportunities of Brexit and about forging an ambitious and optimistic new role for Britain in the world.

And as we do that, we will work to make sure that more people benefit from free trade and, through that and through our other reforms, we can build an economy and a country that works, not just for the privileged few, but for everyone.

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