Is my hon. Friend aware of the concerns expressed by a number of organisations campaigning for media freedom, such as Reporters Sans Frontières, that the Interpol wanted person alert system is being abused by countries that are opposed to a free press, to target and silence journalists? Does she agree with these organisations that there needs to be a review of the thousands of alerts currently sitting on that system and that countries that abuse the system should be held to account? Does she also share my concern that this is hardly likely to happen under the Russian candidate for the presidency?

 

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s extensive work in this area and thank him very much for putting those important points before the House today. As he knows, article 3 of Interpol’s constitution forbids the organisation to undertake any intervention or activity of a political nature. Any such misuse of Interpol notices is taken very, very seriously by this Government. The UK continues to take a strongly supportive stance in relation to Interpol’s efforts to ensure that systems are in place to protect human rights—indeed, the Home Office has been highly proactive in its engagement with Interpol on this matter. I appreciate the important work that my right hon. Friend mentioned. I assure him that the UK will continue to be a staunch friend of those who are on the side of human rights and media freedom around the world.

I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s recognition that the economic difficulties facing Johnston Press are the same ones that are now affecting all local newspapers, and that this situation is contributing to a real threat to the proper functioning of local democracy. Will he consider that one way of addressing this is to build on the BBC’s local democracy initiative, which is already funding 150 journalists? The obvious people to make an extra contribution towards this initiative are the internet technology giants, which are responsible for at least some of the problems now affecting newspapers.

 

I will first address my right hon. Friend’s second point. He is right that we need to consider the impact on local news of the increasing transfer of particular advertising to online platforms. Of course, it is also important to consider how we ensure that content is properly paid for when it is used. He is also right that local democracy reporters have a part to play. It is important to note that the content they produce is made available to local newspapers, and I am sure that this assists those local newspapers in producing copy.

Further to that question, without in any way wishing to diminish the horror of what happened to Mr Khashoggi, is the Secretary of State aware that Mr Khashoggi is one of 72 journalists, citizen journalists and media assistants who have been killed so far this year, according to Reporters Sans Frontières? May I, therefore, very much welcome his statement about looking to see what more can be done to protect journalists and urge him to pursue that internationally?

 

I am very happy to heed the advice of my right hon. Friend on that point. I had not heard the 72 number, but it is very sobering. All I would say is that, at the moment, there is a worrying trend, almost a fashion, towards autocracy and regimes thinking that they can attack freedom of expression and media freedom with impunity. That is something that the UK could never stand aside and allow to happen.

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate the frustration felt by many of my constituents and others that it is now over two years since the referendum and we have agreed that we will not regain control of our laws, borders and money for over four years after the referendum? Does she understand that for many of them and us that is already too long?

 

I absolutely understand. Some people have said to me that we should not have triggered article 50 when we did. I think it was important that we triggered it when we did. We took time to prepare, but then triggered it precisely in order to get this process into place. My right hon. Friend will know the process within article 50 is for two years. That is why we will leave the EU on 29 March 2019. What we are working to ensure is that we get the future relationship in place at the end of that implementation period, an implementation period that I believe was right and necessary to negotiate to ensure that for both citizens and businesses there were not two cliff-edges in the changed relationship with the EU, but we have a smooth and orderly withdrawal and movement into the future partnership.

My right hon. Friend has set out very powerful evidence that a British citizen died on British soil as a direct result of a Russian assassination, but she will be aware that there have been a number of other deaths in Britain in the past few years of Russian citizens or of people with close connections with Russia. Can she say whether those cases are now being actively re-examined?

 

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that issue. There have been a number of cases—the number of 13 or 14 comes into my head—and they have indeed been reconsidered by the police, who have looked at all the evidence in relation to those matters. I understand that a letter will shortly be going to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee setting out the outcome of that, but I understand that there is no cause for further consideration of those cases.

May I confirm what the Chairman of the Select Committee has just said? Mr Barnier said to us in Brussels yesterday that the Chequers proposal fundamentally undermines the single market and is unacceptable. He went on to say, however, that he was keen to negotiate a free trade agreement, with associated agreements in the other areas that the Secretary of State has described. Is not it now time, therefore, to abandon the flawed proposal that is not going to work, and instead try to achieve an agreement that delivers Brexit and preserves the fullest level of co-operation?

 

I always listen very carefully to my right hon. Friend’s advice. I do not think that, having presented our proposals, we are going to roll over for Brussels. We are going to explain them to Michel Barnier and answer the questions, practical and others, he has raised. We are confident that our proposals respect the key and core equities and core principles of the EU, but also resolve all the issues we need to see resolved around frictionless trade at the border, critically, in terms of our future relationship, avoiding any need for recourse to the Irish backstop.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the financial settlement contained in the withdrawal agreement is one of our strongest bargaining cards? Will he therefore include in the Bill provisions to ensure that its full payment is conditional on our achieving a satisfactory outcome to negotiations?

 

As ever, my right hon. Friend makes a powerful point, and as the EU says, there is no deal until the whole deal is concluded. The withdrawal agreement must come alongside a framework for the future partnership agreement—article 50 requires that—and if one party does not meet its side of the bargain, that will inevitably have consequences for the deal as a whole.

 

I begin by warmly congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing this debate, which covers a matter of considerable concern, both in this country and across Europe. I think we saw evidence of that yesterday, when the Prime Minister gave her statement following the NATO summit. In the questions that followed, five hon. Members raised the issue of Nord Stream 2 and expressed concern about its consequences.

 

That concern has been echoed in Governments across Europe. My hon. Friend said that he had spoken to the President of Latvia, the former President of Poland and to Italy. As he knows, I chair the all-party parliamentary groups on Ukraine, Moldova, Lithuania and Belarus, and when the Moldovan and Lithuanian Foreign Ministers visited London they raised Nord Stream 2 as a specific concern and potential threat to the security of their countries. Last week at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Berlin, I participated in a meeting organised by the Ukrainian delegation to highlight many of the points that my hon. Friend made so forcefully.

 

When my right hon. Friend the Minister has discussed Nord Stream 2 in the past—I have raised it with him—he has suggested that it is primarily a commercial matter and, because the UK is at the far end of a long pipeline, it is of less concern to us. However, I hope he will recognise the security implications that we must take seriously. First, is this a commercial matter? It is hard to see any commercial justification for the massive investment that Nord Stream 2 will require. The existing pipeline, which crosses through Ukraine, does a pretty good job. It is highly flexible, allowing fluctuations in gas pressure, and it has spare capacity. It may need some investment to bring it up to modern standards, and that could cost an estimated $100 to $300 million a year.

 

On a recent trip to Brussels, I spoke to the Commission about its plans for a net-zero target, which would bring a significant reduction in gas demand across north-western Europe. One would think that that would revise yet further the commercial case for a new pipeline such as Nord Stream 2.

 

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The more one looks at the economic case for the investment, the harder it is to see. The cost of building Nord Stream 2 is estimated at $17 billion, and it will not add to capacity as there is spare capacity in the existing pipeline. Ukraine moved about 94 billion cubic metres of gas last year, which left 55 billion cubic metres of spare capacity. It difficult to see any significant increase in demand—in actual fact, as he points out, there may well be a reduction.

 

The commercial justification simply does not add up. In a recent analysis of the economics, Sberbank said, “The Power of Siberia”—another gas pipeline—

 

“Nord Stream-2 and Turkish Stream are all deeply value-destructive projects that will eat up almost half of Gazprom’s investments over the next five years. They are commonly perceived as being foisted on the company by the government pursuing a geopolitical agenda.”

 

We are extremely familiar with the idea that Gazprom is used by the Russian Government as an instrument to deliver their political objectives. In the last decade or so, we have seen the Russian Government use gas as a weapon on numerous occasions—particularly in 2009 and 2014—either reducing the amount or, in some cases, cutting off supply altogether.

 

The Russians use gas because they have the overwhelming supply for most of Europe, and they do not hesitate to deploy it as a political weapon. The new chairman of the Ukrainian gas company Naftogaz, Clare Spottiswoode, will be familiar to many of us here, as for a long time she was the regulator for energy markets in the UK. She did a fantastic job in the UK of fostering competition among gas suppliers, because she believes, as I do, that the way to provide the best service to consumers is by increasing competition, yet she points out that Nord Stream 2 will have a detrimental effect on competition. It is anti-competitive and it will increase the monopolistic stranglehold of Gazprom, and behind it the Russian Federation.

 

As my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin pointed out, Nord Stream 2 is essentially a political tool. The Polish Prime Minister has described it as a new hybrid weapon. If it replaces the Ukrainian gas pipeline—I think all of us believe that is the long-term objective—the consequence will be for Ukraine to lose up to 4% of its GDP, with an effect on government spending of a cut of about $2.3 billion. This is an economy that is already suffering, with Ukraine having part of its territory under occupation, notably its manufacturing heart in the east. The loss of the pipeline would be a further economic blow to a country that is already finding things difficult.

 

The consequences for Ukraine, however, are not only economic. The building of Nord Stream 2 and Europe no longer having to rely on Ukraine as a transit country for its supply of gas would remove one of the critical obstacles that stands in the way of further Russian aggression against Ukraine. The need to preserve the existing pipeline has to some extent acted as a disincentive to Russia; removing that disincentive could allow it to increase its military aggression against Ukraine.

 

As my hon. Friend said, Germany is phasing out nuclear power and, in all likelihood, we shall if anything increase our dependence on Russian gas, and yet at the same time we are engaged in hybrid warfare, as has been pointed out in debates in Parliament on a number of occasions: Russia occupies a part of Ukraine in the Crimean peninsula; it supports separatist movements in eastern Ukraine; it interferes in elections, in particular in the United States and in France; it runs a disinformation campaign through black propaganda; and of course our Government hold it responsible for the murder of a British citizen on UK soil and for the attempted murder of several others. This is not the time to make ourselves more vulnerable to Russian pressure by allowing Russia to increase its stranglehold on gas supply into Europe.

 

I therefore very much agree with my hon. Friend, and I congratulate him. I hope that the Minister will express—perhaps in stronger terms than we have heard before now—the concerns that exist in the British Government should that project go ahead.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s support for Ukraine and the recognition of the potential threat of Nord Stream 2. Will she confirm that there is absolutely no question of any NATO member country recognising the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation?

 

We are very clear—as was, I think, everybody around that table—that an illegal annexation took place. Significant support was shown for Ukraine around that table. There are of course requirements on Ukraine and Georgia for their potential future membership of NATO, but we look forward to working with them to help them to meet those requirements.