Theresa May praises 'military successes' in retaking Mosul as she becomes first major foreign leader to visit Iraq

Theresa May in Iraq Credit: Pool

Theresa May has become the first major foreign leader to visit Iraq after Mosul was reclaimed from the clutches of Islamic State.

Iraq's second biggest city became a stronghold for the extremist group after it seized control in June 2014 - and in the fight to liberate it has left much of it in ruins.

As part of her visit to the Middle Eastern country, Mrs May said she had met with British troops and with the Iraqi forces which they are training.

While the Prime Minister praised the "military successes" in retaking Mosul from so-called Islamic State, with the city falling back under Iraqi Government control in July, she continued that "we do need to ensure that we address the possibility of individuals from Daesh [so-called Islamic State] trying to set up elsewhere".

She added: "In Iraq we are working together to defeat Daesh and my visit comes at a critical moment as we see the caliphate collapsing with the fall of Mosul and Raqqa.

"We want to ensure that Iraq can in the future provide that strong, stable and unified state that can provide the security, jobs and opportunities that all Iraqis want and deserve."

She continued that the fight to destroy so-called Islamic State is "about ensuring there are no unstable areas where they can set up, but it's also about dealing with the terrorist threat in all the ways that we can.

"That includes for example, working to ensure that their hateful material is not being spread across the internet and inspiring others to conduct attacks."

In a wide-ranging interview with ITV News, Mrs May was also questioned about claims that the UK's Brexit divorce bill could reach £49 billion, the Whitehall inquiry into her de facto deputy prime minister Damian Green, and Saudi Arabia's involvement in Yemen's deadly civil war.

  • On a potential £49 billion Brexit divorce bill cost

Mrs May refused to be drawn on whether the UK's Brexit "divorce bill" is expected to total between £40 billion and £49 billion.

On Tuesday, officials close to the negotiations were reported as saying there was broad agreement on a framework for the UK to settle liabilities expected to total up to £40-£49 billion.

Yet when questioned by ITV News during a trip to Iraq, the Prime Minister simply replied that the UK was "still in negotiations" with the European Union.

She continued that the amount the UK will pay to the EU when it leaves was "one of the elements that we've been looking at in this first phase of [Brexit] talks", adding that Britain wanted to ensure that the second round of negotiations would take place.

When pressed on the issue of Brexit negotiations, Mrs May referred back to her Florence speech in September in which she set out her plans for Brexit.

In Florence, the 61-year-old said she wants the UK to have a two-year transitional period and said it will honour its financial commitments up to 2020 as she laid out some of the key tenets of the Government's position.

Referring to the UK's financial commitments to the EU, Mrs May told ITV News "that nobody in the EU 27 needs to worry that they would have to pay in more or receive less through the current budget plan.

"I also said that we would honour our commitments, we're negotiating with the European Union 27, we're negotiating through obviously their negotiating team and Michel Barnier to look at those commitments, but we're still in negotiation with them."

On Friday, Donald Tusk told Theresa May she had 10 days to offer concessions on Brexit issues. Credit: PA

On Friday, European Council President Donald Tusk told Mrs May that she had 10 days to offer further concessions on issues including the Brexit divorce bill and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, if she wants EU leaders to agree to trade talks.

The European Council will meet on December 14 and December 15 and decide whether talks can progress as Mrs May hopes.

Mr Tusk added that if sufficient progress is not made by the UK, then trade talks will not be allowed to begin until EU leaders are satisfied that "sufficient progress" has been made on the first round of issues being discussed including the divorce bill the UK will pay to Brussels and the Northern Irish border.

He continued that agreement to post-Brexit trade talks in December was "still possible" but remained a "huge challenge" and progress from the UK within the next 10 days was needed.

Four days after Mr Tusk's ultimatum, the Cabinet approved the UK’s negotiating position for the first phase of Brexit negotiations - which the Prime Minister hopes will lead to agreement from the rest of the EU in just over a fortnight for talks to move on to trade and transition.

The three elements of the UK's offer, according to sources close to the negotiations are:

  • A pledge to keep open the border with the Republic of Ireland

  • A formula for the so-called divorce bill that would see the UK paying more than £40bn and less than £60bn in divorce payments

  • A system for guaranteeing the rights of three million EU migrants resident in the UK that would allow Britain’s Supreme Court to refer issues “up” to the European Court of Justice, when it felt unqualified to adjudicate

Speaking on Wednesday Mrs May continued that trade relations would also be discussed during the negotiations and that she seeks to retains a "deep and special partnership" with the EU post-Brexit, "including on security matters".

While Mrs May refused to be drawn on commitments made by the UK during the negotiations she said she was "clear that we need to move together, we want to ensure that the EU and the United Kingdom can go forward into those trade talks both recognising the importance of those talks for the future relationship, not just for the UK, but for the EU as well".

Following the claims that the UK will pay a divorce bill of up to £49 billion, the government has been accused of "betraying" the British people's trust opting for an "inferior deal" if it hands over the money.

On Wednesday, an urgent question on the costs of Brexit was granted to Labour's Chris Leslie in the House of Commons following reports that the UK will agree to settle liabilities expected to total up to £49 billion.

Labour's Chris Leslie accused the government of paying for the privilege 'of downgrading to an inferior deal'. Credit: PA

Mr Leslie accused the government of paying for the privilege "of downgrading to an inferior deal" with the EU adding that the decision to withhold details of the UK's financial obligations was "losing control".

The government has dismissed the reported figure as "speculation" but Conservative backbenchers showed no signs of dissent in relation to the figures.

Aside from the Brexit divorce bill costs, another contentious point in the negotiations between the UK and the EU is the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in protecting the rights of EU migrants in the UK after Brexit.

The MP for Maidenhead insisted that when the UK leaves the EU, the jurisdiction of the ECJ "over the people in the UK" will end, and that instead citizens' rights will be enshrined into UK law "so that people would be able to take cases through the UK courts".

  • On allegations made about Damian Green

Damian Green carried out Prime Minister's Questions in Theresa May's absence. Credit: PA

Claims of inappropriate behaviour have been made against Mrs May's de facto deputy prime minister Damian Green.

It is claimed Mr Green "fleetingly" touched young activist Kate Maltby's knee during a meeting at a pub in 2015 and a year later sent her a "suggestive" text message.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood is looking into the claims.

The investigation has subsequently been widen to look into allegations that pornographic material was found on one of his parliamentary computers,

Mr Green said any allegation that he made sexual advances to Ms Maltby was "untrue (and) deeply hurtful", while claims that pornographic material was found on his computers was "completely untrue" and came from a "tainted and untrustworthy source".

Asked how Mr Green was dealing with the pressure of being under-investigation, Mrs May simply replied that it was "ongoing" and that the Ashford MP would conduct Prime Minister's Questions in her absence and she expected him "to make a very good job of it".

  • On Yemen's brutal civil war

Yemen is in the grips of the worst recorded cholera epidemic in history. Credit: ITV News

As the civil war between the Saudi Arabian-backed Government and Houthi rebels enters its third year in Yemen, Mrs May said she was "concerned about the humanitarian crisis" in the country.

The United Nations has called it the world's largest humanitarian crisis.

To date more than 10,000 people have died as a result of fighting, hunger and disease, and currently seven million people, out of a population of 20 million are facing the prospect of famine after all but one of the country's ports were blockaded.

As part of her trip to the Middle East, Mrs May is heading to Saudi Arabia where she said she will speak to them "about the need to ensure that we can see humanitarian and commercial access through the Al Hudaydah port" which she said was "crucial for humanitarian and commercial access".

When asked why Saudi Arabia would listen to her pleas when they had ignored them before, Mrs May replied that she would give the country's government "a very clear message about the UK's concern for this humanitarian crisis in Yemen, but also about the nature of the international concern for what is happening.

"We want to see Al Hudaydah port opened for both commercial and humanitarian access, and I will be giving that strong message to Saudi Arabia."