Brexit ‘opportunity’ for UK to prove love of internationalism – May

Prime minister in Davos talks of UK as leading advocate of free trade and globalisation

Theresa May delivers her speech at Davos 2017, reaffirming Britain's trade position and relationship with Europe Video: World Economic Forum

 

UK prime minister Theresa May has moved to position Britain as a leading advocate of free trade and globalisation, describing the decision to leave the European Union as a “unique opportunity” for the country to embrace internationalism.

In a keynote speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ms May said the Brexit vote meant that Britain will become “a confident country in control of its own destiny again”.

“The UK . . . will step up to a new leadership role as the strongest advocate for business, markets and free trade,” she told a packed congress hall in Davos.

She said the vote to leave the European Union was a vote to “restore our parliamentary sovereignty and national self-determination”.

The speech strongly echoed the prime minister’s Brexit vision outlined in London on Tuesday.

Noting that Britain had always been “profoundly internationalist”, she continued: “We are proud of our European heritage, but [are] a country that has always looked beyond Europe to the wider world. We are by instinct a great global trading nation that seeks to trade with countries not just in Europe but beyond Europe too.”

After Brexit, Britain would become “even more globalist in action and in spirit”, she said.

‘Not rejection of Europe’

In a speech that focused at length on both the benefits and responsibilities of free trade, Ms May said that “free trade, partnership and globalisation” had been forces for good. “Free trade . . . is the basis of our prosperity,” she said.

“But outside this hall, those forces for good which we take for granted are being called into question. Forces that have had such a positive impact, lifting millions out of poverty, broken down barriers and raised living standards, are now being undermined.”

She said there was a “sense among the public that mainstream political and business leaders have failed to comprehend their legitimate concerns”.

Citing the threat from the far left and far right across Europe, Ms May said it was important to recognise that living in a “more global and individualistic world” can leave some people feeling locked out and left behind.

“I am determined to make sure that centre ground mainstream politics can respond to the concerns people have today. I am determined to stand up for free trade and globalisation but also to show that these forces can work for everyone.”

Ensuring businesses pay their fair share of taxes and setting clear rules for business was crucial for a fairer society, she said.

Ms May said that while “some of our European partners feel we’ve turned our back on them”, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union was “no rejection of our friends in Europe”.

She welcomed the fact that preliminary discussions on new trade deals were underway between Britain and several countries, including Australia, while China and the Gulf states had also expressed an interest.

‘Bad for London’

Ms May’s trip to Davos comes two days after a landmark speech in which she confirmed Britain would leave the single market once it withdraws from the European Union. The prime minister is due to meet senior figures from Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley on the fringes of the World Economic Forum. All three institutions made donations to organisations promoting a “remain” vote in the British referendum. Also in attendance at Davos are UK chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond and international trade secretary Liam Fox. Writing in the Daily Telegraph on Thursday, Mr Fox said that Britain had begun informal trade negotiations with 12 countries.

London mayor Sadiq Khan is also in Davos in a bid to communicate that London is still a global investment centre, despite the decision to leave the European Union. In an interview with CNBC, he said that leaving the single market “would be bad for London”.

“I accept the case that the British public have voted to leave the European Union, to leave the structures of the legal institutions. What the British people haven’t done is to vote to make us poorer,” Mr Khan said.