I don’t know about you, but I will always remember where I was as the clock struck 11pm on 31st January.
That pivotal moment in our nation’s history when we – at last – left the EU and raised the curtain on a new and exciting chapter in British history.
I was in Morley with friends, family and constituents, hosting the “Big Brexit Bash” as we ushered in the new dawn.
But with that great victory comes an even greater responsibility – to ensure that Brexit actually delivers for the 17.4 million people who voted for it.
There’s no doubt that some of our towns and communities in the Midlands and the North have been left behind. And the gap between London and the South East, and the North, has widened.
Educational standards have fallen behind, house prices are static and inward investment remains low. Did you know that if you live outside of London and the South East you are likely to be less skilled and educated, to earn less, to have a house that’s worth less as well as a lower life expectancy?
Many Brexit supporters – both in the referendum and in the recent general election – backed us because it gave them hope and optimism for a better life – for them, their families and their communities.
Whether in Morley or Wokingham, in Staffordshire, Essex or Hampstead, thousands of working-class residents voted Conservative for the first time in their lives – for a thriving country, good healthcare, to feel safe in their homes and to stop champagne socialists rummaging through their pockets.
But it’s incumbent upon us, having argued for Brexit, to help shape the way it turns out.
Just look at Grimsby. In the 1950s its bustling and busy fishing port fed the world. Yet today it has been reduced to just a few small trawlers thanks to stifling European Union regulations.
Grimsby’s story is emblematic of the EU’s demise. It is a failed economic experiment. In 1980 the EU’s share of the global economy was 30%, now it’s barely half that and is predicted to fall below 10% by 2050.
Here in the UK we have some of the richest waters in the world as well as the globe’s 12th longest coastline. No wonderthe EU has our fishing industry right at the top of its agenda for the upcoming trade talks.
So it’s time to restore our country’s economic clout and to put Grimsby back on the map, restoring the pride of our once great fishing ports, bringing jobs and wealth back to this forgotten community.
Our fisherman must come first. And we must become an independent coastal state – controlling our own waters – by the end of this year, ensuring that British waters are first and foremost for British boats.
If Brexit is to mean anything, it must have this sort of impact on people’s lives.
Now the PM gets it. He has spoken time and time again about “levelling up” those towns and communities that have always had the least.
So it’s time to seize the opportunities that await and to make a success of Brexit, to become a truly Global Britain.
But what does “Global Britain” mean?
First, it means striking out and forming trade deals with the emerging powerhouses of the global economy. There’s a whole world of buyers, sellers and markets out there – 7.8 billion people.
Sure, the EU has 512 million customers in it, and we must continue to trade with them. But we must also look beyond the shores of Europe to new horizons.
And the vast majority of those 7.8 billion still live in developing countries, meaning their economies are expanding at a much faster rate than the EU. In fact, countries outside the EU are now creating 90% of global growth.
Global free trade is not some abstract concept for Brexiteers to bang on about! It’s a real and tangible concept that has done more than any other single economic idea to raise billions out of poverty.
In 1990, 37% of the world’s population were in absolute poverty – that is now down to less than 10%. But protectionism, trade wars and tariff and non-tariff barriers are today suffocating global growth. Trade borders are springing up and for the first time in years, world trading volumes are lagging behind global growth.
So the UK should become a global beacon of free trade – providing leadership, lowering tariffs and smashing the iron curtain of protectionism that inhibits trade and clips the wings of our talented entrepreneurs.
And we should start – no, not by obsessing about the EU as the only trade deal in town worth having – but by looking to America and the Commonwealth.
Our old friends and partners – Australia, New Zealand, Canada – are ready to do deals and the US already buys one fifth of everything we export.
The Commonwealth has some of the fastest growing economies in the world and a trade deal with these countries could benefit up to 2.5 billion people. And as many of the Commonwealth countries are still developing, we’ll be giving people a leg up out of poverty in the process. Growing our economy whilst developing others’ – nothing could be more progressive.
For the doomsters and the gloomsters – who think it’s acceptable that we trade more with Belgium’s 11.5 million people than we do with India’s 1.4 billion – I’d like to remind them that our trade with the Commonwealth was four times the size of our trade with Europe in the 1950s.
And let’s reach out to new partners in Africa, Japan and the other Trans-Pacific agreement countries. Brexit gives us a rare, golden opportunity to lead the world – and Europe for that matter – to a new land of hope and glory – of free trade. It will improve our standing in the world, bring millions out of poverty, grow our economy and encourage cooperation. The world needs a champion of free trade – and that should be us.
A truly global Britain can pave the way to a much brighter trading future and all of us in this room must make that case over the next 10 months.
Second, a global Britain needs a global immigration policy. For too long we accepted the discriminatory immigration practices of the EU which allowed for rapid, free movement of unskilled labour – as long as you were privileged enough to have been born onto the European continent. But for those from outside the EU, we made life much more difficult.
One of the reasons so many people voted to leave the EU – including the former director of the CBI, Digby Jones – was so that Canadians, Indians, Americans, Pakistanis and Australians had equal and fair access to the shores of Britain.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting an immigration system that ensures that those who come to live and work in the UK are the people our economy needs, that they make a positive contribution to British life and that we ensure everyone – wherever they come from – is treated in the same, fair-minded and equal way.
We want the best, the most talented and we want to have control over our borders. The Home Secretary’s new points-based system delivers on the promise of the referendum to take back control, whilst ensuring the UK can access the best talent from across the globe.
And third, we’ll only create a truly global Britain if we solve the great infrastructure crisis that has allowed a divide to build up between the north and south of Britain.
You can’t have a truly Global Britain if you can only get to Leeds City centre by bus, or if the trains from Huddersfield to Manchester are overcrowded and unreliable.
We won’t retain talent in the North and the Midlands if it takes almost an hour and a half to get from Birmingham to London, and we’ll struggle to attract scientists from abroad if our airports’ capacity is overflowing.
There can’t be anything “global” about us unless we have a first-class infrastructure to support our ambition, be it fast trains or superfast broadband.
The Prime Minister has promised ten duty-free ports. These will slash red tape and taxes and make it much simpler to import, store and export goods without tariffs being imposed, avoiding the need for time-consuming paperwork. And they will create thousands of new jobs, generate billions and revitalise struggling industrial towns.
As we’ve decided to go ahead with HS2, it’s imperative that we get it done on time, on budget and that we get on with HS3 at the same time to help level up the North. But we need to go further.
Did you know that Leeds is the biggest city in Western Europe that doesn’t have a light rail system? And that it’s been underdiscussion since the 1970s?
Wherever trams have been reintroduced – whether in Manchester, Sheffield or Edinburgh – they have been a success. It was a terrible decision to remove them in the 20thcentury from the towns and cities of the UK, and it’s time to bring them back. They are clean and green and help alleviate congestion problems. What’s not to like?
And whilst we’re talking about infrastructure, did you know that China is set to build 216 new airports by 2035 and we’re still discussing a 3rd runway! We’ve got to get faster at delivering big infrastructure projects if we want to become a speedy and nimble, global Britain. And the Boris bridge from Scotland to Northern Ireland – what a great idea. Let’s get on and deliver that too. Let’s not have another 100-year discussion.
We need to become a nation of doers, not talkers. Only then will we be able to level up, bring this country together and compete on the world stage with the world’s best.
At the turn of the 20th century, Liverpool, Glasgow, Manchester, Cardiff, Belfast and Birmingham were all global cities, alongside London. Let’s level them up so that they can help make this country great again.
We’ve had three years of misery and defeatism. But now that we’ve powered ourselves into the 2020s and left the EU, it’s time to embrace the world and to hear a bit more from people like us – the visionaries who paved the way to our bright, positive and optimistic future.
Britain is the 6th largest economy in the world – 7th in terms of industrial output. Don’t let anyone tell you British industry is dead or that we don’t make things anymore.
We are 3rd in the world for inward foreign direct investment and 5th for outward investments. We have the 5th highest defence spend in the world, some of the best universities and we’ve recently been ranked the 2nd most powerful and the 3rd most influential nation in the world.
And let’s not forget that we are also a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a leading member of NATO, the Commonwealth, the G7, the G20, the OECD, the OSCE and of course we’ve just regained our seat at the WTO.
We’re the 7th most visited nation on Earth. London has the 2nd most international visitors of any city globally, and we’re 15th on the global happiness index – despite the British weather!
And as we confront the Coronavirus, it is British scientists at Imperial College here in London who are at the forefront of the global effort to create a vaccine.
Ill health is one of the greatest barriers to the prosperity of individuals and nations. Between 2000 and 2015, an estimated £524 billion was lost from global GDP as a result of malaria. And a child dies every two minutes from the disease.
But Britain has been leading the fight against malaria through political leadership, funding, science and research, such as the new insecticides at Liverpool’s Innovative Vector Control Consortium and GSK’s development of the world’s first malaria vaccine.
This UK leadership in tackling malaria epitomises Global Britain at its best. And that’s precisely what Brexit is about.
Home to the industrial revolution, the jet engine, the telephone, the internet, the television, trains, penicillin, parliamentary democracy, the world wide web, the pedal bike, punk culture, ATMs, Common Law, DNA, the Higgs Boson Particle, gravity, computing, the lightbulb – and let’s not forget, home to the most globally recognised language on the planet – there is nothing a global Britain isn’t capable of achieving.
We’ve delivered the letter of the instruction of the British people, now it’s time to capture the spirit.
Brexit wasn’t an isolationist move or a sign that our country would pull up the drawbridge. It was a forward-looking, bold, liberal and progressive move, putting Britian on the world stage once again. At the forefront globally, championing free trade, and creating a better life for our children and grandchildren, as well as for millions of people in Europe and around the world who will thank us for it in the months and years to come.
With our newly regained powers and new-found freedoms – along with boundless optimism and unending talents, ingenuity and creativity of every man, woman and child on these islands – we can become the open, tolerant, outward-looking, giving, warm and welcoming country we all want to see.
This is speech was delivered to the Bruges Group on 7th March 2020
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