Theresa May: UK has opportunity to become global champion for free trade

Theresa May says globalisation has led to much progress but has also left many people behind.

British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing street in London on 20 July 20 2016 on her way to the House of Commons to face her first session of Prime Ministers Questions. Picture: Niklas Halle'n/AFP.

LONDON – British Prime Minister Theresa May says in a fast-changing world the United Kingdom now has the opportunity to become a global champion for free trade.

May spoke on Monday night at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London where Mayor Sadiq Khan had earlier outlined the importance of integrated communities in a world of growing populism and division.

She said globalisation has led to much progress but has also left many people behind.

“So at this moment of change, we must respond with calm, determined, global leadership to shape a new era of globalisation that works for all.”

Despite Brexit and the dramatic changes playing out in America, May says her government is determined to do new business with old partners.

But there is still a great deal of uncertainty about how Britain will navigate its exit from the European Union and what the real consequences will be.

Many Western leaders have been rattled by the Brexit vote and Trump’s election victory, fearing that they might also be brought low by growing dissatisfaction with the ruling elites.

Since Britain’s vote to leave the EU in June propelled May into leadership, the former interior minister has said she will deliver Brexit and address the fears of some British voters over high levels of immigration.

That has spurred fears she may be heading for a “hard Brexit” or clean break with the EU’s single market of 500 million consumers. On Monday, May again said there was no binary choice.

“All of us here tonight know that there is not some choice between hard Brexit and soft Brexit,” she said.

“It is about how business and government works together to get the best deal; the right deal for Britain and the right deal for businesses working across the continent.”

She also said while she wanted Britain to be “the true global champion of free trade in this new modern world”, she also wanted to ensure that all Britons profited from it.

A new industrial strategy, she said, would target strengths across the British economy, whether they are universities, start-ups or dynamic businesses, rather than “propping up failing industries or picking winners”.

She also told the audience the government will be “unashamedly pro-business” as it leaves the European Union, but that companies must also act responsibly, part of plans to improve corporate behaviour.

“The government I lead is unequivocally and unashamedly pro-business ... We will do everything we can to make the UK outside the EU the most attractive place for businesses to invest and grow,” May said.

“But in return, it is right to ask business to play its part in ensuring we build a country that works for everyone.”