It is a great pleasure to be with you here today to speak at this important gathering and it is a pleasure to speak to members of the FTA, which is an organisation of significant importance to the British economy, representing as it does 16,000 members from all parts of the logistics chain.
We meet at a very important and historic moment. This week the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill passed through Parliament. It is now law, it is an Act and very shortly we will be triggering the Article 50 process that will lead to our departure from the EU.
So we are standing on the threshold of a new chapter in the modern history of this country and a new opportunity for Britain to carve out a new role in the world.
One that is a global leader in free trade.
An outward-looking country that is open for business.
It is clear that the logistics industry plays a huge part in that future, because our trade in goods and ensuring that those goods are delivered to customers on time is an essential part of that future.
I know from having read the excellent FTA Brexit Manifesto that you do have questions about what sort of deal we will be getting from the European Union, what sort of future we can expect for our country after Brexit has been completed and how we will make the most of the opportunities that Brexit presents.
Let me immediately reassure you that the government fully recognises the crucial importance of your industry to the British economy.
British people and British businesses depend on you to deliver all the things that we depend on and that is why the government is building for Britain’s future by making the biggest investment in transport infrastructure in generations.
Your industry and our citizens have rightly called for investment in world-class infrastructure, because it supports our growth and prosperity.
We recognise that those calls are justified and that is why in this Parliament we intend to invest £61 billion in transport, which is an increase of 50% (£20.3 billion) compared to the £40.6 billion in the previous Parliament.
And that is why we announced further transport measures in the Budget last week.
Approach to negotiations
I saw from your Brexit manifesto that you regard Heathrow as of key importance and you intend to provide a new runway at Heathrow, which is expected to bring additional economic benefits to this country of up to £61 billion over 60 years. We are committed to increasing the United Kingdom’s prosperity outside the European Union and we want to help provide for British industry needs.
But let me return to our exit from the EU. As you will be aware, we are about to enter an extremely complex negotiation.
The Prime Minister has set out our overall approach at her Lancaster House speech on 17 January and the White Paper that was issued subsequently provided a comprehensive articulation of our objectives, and the rationale for our approach to the forthcoming negotiations.
Of course there a lot is more detail underlying this. There will be many detailed technical issues and there will be preparations that we will need to make ourselves for life after we leave the EU.
We are carefully considering all these options very thoroughly.
I can tell you today that the points that you have raised in your manifesto are also very important issues to us.
But I would ask for your understanding when I say that I cannot go into too much detail as to what our negotiating position will be.
You will all understand that as one approaches negotiation the last thing one does is reveal one’s hand too soon.
However, I do want to set the scene for the forthcoming negotiations insofar as they affect the logistics industry.
The Prime Minister has made clear that we will be seeking the greatest possible access to the European single market. That includes transport services.
This is an area on which we believe both the UK and EU have a strong mutual interest in reaching an agreement.
Because the logistics industry, and the other industries it serves, have thrived on open and frictionless borders.
We, however, cannot expect the same arrangements to continue in the future – people understood they were voting for change on 23 June last year – and there will be change.
But it will be our aim to minimise additional processes, or added ‘friction’.
We want to have reached an agreement about our future partnership by the time the Article 50 process has been completed.
Bear in mind that Article 50 itself provides that the negotiations for withdrawal must be set against the framework of the continued relationship between the EU and the departing member state.
Once we have completed our negotiations, we expect a phased process of implementation in order to give businesses like yours enough time to plan and prepare for the new arrangements.
This will be in the mutual interest of UK and EU because it is no one’s interest for there to be a cliff edge for businesses.
This does not mean that we will be seeking some unlimited form of transitional arrangement — that would not be good for the UK, nor would it be good for the EU.
New relationship with the EU and Customs Union
We are seeking a new and equal partnership with the EU – between an independent, self-governing, Global Britain and our friends, neighbours and allies in the EU.
This includes a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement that allows cross-border trade to be as frictionless as possible.
We want to have a new, mutually beneficial customs agreement with the EU that supports these objectives.
But we have a completely open mind on how they will be achieved.
There are a number of options for any new customs arrangement, including a completely new agreement, or for the UK to retain some elements of the existing arrangements.
The precise form of these arrangements will be the subject of negotiation and will form a key part of our ambition for a new strategic partnership with the EU.
Whatever form that customs arrangement takes, and whatever the mechanism to deliver it, we will seek to maintain many of the benefits that businesses currently enjoy.
Republic of Ireland
I know the issue of the border with the Republic of Ireland is one that is important to you and your members, and insofar as the government is concerned nothing is more important than protecting our strong and historic ties with the south of Ireland.
The British and Irish economies are deeply integrated, through trade and cross-border arrangements, as well as through the free flow of goods, utilities, services and people.
No one wants to see a return to the hard customs borders of the past.
Cross-border movement of people and goods is an important part of our economic integration.
Annual trade between the UK and Ireland stands at over £43 billion, around 60 per cent of Northern Ireland’s goods exports to the EU are to Ireland and over 14,000 people regularly commute between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
When the UK leaves the EU we want as seamless and frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, so that we can continue to see the trade and everyday movements we have seen up to now.
We want to deliver a practical solution that allows the maintenance of the Common Travel Area with Ireland — while protecting the integrity of the UK’s immigration system.
The issue of immigration brings me to another important point that we are considering very carefully.
Leaving the EU will allow us to build an immigration system that can be controlled by and, most importantly, work for the UK.
And it is important that we understand the impacts of different options on different sectors of the economy and the labour market, including the logistics sector.
The White Paper also makes it very clear that any new immigration arrangements may be phased in to give businesses enough time to plan for the new arrangements.
And we want to see an effective new system that serve the interests of business thoroughly.
I can assure you that we will continue to be an open and tolerant country, and one that recognises the immensely valuable contribution that migrants have made and continue to make to our economy and our society.
Leaving the EU also gives us a huge opportunity for Britain to carve out a new role for Britain in the world and to be a stronger and more ambitious country—a country that is better able to shape its own future and see new opportunities wherever they may be found in the world.
As the Prime Minister has said, we want to build a truly Global Britain that is one of the firmest advocates for free trade anywhere in the world.
The Department for International Trade has already established a series of working groups and high-level dialogues with key trade partners, to explore the best ways of progressing our trade and investment relationships.
In addition, the Department for Transport has already held positive discussions with its American counterparts about the arrangements that we will need after Brexit for the vitally important transatlantic air links.
All this builds on the deal we signed with China last year that will more than double the number of flights that are able to operate between our two countries, thereby boosting trade and tourism.
This country is open for business from around the world and your sector has a big role to play in making that happen.
I can see that you have discussions later in the day about trade with Australia, Canada and Sri Lanka, and that you — like the government — are also looking at opportunities wherever they may be found across the world.
There are also opportunities beyond free trade.
As we leave the EU, existing EU law will be converted by the Great Repeal Bill into domestic British law. This means that future changes to those laws will be a matter for our Parliament here in Westminster.
I do not want to suggest that we are going to be making wholesale changes to those rules overnight. But we will be able to look at individual cases where EU regulations are perhaps less well suited to our domestic UK requirements.
Leaving the EU will give us the opportunity to ensure that we have a better regulatory framework in this country that is more aligned to the needs of the UK.
Clearly there is a significant task ahead for us and there will be challenges in the negotiations, and I do not intend to play those challenges down — we are under no illusions about that.
To get the best deal for the UK we will need to continue to work closely with British business and not least with your industry.
Cementing the relationship between government and businesses will be crucial as we conduct our negotiations.
Facing up to the challenges together, but also seizing the opportunities that will become open to us, will be vital for the future of UK economic growth.
We value your insights and your expert knowledge, and we have been highly encouraged by the engagement of the sector to date, in particular through the FTA.
By working together we can help cultivate the new relationship that this country needs, and a new position for Britain both in Europe and more widely across the world. We can maximise the economic opportunities of our exit.
I would also ask you to cultivate your existing relationships with your European counterparts to ensure that we continue to demonstrate that we remain reliable partners, willing allies and close friends with our European neighbours.
Most importantly you should not regard my appearance today at your conference to be a one off event. We have got two years of negotiations ahead of us. You are the experts in this industry and it is extremely important that you maintain close contact with government.
My door is always open and if you have any observations, concerns, worries or suggestions please do get in touch with my office to share your views and analysis.
Because you have unrivaled knowledge of your industry. You know what its needs are, you know what its priorities are and that information, and that knowledge, will be invaluable to us and the negotiations proceed.
Likewise, we want to keep in touch with you. Indeed, there will be officials here from my Department and other government Departments throughout the day.
So take the opportunity to speak to them, because what we are now engaged on is an exercise that is of the highest possible national importance.
We want you to work with us and we look forward to continuing to work with you.
So that together we can get the best possible deal for our country so that we can build a truly Global Britain - a Britain that will stand as a beacon for free trade and enterprise throughout the world.