G20 Summit, China: Prime Minister's press conference – 5 September 2016

Prime Minister Theresa May spoke about free trade, creating an economy for everyone and the global challenges of terrorism and migration.

G20 Summit

Good evening everybody. This has been my first G20 Summit. And the first summit of the world’s leading economies since the United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union.

It has been an opportunity to showcase Britain as a bold, outward-looking nation.

We are the fifth largest economy in the world – the second fastest growing major economy in the world last year.

We are ranked in the top 6 countries in the world as a place to do business. We have record employment. And the deficit has been cut by almost two-thirds since its peak in 2010.

So we can be confident about the fundamental strengths of the UK economy and optimistic about the role we will forge for the UK – building on our strength as a great trading nation – in the future.

And here in Hangzhou, I have had the chance to talk to other leaders about the role that the United Kingdom will play to advance free trade, to make sure the world’s economies work for everyone, and to confront the global challenges of terrorism and migration.

Let me say a few words on each.


First, free trade.

Britain has a proud history as a trading nation and we have long been one of the strongest advocates of free trade.

A rules-based, open and inclusive global trading system can act as a catalyst for sustainable economic growth and the right trade agreements can be the greatest anti-poverty policy of our time.

That’s why at this summit we have agreed to oppose a retreat to protectionism.

As G20 countries, we have extended the rollback of protectionist measures until at least the end of 2018.

We have committed to ratify by the end of this year the WTO agreement to reduce the costs and burdens of moving goods across borders.

And we have agreed to do more to encourage firms of all sizes, in particular SMEs and female-led firms, to take full advantage of global supply chains.

And as the UK leaves the EU, I have set out our ambition to become the global leader in free trade.

In my bilateral meetings, I have signalled our determination to secure trade deals with countries from around the world.

The leaders from India, Mexico, South Korea and Singapore said that they would welcome talks on removing the barriers to trade between our countries. And the Australian trade minister will visit the UK this week to take part in exploratory discussions on the shape of a UK-Australia trade deal.

And later this week, I will chair a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Brexit and International Trade to discuss how the government should pursue an ambitious trade strategy and to work out which markets we should prioritise.

Economy for everyone

As we do more to advance free trade around the world, so we must do more to ensure that working people really benefit from the opportunities created by free trade.

This discussion goes to the heart of how we build an economy that works for everyone.

It is not enough just to take a hands-off approach. We need bold action at home and collective action abroad.

In Britain, we are developing a proper industrial strategy so more people can share in our national prosperity through higher real wages and greater opportunities for young people.

We are investing in infrastructure to ensure our regions are better equipped to seize the benefits of trade.

And, to restore greater fairness, we will bring forward a consultation this autumn on measures to tackle corporate irresponsibility – cracking down on excessive corporate pay and poor corporate governance, and giving employees and customers representation on company boards.

Here at the G20, we have decided to do more to stop aggressive tax avoidance and to fight corruption.

We have also agreed to work together to address the causes of excess production, including in the steel market. And we will establish a new forum to discuss issues such as subsidies that contribute to market distortions.

It is vital that we deliver action in all these areas if we are to retain support for free trade and the open economies which are the bedrock of global growth.

Global challenges

Finally, we have discussed some of the greatest threats we face to both our prosperity and our security.

We reaffirmed our solidarity and our resolve in the fight against terrorism.

We welcomed the progress that has been made to cut off terrorist financing and discussed the need for proper enforcement of the UN sanctions regime to prevent funding for any terrorist organisation.

As we make progress in the fight against Daesh, it is also vital that we do more together to manage the threat of foreign fighters dispersing from Syria, Iraq and Libya.

And almost 1 year on from the Russian Metrojet disaster, we must do more to improve standards on aviation security. And the UK has put forward a UN Security Council Resolution on this issue which we hope will be adopted later this month.

The migration crisis will also be on the agenda at the UN and here today we discussed the need for a concerted global response.

We agreed that more must be done to address the root causes of mass migration and to provide humanitarian assistance for refugees and the host communities which shelter them.

I look forward to taking forward discussions on a new approach at the meetings in New York and under the German Presidency of the G20 next year.


To conclude, this has been a successful summit.

It has demonstrated the important and leading role that the UK continues to play in the world, whether it is increasing the prosperity of our citizens or tackling the issues that threaten our security.

This is my first visit to China and I would like to thank the Chinese government and the people of Hangzhou for welcoming us here and for hosting a magnificent summit in this city.

I look forward to my talks with President Xi shortly. It will be an opportunity to discuss how we can take forward the golden era of relations between our 2 countries and build a strong economic and global partnership that works in the interests of both our countries.

Thank you.


In that room, most of the G20 leaders would appear to think it would be a good idea for Britain to stay in the single market. Perhaps President Putin is the exception there. Do you accept there is a trade-off between going for the single market and going for immigration controIs – is it one of the big worries of your new job that you might harm the economy by satisfying voters’ urges to control immigration?

Prime Minister

What we will be doing is working for the best deal for the United Kingdom. Yes, the voters’ message on the 23 June was clearly that they didn’t want to see free movement continuing as it has done up till now. They wanted some control in movement of people from the European Union into the United Kingdom. But we also want to get the best deal possible for trade in goods and services with the EU, and I intend to go out there and be ambitious, and I think there is a benefit not just for the United Kingdom of a good deal in trade in goods and services, but a benefit for Europe as well.


Obviously, you’ve been saying Brexit means Brexit since the leadership campaign, but clearly some world leaders here wanted a bit more in terms of predictability for their businesses, their industries. Obviously, there is that 15 page memo from the Japanese. Can you address any of their specific worries? Just take one – the car industries worrying about double tariffs on imported parts and exported cars? Can you address any of those worries that could have a long term impact on certainty in Britain’s economy?

Prime Minister

The reason I’ve been saying Brexit means Brexit is precisely because it does, and to be very clear that we are going to deliver on the wishes of the British people. And we will respect the vote that took place on the 23 June. But what I found pleasing and very useful in the discussions I’ve had, particularly the bilaterals with a number of world leaders, is their willingness to talk to us about opening up trade arrangements between the United Kingdom and a number of other countries. I listed a few of those countries in the statement that I made earlier. I’ve spoken specifically with Prime Minister Abe about the issue of Japanese businesses, and we were both very clear that we would be working together to ensure that we can maintain and build on our relationship. And if you just think about it, the single biggest vote of confidence we’ve had in the UK in terms of inward investment since the referendum was from a Japanese company, from SoftBank and its £24 billion proposal to buy ARM.


During the referendum campaign, the Remain side was deeply concerned that if we left the EU, our clout in summits like this would be very much reduced. Has that been your experience? You’ve also said that you firmly rule out a points-based system for controlling immigration. You’re being accused of going soft on the ambition that you have to control immigration. Is that right?

Prime Minister

No. If I take the 2 points of the question that you asked, first of all the question of the UK’s role in summits like this. There has been no change, and what was very pleasing actually, I found, at this summit, was some of the themes that I was raising about the issues around anti-globalisation, the need to show that we had a global economy that worked for everyone, were themes that were then echoed by other leaders around the summit. So the UK is here and playing our full role as we always have done, and will continue to do.

Now, let me address the issue of a points-based system. What the British people voted for on the 23 June was to bring some control into the movement of people from the European Union into the UK. A points-based system does not give you that control. If I could perhaps just illustrate first of all with an anecdote: within the first year of becoming Home Secretary, David Cameron and I went to Heathrow, and we talked to Border Force officers there and we said to them, ‘What’s the most important thing that we can focus on?’ and they said, ‘Well, you need to look at the issue of students who come here, who appear to have met the criteria. They don’t speak English, they don’t know which institution they’re going to, and they don’t know what course it is they’re doing.’ And so the system’s being abused. But because they met the criteria, they were automatically allowed in. And that’s the problem with the points-based system. I want a system where the government is able to decide who comes into the country. I think that’s what the British people want. A points-based system means that people come in automatically if they just meet the criteria.


Two things. There have been warnings – the Japanese government have put on the table the chance of Nissan, of Honda, of Toyota, the possibility that they might go to other European countries if we get Brexit wrong. There’s been quite a lot of loose talk, but can you be you be absolutely categorical that nobody in those factories will lose their jobs because of Brexit?

And secondly, why and how should President Xi trust you, given that you are not going to tell him the direction of the relationships in Britain and China because you are not going to tell him what you are going to do on Hinkley Point, which will determine the way that our relationship unfolds? Given that you’re withholding that, why should he spend time talking to you when the biggest uncertainty is not going to be resolved in the room?

Prime Minister

Well, first of all, on the first point, as I’ve said earlier, I think what I have found good about the discussions I’ve had with a number of world leaders, including – as I’ve just referenced – discussions I had with Prime Minister Abe, is the willingness of other countries to talk to the UK about future trade arrangements, and the confidence that they have in the United Kingdom. And as I have just said in answer to a previous question, if you look at that biggest vote of confidence in terms of inward investment into the UK since the referendum vote, it came from a Japanese corporation; it came from SoftBank through the takeover of ARM. So I’m confident – and others have been confident – about the relationship that we can build with them.

And talking about relationships, you raised the question of the relationship between the UK and China. And I’ve been clear that a decision about Hinkley will be taken later this month. But our relationship with China is about more than Hinkley, and if you look at the investment that there has been from China in various other parts of the United Kingdom and other infrastructure and so forth in the UK, we have built a global strategic partnership with China. I’ve been clear we will be continuing that global strategic partnership with China. It is a golden era of the relationships between China and the UK and I will have an opportunity later this evening to take forward those discussions.


If European immigration is not to be controlled by a points-based system, more than 2 months after the referendum, can you give our audience any idea of what you might actually propose?

And given that you were Home Secretary when immigration climbed to record levels, why should people trust you to be the leader to cut it back?

Prime Minister

Well, first of all on the first point in terms of how we would actually achieve it, as I said, what the British people want to see is an element of control. There are various ways in which you can do that, but of course the work that we’re doing at the moment across government is about looking at the sort of relationship that we want to negotiate with the European Union. Part of that is about the sort of trade arrangements, part of it is about the sort of issues we want to deal with in relation to free movement. So we will be coming forward in due course with those proposals.

And in terms of the immigration numbers, I might point out to you that as Home Secretary, of course, we did start getting the numbers down. They have subsequently risen. What we have done is, and what you always have to do in the immigration arena and what the new Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, is doing, is look across all the forms of immigration, ensure that you’re dealing with any potential abuse in the system. Dealing with immigration is not a one-off action that you take, it’s something that you constantly have to be looking at. What we will now have an ability to do, of course, which we haven’t had before, is when we come out of the EU, we will be able to have some control on movement of people coming from the EU into the UK, which of course was the one element over which we weren’t able to have control before.


I think Malcolm Turnbull has talked about the need to civilise capitalism. I know this is your first summit, but I just wondered if you thought there was a sense around the table that this was the moment when the world elite finally got people’s concerns about the way that capitalism and globalisation is going. And specifically, was there any agreement to your proposals to curb excessive executive pay?

Prime Minister

Well, first of all, I said earlier that I had been pleased to see echoes of what I was saying from the UK point of view from other leaders around the table. And this is exactly the sort of area where that was happening. This concept of anti-globalisation; the feeling for some people that globalisation has left them behind, which is why I think we need to develop not just in our terms in the UK a country that works from everyone, including an economy that works for everyone; we need to – internationally – make sure that the global economy works for everyone, and within that, that everybody recognises the benefits that free trade can bring.

And yes, I did find interest from a number of people, including from Malcolm Turnbull, in what we were saying about corporate irresponsibility, and how we might look at dealing with it. As I’ve said, we will be consulting in the autumn on proposals on a number of issues around corporate responsibility and irresponsibility, and issues like excessive corporate pay will be one of those issues that we will be consulting on.


The MPs’ code of conduct states that MPs should behave with probity and integrity at all times. I’m sure you’ve seen a recent story in the papers on Keith Vaz. Are you concerned that he is falling short of those standards?

Prime Minister

I have always been clear throughout my political career that I think what is important for people is that they feel that they’re able to have confidence in their politicians. And that’s what I think we all have a duty to provide for those who elect us. What Keith does is for Keith, and any decisions he wishes to make are for him. But I think that overall what people look for is confidence in their politicians.


I just wondered, with your talks over the last day or 2, if you’ve managed to form any further opinions on how quickly Britain will be able to leave the European Union and set up a brand new trading relationship with the world. Obviously, once you trigger Article 50, which you say you’ll do at the beginning of next year, there’s a very tight 2-year timeframe. Will you be able to do everything – broker the deal to leave the EU, tie up all these free trade deals with everyone else in that 2-year timeframe? Or do you now think we’re looking towards transitional arrangements for 5 years, longer, or something like that?

Prime Minister

Well, what I’ve said on triggering Article 50 is that I won’t be triggering it before the end of the year. I haven’t set a date when it is going to be triggered, but I’m conscious that for the British people, they will want to see us actually putting their decision into practice. And I think it’s right that we don’t trigger it before the end of the year, so that we can make some preparations and think through the sort of arrangements and relationship we want with the European Union.

And yes, you’re right, formally, once it’s triggered, there is a 2-year timeframe that the EU has set in its rules. I am optimistic having had these discussions around the table today – there is a genuine willingness, actually, to be working with us to develop these other trade arrangements and, indeed, obviously, from the discussions I had earlier in the summer with a number of my European colleagues, I’ve seen a willingness for us to try to ensure that the process that we go through is as smooth as possible, that we end up with the best deal for the UK. I think actually that will also be a good deal for Europe. And we will be working hard.

And as you know, I’ve helped this work by setting up an entire government department, the Department for Exiting from the European Union, which is focused on that part of the process, and the Department of International Trade, which is another new department, which will be doing, if you like, the other side of the coin, which is out there talking to a number of countries about the trade arrangements that we can put in place with them. And as I said, I’m pleased to say that a number of countries have already said to me they’re very keen to be talking to the United Kingdom about such trade arrangements.

Published 5 September 2016