Watch the press conference.
Prime Minister Theresa May
I am delighted to welcome Prime Minister English to Downing Street so soon after he has taken office.
The UK and New Zealand have long been close friends and firm allies. And our strong ties are rooted in our shared values and a deep history.
For over a hundred years, our men and women have stood together to defend our freedoms and way of life – from Gallipoli, the Somme and Passchendaele to Sir Keith Park’s leadership in the Battle of Britain.
As the UK leaves the EU and forges a new role in the world, we want to strengthen relations with partners like New Zealand.
So today we have talked about Brexit and the opportunity it presents to deepen our bilateral ties – increasing our trade relationship and continuing our close security co-operation.
I’d like to say a few words on each.
First, on Brexit. I have updated the Prime Minister on the work we are doing to prepare for leaving the EU.
We will trigger Article 50 before the end of March. And next week I will set out more on our objectives for those negotiations – how we will work to get the right deal for Britain and embark on a new constructive partnership with the European Union that makes sense for us all.
Trade and investment
We have also talked about trade. Our 2 countries enjoy a strong and growing trading relationship, worth over £3 billion last year.
The UK is New Zealand’s fifth largest bilateral trading partner. And we are the second largest foreign investor there.
As 2 island nations, we know that trade is essential to the prosperity of our countries. And so it is natural that we share a firm, deep-rooted belief in the power of free trade and open markets to drive economic progress, and the importance of ensuring the benefits of growth are shared widely and fairly.
While the UK remains in the EU, we will work together to support an EU-New Zealand trade deal and we will also look to the future and how we can expand our trade and investment partnership.
Through our new bilateral trade dialogue, we will push for greater global trade liberalisation and reform, share expertise and identify ways to strengthen our own trading relationship. And the International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, will visit New Zealand in the coming months to launch these important talks.
In the longer term, we agree on the potential for a bold new UK-New Zealand free trade agreement, and I look forward to starting early discussions on this in due course.
Security and defence
We have also talked about the different threats our countries face and how we can work together to keep our people safe.
At the UN Security Council, our countries have stood together – securing a landmark resolution on aviation security which is galvanising international action to improve protections at airports around the world and to focus support on countries vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
On Syria, we welcome the fragile ceasefire agreed last month. It is vital that Russia and Turkey use their influence to ensure the ceasefire is fully implemented and so create the right conditions for talks in Astana later this month.
We support these efforts to return to negotiations because the only way to end this terrible conflict is to achieve transition to a genuine and inclusive political settlement.
We have also discussed our joint efforts to tackle global threats, including through our intelligence sharing under the Five Eyes alliance.
Finally, as committed members of the Commonwealth, we will support efforts to reinvigorate the organisation.
The UK is looking forward to hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting next year, with an ambitious agenda to shape the organisation’s priorities in the years ahead and to strengthen its core values of democracy, peace and prosperity for all people.
And to conclude, we have had an excellent first meeting today.
We may be many miles apart in our geography, but our countries are side by side in our values, and I look forward to working closely with Prime Minister English in the years ahead to strengthen the ties we share.
Prime Minister Bill English
Well, thank you Prime Minister May, it’s been a real pleasure to meet with you today. As you have said, there are few countries that have such a shared history as ours in trade and culture and war and peace. And a relationship that has continuously adapted through our respective evolving positions in the world.
We are natural partners, particularly with respect to our history and values and we’re learning I think not to take this for granted in an uncertain and changing international environment. In fact, these partnerships are more important than ever.
Our relationship will remain strong once the UK leaves the European Union and we’ll continue to forge our ties. We are here to work with both the UK and the EU and we’re ready to negotiate a high quality free trade agreement with the UK when it is in a position to do so.
We already have a strong and diversified trading relationship with the UK, and a free trade agreement will build on that. We will seek a comprehensive and high quality trade agreement, because we know the benefits that free trade delivers. It helps create jobs, to raise incomes, and delivers prosperity and opportunity at the level that New Zealanders and Britons deserve. Because we understand those benefits, and in New Zealand we have seen them develop consistently over the last 20 or 30 years. Alongside the UK, we will continue to make the case for trade liberalisation in a world where there is a risk that it increasingly turns inward.
Prime Minister May and I also discussed today the UK’s planned departure from the European Union. I must say I’m impressed by the sheer size and complexity of the task, and the clarity and determination the Prime Minister is bringing to it.
I reiterated New Zealand’s commitment to working constructively with the UK and the EU through this process. We want to acknowledge the way in which the UK government has communicated with countries such as ours over the last 6 months or so, in order to create as much certainty as is possible in the environment of negotiating the exit.
I was also grateful for Prime Minister May’s insights on the security challenges that we face together, including our joint contributions to the fight against terror, and the battle against ISIL.
Finally, we discussed a range of areas where the UK and New Zealand have shared policy interests. Probably few countries have a longer tradition of poaching each other’s best policy ideas. This includes Prime Minister May’s vision of the shared society, and alongside that, our own social investment approach we’re implementing in New Zealand. We agreed we must ensure the benefits of growth are widely shared to ensure a just and equal society, where no one is left behind, and to ensure that government support for people and particularly the most vulnerable is effective, particularly when budgets are tight.
So, Prime Minister May, thanks again for the warm welcome. It’s a pleasure to meet you, to discuss a wide range of issues with you, and we very much look forward to continuing to work closely in this dynamic relationship.
Question for Prime Minister May first, on the NHS, if I may? Four in 10 hospitals now say in the last week in England that they are on major alert status, and we’ve seen Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers say, we can no longer deliver everything that’s been asked of the NHS. So is the NHS in crisis? And a quick question for Prime Minister English, how soon do you think after Brexit can New Zealand negotiate a free trade deal with the UK?
Prime Minister May
Well, on the first question that you’ve asked about the NHS, I recognise and we’ve acknowledged that the NHS is under pressure. We always see increased pressures in the NHS over winter periods, that’s why in preparing for the winter period this time, £400 million was put in to ensure that winter preparedness. But of course, what we’ve seen is, on the Tuesday after Christmas, the busiest day for our hospitals and the hard work of medical professionals up and down the NHS in providing the vital service that people need. So, the NHS is under pressure, but I’d like to say thank you and recognise the huge amount of work that is being done by medical professionals.
Prime Minister English
With respect to the trade agreement, we would hope that we could negotiate as soon as possible after the exit’s completed. If the UK want to demonstrate that they can negotiate a high quality trade agreement, then New Zealand is the ideal partner for that.
Why is New Zealand favoured as one of the first countries to negotiate a free trade agreement? And how comprehensive would you like that to be?
Prime Minister May
Well, I think from my point of view, New Zealand is an important country for us precisely because of the historic ties that we share, the shared values that we have, the shared belief in free trade that we have. As I said in my remarks earlier, as 2 island nations, we recognise the importance of trade in bringing prosperity to our economies. But I think that we both also recognise the importance once you do that of ensuring that prosperity can be spread across the economy. So, I think it’s natural that we would look to a partner like New Zealand and of course we will be negotiating a free trade agreement but we will be looking to get the agreement that is going to work for both sides.
Can I ask you both how straightforward do you think a free trade deal will be to conclude? And on events in the US, if I can, Prime Minister May, can you reassure the public that neither the British government, nor any of its agencies had any role in producing or distributing this dossier we’ve been reading about this week?
Prime Minister May
Well, first of all, if I can come on to the free trade and just address the second issue that you raised. And you know it’s a long standing position that we don’t comment on such matters but I think from everything that you will have seen, it is absolutely clear that the individual who produced this dossier has not worked for the UK government for years.
On the question of trade, I think precisely because we both value free trade, because we have those shared values, I hope that it will be possible for us to conclude an agreement with New Zealand certainly in a reasonable space of time. And of course, you know the legal position that we can’t formally sign up to free trade agreements while we remain a member of the European Union but as I indicated earlier, we are already starting discussions with New Zealand and Liam Fox will be visiting New Zealand and a dialogue has started to see how we can scope out the work that needs to be done.
First, Prime Minister May, under your watch, the UK has incrementally clamped down on New Zealanders’ rights living in the United Kingdom. How do you justify the chipping away of Kiwi rights? And to both, is there any chance of a Commonwealth free trade area that could include freedom of movement?
Prime Minister May
Well, on the question of visas, we welcome the brightest and best to the United Kingdom. I think the figure shows that something like 97% of visa applications from New Zealand are actually granted. There are a number of avenues in which New Zealanders are able to come here, including, for example, the youth mobility scheme that is available to New Zealanders, and so we welcome the brightest and best to come to the UK. But I think it’s also important here in the UK that we do ensure that we have that control. We want to see net migration coming down because of the impact that we feel that it has on people here in the UK.
And more on the question of the Commonwealth free trade area?
Prime Minister English
Look, I think that’s a fairly adventurous idea. We would be focusing in the first place on an agreement with the UK and I think what we can bring to that is the commitment to the values and principles of open trade, but also a pretty wide range of experience. You know, New Zealand has a lot of experience that’s relevant with the UK, for instance in our close economic integration with Australia, but it’s not a customs union, and also the range of other agreements we’ve been part of, including, more recently, a long negotiation for the TPP. So we’d come to the table as an experienced trader but also experienced in the understanding of what can work for the particular circumstances of the UK.