PM speech to the Lord Mayor's Banquet: 14 November 2016
At the Lord Mayor's Banquet, Prime Minister Theresa May laid out her plan for how Britain can lead in the transformed modern world.
My Lord Mayor, My Late Lord Mayor, Your Grace, My Lord Chancellor, Your Excellencies, My Lords, Aldermen, Sheriffs, Chief Commoner, ladies and gentlemen.
We meet tonight in a world transformed. A year ago, few among us would have predicted the events ahead.
A clear, determined decision to leave the European Union and forge a bold, new, confident future for ourselves in the world.
And, of course, a new President-elect in the US who defied the polls and the pundits all the way up to election day itself.
Change is in the air. And when people demand change, it is the job of politicians to respond.
But it’s also the job of all those in positions of influence and power – politicians, business leaders and others – to understand the drivers of that demand too.
And I think that if we take a step back and look at the world around us, one of the most important drivers becomes clear – the forces of liberalism and globalisation which have held sway in Britain, America and across the Western world for years have left too many people behind.
Let’s be clear: those forces have had – and continue to have – an overwhelmingly positive impact on our world.
Liberalism and globalisation have delivered unprecedented levels of wealth and opportunity. They have lifted millions out of poverty around the world. They have brought nations closer together, broken down barriers and improved standards of living and consumer choice. And they underpin the rules-based international system that is key to global prosperity and security and which I am clear we must protect and seek to strengthen.
But we can’t deny – as I know you recognise – that there have been downsides to globalisation in recent years, and that – in our zeal and enthusiasm to promote this agenda as the answer to all our ills – we have on occasion overlooked the impact on those closer to home who see these forces in a different light.
These people – often those on modest to low incomes living in rich countries like our own – see their jobs being outsourced and wages undercut. They see their communities changing around them and don’t remember agreeing to that change.
They see the emergence of a new global elite who sometimes seem to play by a different set of rules and whose lives are far removed from their everyday existence. And the tensions and differences between those who are gaining from globalisation and those who feel they are losing out have been exposed ever more starkly through the growth of social media.
So if we are to continue to make the case for liberalism and globalisation, as we must, we have also to face up to and respond to these concerns.
If we believe, as I do, that liberalism and globalisation continue to offer the best future for our world, we must deal with the downsides and show that we can make these twin forces work for everyone.
Because when you refuse to accept that globalisation in its current form has left too many people behind, you’re not sowing the seeds for its growth but for its ruin.
When you fail to see that the liberal consensus that has held sway for decades has failed to maintain the consent of many people, you’re not the champion of liberalism but the enemy of it.
When you dismiss the very real and deeply felt concerns of ordinary people, whether here at home or abroad, you are not acting to defend your world view but to undermine it.
And there is no contradiction between embracing globalisation, and saying it has to be managed to work for everyone.
Indeed, as anti-globalisation sentiment grows, it is incumbent on those of us in positions of leadership to respond: to make sense of the changing world around us and to shape a new approach that preserves the best of what works, and evolves and adapts what does not.
That is the true mark of leadership. Not standing inflexibly, refusing to change and still fighting the battles of the past, but adapting to the moment, evolving our thinking and seizing the opportunities ahead.
That is the kind of leadership we need today. And I believe that it is Britain’s historic global opportunity to provide it.
So often over our long history, this country has set the template for others to follow. We have so often been the pioneer – the outrider – that has acted to usher in a new idea or approach.
And we have that same opportunity today.
To show the world that we can be the strongest global advocate for free markets and free trade because we believe they are the best way to lift people out of poverty but that we can also do much more to ensure the prosperity they provide is shared by all.
To demonstrate that we can be the strongest global advocate for the role businesses play in creating jobs, generating wealth and supporting a strong economy and society but that we can also recognise that when a minority of businesses and business figures appear to game the system and work to a different set of rules, the social contract between businesses and society fails – and the reputation of business as a whole is undermined.
To show that our departure from the European Union is not – as some people have wrongly argued – Britain stepping back from the world, but an example of how a free, flexible, ambitious country can step up to a new global role in which, alongside the traditional trading blocs, agile nation states like Britain can trade freely with others according to what’s in their own best interests and those of their people.
This is a new direction – a new approach to managing the forces of globalisation so that they work for all – and it is the course on which the government I lead has embarked.
Free markets and free trade
For over 6 centuries this very banquet has celebrated the pioneering brilliance of our nation as a global champion of free trade.
Now, as we leave the European Union, I believe we can show the way forward again.
First, for as long as we are members of the EU, we will continue to lead the way in pressing for an ambitious EU trade agenda, just as we have done in supporting the very welcome recent EU-Canada deal.
Second, as we leave the European Union, we will also use the strength and size of our economy to lead the way in getting out into the world and doing new business with old allies and new partners alike. We will use the freedoms that come from negotiating with partners directly, to be flexible, to set our own rules and forge new and dynamic trading agreements that work for the whole UK.
That is also why, in our negotiations on leaving the European Union, we are not trying to replicate the deal that any other country has with the EU. And we are not going for an off-the-shelf solution.
All of us here tonight know that there is not some choice between hard Brexit and soft Brexit. 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.
But third, to be the true global champion of free trade in this new modern world, we also need to do something to help those families and communities who can lose out from it.
So government cannot afford to take a hands-off approach. We have to act to ensure that the prosperity delivered by free trade and free markets is shared by all.
That is why in Britain we are developing a new industrial strategy that will seek to ensure working people in every part of the country can really benefit from the opportunities that trade brings.
There are people with great new businesses, and brilliant new inventions in every part of this country. Huge untapped potential.
So our new modern industrial strategy will back the strengths of every area: their great universities; their clusters of dynamic businesses; their fast growing start-ups, so that all parts of our country and all parts of our society see the benefits of growth.
This won’t be about propping up failing industries or picking winners – that is the job of competition and free markets. It will be about getting Britain firing on all cylinders again by creating the conditions where winners can emerge and grow, across all sectors, in all parts of the country and for the benefit of all.
And I believe this can be a template that other nations can follow.
As I argued at my first G20 summit earlier this year, we need every nation – developed and developing – to ensure that the benefits of trade are fairly shared. This will not just be good for them; it will enhance our own prosperity too. And it will be fundamental in maintaining global support for the free trade and open markets that we believe in.
The role of business
So there is a clear role for governments. But businesses have an important role to play in this new future too.
If you listen to some of my political opponents, you would be forgiven for thinking that business is part of the problem. I am clear that for a global Britain to thrive in a global economy, business is part of the solution.
The economic recovery since the financial crisis almost a decade ago has shown what business can achieve, with a record number of people in work and more businesses than ever.
And business is also at the forefront of driving social change around the world, as I saw first-hand on my visit to India last week, with British businesses like Kano using technology to teach children to code; and Oxford Nanopore, specialists in gene sequencing, whose work could help dramatically reduce the costs involved in screening illnesses in India.
So the government I lead is unequivocally and unashamedly pro-business.
We will not duck the big decisions on which your success depends, whether it’s High Speed 2, Hinkley Point or Heathrow.
We will ensure confidence and stability in our economy by continuing to cut the deficit – and together with the work of our independent Bank of England – support new opportunities for business to create jobs.
We will do everything we can to make the UK outside the EU the most attractive place for businesses to invest and grow.
Already by showing our commitment to the UK’s future competitiveness, we have secured a new deal with Nissan in the north-east and a ground-breaking agreement with America that Wales will not just be the European hub, but rather a global hub for maintaining, repairing, overhauling and upgrading the F35 fighter aircraft.
And, as I have said, through our industrial strategy we will pro-actively support the industries of the future, as well as those like financial services, where we already have a world leading competitive advantage.
And we will rebalance the economy across sectors and geographical areas in order to spread wealth and prosperity around the country.
But in return, it is right to ask business to play its part in ensuring we build a country that works for everyone.
And that British business, which is so often on the frontline of our engagement with the world and whose actions so often project our values in the world, is seen not just to do business but to do that business in the right way.
I know many of you in this room recognise this responsibility, but others have voiced their suspicion of what they see as a growing anti-business agenda. I don’t agree. It is because I believe so passionately in business that I say this. Asking business to work with government to play its part is profoundly pro-business, because it is fundamental to retaining faith in capitalism and free markets.
And again it is Britain – and specifically many of you here in this room tonight – who can lead the way in the world.
The great history of our livery companies stems from the fundamental principle that business is not just there to benefit business itself, but also to advance the common good.
Since the 12th century, the guilds and livery companies have not only promoted trade and business, but also training and skills, research and innovation. They led by example, developing the simplest and best form of corporate governance there has ever been: ‘my word is my bond’.
They built almshouses for members in sickness and old age, and continue to take a lead in broader charitable programmes – giving over £48 million to charitable causes last year alone.
How different their ethos is from that small minority who believe they can operate by a different set of rules, and who recklessly damage the entire business community in the process.
Together we can forge a modern version of the responsible approach to business that has been championed by our livery companies for generations.
And in doing so, we can preserve and celebrate the power of business to create jobs and prosperity for us all.
So at this moment of change, we must respond with calm, determined, global leadership to shape a new era of globalisation that genuinely works for all.
We should be confident about our ability to do so.
Because British leadership is already playing a pivotal role in meeting so many of the global challenges that affect our security and prosperity.
It is Britain that is in the vanguard of the fight against global terrorism, working across borders to disrupt the networks terrorists use to finance their operations and recruit to their ranks – and which just 2 months ago secured a first ever UN Security Council Resolution on aviation security.
It is Britain that is the only country in the G20 to meet its commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence and 0.7% of gross national income on overseas development, driving forward the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals to eradicate absolute poverty by the end of the next decade.
It is Britain that is a leading member of the coalition supporting Iraq to defeat the scourge of Daesh; that has agreed to send 800 troops to Estonia as part of NATO’s presence in eastern Europe; that is supporting Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram; and that is reinforcing its commitment to peacekeeping forces in South Sudan, Somalia and Kosovo.
And it is Britain that is leading the way in pioneering international efforts to crack down on modern slavery wherever it is found.
Time and again, it is British leadership – British hard and soft power – that is at the forefront of how the world responds to the greatest challenges of our time.
So I stand here confident that in facing these new challenges, once again, Britain can lead.
That together, we can shape a new approach to globalisation to enhance the prosperity of not just some of our citizens, but all of our citizens.
That together, by meeting this national moment with a truly national effort, we unite our whole country by making the UK a country that works for everyone.
That together, we can rise to this moment and seize this great global opportunity of our time, to provide the leadership that will ensure the prosperity of your businesses, the success of our country, and the future of the world we want to leave for our children.
So let us seize the moment. And let us do so together.