As Benjamin Disraeli so astutely observed: “Change is constant…change is inevitable.” And I believe passionately that leaving the European Union presents Britain with the biggest opportunity for positive, lasting change in generations – the chance to fulfil our enormous potential as a truly global, outward-looking, independent, trading nation.
There are those who present Brexit as an excuse to turn ourselves inwards, away from Europe and a rapidly changing world. But that could not be further from my vision of what this historic opportunity represents for our country.
Far from turning away from the world, we want to engage with the international community even more fully, to have the freedom to forge our own path, building stronger economic ties across the globe.
And we will not be turning away from Europe, either. After all, the EU is our biggest single trading partner, and we want to build on this economic relationship. That is one of the reasons why we published our Future Relationship White Paper earlier this summer, which has since become known as the Chequers’ Plan.
That outlines what we believe our future relationship with the EU should look like, covering everything from financial services, goods and investment, through to a security partnership that builds on the excellent cooperation that we already enjoy with our European partners.
A second white paper, which we also published before the summer recess, outlines how we will translate the Withdrawal Agreement into UK domestic law, and I am looking forward to taking this through the House of Commons on behalf of the Government.
That paper sets out the detail of the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, which will legislate for the major elements of the Withdrawal Agreement, including protecting citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the time-limited Implementation Period.
The Bill will be brought forward only once the negotiations have concluded and Parliament has approved the final deal.
There is so much noise around Brexit, that I think it helps to take a step back and return to first principles in order to remind ourselves of the benefits it will bring.
When we leave the EU, on March 29th, 2019, we will have the freedom, for the first time in 40 years, to set our own independent trade policy. The UK will be able to negotiate, sign and ratify its own trade deals with countries outside the EU.
The importance of that cannot be overstated, and is one of the main reasons I campaigned to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.
As the EU itself has acknowledged, the global economy is changing at an astonishing rate, with emerging nations and regions providing much of the thrust behind international economic growth.
Those fast-growing economies are opening up lucrative domestic markets hungry for the high quality goods and services Britain excels in producing.
China, for example, went from being our 26th biggest export market in 1999 to our sixth largest in 2017 – with the value of this trade to the UK’s economy growing more than tenfold from £1.9 billion to £22.3 billion during that period.
Leaving the EU will give us the flexibility and nimbleness to fully embrace those markets, connecting tens-of-millions of new customers with the British goods and expertise they crave.
As the Prime Minister made clear during her recent visit to Africa, we have ambitious plans for developing closer economic ties with developing regions.
For example, in Cape Town, the Prime Minister confirmed plans to carry over the EU’s Economic Partnership Agreement with the Southern African Customs Union and Mozambique once the EU’s deal no longer applies to the UK. And she announced £4 billion in new British investment in African economies, as we work towards becoming the largest G7 investor in Africa by 2022.
The Government has also launched public consultations on trade agreements with countries including the US, Australia and New Zealand, and on potentially seeking accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, whose 11 members accounted for £82.5 billion of UK trade in 2016.
Our open economy is the number one destination for Foreign Direct Investment in Europe and international demand for our goods and services are booming.
So, I am confident and ambitious about our future as a prosperous trading nation – but this prosperity should be built upon the solid foundation of a deep and ambitious free trade agreement with the EU.
Our aim remains that we strike a deep and special partnership with the EU, and we remain confident that a good deal is now in sight. But it is right, as a responsible Government, that we continue to prepare for a range of potential outcomes.
That is why we are publishing a series of technical notices to set out what UK businesses and citizens will need to do in a no-deal scenario, ensuring they are as prepared as they can be.
But whatever the outcome of the negotiations, I believe Britain has a hugely exciting future ahead of us.