London: Prime Minister Theresa May called on business leaders on Monday to help her government win back Britons disillusioned with liberal elites and globalisation by forging an economy that “works for everyone”.
Describing the election of real estate magnate Donald Trump as US president and Britain’s vote to leave the EU as proof that “change is in the air”, May said Britain should not shy away from making the case for globalisation.
Instead, government and business must show the benefits of global trade and liberalism can be shared more widely, creating jobs by pressing on with her “new industrial strategy” but also by encouraging companies to help communities, she said.
“So at this moment of change, we must respond with calm, determined, global leadership to shape a new era of globalisation that works for all,” she said in a speech at the Guildhall in the City of London financial district.
“I stand here confident that in facing these new challenges, once again, Britain can lead.”
Many Western leaders have been rattled by the Brexit vote and Trump’s election victory, fearing that they might also be brought low by growing dissatisfaction with the ruling elites.
Since Britain’s vote to leave the EU in June propelled May into leadership, the former interior minister has said she will deliver Brexit and address the fears of some British voters over high levels of immigration.
That has spurred fears she may be heading for a “hard Brexit” or clean break with the EU’s single market of 500 million consumers. On Monday, May again said there was no binary choice.
“All of us here tonight know that there is not some choice between hard Brexit and soft Brexit,” she said.
“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.”
She also said while she wanted Britain to be “the true global champion of free trade in this new modern world”, she also wanted to ensure that all Britons profited from it.
A new industrial strategy, she said, would target strengths across the British economy, whether they are universities, start-ups or dynamic businesses, rather than “propping up failing industries or picking winners”.
She also told the audience the government will be “unashamedly pro-business” as it leaves the EU, but also that companies must also act responsibly – part of plans to improve corporate behaviour.
“The government I lead is unequivocally and unashamedly pro-business … We will do everything we can to make the UK outside the EU the most attractive place for businesses to invest and grow,” May said.
“But in return, it is right to ask business to play its part in ensuring we build a country that works for everyone.”