In a special address at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, said that Britain would stand up for free markets, free trade and globalization, and would work to ensure that they work for everyone.
“Forces that underpin the rules-based international system that is key to global security are somehow at risk of being undermined,” she warned. “The sense among the public is that mainstream political leaders have failed to hear their concerns for too long.” The Brexit, Britain’s decision by referendum last year to leave the European Union, was the outcome of this failure, May explained. The British “chose to build a truly global Britain,” she reckoned. “It means that Britain must face up to a period of momentous change. The UK will step up to a new leadership role.”
Britain will become even more global and internationalist, May asserted. It is not turning its back on Europe. “We are a European country and proud of our European heritage, but we are also a country that has always looked beyond Europe. I want the UK to emerge from this period of change as a truly global Britain, a country that goes out into the world. We are going to be a confident country that is in control of its own destiny once again.” This new global role will not compromise Britain’s identity, May argued. “A global Britain is no less British because we are a hub for foreign investment.” Britain will continue to promote international cooperation wherever it can, she said, noting that she has convened a panel at the Annual Meeting this year to address slavery.
In building this global Britain, “we have to take the people with us,” May said, recognizing that “talk of greater globalization can make people fearful.” She added: “We must never forget that our first responsibility as governments is to serve the people. We need to do more to respond to the concerns of people who feel that the modern world has left them behind.”
To win the trust of the people will require new approaches by government and business, May explained. Businesses will have to show that they are playing by the same rules as everybody else. She said she welcomes The Compact for Responsive and Responsible Leadership, sponsored by the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum. The compact aims to create a corporate governance framework with a focus on the long-term sustainability of corporations and the long-term goals of society.
Governments may have to adopt industry strategies to make markets, trade and globalization more fair and inclusive, with the benefits widely shared, the prime minister stressed. “I am determined to stand up for free markets, free trade and globalization” and “to use this moment to provide responsive and responsible leadership to bring the benefits of free trade to every corner of the world.” She concluded: “We must step up and take control to make sure that free trade and globalization work for everyone.”