My right hon. Friend interjected at just the right point, because I was about to talk about the importance of trade and co-operation with all of Her Majesty’s realms, of which there are 15 apart from the United Kingdom, but he will also not be surprised to hear me referring to the 21 cherished British overseas territories and Crown dependencies, which are part of our wider British family in what I would describe as an all-encompassing Britannic Kingdom; from the Falkland Islands to the Isle of Man, from Bermuda to the Pitcairn Islands, the British family stretches far and wide and all are part of our global family which we must defend and cherish, and include in any future free trade agreements.
Over the coming years, our nation, our Government and our people must work tirelessly to bring about this transformation, putting Britain back where we belong, as a global free-trading nation, to create the wealth and prosperity we need to make our nation stronger and to give our people the best chances and opportunities for the future. Getting this right will not be plain sailing—we understand that—but with ambition, determination and the kind of leadership demonstrated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister we will be able to revitalise our foreign policy and put the UK firmly back on the world stage.
That is a far cry from the days when British embassies were being shut down across the world—I remember that in the 1990s and during the period of Mr Blair’s premiership—only to be replaced by EU external action missions, and when British Foreign Secretaries stopped visiting our closest friends like Australia and New Zealand, and when the Commonwealth was sidelined by the then Government. And—I make no apologies for referring to this—in that period our overseas territories were shamefully treated as bargaining chips in EU negotiations, as happened with the Labour Government’s attempted joint sovereignty proposals over Gibraltar with Madrid in 2002. What a shameful action and betrayal of the people of Gibraltar that was; what a sad period that was for British foreign policy. It felt like we were in retreat—well, not anymore.
Our Prime Minister, just like his magnificent and courageous predecessor Margaret Thatcher, will reinvigorate our international relations and Britain’s standing in the world. After three years of muddle caused by a Parliament that refused to accept the democratic will of the nation, not before time we now have the leadership we need to take Britain forward.
Britain is a great nation—a founding member of the UN and a permanent member of the Security Council. We are the sixth largest economy in the world. We are a leading member of NATO and the Five Eyes security alliance, plus a range of other organisations, which I will not refer to now. Those who have sought to downplay Britain over the past few years were on the wrong side of history, and today we must all—yes, all of us—be proud to support a confident, independent foreign policy that reflects Britain’s true place in the world.
Our Prime Minister has already shown us just how much can be achieved if we demonstrate self-belief and confidence; as we approach the next stage of negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU we must have a clear and unflinching vision, and tough negotiators who will not crumble at the first hint of dissent from Brussels. That vision should look like a comprehensive free trade agreement, which ensures that Britain maintains its close economic relationship while never preventing us from diverging if we choose to do so. And leaving the EU must mean that we are completely free: the EU tentacles must be cut away fully so that we can make our own way in the world once again.
At the end of the day, we must all be prepared to walk away if, as happened before, the EU treat us not as an equal partner but as a supplicant; otherwise, as the last three years have shown, the EU will try to land us with a poor agreement or a bad deal, and nobody is willing to accept that now, least of all the British people, who voted overwhelmingly to get Brexit done and take Britain forward in a new direction. By taking a confident approach, setting out clear proposals and keeping the threat of no deal on the table, I believe our Prime Minister will secure a free trade agreement which will benefit both the United Kingdom and retain friendly co-operation with the nations of Europe.
But our foreign policy has to look beyond Europe. Though anchored to Europe by geography, Britain is unbounded in its global ambition, and we must engage our friends on a global scale. And what better way to develop global connections than by rebuilding our long-neglected ties with the Commonwealth, a diverse worldwide network of 53 countries, which together make up a third of the earth’s population. Our exit from the EU means that we can take full advantage of the economic opportunities of the Commonwealth. We can have our own independent trade policy and strike trade deals across the globe without being limited by the lengthy process of EU ratification. We can strike bilateral trade deals based on mutual benefit without handing over political powers which no proud sovereign nation should ever do.
Defence and security, the protection of our global environment and wildlife, climate change, tax evasion and immigration are all areas where Britain should take an active role in the Commonwealth and work together with our historical allies to form dynamic arrangements fit for the modern world.
As Britain exits the archaic protectionist structures of the European Union, it must once again reclaim its place as a global leader for free trade. Britain used to account for more than half the world’s trade and free trade is in our blood. We must make the development of free trade net networks a British Government priority once again, and I believe that under this Government we will.
Britain also retains huge soft power and influence across the globe, which we can use to our advantage. The English language is the language of the world, and our historic institutions, such as the monarchy and our parliamentary democracy, are universally recognised. The emerging markets in Latin America, the far east and Africa are places where Britain must be in the future. As one of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys representing the UK to Tanzania, I believe that these are vast markets that we can develop in the years ahead as we leave, rightly, the EU customs union. Those markets of the future present massive opportunities for British businesses to export goods and services, as well as the potential for lower prices for all our constituents and consumers across Britain. We must ensure that our new trade policy takes full advantage of the opportunities presented by Brexit, and that we get on with negotiating and striking new free trade agreements as quickly as possible, perhaps starting with the USA on
We are now in a post-Brexit age. The title of this debate, “Britain in the World”, serves as an effective reminder that Britain is now no longer just in Europe, but part of a much wider global community in the world. We must refocus how we think and act, to benefit from all the advantages of our new-found independence. That means our foreign policy must be about far more than our relationship with Europe. We must set out a truly global foreign policy from this day forth, with the Commonwealth and global free trade at its heart, underpinned by friendly co-operation between independent sovereign nations. The British people will expect nothing less.