My Lords, last year I voted for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union because I believed we should control our own destiny. First and foremost, we should be able to do business with whomsoever we wish. Exiting the EU means that we can now realise a greater economic potential.
The United Kingdom has a long and rich history as a successful trading nation—long before the concept of the EU was ever envisaged. In the 17th and 18th centuries, we started actively to send merchant ships to different parts of the world. Companies such as the East India Company were established. In fact, the East India Company at one time controlled half the world’s trade. In the 19th century, our manufactured goods dominated world trade. We became the so-called workshop of the world. Our success led to us becoming the world’s first modern industrialised nation. It is in our blood to innovate and to export this innovation globally. Such enterprising spirit is a part of our heritage which can now be released, no longer restrained by outside directives and burdensome regulations.
During the last 18 months, I have visited four overseas countries—Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Sudan. Wherever I go, I find that we are well respected and that there is an appetite for building closer ties with us, both economically and politically. For example, in Kazakhstan, the English language will be used in the Astana international financial centre and, furthermore, English law will apply. With regard to central Asia, I am hosting a conference in March where we will be discussing trade links with Kyrgyzstan. I urge the Government to establish trade ties with Sudan, following the lifting of sanctions previously applied by the USA. I have connections with African countries such as Uganda and I can assure your Lordships that there is appetite in the region to do more business with us. I know a number of ambassadors and high commissioners who also give me the same message. It is liberating to know that we will now be truly free to make policy decisions, relating to all these countries and others, for ourselves.
Trading relationships define friendship and co-operation between countries. They are a part of a nation’s character. It is, therefore, so important that we build them for ourselves, rather than as a component part of the European block. Not least, we should be seeking to revitalise our trading links with other Commonwealth countries. The importance of the Commonwealth in world trade has grown significantly in recent years. During the last 20 years, the combined GDP of Commonwealth countries has doubled. They include a third of the world’s population and two key BRICS emerging markets—India and South Africa.
I believe that our wider ties with the Commonwealth have suffered as a result of the overwhelming imposition of our membership of the European Union. We have been forced to present ourselves primarily as an EU nation. I now look forward to strengthening relationships with countries, based on our deep historic roots, shared values, mutual respect and common language.
We also have a great deal to offer the world in the field of Islamic financial services. The United Kingdom has the largest Islamic finance industry outside the Muslim world, with assets now exceeding $20 billion. We have a vast number of highly skilled accountants and lawyers, including the largest legal services market in Europe. They are ready to promote and supply our Islamic finance expertise and other financial services to the world.
We must be bold and ambitious in seeking new trade agreements. I applaud the formation of the new Department for International Trade and will support it in every way that I can. Aside from new trade opportunities, leaving the EU will allow us to regain full control of our borders. This is an important principle of our national sovereignty and public confidence. If our border policy is seen to have integrity, people may become less hostile to immigration. In addition, there would perhaps be more incentive to integrate following a proper process of migration, rather than having an open border.
I hope that we can also increase our educational links with academic institutions overseas. Much like trade, these relationships help to build bridges between nations, and exchange knowledge and learning without the need for centrally imposed bureaucracy.
I have a long-standing connection with the City of London and can confidently say that the City will flourish after Brexit as long as it develops a global gaze. We must be firm in our plans and invoke Article 50. I feel that we should avoid uncertainty—any hesitation will have adverse consequences. The will of the people must prevail.