Theresa May – 2019 Speech on the Loyal Address

Below is the text of the speech made by Theresa May, the Conservative MP for Maidenhead, in the House of Commons on 19 December 2019.

Mr Speaker, may I first take this opportunity to congratulate you on your election as Speaker? I know that, in residing in that Chair, you will uphold the best traditions of the Speaker of the House of Commons. I also want to thank you for the work that you have done, and I know you will continue to do, in showing concern for the health and well-being, including the mental health, of Members of this House and staff across Parliament. Thank you for all that you have done here.

I have been in this House for over 22 years, and this is the largest number of Conservative Members of Parliament that I have seen. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the ​Prime Minister on leading our party to an overwhelming victory. One thing now is certain: the Lobby is going to be rather crowded. It will also be a rather welcome change to see all Conservative MPs going through the same Lobby. [Laughter.]

I hope my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I just reflect that this was the result that was supposed to happen in 2017. Of course, back then, people still thought the Labour party supported Brexit. Two years on, they saw that that was a sham, a pretence and a betrayal of millions of traditional Labour voters, and those voters have now elected Conservative Members of Parliament. This victory brings with it a huge responsibility, because they have put their trust in us and, as my right hon. Friend has said, we must work flat out to repay that trust—not just Ministers, but every single one of us. Of course, that means delivering Brexit. It means delivering our manifesto commitments on schools, the NHS and infrastructure, which is why the legislation and the commitments in the Queen’s Speech are so important. But it means more than that. It means building a country that truly works for everyone. That has always been the ambition of the Conservative party, because we are a party that is at its strongest when we appeal across the board to people regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, background, income or where they live. That is the true Conservative party.

We must deliver on Brexit and on our manifesto commitments, but we must go further. We must ensure that, in every decision we take in this House, we remember those communities that have lent us their vote. That means things like taking forward the modern industrial strategy, ensuring prosperity across the whole country, and I welcome the commitment in the Queen’s Speech to spend on science and on research and development.

It also means remembering those communities when we negotiate trade deals around the world, including with the European Union, because good trade deals will protect the jobs of those who have put their faith in us and, more than that, will bring good, new, better jobs to the UK. It is interesting to note that we have not yet had a reference in this debate to the fact that, under a Conservative Government, yet again, we have seen employment go up.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs May

No.

Good trade deals will protect the rights of workers and of those who have put their trust in us. I welcome the commitment in the Queen’s Speech to an employment Bill, which I trust will not only enshrine but enhance workers’ rights in this country. Good trade deals will also ensure that we maintain this country’s high standards in areas like the environment. The environment Bill will be a very important piece of legislation.

We need to deliver on all those issues, particularly for communities that have lent us their vote, because these are the communities that feel most left behind by globalisation. These are the communities that, all too often, have borne the brunt when rights and standards have not been protected. We have a very real job to do in delivering for those people who have put their trust in us.​

Of course, as we deliver Brexit and look ahead to the end of next year, we have to deliver a trade deal with the European Union by the end of December 2020. There are those who say it cannot be done, but I do not believe that. I have every confidence that it can be done, but we must do more than that because, by the end of December 2020, we have to agree and ratify a new treaty on security with the European Union such that it will come into operation on 1 January 2021. Again, I have every confidence it can be done, because significant work has already been put into these issues. Elements of that were agreed with the EU in the political declaration. There is work to be done, but it can be done and it must be done to that timetable.

There is another matter that people across the UK will look to us to deliver on: the social injustices that still persist. I welcome the reference in the Queen’s Speech to the domestic abuse Bill, and I am grateful to the Prime Minister for the speed with which he responded to me when I pressed him on this matter earlier this week.

The Prime Minister

I responded instantly.

Mrs May

Indeed. That Bill has cross-party support and it will genuinely improve the lives of victims and survivors of domestic abuse.

I also welcome the reference to reforming the Mental Health Act, although, yet again, I am bound to say that I would have preferred a more full-blooded commitment to a new Mental Health Act. The review of the current Mental Health Act raised many issues about how we deal with and treat people with mental health problems. It is not just about resources; it is also about the attitude and the way in which people are treated. If we put those changes into place in a new Mental Health Act, we will bring genuine and significant improvements to people in this country who have mental health problems.

There are other social injustices we need to look at. Often, social injustice is underpinned by a feeling among the powerful that there are others in our society whom they can treat as second-class citizens. One of the worst examples and what really brought that home to me was the way in which the young girls and boys being sexually abused and groomed in Rotherham were treated by the authorities in that place. It was as if they were people who did not count. But they did count, and we must always remember that every member of our society, every resident of the UK, counts. It is that spirit of ensuring equality that lay behind the work done on social housing, and I note the commitment the Government have made to produce a social housing White Paper. It is important that we continue that work to ensure that the voice of those in social housing is heard.

Another injustice we need to tackle was highlighted by the race disparity audit—groundbreaking work by a Conservative Government that shone a light on injustice that too many experience and too few are willing to acknowledge. We cannot address all the issues raised and all the findings immediately, but we must ensure that the Government do not abandon the work on the race disparity audit. If we take action across the board, we will truly be creating one nation.

Speaking of one nation, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has, on a number of occasions, expressed his desire to unite the country. Of course, that will not happen if the United Kingdom is torn asunder by those ​who want to ignore the ties of family, of history, of shared endeavour, of shared purpose, that we have formed together over the years. My view is simple: breaking up the United Kingdom is to the benefit of no one and the detriment of all. I am grateful to him for the reference in the Queen’s Speech to the importance the Government attach to the integrity of the United Kingdom, and I look forward to the work that I know the Government will do to ensure that that is demonstrated.

Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)

The former Prime Minister has spent a lot of her speech talking about the debt that her party and her successor owe to those who lent her party their support, but she will know better than anyone that a true leader, a true statesman, acknowledges those who did not vote for them. In Scotland, the Scottish National party secured 45% of the vote. Nobody denies the current Prime Minister’s right to govern on 43% of the vote, so how can she turn round to the people of Scotland and say that we cannot have our say on our own future, after the general election results that we just had in Scotland?

Mrs May

As the hon. Gentleman will have heard from my excellent hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), 55% of people in Scotland voted for parties that support the Union of the United Kingdom. At the end of his speech, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) made a great plea about how an independent Scotland would be in the European Union. We all know that an independent Scotland will not be in the European Union—it will not be allowed to be in the European Union. So what the Scottish nationalists are saying to people in Scotland is simply not true.

The Queen’s Speech refers to the UK’s place and influence in the world. I note that there is to be a full review of international policy, no doubt building on a number of reviews that have taken place and work done in recent years. It is important that we look at this issue now. Of course, global Britain has never gone away; we have always been a global Britain. In recent years, we have continued to play an important role in international fora on matters such as climate change; we have played a key role in dealing with terrorism, modern slavery and people smuggling; and we have enhanced our presence in key areas east of Suez and in the Asia-Pacific region. We brought together action across the world when we found that a chemical weapon had been used on the streets of the UK by Russia.

At the same time, we have seen the international fora and the rules-based international order on which we have depended for decades coming under significant threat. At the same time as we have seen the atmosphere and discourse of politics in the UK become more acrimonious. Across the world we have seen a change, too. We have seen an emphasis on absolutism and confrontation rather than compromise. We have a decision to take as to where we sit in that: whether we side with the absolutists or continue to be a country that believes it is right that big countries come together internationally and restrain their own demands in order to seek agreement for the greater good of all.

We have also seen from some an interest in stepping back from a defence of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We have to decide whether to look ​inward or to continue to play a role in defending those values; I believe we should, because that is what global Britain is all about. It is important that we continue to uphold those values around the world. Of course, that may bring into the spotlight our relationship with the United States of America. It is a special relationship that we must nurture and preserve. It is in the interests not only of us and the United States but of the world that that special relationship is maintained. But it is not a one-way relationship. We do not just accept every position that the US takes; we consider our own interests and, when we disagree with the US, we tell them clearly that we disagree with them.

Over the past three years, we have seen this House focusing so much on Brexit and focusing so much internally, but we now have an opportunity: we can set that to one side and move on to being the global Britain that the Prime Minister has spoken about and that every Conservative Member on the Government Benches espouses. We can be a Britain that takes its place in the world; a Britain that recognises the need to reform the international rules-based order, playing not just a role but a leading role in that reform; and a United Kingdom that stands up for the values that we share—the values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. A United Kingdom standing proud in the world. I believe the world needs the United Kingdom to take that role. I know that, under my right hon. Friend, we will do just that.