Theresa May – 2021 Speech on Global Britain

The speech made by Theresa May, the former Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 11 January 2021.

I refer Members to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is absolutely right that trade brings prosperity and jobs, but global Britain is about much, much more than trade. It is about our shared values—our respect for human dignity, human rights, equality, the rule of law, freedom and democracy. It is about how we work with others who share those values to establish and maintain a rules-based international order that protects those values.

Sadly, what we saw last week in the United States shows us how fragile the value of democracy can be when it is under pressure from populism and nationalism, fuelled by messages disseminated on social media. At the current point for the United Kingdom, post Brexit, dealing with covid and yet to deal with the societal and economic impacts of that, it is absolutely imperative that we reject any push towards nationalism and isolationism and that we recognise the importance of global Britain. Indeed, it is more important today than it ever has been.

If we are going to lead, as we can this year, in G7 and the COP26, we also need to see a change in world politics, where absolutism—“You are either 100% for me or 100% against me, and no compromise is allowed”—has taken hold. We need to move away from the world of strong men facing up to each other. We need to find more ways in which we can work with those who share our values, because those values are under threat, and we need to work together to protect them.

Global Britain has the position this year to enable us to do that, but in order to do it, we need to live our values ourselves. I have to say to the Government that threatening to break an international treaty shortly after signing it, threatening to break international law and cutting our international aid does not enhance the impact of global Britain. In fact, it makes it harder for us as global Britain to get our message around the world. We have been respected because of our 0.7% and respected because of what we do, not just because we are British.

In the few seconds available to me, I want to mention one issue that is a clear and present danger to global Britain: the break-up of the United Kingdom. We often talk in this Chamber about Scotland and how important being part of the UK is to the Scottish economy. The reality is that England needs the rest of the UK as well. The United Kingdom has a seat on the Security Council of the United Nations; I doubt that England would have a seat on the Security Council of the United Nations. We need to think about the impact of this, and I particularly want to mention my concern about Northern Ireland at the moment. We have seen the issue of empty supermarket shelves—not all due to the protocol, but certainly the protocol is playing its part, and the Government need to deal with that issue. Global Britain has a role to play on the world stage, but in order to do that, the Government need to ensure that we maintain the integrity of the United Kingdom.