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At the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting 2017 currently underway in Davos, Switzerland this week, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May, presented what may be considered a follow-up to the major Brexit speech she had given in London earlier this week in which she had outlined her 12-point Brexit plan.
It was the Prime Minister’s first appearance at Davos in her capacity as Prime Minister of the UK and she reiterated many of the main points she had made in her speech earlier this week, focusing most of her attention on Brexit and outlining her plans for building a “truly Global Britain”.
Below are some of the main points from her Davos Speech:
(1) Brexit is not a rejection of Europe
Mrs. May reiterated that the Brexit vote was not a repudiation by Britain of the EU but “simply a vote to restore, as we see it, our parliamentary democracy and national self-determination”. She further explained Britain’s desire to pursue a “bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement between the UK and the European Union” while also being free to negotiate new trade deals with both longstanding and new allies around the world.
(2) UK to be leader of free markets and free trade
To this extent, she expressed the intention for the UK to “step up to a new leadership role as the strongest and most forceful advocate for business, free markets and free trade anywhere in the world”. Mrs. May noted that discussions on future trade ties have already begun with a number of countries, while others have already signalled their interest.
(3) She will build a “Global Britain”
Aiming to dispel the notion that the UK was turning “inward”, Mrs. May emphasised her desire to build a “Global Britain” which would be in control of its own destiny once again and would help to underpin and strengthen the multilateral rules-based system. She reiterated that she believes strongly in a rules based global order and that “we must continue to promote international cooperation wherever we can”.
Although Mrs. May has previously highlighted the need to take control of the UK’s immigration policy, she did mention in this speech that the UK derives “much of our strength from our diversity”, emphasing that “we are a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy, and we’re proud of it”.
It is here that her rhetorical tone is strikingly different from that of her counterpart across the pond, incoming US President Donald Trump who has not only expressed his disdain for both the United Nations but called the World Trade Organisation a disaster. Moreover, Mr. Trump has been consistently anti-immigrant, seeing immigration as a threat rather than a strength.
(4) Britain has embarked on “an ambitious programme of economic and social reform”
Mrs. May noted that the UK has embarked on what she termed “an ambitious programme of economic and social reform”. The issues of growing income equality and popular discontent with trade and globalisation have been a consistent theme in the Davos discussions, which is not surprising given the political ramifications which these issues have already delivered.
In tackling these issues Mrs. May outlined what she believed should be the roles of both governments and businesses and that the status quo could not remain. She noted the need for leaders to work together to shape new policies and approaches in order to deliver for all people in their respective countries.
Interestingly, she noted that the role of governments was not to just “get out of the way” as has been the mantra of neoliberal economic theory, but to “step up to a new, active role that backs businesses and ensures more people in all corners of the country share in the benefits of its success”. Turning to businesses, she noted that “it means doing even more to spread those benefits to more people”, including paying their far share of tax and recognising their obligations to their employees, inter alia.
(5) Support for the Compact for Responsive and Responsible Leadership
To this effect, she expressed her support for the World Economic Forum’s new “Compact for Responsive and Responsible Leadership” initiative proposed for signature to all participants of the Annual Meeting 2017. This initiative aims to “create a corporate governance framework with a focus on the long-term sustainability of corporations and the long-term goals of society”.
The full text of her speech may be read here.
Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.
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