UK Prime Minister Thresa May’s Speech to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet
The Guildhall, London
14 November 2016
My Lord Mayor, My Late Lord Mayor, Your Grace, My Lord Chancellor, Your Excellencies, My Lords, Aldermen, Sheriffs, Chief Commoner, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We meet tonight in a world transformed. A year ago, few among us would have predicted the events ahead.
A clear, determined decision to leave the European Union and forge a bold, new, confident future for ourselves in the world.
And, of course, a new President-elect in the US who defied the polls and the pundits all the way up to election day itself.
Change is in the air. And when people demand change, it is the job of politicians to respond.
But it’s also the job of all those in positions of influence and power – politicians, business leaders and others – to understand the drivers of that demand too.
And I think that if we take a step back and look at the world around us, one of the most important drivers becomes clear – the forces of liberalism and globalisation which have held sway in Britain, America and across the Western world for years have left too many people behind.
Let’s be clear: those forces have had – and continue to have – an overwhelmingly positive impact on our world.
Liberalism and globalisation have delivered unprecedented levels of wealth and opportunity. They have lifted millions out of poverty around the world. They have brought nations closer together, broken down barriers and improved standards of living and consumer choice. And they underpin the rules-based international system that is key to global prosperity and security and which I am clear we must protect and seek to strengthen.
But we can’t deny – as I know you recognise – that there have been downsides to globalisation in recent years, and that – in our zeal and enthusiasm to promote this agenda as the answer to all our ills – we have on occasion overlooked the impact on those closer to home who see these forces in a different light.
These people – often those on modest to low incomes living in rich countries like our own – see their jobs being outsourced and wages undercut. They see their communities changing around them and don’t remember agreeing to that change.
They see the emergence of a new global elite who sometimes seem to play by a different set of rules and whose lives are far removed from their everyday existence. And the tensions and differences between those who are gaining from globalisation and those who feel they are losing out have been exposed ever more starkly through the growth of social media.
So, if we are to continue to make the case for liberalism and globalisation, as we must, we have also to face up to and respond to these concerns.
If we believe, as I do, that liberalism and globalisation continue to offer the best future for our world, we must deal with the downsides and show that we can make these twin forces work for everyone.
Because when you refuse to accept that globalisation in its current form has left too many people behind, you’re not sowing the seeds for its growth, but for its ruin.
When you fail to see that the liberal consensus that has held sway for decades has failed to maintain the consent of many people, you’re not the champion of liberalism, but the enemy of it.
When you dismiss the very real and deeply felt concerns of ordinary people, whether here at home or abroad, you are not acting to defend your world view, but to undermine it.
And there is no contradiction between embracing globalisation, and saying it has to be managed to work for everyone.
Indeed, as anti-globalisation sentiment grows, it is incumbent on those of us in positions of leadership to respond: to make sense of the changing world around us and to shape a new approach that preserves the best of what works, and evolves and adapts what does not.
That is the true mark of leadership. Not standing inflexibly, refusing to change and still fighting the battles of the past, but adapting to the moment, evolving our thinking and seizing the opportunities ahead.
That is the kind of leadership we need today. And I believe that it is Britain’s historic global opportunity to provide it.
So often over our long history, this country has set the template for others to follow. We have so often been the pioneer – the outrider – that has acted to usher in a new idea or approach.
And we have that same opportunity today.
To show the world that we can be the strongest global advocate for free markets and free trade, because we believe they are the best way to lift people out of poverty, but that we can also do much more to ensure the prosperity they provide is shared by all.
To demonstrate that we can be the strongest global advocate for the role businesses play in creating jobs, generating wealth and supporting a strong economy and society, but that we can also recognise that when a minority of businesses and business figures appear to game the system and work to a different set of rules, the social contract between businesses and society fails – and the reputation of business as a whole is undermined.
To show that our departure from the European Union is not – as some people have wrongly argued – Britain stepping back from the world, but an example of how a free, flexible, ambitious country can step up to a new global role in which, alongside the traditional trading blocs, agile nation states like Britain can trade freely with others according to what’s in their own best interests and those of their people.
This is a new direction – a new approach to managing the forces of globalisation so that they work for all – and it is the course on which the government I lead has embarked.
For over 6 centuries, this very banquet has celebrated the pioneering brilliance of our nation as a global champion of free trade.