John asks Minister whether Government supports a closer relationship with UK overseas territories post Brexit

Full opening speech from Liz Truss and answer to John’s question below:

I beg to move,

That this House has considered global Britain.

As the clock strikes 11 tomorrow night, we will start building the UK’s future as a sovereign trading nation. I should make clear that there are many aspects of global Britain that have nothing to do with trade. The Prime Minister will be leading an integrated defence, security and foreign policy review that will examine all aspects of our place in the world. The Foreign Secretary is spending today with his counterpart from our most important ally, the United States. The Government are committed to exceeding the 2% NATO defence spending target, and to spending 0.7% of GNP on development. Today, however, I will restrict my remarks to one aspect of the story, and that is trade.

Global Britain will be a beacon for free enterprise, free trade and free people across the world, and we will light that beacon championing the values for which the UK has long been known. From our abolition of the corn laws in 1846 to helping to found the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1948, the UK has long been a global leader in shaping the rules-based system, but from 1973 onwards that role has been increasingly curtailed. Tomorrow we will begin to reclaim that global leadership.

It is more than two centuries since our great political economist David Ricardo outlined the idea of comparative advantage, demonstrating how free and open trade benefits everyone, but it is an idea that still illuminates our country, and we have an opportunity to take that message out and across the world. Why is that important? First, it is the right thing to do. Believing in freedom is about more than economic theory. It is about believing in our freedom to set up a business, choose what we buy, and chart our own future. In its essence, free trade is about expanding that freedom across borders. It is the catalyst for sharing ideas, products, services and the innovations that improve all our lives. If we believe that people have the choice to access the best goods and services, we must also believe in free trade.

Secondly, that opportunity is important because Britain’s global leadership is sorely needed. Protectionist measures are on the rise across the world, increasing by three times the rate at the onset of the financial crisis. Brexit is the opportunity for this country to turn the tide, and to be a global champion of free, rules-based trade with the World Trade Organisation at its heart. That is not only morally right, but in the interests of our country.

It is forecast that 90% of global growth will come from outside the EU. The world is bursting with opportunity—opportunity that Britain will seize with both hands.


Elizabeth Truss

We want to have a great trading relationship with the EU, and we want to have a great trading relationship with the rest of the world. Our ambition is to ensure that 80% of UK trade is covered by free trade deals within three years, and that will mean lower tariffs for British producers sending their goods into the EU and also right around the world.

This is hugely important for levelling up our country, from the potters of Staffordshire and the sheep farmers of Wales to the robotics manufacturers in the north-east. By lowering tariffs and striking advanced digital agreements, we will give a boost to local economies, which will increase the number of jobs, increase wages and promote growth in those areas. That is the way we are going to level up our country: through enterprise and trade bringing more opportunities.

We are ambitious about securing a pioneering free trade agreement with Japan, which is already our main source of investment in Asia, employing more than 150,000 people across the UK. There are also fantastic opportunities to expand our trade with Australia in areas as diverse as defence, education, digital and infrastructure. These opportunities with the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand are significant and will bring real value, but there is also an opportunity for us to become part of world-leading trade arrangements such as the CPTPP, partnering with 11 of the fastest-growing Pacific economies with consumer markets worth over $6 trillion.

We have the opportunity to make great free trade agreements across the world, and global Britain can once again become the ideas factory of the world, building the networks, the trust and the confidence that will underpin the success of British businesses in markets of the future. That is why we recently held the Africa investment summit, breaking down barriers to trade, building business links and forging new relationships in a continent that includes more than half of the world’s 15 fastest-growing economies.

John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con)

It is good to hear such a doughty defence and exposition of some classical and enduring truths about the importance of free trade, not just to this country and everybody in it but to the rest of the world. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one small but symbolically significant thing we could do is to ensure that free trade is extended to our overseas territories? They are 14 fairly small territories scattered around the world, but each is potentially a trading post for Great Britain, and this could be of benefit to the residents of those territories as well.

Elizabeth Truss

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and of course we want to extend those trading relationships with our overseas territories as far as we can.

I am pleased to say that, as we leave the European Union, we will be launching a new GREAT ready-to-trade campaign, featuring the Union flag and showcasing a modern, confident and successful Britain. We will have billboards and press and digital ads in 18 cities across 30 countries outside the EU, and we will be encouraging investors and buyers worldwide by showing that the UK is ready, willing and able to trade. These efforts are key to our agenda to unite to level up our country, delivering opportunity and unleashing the potential of every part of the United Kingdom.

However, trade is about more than just exports and investment. It is also about shaping the sort of world we want to live in. Let us be honest, there is a battle raging at the moment across the world: a battle between protectionism and free trade, between unfair trading practices and the defence of intellectual property, and between those who wish to restrict human freedom and those who seek to advance it. Let nobody be in any doubt which side the United Kingdom is on.