A Plan for Unity and Opportunity

“David Cameron has been a great Prime Minister.  One of the greatest this country has seen.  It has been a huge privilege to have served in his Cabinets – as Secretary of State for Wales and, currently, as Secretary of State for Work & Pensions.

What David Cameron achieved in the wake of the biggest financial collapse in recent history was nothing short of remarkable. He fired up the engines of our economy, he rebuilt our country’s reputation across the world, and he has governed as a modern, compassionate, reforming Conservative

And in doing that, he changed the Conservative Party and he changed the country – for the better.

Today – right now – we face a set of challenges the likes of which we have never seen before. A set of problems of almost mind-boggling complexity.

And there is no play-book available that will explain all the manoeuvres and steps that need to be taken to get us through this; there is no manual waiting on anyone’s shelf ready to be dusted down that provide instructions on the way forward.  And there is no certainly no candidate in this race who can stand up today and provide all the answers…so we may as well all take an honesty check on that right from the start.

And people ask me why on earth would you want to put your name forward at this precise moment? You have age on your side, plenty of opportunities to come, plenty of time, keep your powder dry, whoever wins it’s an almost impossible task. Why do it?

So here’s why I am standing…

Because I look at those maps that flashed up on our screens last Friday morning showing the geographical split in our nation – the blue bits and the yellow bits – and I really worry about the future of our divided United Kingdom…

…A United Kingdom without Scotland is not the United Kingdom; a Great Britain without Scotland is not Great Britain. And then of course there is the question of Northern Ireland.

And I also think back to all the conversations I have had with people all over the country in recent years about Europe and immigration and I just can’t ignore the fact that what has struck me the most is that the poorer the community or neighbourhood, the more angry people felt about these issues, and the more likely they were to vote Leave. And I think about this and I worry about our divided society and about the breakdown in trust among those who are really struggling, who look at us all in Westminster and they see nothing to believe.

And I reflect on what has gone on in our party in recent months, the insults, the accusations, the bad blood, and I really worry about how we are going to stitch this all back together. When you’re the governing party, disunity has wider implications.

And when I look around for who in our Party is going to work all this out, and give us the best possible chance to mend these divisions, to provide the strongest possible platform from which to deliver on the expectations of that majority of people who voted to leave the European Union, I don’t see anybody who provides a compelling answer.

And today I am standing to become the Leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister because I love my country, and I love this Party (for all its quirks and faults) and I genuinely believe that what I stand for – the values I represent – and the strengths I have to bring, both politically and in terms of those inner qualities that actually really matter when it comes to overcoming challenges – these equip me for what is an incredibly difficult job, especially at this time.

For those of you who don’t know much about me, I was born in Scotland, grew for a short time there but mainly in Wales; I had a fabulous education at a really good comprehensive school across the road from the council house where I lived; I had an amazing role model in a mother who overcame massive difficulties and worked incredibly hard for us; she took us to the public library every Saturday where I soaked up books and learning; I worked every week from the age of 12 – starting at the local corner shop, graduating to the Tesco shop floor, and paid my way through university working on building sites in various parts of the country.

Now I count myself very blessed to have had the upbringing I did. I was brought up to believe no-one was better than me and I was no better than anyone else. I was brought up to believe that no-one is a self-made man or woman – we are all shaped and formed by our families and communities. And I was brought up to understand that nothing gets handed to you on a plate. On the rainy rugby fields of West Wales I learnt that it’s not a question of just waiting for the ball to pop out from the back of the scrum. If you want it, you do what’s required.

And the blend of qualities I bring are exactly those that are needed if we are to get through the difficult circumstances we are in: resilience, optimism, humility, strength.

…the ability to form a team, bringing together smart and talented people, and to provide good decision-making and direction for others to follow.

And I am delighted that my good friend Sajid is backing me in this leadership race. He has one of the finest minds in government; he has two decades of experience in international finance & business; he is already deeply involved in working with the international business community in managing the fall-out from last week’s vote; and he is actually the best, the very best, negotiator we have around the Cabinet table – he is sharp, fast-thinking and he’s tough – exactly what we need for what lies ahead. And he will be an outstanding Chancellor of the Exchequer.

We are both optimists. But we both understand the size of what is front of us. And we both understand that what is required now is the determination to get on and deliver the negotiated exit from the European Union while demonstrating that Britain is open for business – and to make it work.

We are also joined in the team by our campaign Chairman Jeremy Wright, the Attorney General whose expertise speaks for itself.

So what is our approach to implementing the referendum result?

Firstly, let’s face the facts – we had a clear result from the referendum. And the result was for the UK to leave the European Union. There can be no stepping back from that clear instruction to the Government; there can be no attempt to dilute it or side-step it. And there will be no second referendum.

The answer to the question of instability is not to create further uncertainty.

Secondly, there is a clear duty on us in government at Westminster to seek to bring together all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom to craft a coherent negotiating strategy. That will involve the creation of an advisory council comprising the First Ministers of the devolved nations, along with the Mayor of London, and a team of UK government Ministers who will form a majority on the council and who will share a total commitment to implementing the outcome of the referendum.

The negotiations itself will be led by a full-time Chief Negotiator who will have Cabinet rank and who will work with myself and the Chancellor to secure the very best possible deal for UK economic interests.

Thirdly, to build trust and clarity with the British people that we are implementing their instruction, we are explicit in the principles that will underpin our negotiation:

1.    Controlling immigration. And for us this is a red line. Because one message that came through louder than any other in the vote last week is that the British people want to take control of immigration.

2.    It is vital that we seek to achieve as close an economic relationship with the EU as we have now.

3.    The end of the supremacy of EU law.

No-one pretends this will be anything other than very difficult. But these are the three driving principles that give us the best chance of delivering on the instruction given to us last week by the British people.

Brexit needs to do what it says on the tin.

Meanwhile there is an enormous task facing us on day one to forge and rebuild trading relationships around the world. In the past we have set ourselves export targets that stand no chance of being met and we have been slow to reform our principal structures for boosting overseas trade. The path that we are now on requires – no it demands – that we become the very best nation in Europe at doing global trade.

And, of course, discussions about free trade agreements do not need to wait until the day we leave the EU. They must start now. All across government we must embark on the enterprise of creating Britain’s new place in the world.

I talked earlier about the division we have seen in our party in recent months over our membership of the European Union.  We know from our history just how damaging this issue can be for us, and just how deep the split can run.  If this leadership contest is defined by labels like “Remain” or “Leave” then we risk never getting past this. Every day that goes by when those labels are being used by colleagues to describe each other, the greater the wound in our party.

So my message to colleagues is that there can be no ‘Continuity Remain’ campaign to subvert the process that we will now undertake.

The truth is that there is a duty on all of us to now get on and work together and deliver on the referendum vote last week.

The Cabinet team that I will put together will embody that approach.

The circumstances of this leadership election demand that the focus is on the European question that faces us here today.  But it is also a choice about the future of our Party. It’s not a choice just for a period of months or a few years. This has to be the right choice for the next election and beyond that.

It’s about continuing on a path of reform and renewal. Delivering on our commitment to rebalance the economy, to see a fairer distribution of wealth creation right across our nation.

It’s about our ability to speak to, and speak for, whole sections of society who feel we have no understanding of the lives they lead.

I came into politics to see people’s lives improve. To do my bit to break down the barriers to opportunity. To give more people a better chance of reaching their full potential – yes a better job, a higher wage, the chance to own their own home, to take your family on holiday once a year, decent schools for their kids and, yes, let’s end the scandal of the appalling rates of children on free school meals who cannot read or write at the age of 11.

I believe in a society where it should not matter where you were born, it shouldn’t matter what kind of school you went to, what street you grew up on, or what your mum or dad did for a living – a society that provides a fairer set of opportunities for all. That’s the kind of society I believe in.  And I joined the Conservative Party under John Major because that’s what the Conservative Party represented for me.

And my overriding goal in this leadership race is to ensure that this vision – this One Nation vision – should become the beating heart of the next Conservative government.

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