Suella Fernandes is Under Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union, and is MP for Fareham.
Last week’s keynote speech by the Prime Minister at Mansion House set out the fundamentals of what the UK wants from a new economic partnership with the EU. The speech united advocates from both sides of the debate, and will hopefully set the tone as we embark upon the next stage of the negotiations. I for one took great inspiration from the Prime Minister’s call to “get on with it”.
In a far-reaching address, she set out precisely what this Government wants from a future relationship with the European Union, and why it is so important that we work together to come up with the broadest and deepest Free Trade Agreement ever struck.
And I thought her five tests for striking a deal – a deal that is enduring, respects the result of the referendum, protects jobs and security, is consistent with the open and tolerant society that we are, and strengthens the union of this country’s nations and people – rung loud and clear.
I have always been hugely optimistic about what Brexit means for our country and, now that I have been appointed as a Minister to the Department for Exiting the European Union, I am more excited than ever about what the future holds.
Since the referendum, there has been a great deal of noise about life outside the EU and, at times, the debate has been too negative. Indeed, the Labour Party is intent on talking down our country and our ability to thrive outside the EU. As the nation with the world’s language, a leading financial centre, the home of parliamentary democracy and a legal system emulated around the world, as well as being a net contributor to the EU and one of the EU’s biggest customers, our prospects as we leave the EU are bright.
So during the months ahead, I intend to make the positive case for the rich array of opportunities that are to be had as an independent trading nation. The fact that we will be free to strike our own trade deals with other countries for the first time in decades is one of my main messages.
With 90 percent of growth expected to come from outside Europe in the coming years, by leaving the EU we will put ourselves in a better position to capitalise upon that growth. Free trade has historically led to more consumer choice, jobs and prosperity. It has enabled millions of people around the world to be lifted out of poverty.
Outside of the EU, we will have the ability to explore and develop new and emerging markets generating unrivalled opportunities for a country like ours – one that is brimming with talent and creativity. The world stands on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution. Britain led the first, and I am convinced that we can lead this one too.
This does not mean we want to turn our backs on our European partners – far from it. True, there will be some changes: we are leaving the Single Market and Customs Union, and it follows that there will be less access to each other’s markets. But that should not mean the undoing of our countless achievements so far.
We have solid foundations built from close relations with EU Member States and the rest of the world. Those foundations are underpinned by international agreements that cover everything from trade to air services, fisheries, data flows and more. We are working to help ensure that we continue to enjoy the benefits of these agreements. And many of the challenges that the world faces today have no respect for national borders: climate change, cybercrime and international terrorism are just a few examples.
If we are to combat these threats we must continue to work hand-in-hand with our allies, both in Europe and further afield. When it comes to security, our future relationship with the EU is of particular interest to me as this is also a key part of my portfolio, and I am determined that the cooperation we have enjoyed to date will continue.
We have never shied away from our responsibilities in this area, because we know that the security and stability of this country depends upon the security and stability of the wider world. We remain the second largest defence spender in NATO, and the only EU member state to spend two per cent of our GDP on defence, as well as spending 0.7 per cent of our Gross National Income on international development. We should be proud of this. We are and always have been an outward facing nation, and there are no plans to change this.
But in June 2016, the people of this country voted for a fundamental change in the relationship that we have with the EU – a change in which our future lies outside of the EU’s institutions, giving us the freedom to make our own laws, sign our own trade deals and control our own borders. What this decision will not do is to change the kind of country that we are; a country that has always been, and will continue to be: tolerant, open and fair; a country that is open for business; a country that takes its responsibilities seriously; a country that leads from the front.