Viewpoint: Theresa May
One of the prevailing sentiments in all my conversations with leaders since I became prime minister has been this sense that in challenging times, you turn to your oldest and most dependable friends. As the UK leaves the EU, I am determined that we should seize the opportunity to get out into the world and to shape an even bigger global role for my country, to build new alliances but more importantly, to go even further in working with old friends, like our allies here in the Gulf, who have stood alongside us for centuries.
Gulf prosperity is also our prosperity. Already the Gulf is a special market for the UK. Last year alone, trade between the UK and the Gulf was worth more than £30bn. At the same time Gulf investment in the UK is helping to regenerate cities from Aberdeen to Teesside, and from Manchester to London.
I am determined that we should do everything possible to build on this and elevate our trade and investment to an even more ambitious level. So, I will continue the work that the UK has been leading over the past three years to make London one of the great capitals of Islamic finance in the world.
As Britain leaves the EU we intend to take a leap forward, to look outwards and seek to become the most committed and most passionate advocate of free trade in the world. For free trade makes us all richer; it creates jobs, it increases investment, it improves productivity, and it transforms living standards and creates opportunities for all of our citizens. Nowhere is that more important than in this place with our friends and allies in the Gulf. I am delighted that we agreed to set up a new joint working group to examine how we can unblock remaining barriers to trade and take steps to further liberalise our economies for the benefit of our mutual prosperity. For example, we have reached a new agreement with Saudi Arabia to allow British businesses to obtain five-year multiple entry visas for the first time, creating new opportunities for more bilateral business. Furthermore, we have agreed that in March 2017, the UK will host an event on Gulf national-transformation and economic diversification plans at the Mansion House – for centuries, a home of finance-and trade at the heart of the City of London.
These steps are exactly the sort of measures that we can pursue together to advance everything that is possible from business and trade for the benefit of all of our economies and therefore all of our citizens. I want these talks at an official level to pave the way for an ambitious trade arrangement for when the UK has left the EU. I want us to be imaginative about the scale and reach of this. I want us to explore whether in this dynamic and diverse market we could forge a new trade arrangement for the whole of the Gulf area.
I want to leave no one in any doubt about the scale of my ambition or the extent of my determination to establish the strongest possible trading relationships-between the UK and the Gulf. Just as we take every possible step to break down the barriers that are restricting our trade and prosperity, it is also important that we continue the work to bring our peoples together and to ensure that the benefits of greater prosperity are shared by all. In Britain I have talked about the need to create a country that works for everyone. In doing so, I have set out Britain’s great global opportunity to lead the way in managing the unintended negative forces of globalisation so that large segments of our society are not left behind, and so we restore trust between citizens and institutions. Just as we face some major economic and social challenges in the West, in your own economies you also face the challenge of helping to secure jobs and opportunities for your peoples.
We all recognise that there is some way to go before we can say that these economies really work for everyone. But I have been encouraged by recent economic and social reforms and by the bold vision set out by the Gulf states for fundamental and lasting change.
The above is an abridged version of Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech to the GCC from December 2016.
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