The Spectator

Theresa May’s ‘strong leadership’ speech, full transcript

Theresa May's 'strong leadership' speech, full transcript
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In three days, the British people will choose who they want to lead this country through the next five years. Five years that will define the future of our country for generations to come.

I called this election because, as we face the start of the crucial Brexit negotiations in just a few short days, I believed it would be essential for the British Government to be in the strongest possible position going into those talks. That remains the most critical issue in this campaign.

But of course, when this campaign started, we could never have predicted the tragic turn that events would take. We could never have imagined the appalling depravity that led a cowardly and callous killer to target innocent men, women and children in the way that we saw in Manchester two weeks ago.

Nor could we have envisaged the brutal attack that was carried out on the streets of London on Saturday evening. We continue to hold all those affected by both attacks in our thoughts today. And let us also continue to think of the brave men and women of the police and the emergency services who continue to deal with the aftermath – many of whom will have witnessed things that no one should ever have to see.

But, while it was right that we should pause to show our respects to those we have lost and to ensure all our energies were focused on responding to the immediate aftermath of those events, it is also right that our way of life – and our democratic process – should go on.

That is why today I want to return to the choice people face in three days’ time, and to the crucial question of leadership. Because that’s what this election is about. It’s about which leader and which team people trust to take the big decisions that matter to Britain. About which leader and which team people trust to keep Britain safe. About which leader and which team will deliver economic security for you and your family. And about which leader and which team will travel to Brussels in two weeks and negotiate the right deal for Britain in Europe. Because the question of leadership has always been at the heart of this campaign – and it is absolutely crucial we get the answer right.

The ability to say the courageous thing and do the difficult thing. To face up to and address great challenges, not to pretend they don’t exist or seek to wish them away. The strength to be straight with people and not just tell them what they want to hear. The ability to get the job done. That is what leadership means to me. And it is that leadership that I offer the British people at this election.

Strong and stable leadership to guide Britain through the years ahead. And we need that strong leadership now more than ever.

For in just two weeks, we embark on perhaps the most difficult set of international negotiations this country has ever known. The most difficult, and the most important. Because everything we want as a country depends on getting these negotiations right. Our future prosperity, our place in the world, our standard of living, and the opportunities we want for our children – and our children’s children – each and every one depends on having the strongest possible hand as we enter those negotiations in order to get the best Brexit deal for families across this country.

If we fail, the consequences for Britain and for the economic security of ordinary working people will be dire. If we succeed, the opportunities ahead of us are great. I have negotiated for Britain in Europe. And I know that the best place to start is to be clear about where you stand and what you want. That is why I have been clear that we do not seek to fudge this issue - to be half-in and half-out of the EU.

The British people made their choice and it would be a scandal to do anything other than respect their decision. And it is right to respect the view of other European leaders also when they say we can’t be half-in, half-out of the European Union either.

So we will leave the European Union and take control of our money, take control of our borders and take control of our laws.

Our money… so we no longer pay huge sums to the European Union every year but spend that money on our priorities here at home. Things like the new Shared Prosperity Fund we will put in place to reduce the inequalities that exist within, and between, the four nations of our United Kingdom.

Our borders… so while we continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in this country, we can be confident that we have control over immigration and that our immigration system serves the national interest.

Our laws… so we bring the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice to an end and return decision-making authority to this country, as the public demanded we should.

And as we deliver on the will of the British people, we will forge a new deep and special partnership with Europe - allowing us to trade and cooperate with our nearest neighbours - but we will also reach out beyond Europe to strike new trade deals for our goods and services with old allies and new friends around the world too. This is a clear and ambitious plan, but I am confident we can deliver. That is because we have taken the time to develop the plan, to study the detail, to understand the negotiating positions and priorities of those on the other side of the table, to build the relationships and to be absolutely clear in our own minds – and in those of the 27 remaining member states – about the kind of future relationship we seek.

Now compare that to the alternative.

We know a little of what Jeremy Corbyn would do. He openly says he would throw all of our work away on day one by scrapping our White Paper, without having any idea what he would put in place instead. He says he wants tariff-free access to the EU, but cannot say if he wants to remain a member the single market – and with it, remain subject to the rulings of the European Court and to European free movement rules.

He cannot say if it means remaining a full member of the customs union – which would deprive us of our ability to strike new trade agreements around the world. These are the most basic questions that need to be answered – and yet we have heard nothing at all about them from Jeremy Corbyn.

But we do know something that Jeremy Corbyn says he would do on day one.He would throw away our negotiating position at a stroke by rejecting the very idea of walking away with no deal. Now, I often say “no deal is better than a bad deal” because that is in Britain’s national interest. Jeremy Corbyn seems to think that any deal – no matter what the price, no matter what the terms – is better than no deal.

That’s not leadership. That’s an abdication of leadership.

The bureaucrats in Brussels would think Christmas had come early if the British government adopted such an approach. Yet that is exactly what Jeremy Corbyn is proposing. And that is why he is not fit to negotiate a good Brexit deal for Britain. Yet on the success of that endeavour, everything else depends.

If we get Brexit right, then together we can do great things. We can build a Britain beyond Brexit that is stronger, fairer and more prosperous than it is today. That is what my Plan for a Stronger Britain is all about – fulfilling the promise of Brexit so that everyone in every community can enjoy the opportunity and security that they deserve. The opportunity and security they need. That means economic security. And it means physical security too.

The Conservative Party has always understood that a strong economy is the foundation for everything else. If we are to have the prosperity, security and quality of life that we want, we must first ensure we have an economy that is robust. This belief in sound money and fiscal credibility is in the core of our DNA as a Party. And as we face up to the challenge of leaving the European Union, it is even more important today.

We hold true to it because we know that if you can’t manage your money properly, investment will dry up, taxes will rise and businesses – and the jobs they provide – will flee from our shores. And it is ordinary working people who will pay the price.

We hold true to it today because we know it’s jobs and investment that provide the money we need to fund the vital public services on which we all rely.

And, above all, we know that it is wrong to pass to future generations a bill you cannot or will not pay yourself. Because every pound the government borrows falls to others – those who come later, including people not yet born – to pay back.

If we’re serious about restoring the contract between the generations, there is no more important thing we can do than seek to balance the books and pay down the debt. That is a simple matter of justice that only the Conservative Party understands. So we will show leadership and continue to take the difficult decisions we need to bring the deficit down.

Ten years after the banking crisis – and thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of people across the country – the deficit is back to where it was before Labour let it spiral out of control. And thanks to our careful stewardship of the economy, debt is about to start falling too. So the Government I lead will carry on with the job, getting the country back to living within its means – because a strong economy is the basis of our security as a nation.

But that is not the limit of my ambition.

It was right that we should take the difficult decisions over the past seven years to get the deficit under control, but the Government I lead will do more. I am determined that the next Conservative Government will focus on growth, and on driving growth across the country to build an economy that works for everyone. And that is how we will fulfil the promise of Brexit together.

We will encourage businesses to set up and grow by cutting corporation tax to the lowest rate in any developed economy – because Conservatives know that’s how you raise more money and attract more investment.

Punishing businesses with higher taxes is not leadership. It’s an abdication of leadership. A good soundbite for an election, but a disastrous policy for our country. And punishing families with higher taxes is not leadership either. Yet that is exactly Jeremy Corbyn’s plan – with the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies saying his policies will cause the highest tax burden ever known in Britain’s peacetime history.

That is not our way. We will keep taxes low. And we will do new trade deals for Britain’s goods and services with new friends and old allies around the world – because trade will be crucial to our future growth and prosperity. We need to be a great, global, trading nation once again. That is why we will create a network of Trade Commissioners across nine regions to lead export promotion, investment and trade policy overseas.

And like all Conservative governments before us, we will bear down on regulations wherever we can and continue to regulate more effectively.

But while a strong economy is the foundation, a fairer economy is vital too. That is why I want to do more to spread prosperity and opportunity around the country, as our new modern industrial strategy will do. It means keeping taxes low and helping people with the cost-of-living by intervening where markets are failing. By making markets work for working people.

And it means guaranteeing a decent wage for all with a higher National Living Wage, and not just protecting – but enhancing – rights and protections for people at work as we leave the EU.

And with a strong and a fair economy, we will invest in our vital public services, give people dignity and security in old age with annual increases in the state pension and invest in keeping our country safe…

…retaining Trident, increasing the defence budget and backing the finest police and intelligence services anywhere in the world.

For keeping our country safe should be the number one priority for any Prime Minister and any Government.

Yet in this election there is one leader who has made it his life’s ambition to get rid of Trident, and one who is committed to keeping it. One leader who has boasted about opposing every single counter-terror law, and one who has been responsible for passing them. One leader who has opposed the use of shoot to kill, and given cover to the IRA when they bombed and shot our citizens – and who now, in the midst of an election campaign, wants to do all he can to hide or deny those views.

That’s not leadership. It’s an abdication of leadership.

It’s a failure to meet even the minimum requirement of the job of Prime Minister – to keep our country safe. Safeguarding the security of our country takes leadership. That is why since 2010 in the face of a growing threat, we have protected the budget for counter-terrorism policing – and increased the resources available to the security and intelligence agencies.

It is why since 2015 - when Jeremy Corbyn’s front bench was arguing for the police to be cut by a further ten per cent – we have not cut the police but protected their budget. It’s why we have increased the number of armed police officers, improved cooperation between the police and specialist military units, and provided funding for an additional 1,900 officers at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.

Yet despite the progress we have made in recent years and the successes we have enjoyed, we must do more to respond to the changing threat to our country and our way of life. We cannot deny that the threat from Islamist Extremism is one of the gravest we face. I believe it is right that the UK is engaged in taking on and defeating groups like ISIS and their like around the world. It is in our own national interest to do so, and it is in the interests of the wider world.

But as our efforts to defeat them overseas are ever more successful, they are increasingly seeking to spread their poisonous ideology and to prey on the weak and vulnerable in our own countries, inspiring them to commit acts of terror here at home. They exploit the safe spaces of the internet and social media. And they exploit them in the real world too.

The UK has led the world in developing a strategy for preventing violent extremism, and it has been highly successful. And we are leading international efforts to take on and defeat the ideology of Islamist extremism around the world.

But as the threat evolves, our response must do so too. We cannot go on as we are. Enough is enough. We must do more – much more – to take on and defeat the evil ideology of Islamist extremism that preaches hatred, sows division, and promotes sectarianism. It is an ideology that promotes a false choice between our Western values of freedom, democracy and human rights and the religion of Islam. It is a perversion of Islam and a perversion of the truth.

And it will only be defeated when people understand that our values – pluralistic, British values – are superior to anything offered by the preachers and supporters of hate. We must deny it the safe spaces it needs to take root and grow. Working with other democratic governments we will agree ways to regulate cyberspace and prevent the spread of extremism and terrorist planning online. We will continue to support military action to destroy ISIS in Iraq and Syria. And we will do more to deny this ideology the physical space to breed here at home.

That means refusing to tolerate extremism of any kind in our country. It means being more robust in identifying it and stamping it out – across the public sector and across wider society.

This is what we must do if we are to come together as a country and tackle this extremism in our midst – not just violent extremism, but the whole spectrum of extremism, starting with the bigotry and hatred that can so often turn to violence too.

And as I said yesterday in response to the attack on our country – the third in as many months – because of the changing nature of the threat we face, we need to review our counter-terrorism strategy to make sure the police and security services have all the powers they need. If that means increasing the length of custodial sentences for terrorism-related offences, even apparently less serious offences, that is what we will do.

These proposals – set out in our manifesto – are founded on a deep understanding of the threat we face. They may be uncomfortable for some to contemplate, but nothing is more important than keeping our country safe.

This is what strong leadership is about. Stepping up, facing up and doing what’s right for Britain. That is – and will always be – my approach. I just want to do what’s best for our country. To get on with the job in front of me. And to lead Britain forward.

A year ago, I launched my campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party in this very room. I said at the time that I’m not a showy politician. I don’t tour the television studios. I don’t gossip about people over lunch. I don’t go drinking in Parliament’s bars. I don’t often wear my heart on my sleeve. And that’s true.

But I said then – and I say now – that if ever there was a time for a Prime Minister who is ready and able to do the job from day one, this is it. Because there’s no time for learning on the job. The demands of the role are significant, the ability to master the details crucial, and the need to make big, important decisions, inescapable. And with the Brexit negotiations beginning just 11 days’ after polling day, we have no time to waste.

So I offer myself as Prime Minister once more, with a resolute determination to get on with the job of delivering Brexit, confidence that I can get a deal that works for all, and belief that I have the vision, the plan, the will and the experience to fulfil the promise of Brexit and build a better Britain.

That is what the election in three days’ time is about. It’s about who can provide the leadership to do what’s right for Britain. And with the support of people across the country at the ballot box on Thursday, that’s what I will do.