Theresa May has told an audience of leading business figures that a post-Brexit Britain has an opportunity to lead the way as champions of free trade.
Speaking at the Lord Mayors banquet at the Guildhall in London the prime minister urged Britain to look to the future, seizing the opportunities ahead. At her first major speech on foreign policy, May said: We meet tonight in a world transformed.
Speaking of recent unexpected events in the political sphere, she said: A year ago, few of us would have predicted the events ahead: a clear determined decision to leave the European Union to forge a bold new confident future for ourselves in the world, and of course, a new President-elect of the United States, who defied the polls and the pundits all the way up to election day.
Change is in the air, and when people demand change, it is the job of politicians to respond, she added, in a speech clearly aimed at reassuring both leave and remain camps as well as the City of London.
May spoke of the need to adopt a flexible approach to the political changes befalling world economies, and the opportunity presented by those for Britain to take a lead in the new world order. But, she added, they must work for everyone.
May told the audience that she saw her Government taking a strong role in developing an industry within the UK that spreads wealth across the country. She said: To be the true global champion of free trade in this new modern world we also need to do something to help those families and communities who can actually lose out from it.
Speaking of the need for a more responsible capitalism, May told business leaders: Not standing inflexibly, refusing to change and fighting the battles of the past, but adapting to the moment, evolving our thinking and seizing the opportunities ahead.
That is the kind of leadership we need today. And I believe that it is Britains historic global opportunity to provide it.
However, despite Mays commitment to making globalisation work for all, some were sceptical about the lack of detail on how she would do that, or on post-Brexit plans in general. Labours Shadow Lord President of the Council and former shadow secretary for Business, Innovations and Skills was critical of Mays record on spreading opportunity and providing leadership.
Jon Trickett said: Theresa May has spent the early days of her time in Number 10 giving speeches about spreading opportunity and providing leadership but her actions have betrayed her.
She talks about leading Europe. But has no plan for Brexit. She talks about extending opportunity. But Britains working people are worse off. And she talks about transforming the economy. But all that is on offer is more cuts, poor investment and little, if any, growth.
Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, also said that the speech was undermined by a lack of direction for Brexit Britain. He said: Theresa May is trying to have her cake and eat it. She talks about being pro-business but wont offer the one thing business leaders needs most: clarity on her plans for Britains future with Europe.