MP for Maidenhead Theresa May has announced today that she will campaign to become the next leader of the Conservative Party, and ultimately the next Prime Minister. Read her full bid launch statement here.
Good morning, and thank you for coming. I want to start by paying tribute to the Prime Minister.
It is easy to forget how far the Conservative Party – and our country – have come since David Cameron was first elected leader in 2005. Thanks to David, we were elected into government for the first time in eighteen years. We won a majority in the House of Commons for the first time in 23 years.
And – in difficult times – we stabilised the economy, reduced the deficit and helped more people into work than ever before.
But David’s legacy is about more than the economic rescue mission we undertook. Some of our biggest achievements – including the introduction of same-sex marriage and taking the lowest-paid out of income tax altogether – they’ve been all about the pursuit of social justice. We have shown that when the Conservatives have an open, inclusive, One Nation agenda of social reform, we win elections – and we change the country for the better.
So I want to thank David, on behalf of our Party, for his public service – and for his significant achievements as Prime Minister. It has been a privilege to serve in his Cabinet.
Candidacy to become Leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister
I have invited you here today to announce my candidacy to become the Leader of the Conservative Party – and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
And I do so for three clear reasons.
First, following last week’s referendum, our country needs strong, proven leadership – to steer us through this period of economic and political uncertainty, and to negotiate the best possible terms as we leave the European Union.
Second, we need leadership that can unite our Party and our country. With the Labour Party tearing itself to pieces, and divisive nationalists in Scotland and Wales, it is nothing less than the patriotic duty of our Party to unite and govern in the best interests of the whole country.
And third, we need a bold, new, positive vision for the future of our country – a vision of a country that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us.
Political certainty and economic confidence following the referendum
I will turn to those three issues in just a moment. But as we know this is not a normal leadership election held in normal circumstances. So I want to talk first about the immediate need for political certainty and economic confidence following the referendum.
Whether you supported Leave or Remain in the referendum campaign – and whether you predicted the sky would fall in or whether you didn’t – the result means we face a period of uncertainty that needs to be addressed head on. The country needs strong leadership and a clear sense of direction, to give confidence to investors, to keep the economy moving, and to keep people in work.
The fundamentals of the British economy are strong and will continue to be strong as we negotiate our departure from the EU. Economic growth has been solid, employment is at a record high, and the budget deficit has been reduced from eleven per cent of national income at the time of the banking crisis to a predicted three per cent this year.
Our financial system is well-capitalised and resilient. The capital requirements of the biggest banks and the liquid assets they hold mean they have the flexibility to keep on lending to businesses and families. And the Governor’s swift action last Friday means that the Bank of England is ready to provide significant additional funds and liquidity in foreign currency, should our financial institutions need it. He has also made clear that the Bank continues to assess the economic conditions and will take further action if necessary.
So the Bank of England has taken the right actions to maintain confidence, and I know that the Chancellor has said he will support the Bank if other measures are needed. But beyond that, I want to use this opportunity to make several things clear.
First, Brexit means Brexit. The campaign was fought, the vote was held, turnout was high, and the public gave their verdict. There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door, and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union, and it is the duty of the Government and of Parliament to make sure we do just that.
Second, there should be no general election until 2020. There should be a normal Autumn Statement, held in the normal way at the normal time, and no emergency Budget. And there should be no decision to invoke Article Fifty until the British negotiating strategy is agreed and clear – which means Article Fifty should not be invoked before the end of this year.
Third, we should make clear that for the foreseeable future there is absolutely no change in Britain’s trading relationships with the EU or other markets. And until a new legal agreement is reached with the EU, which will not happen for some time, the legal status of British nationals living or working in Europe will not change – and neither will the status of EU nationals in Britain.
And fourth, while it is absolutely vital that the Government continues with its intention to reduce public spending and cut the budget deficit, we should no longer seek to reach a budget surplus by the end of the Parliament. If before 2020 there is a choice between further spending cuts, more borrowing and tax rises, the priority must be to avoid tax increases since they would disrupt consumption, employment and investment.
Negotiating our departure from the EU
These are all measures that will be taken by a Conservative Government I lead, and they offer stability and certainty to consumers, employers and investors for the foreseeable future. And I want to reassure foreign governments, international companies and foreign nationals living in Britain that we are the same outward-looking and globally-minded and big-thinking country we have always been – and we remain open for business and welcoming to foreign talent.
But looking ahead, negotiating the best possible terms as we leave the European Union will be crucial to our future prosperity. And that is going to require strong, proven leadership. I intend, in the coming weeks, to set out in some more detail my proposed negotiating principles, but for now I want to make two important points about the way we conduct this negotiation.
First, nobody should fool themselves that this process will be brief or straightforward. Regardless of the time it takes to negotiate the initial deal, it is going to take a period lasting several years to disentangle our laws, rules and processes from the Brussels machinery. That means it is going to require significant expertise and a consistent approach. I will therefore create a new government department responsible for conducting Britain’s negotiation with the EU and for supporting the rest of Whitehall in its European work. That department will be led by a senior Secretary of State – and I will make sure that the position is taken by a Member of Parliament who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU.
The second point is while the ability to trade with EU member states is vital to our prosperity, there is clearly no mandate for a deal that involves accepting the free movement of people as it has worked hitherto. Now is not the time for me to set out my full negotiating principles – that will come later. But I want to be clear that as we conduct our negotiations, it must be a priority to allow British companies to trade with the single market in goods and services – but also to regain more control of the numbers of people who come here from Europe. Any attempt to wriggle out of that – especially from leadership candidates who campaigned to leave the EU by focusing on immigration – will be unacceptable to the public.
The need for unity
The process of withdrawal will be complex, and it will require hard work, serious work, and detailed work. And it means we need a Prime Minister who is a tough negotiator, and ready to do the job from day one.
But even then, it will not be possible to do what is right for Britain, to get the best deal we can for our country, unless we are united as a Party and as a Government. That is why I believe so strongly that there needs to be a proper contest with a leader elected by the whole Party with a proper mandate – and no coronation brought about by back-room deals.
We’ve just emerged from a bruising and often divisive campaign. Throughout, I made clear that on balance I favoured staying inside the EU – because of the economic risk of leaving, the importance of cooperation on security matters, and the threat to the Union between England and Scotland – but I also said that the sky would not fall in if we left. I was open about the costs and the benefits and the risks and the opportunities of EU membership. So now the decision has been made, let’s make the most of the opportunities that our departure presents – and get out into the world and help British firms to do business all around the globe.
Because the task in front of us is no longer about deciding whether we should leave or remain. The country has spoken, and the United Kingdom will leave the EU. The job now is about uniting the Party, uniting the country – securing the Union – and negotiating the best possible deal for Britain. And as you can see from some of my early supporters present here today, like Chris Grayling from the Leave campaign and Justine Greening from the Remain campaign, under my leadership the Conservative Party will be able to come back together and govern not just in the interests of seventeen million Leave voters or sixteen million Remain voters but in the interests of our whole country.
A vision of a country that works for everyone
And this is a crucial point. Of course we need to unite the Party and the country, and of course we need to negotiate the best deal we can with Europe. But if we’re going to govern in the interests of the whole country, we cannot allow the Government to be defined exclusively and indefinitely by the process of our withdrawal from the EU. Because Britain still needs a Government that is capable of delivering a programme of serious social reform and realising a vision of a country that truly works for everyone.
The evidence of this need has been known to us for a long time. If you’re born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others. If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white. If you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else to go to university. If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately. If you’re a woman, you still earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s too often not enough help to hand. If you’re young, you’ll find it harder than ever before to own your own home. These are all burning injustices, and – as I did with the misuse of stop and search and deaths in police custody and modern slavery – I am determined to fight against them.
But the mission to make this a country that works for everyone goes further than fighting these injustices. If you’re from an ordinary, working-class family, life is just much harder than many people in politics realise. You have a job, but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home, but you worry about mortgage rates going up. You can just about manage, but you worry about the cost of living and the quality of the local school, because there’s no other choice for you.
Frankly, not everybody in Westminster understands what it’s like to live like this. And some need to be told that what the Government does isn’t a game, it’s a serious business that has real consequences for people’s lives. I will set out more detailed proposals in the coming weeks, but for today I want to be clear: under my leadership, the motives of the Conservative Party will never be in any doubt. And our actions will be bold. We, the Conservatives, will put ourselves at the service of ordinary, working people and we will strive to make Britain a country that works for everyone – regardless of who they are and regardless of where they’re from.
Who I am
I know there is a great hunger for this kind of One Nation vision in the Conservative Party. Whether it is the 2020 Group, the Blue Collar Conservatism agenda or the social justice caucus, I have never known our Party to be so alive with such creative policy thinking and such an obvious desire to improve people’s lives.
And it this is the kind of Conservatism I’ve always believed in and always stood for. I know some politicians seek high office because they’re driven by ideological fervour. And I know others seek it for reasons of ambition or glory. But my reasons are much simpler. I grew up the daughter of a local vicar and the granddaughter of a regimental sergeant major. Public service has been a part of who I am for as long as I can remember.
I know 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. I just get on with the job in front of me.
And you can judge me by my record. As Home Secretary, I was told I couldn’t take on the Police Federation, but I did. I was told I couldn’t cut police spending without crime going up, but crime is lower than ever. I was told I shouldn’t start asking questions about police corruption, but everywhere I’ve seen it – from Stephen Lawrence to Hillsborough – I’ve exposed it. I was told I couldn’t stop Gary McKinnon’s extradition, but I stood up to the American Government and I stopped it. I was told I couldn’t deport Abu Qatada, but I flew to Jordan and negotiated the treaty that got him out of Britain for good.
But 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. We have immediate work to do to restore political stability and economic certainty, to bring together the Party and the country, and to negotiate a sensible and orderly departure from the European Union. But more than that, we have a mission to make Britain a country that works not for the privileged and not for the few but for every one of our citizens.
Together, we – the Conservative Party – can build a better Britain.