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Change in the air, says PM

Britain has opportunity to lead on free trade, says May

Theresa MayPrime Minister Theresa May last night said Britain could be at the forefront of a new era of “free trade” and called on business leaders to help win over a public disillusioned by the effects of globalisation.

She said Donald Trump’s election as US president following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union showed that “change is in the air”.

It was now incumbent on governments and business to show that global trade and liberalism can work for everyone, she said, as she pledged her commitment to a new industrial strategy which would focus on Britain’s strengths.

In a speech at the Guildhall in the City of London, she said: “I stand here confident that in facing these new challenges, once again, Britain can lead.”

She added: “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.

“Not standing inflexibly, refusing to change and still 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 Britain’s historic global opportunity to provide it.”

Mrs May again played down the notion that the government faced a straightforward choice between taking a hard or soft approach to the Brexit decision.

“All of us here tonight know that there is not some choice between hard Brexit and soft Brexit,” she said.

“It is about how business and government works together to get the best deal; the right deal for Britain and the right deal for businesses working across the continent.”

She wanted the government to be “unashamedly pro-business” but repeated her commitment to improving the behaviour of business leaders.

Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI business group, said: “It’s encouraging to see the government make a robust case for free trade. Working with business, it can ensure that the benefits help drive productivity, and increase living standards in all parts of the country.”

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