Napoleon is said to have once described Britain as a nation of shopkeepers. It was not meant as a compliment, but it highlighted one of our country’s biggest and most enduring strengths.
We are one of the great trading nations of the world and the decision taken by the people to leave the EU will enable us to seize new opportunities.
Yesterday, I held talks with leading retailers – the first in a series of meetings with business leaders and experts in their fields – to discuss how we do that. I was joined in yesterday’s discussions by the small business minister Margot James, and I made it clear that the government is confident of getting a good deal for Britain that makes the most of the new freedoms Brexit will afford us.
Our instructions from the British people are clear. Britain is leaving the European Union.
The mandate for that course is overwhelming and unarguable, and it is the duty of the government to make sure that’s what happens.
Now I want everyone, on whatever side of the referendum campaign, to come together to help ensure we make a success of it.
Naturally, people want to know what Brexit will mean. Simply, it means the UK leaving the European Union. So we will decide on our borders, our laws and the taxpayer’s money.
And as new markets open up and trade moves increasingly online, we will forge new links for British business across the world.
We are determined to make sure that the UK remains the best place in Europe to own and grow a business, whether it’s one operating at home or abroad.
We can do that by creating a more dynamic economy and making sure our regulatory environment helps rather than hinders both businesses and workers. It’s also about creating an immigration system that allows us to control numbers and encourage the brightest and the best to come to this country.
So this is an historic and positive moment for our nation, but as I told Parliament this week, the negotiation ahead with our EU allies will be complex. It is going to require significant expertise and a consistent approach. We won’t be giving a running commentary that would give away our negotiating position.
Already, however, there are positive signs.
The British economy is fundamentally strong – with employment at a record high, almost a million new businesses created in our country since 2010, and the budget deficit reduced by almost two-thirds. The latest data suggest that our manufacturing and service industries and business and consumer confidence are strong.
We’re seeing businesses putting their faith and money in this country. Over the summer firms such as Softbank, GlaxoSmithKline and Siemens all confirmed that they will make major investments in the UK. Countries including Australia have already made clear their desire to proceed quickly with new trade deals for the UK.
We are going to take the time required to prepare for our negotiations with the EU and get them right. A key part of this will be ensuring a national dialogue about both the challenges that leaving the EU poses, but crucially also the new freedoms that will become open to us.
We want to build a national consensus around our negotiating position, listening and talking to as many organisations, companies and institutions as possible – from the large PLCs to small business.
We want to understand how EU legislation affects each sector and what risks and opportunities that people see as we exit the EU.
That’s why I’m using a series of roundtable meetings to talk with stakeholders in a series of sectors. They will help ensure all views can be reflected in the forensic analysis being carried out by the team at my department of the options for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
Yesterday I began by meeting with senior business leaders in the retail sector, which plays such an important part in the UK economy. Indeed, the UK is the number one destination in Europe and number two globally for foreign direct investment in retail, and the sector accounts for over 3m jobs.
In the weeks ahead, I will speak to many other firms, organisations and bodies in other sectors up and down the country, to establish the priority issues and opportunities for the whole of the UK. We will listen to their concerns, aim to limit any uncertainty in the transition and ensure our new relationship with the EU works for business.
This engagement with business and enterprise is vital and I am confident that together we will be able to deliver on what the country asked us to do through the referendum.
So the message we take to the world is clear: our country remains open for business. We will be an even more outward-looking, globally-minded, free trading country than we have ever been. And we will do this together – delivering the national mandate for Brexit in the national interest.