UAE, ABU DHABI - Diplomacy
Prime Minister, United Kingdom
Theresa May has been involved in politics at all levels for many years, beginning by stuffing envelopes at her local conservative association before going on to be a councillor in the London borough of Merton from 1986 to 1994. During her time at Merton, she was Chair of Education from 1988 to 1990 and Deputy Group Leader and Housing Spokesperson from 1992 to 1994. She was elected MP for Maidenhead in May 1997, after which she held several shadow positions, including Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, Shadow Secretary of State for the Family, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Women and Equalities. She served as Home Secretary from May 2010 until July 2016. She became Prime Minister on 13 July 2016.
Over the last five months, one of the prevailing sentiments in all my conversations with GCC leaders has been this sense that in challenging times, you turn to your oldest and most dependable friends. That is the spirit in which I come to the GCC today. We have a rich history on which to build. From the very first treaties, in the mid-17th century, which saw the East India Company reach agreements on British trade and a military presence in Oman, to our deep partnership as Cold War allies, the UK has been proudly at the forefront of a relationship between the Gulf and the West that has been the bedrock of our shared prosperity and security. As the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, I am determined that we should seize the opportunity to get out into the world and to shape an even bigger global role for my country, to build new alliances but more importantly, to go even further in working with old friends, like our allies here in the Gulf, who have stood alongside us for centuries.
In accepting the honor of addressing GCC leaders, I seek not just to offer a message of continuity, but to begin to build a bold new chapter in our cooperation; to forge a strategic relationship, a relationship based on true partnership and an enduring commitment between our countries and our peoples; a relationship through which together we can meet these great challenges to our shared security and prosperity, and grab this opportunity to build an exciting future for the generations that follow us.
When I think of the growth of this region over the past 50 years, from the transformation of Dubai to the position of the Gulf as the UK’s third largest export market, I never forget that the bedrock of this prosperity and stability has been the relationship between the Gulf and the West. Now, in this period of uncertainty, is the time to recommit to this relationship.
Already the Gulf is a special market for the United Kingdom. Last year alone, trade between the UK and GCC was worth more than GBP30 billion. At the same time Gulf investment in the UK is helping to regenerate cities from Aberdeen to Teeside, and from Manchester to London. I am determined that we should do everything possible to build on this and elevate our trade and investment to an even more ambitious level. I will continue the work that the UK has been leading over the past three years to make London one of the great capitals of Islamic finance anywhere in the world.
Free trade makes us all richer. It creates jobs. It increases investment. It improves productivity. It transforms living standards and creates opportunities for all of our citizens. And nowhere is that more important than here with our friends and allies in the Gulf. I am delighted that we agreed yesterday to set up a new Joint Working Group to examine how we can unblock remaining barriers to trade and take steps to further liberalise our economies for the benefit of our mutual prosperity.
For example, we have just reached a new agreement with Saudi Arabia to allow British businesses to obtain five-year multiple entry visas for the first time, creating new opportunities for more bilateral business. And we have agreed that in March next year, the UK will host an event on Gulf national transformation and economic diversification plans at the Mansion House — for centuries, a home of finance and trade at the heart of the City of London.
Also, I can confirm that the UK will take part in Dubai’s Expo 2020 continuing the tradition started in Britain with The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in Hyde Park in 1851. Dubai 2020 will offer an enormous commercial opportunity. There will be over 180 nations taking part with more than 25 million visitors expected — from the world’s top business leaders to its biggest investors. It is an opportunity that I am determined we should seize together.
I want us to explore whether in this dynamic and diverse market, we can forge a new trade arrangement for the whole of the Gulf area. I want to leave no-one in any doubt about the scale of my ambition or the extent of my determination to establish the strongest possible trading relationships between the UK and the Gulf.
Just as we take every possible step to break down the barriers that are restricting our trade and prosperity; it is also important that we continue the work to bring our peoples together and to ensure that the benefits of greater prosperity are shared by all. We all recognise that there is some way to go before we can say that these economies really work for everyone. But I have been encouraged by recent economic and social reforms you have taken forward and by the bold vision set out by all of the Gulf States for more fundamental and lasting change, most recently with Abu Dhabi’s vision for 2030.
This vital strategic relationship between the UK and the Gulf — a partnership steeped in so much history and so full of potential for our future — now demands even more concentrated efforts. That is why I want to continue the hugely positive discussions we had in this first ever UK-GCC dialogue at leader level. I am delighted that all GCC leaders agreed to make this an annual event. And I look forward to welcoming them all to London in 2017.