Theresa May’s speech to Conservative Party Conference

Theresa May’s speech to Conservative Party Conference


Leadership is doing what you believe to be right and having the courage and determination to see it through.

That is the approach I have taken on Brexit.

We have had disagreements in this Party about Britain’s membership of the EU for a long time.

So, it is no surprise that we have had a range of different views expressed this week.

But my job as Prime Minister is to do what I believe to be in the national interest.

And that means two things.

First, honouring the result of the referendum.

MPs asked the British people to take this decision.

We put our faith in their judgement.

They have put their faith in us to deliver.

I will not let them down.

And secondly, to seek a good trading and security relationship with our neighbours after we have left.

They are our close friends and allies, and we should ensure it stays that way.

That’s what I said at Lancaster House.

It’s what we promised in our manifesto.

And it’s what I’ve worked day and night for the last two years to achieve.

No-one wants a good deal more than me.

But that has never meant getting a deal at any cost.

Britain isn’t afraid to leave with no deal if we have to.

But we need to be honest about it.

Leaving without a deal – introducing tariffs and costly checks at the border – would be a bad outcome for the UK and the EU.

It would be tough at first, but the resilience and ingenuity of the British people would see us through.

Some people ask me to rule out no deal.

But if I did that I would weaken our negotiating position and have to agree to whatever the EU offers.

And at the moment that would mean accepting one of two things.

Either a deal that keeps us in the EU in all but name, keeps free movement, keeps vast annual payments and stops us signing trade deals with other countries.

Or a deal that carves off Northern Ireland, a part of this country, effectively leaving it in the EU’s Custom’s Union.

So, let us send a clear message from this hall today: we will never accept either of those choices.

We will not betray the result of the referendum.

And we will never break up our country.

I have treated the EU with nothing but respect. The UK expects the same.



In a negotiation, if you can’t accept what the other side proposes, you present an alternative.

That is what we have done.

Our proposal is for a free trade deal that provides for frictionless trade in goods.

It would protect hundreds of thousands of jobs in the just-in-time supply chains our manufacturing firms rely on.

Businesses wouldn’t face costly checks when they export to the EU, so they can invest with confidence.

And it would protect our precious Union – the seamless border in Northern Ireland, a bedrock of peace and stability, would see no change whatsoever.

No simple free trade agreement could achieve that, not even one that makes use of the very latest technology.

Our proposal would be good for our rural communities, getting us out of the Common Agricultural Policy.

It would be good for our coastal communities.

We would be out of the Common Fisheries Policy, an independent coastal state once again.

And with the UK’s biggest fishing fleets based in Scotland, let me say this to Nicola Sturgeon.

You claim to stand up for Scotland, but you want to lock Scottish fishermen into the CFP forever.

That’s not ‘Stronger for Scotland’, it’s a betrayal of Scotland.

Our proposal would mean we could renew our role in the world, strike new trade deals with other countries.

With control of our money, we can spend more on our NHS.

With control of our laws, we can bring decision-making closer to the people and returning powers to Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

And with control of our borders, we can do something that no British government has been able to do in decades – restore full and complete control of who comes into this country to the democratically elected representatives of the British people.

And this is what we will do with the immigration powers we take back.

The free movement of people will end, once and for all.

In its place we will introduce a new system.

It will be based on what skills you have to offer, not which country you come from.

Throughout our history, migrants have made a huge contribution to our country – and they will continue to in the future.

Those with the skills we need, who want to come here and work hard, will find a welcome.

But we will be able to reduce the numbers, as we promised.

And by ending free movement we will give British business an incentive to train our own young people and to invest in technology that will improve their productivity.

So this is our proposal. Taking back control of our borders, laws and money.

Good for jobs, good for the Union.

It delivers on the referendum.

It keeps faith with the British people.

It is in the national interest.



Even if we do not all agree on every part of this proposal, we need to come together.

Because it’s time we faced up to what is at risk.

We have a Labour Party that, if they were in Government, would accept any deal the EU chose to offer, regardless of how bad it is for the UK.

But who also say they’ll oppose any deal I choose to bring back, regardless of how good it is for the UK.

They are not acting in the national interest, but their own political interest.

And there are plenty of prominent people in British politics – in Parliament and out of it – who want to stop Brexit in its tracks.

Their latest plan is to hold a second referendum.

They call it a ‘People’s Vote’.

But we had the people’s vote. The people voted to leave.

A second referendum would be a “politicians’ vote”: politicians telling people they got it wrong the first time and should try again.

Think for a moment what it would do to faith in our democracy if – having asked the people of this country to take this decision – politicians tried to overturn it.

Those of us who do respect the result – whichever side of the question we stood on two years ago – need to come together now.

If we don’t – if we all go off in different directions in pursuit of our own visions of the perfect Brexit – we risk ending up with no Brexit at all.

And there’s another reason why we need to come together.

We are entering the toughest phase of the negotiations.

You saw in Salzburg that I am standing up for Britain.

What we are proposing is very challenging for the EU.

But if we stick together and hold our nerve I know we can get a deal that delivers for Britain.



And ultimately that’s what it’s all about.

The people we serve are not interested in debates about the theory of Brexit – their livelihoods depend on making a success of it in practice.

A Brexit that might make Britain stronger fifty years from now is no good to you if it makes your life harder today.

If you work in a factory in Pendle, you need a Brexit that keeps trade friction-free and supply-chains flowing.

If you are a fisherman in Peterhead, you need a Brexit that delivers full control of our waters.

If you run an exporting business in Penarth, you need a Brexit that will open up new global markets.

If you live in Pettigo on the Irish border, you need a Brexit that keeps it frictionless and communities connected.

These things matter to you – so they matter to me.

You are the people we are all here to serve.

And together we will build a brighter future for the whole United Kingdom.



I passionately believe that our best days lie ahead of us and that our future is full of promise.

We have fundamental strengths as a country.

English is the global language.

We can trade with Shanghai over morning coffee and San Francisco at tea time.

Our courts are incorruptible.

Our universities, world-leading.

Our soft power, unrivalled.

A driving force in the Commonwealth.

A permanent member of the UN Security Council.

And soon we will retake our own seat at the World Trade Organisation.

Britain will be a champion for free trade right across the globe – and I want to thank our fantastic trade envoys for leading that work.

But our greatest strength of all is the talent and diversity of our people.

We have produced more Nobel Prize winners than any country apart from America.

We are home to amazing innovators, creators, and entrepreneurs.

Our wonderful public servants are the best in the world.

The compassion of our NHS staff, the dedication of our teachers, the bravery of our police, and the matchless courage of our armed forces.

Don’t let anyone tell you we don’t have what it takes: we have everything we need to succeed.

And in 2022 we will put the best of British creativity and innovation, culture and heritage on show in a year-long festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Wherever I travel, I find a renewed interest in Britain.

Let me give you one example.

Last month I became the first British Prime Minister to visit Kenya in 30 years.

This is a Commonwealth partner, a nation of over 50 million people, on a continent that will be an engine-room of economic growth in the years ahead.

Their message to me was clear: our businesses want to trade with you.

Our young people want to study with you.

Our scientists and artists want to collaborate with you.

Yet I was the first Prime Minister to visit since Margaret Thatcher.

There is a whole world out there. Let’s lift our horizons to meet it.