Britain is not leaving Europe – it is rejoining the rest of the world
I first visited the UAE in 1993 when much of what we see around us today was an ambitious – and some would have said unachievable – vision in the eyes of the UAE’s leaders. Since then, I have come to know the UAE well and admired its remarkable evolution. Dubai alone, which 50 years ago had a population of only 40,000, has become a truly global city with architectural feats that push the boundaries of what is possible. The UAE has become an international hub serving the world, not just the Middle East.
I learnt during my time as defence secretary just how important and broad the ties are between the UK and UAE: the security of both our peoples really depends on that bond.
And just as our defence cooperation promotes mutual security, our trade ties deliver mutual prosperity. The figures speak for themselves. The UAE is the UK’s fourth largest market outside Europe. Our exports have increased 37 per cent since 2009. We achieved, two years early, the UAE-UK Business Council target of £12bn (DH57.3bn) in annual trade. Five thousand UK companies are active in the UAE.
It is no surprise, therefore, that I was determined to visit the UAE very early on in my tenure as secretary of state for international trade. I see lots of potential for further growth in our bilateral ties, and strongly support the Business Council’s new target of £25bn in annual trade by 2020.
I am also confident that the UK’s departure from the EU will bring new opportunities for our partnership with the UAE. But I understand that the prospect of change can be unsettling for some. Some have said that a vote to leave the EU was akin to the UK turning its back on free trade and towards isolationism. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
The UK remains a member of the EU for now, until the formal process of exiting is completed. And we will continue to use that membership to push for further economic liberalisation across the EU. We want the EU to succeed – we just don’t want to be governed by it. As we leave, we intend to do so in a way that ensures minimal disruption for our European partners, with whom we will continue to have strong economic, political and security bonds. We are not leaving Europe; we are re-joining the rest of the world.
But let me also explain why I am optimistic about the future. The UK has the world’s fifth largest economy, which grew faster than all other major advanced economies in 2014, and faster than all except the US last year; a system of law which is globally respected (and used by both the Dubai International Financial Centre and Abu Dhabi Global Markets); record high levels of employment, and its lowest levels of unemployment since 2005; world-leading universities; and the world’s leading financial centre.
We are an entrepreneurial hub – more than 420,000 new businesses set up in 2015. We are the highest ranked major economy on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, and in the Cornell/WIPO Global Innovation Index. There are now over 3,000 companies in London’s Tech City. Four of the 10 European start-ups already worth £1bn are in the UK. The internet accounts for a higher proportion of the UK’s economy than for any other G20 member.
But don’t just take my word for the fundamental strength of the UK economy. Look at where international investors are putting their money. The UK remains the top European destination for foreign direct investment. And important new investments have been announced in the last few weeks since the Brexit referendum, for example from GlaxoSmithKline and Softbank. UK tourism and exports have already benefited markedly from the lower pound, which also boosted investor interest in some sectors.
The case is clear, and my message is simple: Britain is open for business, and will be more and more so. We now have a whole department at the heart of government whose sole task is to open markets and boost flows of trade and investment which will promote both UK and global prosperity.
The UAE has roundly disproven the doubts of those who scoffed at its vision two or three decades ago. Likewise, the United Kingdom will confound the sceptics and become the world’s brightest beacon of open markets.
Liam Fox is the UK’s secretary of state for international trade
Published: September 18, 2016 04:00 AM