Theresa May: a successful deal for the UK will be a successful deal for Scotland
Theresa May - Picture credit: PA
My first Scottish conference since becoming prime minister comes at a significant time. Politically, delegates in Glasgow will be looking back on a year in which the Scottish Conservatives, under Ruth Davidson’s inspirational leadership, achieved their best ever results in a Scottish Parliament election, replacing Labour as the largest opposition party in Scotland. We will also be looking forward to the local elections in May, when voters across Scotland will have the chance to send a clear message to the SNP that they do not want a second independence referendum by voting Scottish Conservative and Unionist on 4 May.
We also meet at a time of great significance for the United Kingdom. Last year the UK as a whole voted to leave the European Union, and this year the government I lead will begin negotiating with the other countries of the EU to make a success of Brexit for the whole United Kingdom.
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I have been clear from the beginning that the right deal for Britain will be a deal which works for all parts of the UK. As a fully integrated economy and genuinely united kingdom, the deal which works for the UK will be a deal which works for Scotland.
In 2014 people in Scotland voted decisively to remain an intrinsic part of that United Kingdom. The result represented the largest ever democratic expression of popular sovereignty in Scottish history. Over two million people voted to remain a part of the United Kingdom. That meant preserving Scotland’s place in our union, and the rights and responsibilities of all Scots as British citizens.
That union is a partnership of equal citizens. When we take decisions on a UK-basis, whether in a referendum or a general election, every individual has an equal voice. So in June last year, when the UK as a whole was asked if we should leave or remain in the European Union, every voter had an equal say and the collective answer was final. If the result had gone the other way, and Remain had prevailed, then the answer would have been equally conclusive.
Our priority now must be to respect the democratic outcome and make a success of our exit from the European Union. We will aim to build a bright future for the United Kingdom as a dynamic and outward-looking global trading nation. Because I respect the Scottish Government and the other devolved administrations, I have been determined that they should be fully engaged as the
UK Government forms its negotiating position. The Joint Ministerial Committee has allowed the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to make direct representations to the UK Government as we develop our thinking and their input has been beneficial.
Despite what you might read in the newspapers, it is clear that there is considerable common ground between us. We all want the freest possible trade in goods and services between the UK and the EU’s member states. This should give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets, and let European businesses do the same here. This will be delivered through a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU.
We also all want to see the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens in the rest of the EU, guaranteed as quickly as possible. We want workers’ rights to be protected and indeed enhanced. We all value the collaboration in science and research across the EU, and want co-operation in education and innovation to continue. We are leaving the European Union but we are not leaving Europe and we have no desire to become more distant to our European neighbours. We will remain strong allies, open to and engaged with the cultural and intellectual life of Europe and the rest of the world.
However, one fundamental difference exists between the UK Government and the present Scottish Government. I take pride in leading a Conservative and Unionist government. I firmly believe in our union of nations and people and I want it to be an enduring success in the future. The SNP government wants to bring that union to an end, and they focus their energies on trying to denigrate it. I will always stand up for our United Kingdom, because I believe that it is overwhelmingly in the best interests of all of our citizens.
In purely economic terms, the rest of the UK is by far Scotland’s biggest and most valuable marketplace, receiving four times more of Scottish goods and services than the rest of the EU. The Scottish Government’s own figures demonstrate that the rest of the EU comes third after the rest of UK and the rest of the world as a market for Scottish businesses. Scotland’s future will best be served as an integral part of a strong United Kingdom, out in the world doing more business globally. To achieve that, we need to make a success of our negotiations with the EU, be bold in our ambition for the best trade deals around the world, and protect and enhance the integrity of our own domestic marketplace here at home.
Our future success must reach all parts of our union and make the lives of everyone in our country better. Across the UK we should aim to build a society that respects the bonds of family, community, citizenship and strong institutions that we share as a union of people and nations. The end towards which we work as we leave the EU must be to make the most of the opportunities ahead for everyone. The social and cultural unions represented by families, communities, towns, cities, counties and nations are what define us and make us strong. Our United Kingdom is the greatest manifestation of that shared society, providing the foundation on which everything else is built. As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, I am determined that the government I lead will safeguard that vital union, both for our security and prosperity today and for the future.