Theresa May hailed Britain as a “hub for foreign investment” – even as leading banks said they are poised to shift thousands of jobs away because of Brexit.
Speaking to world leaders and corporate chiefs in Switzerland, the Prime Minister insisted that Britain remains “open for business” despite leaving the EU.
The UK was not turning its back on the world, but seeking out new trading partners and allies around the globe – while maintaining close ties with European neighbours.
Ms May told the World Economic Forum in Davos she would “make the case for free markets, free trade and globalisation”, while responding to people’s concerns about the impact.
And she said: “We are by instinct a great, global, trading nation that seeks to trade with countries not just in Europe but beyond Europe too.
“A Global Britain is no less British because we are a hub for foreign investment. Indeed, our biggest manufacturer, Tata, is Indian – and you still can’t get more British than a Jaguar or a Land Rover.”
But the speech was delivered against the backdrop of a business backlash against Ms May’s speech this week, which was widely seen as threatening a hard Brexit.
One leading bank, HSBC, indicated that it plans to move 1,000 jobs from the bank's London business to Paris in direct response to EU withdrawal.
Barclays is looking to route activities through Ireland and Germany, while Switzerland's UBS is preparing to move posts from the UK to the continent.
Furthermore – in the starkest warning issued yet – leading carmaker Toyota said it was working out how it could “survive” Brexit.
Its chairman, Takeshi Uchiyamada, told the Financial Times: “We have seen the direction of the Prime Minister of the UK, we are now going to consider, together with the suppliers, how our company can survive.”
Ms May’s use of the phrase “Global Britain” could be seen as a retort to a German newspaper which carried the front-page headline “Little Britain”, after her Brexit speech.
But, in Davos, the Prime Minister – despite backing Remain – turned full circle by praising voters for having the courage to vote to leave the EU.
She acknowledged the road ahead “will be uncertain at times”, but said it promised “a brighter future for our country’s children, and grandchildren too”.
“So, while it would have been easy for the British people to shy away from taking such a path, they fixed their eyes on that brighter future and chose a bold, ambitious course instead,” the Prime Minister said.
“It was simply a vote to restore, as we see it, our parliamentary democracy and national self-determination. A vote to take control and make decisions for ourselves.
“And – crucially – to become even more global and internationalist in action and in spirit too.”
Ms May also made the contentious claim that the Brexit vote was not a decision to become “more distant” from the EU.
“Our decision to leave the EU was no rejection of our friends in Europe…it was no attempt to become more distant from them,” she insisted.
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