The US and UK have the heavy responsibility to lead the free world
We must support the global institutions that can help deal with transnational crisis
A new trade agreement will help to cement the Special Relationship
I defy any person to travel to this great country at any time and not to be inspired by its promise and its example. For more than two centuries, the very idea of America – drawn from history and given written form in a small hall not far from here – has lit up the world.
That idea that all are created equal and that all are born free has never been surpassed in the long history of political thought. And it is here on the streets and in the halls of this great city of Philadelphia that the founding fathers first set it down, that the textbook of freedom was written, and that this great nation that grew “from sea to shining sea” was born.
Since that day, it has been America’s destiny to bear the leadership of the free world and to carry that heavy responsibility on its shoulders. But my country, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, has been proud to share that burden and to walk alongside you at every stage.
For the past century, Britain and America, and the unique and special relationship that exists between us, have taken the idea conceived by those “56 rank-and-file, ordinary citizens,” as President Reagan called them, forward. And because we have done so, time and again it is the relationship between us that has defined the modern world.
One hundred years ago this April, it was your intervention in the First World War that helped Britain, France, our friends in the Commonwealth and other allies to maintain freedom in Europe.
The United Nations – in need of reform, but vital still – has its foundations in the Special Relationship, from the original Declaration of St James’ Palace to the Declaration by United Nations, signed in Washington, and drafted themselves by Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The World Bank and International Monetary Fund, born in the postwar world at Bretton Woods, were conceived by our two nations working together. And NATO, the cornerstone of the West’s defence, was established on the bonds of trust and mutual interests that exist between us.
Some of these organisations are in need of reform and renewal to make them relevant to our needs today. But we should be proud of the role our two nations – working in partnership played – in bringing them into being, and in bringing peace and prosperity to billions of people as a result.
Because it is through our actions over many years, working together to defeat evil or to open up the world, that we have been able to fulfil the promise of those who first spoke of the special nature of the relationship between us. The promise of freedom, liberty and the rights of man.
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“We must never cease,” Churchill said, “to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man which are the joint inheritance of the English-speaking world and which through Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Habeas Corpus, trial by jury, and the English common law, find their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence.”
It is why Britain is the only country in the G-20 to spend 0.7% of gross national income on overseas development. It is why my first act as Prime Minister last year was to lead the debate in Parliament that ensured the renewal of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent. And it is why the government I lead will increase spending on defence in every year of this Parliament.
It is why Britain is a leading member, alongside the United States, of the coalition working successfully to defeat Daesh; why we have agreed to send 800 troops to Estonia and Poland as part of NATO’s forward presence in Eastern Europe; why we are increasing our troop contribution to NATO’s Resolute Support mission that defends the Afghan government from terrorism; and it is why we are reinforcing our commitment to peacekeeping operations in Kosovo, South Sudan and Somalia.
And it is why Britain is leading the way in pioneering international efforts to crack down on modern slavery – one of the great scourges of our world – wherever it is found. I hope you will join us in that cause and I commend Sen. (Bob) Corker in particular for his work in this field. It is good to have met him here today.
As Americans know, the United Kingdom is by instinct and history a great, global nation that recognises its responsibilities to the world. And as we end our membership of the European Union -as the British people voted with determination and quiet resolve to do last year – we have the opportunity to reassert our belief in a confident, sovereign and global Britain, ready to build relationships with old friends and new allies alike.
A future that sees us restore our parliamentary sovereignty and national self-determination, and to become even more global and internationalist in action and in spirit. A future that sees us take back control of the things that matter to us – things like our national borders and immigration policy, and the way we decide and interpret our own laws – so that we are able to shape a better, more prosperous future for the working men and women of Britain.
A future that sees us step up with confidence to a new, even more internationalist role, where we meet our responsibilities to our friends and allies, champion the international cooperation and partnerships that project our values around the world, and continue to act as one of the strongest and most forceful advocates for business, free markets and free trade anywhere around the globe.
This is a vision of a future that my country can unite around, and that I hope your country, as our closest friend and ally, can welcome and support.
So as we rediscover our confidence together – as you renew your nation just as we renew ours – we have the opportunity, indeed the responsibility, to renew the special relationship for this new age. We have the opportunity to lead, together, again.
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I believe it is in our national interest to do so. Because the world is increasingly marked by instability and threats that risk undermining our way of life and the very things that we hold dear.
The end of the Cold War did not give rise to a new world order. It did not herald the end of history. It did not lead to a new age of peace, prosperity and predictability in world affairs.
For some, the citizens of Central and Eastern Europe in particular, it brought new freedom. But across the world, ancient ethnic, religious and national rivalries, rivalries that had been frozen through the decades of the Cold War, returned.
New enemies of the West and our values – in particular in the form of radical Islamists – have emerged. And countries with little tradition of democracy, liberty and human rights, notably China and Russia, have grown more assertive in world affairs.
So we – our two countries together – have a responsibility to lead. Because when others step up as we step back, it is bad for America, for Britain and the world.
It is in our interests – those of Britain and America together – to stand strong together to defend our values, our interests and the very ideas in which we believe. This cannot mean a return to the failed policies of the past. The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over. But nor can we afford to stand idly by when the threat is real and when it is in our own interests to intervene. We must be strong, smart and hard-headed. And we must demonstrate the resolve necessary to stand up for our interests.
And whether it is the security of Israel in the Middle East or the Baltic states in Eastern Europe, we must always stand up for our friends and allies in democratic countries that find themselves in tough neighbourhoods, too.
We each have different political traditions. We will sometimes pursue different domestic policies. And there may be occasions on which we disagree. But the common values and interests that bring us together are hugely powerful. And – as your foremost friend and ally – we support many of the priorities your government has laid out for America’s engagement with the world.
It is why I join you in your determination to take on and defeat Daesh and the ideology of Islamist extremism that inspires them and many others terrorist groups in the world today. It is in both our national interests to do so. This will require us to use the intelligence provided by the finest security agencies in the world. And it will require the use of military might.
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But we should engage with Russia from a position of strength. And we should build the relationships, systems and processes that make cooperation more likely than conflict – and that, particularly after the illegal annexation of Crimea, give assurance to Russia’s neighbouring states that their security is not in question. We should not jeopardise the freedoms that President Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher brought to Eastern Europe by accepting President Putin’s claim that it is now in his sphere of influence.
The nuclear deal with Iran was controversial. But it has neutralised the possibility of the Iranians acquiring nuclear weapons for more than a decade. It has seen Iran remove 13,000 centrifuges together with associated infrastructure and eliminate its stock of 20% enriched uranium. That was vitally important for regional security. But the agreement must now be very carefully and rigorously policed – and any breaches should be dealt with firmly and immediately.
To deal with the threats of the modern world, we need to rebuild confidence in the institutions upon which we all rely. In part that means multinational institutions. Because we know that so many of the threats we face today – global terrorism, climate change, organised crime, unprecedented mass movements of people – do not respect national borders. So we must turn towards those multinational institutions like the UN and NATO that encourage international cooperation and partnership.
Such a deal – allied to the reforms we are making to our own economy to ensure wealth and opportunity is spread across our land – can demonstrate to those who feel locked out and left behind that free markets, free economies and free trade can deliver the brighter future they need. And it can maintain – indeed it can build – support for the rules-based international system on which the stability of our world continues to rely.
The UK is already America’s fifth largest export destination, while your markets account for almost a fifth of global exports from our shores. Exports to the UK from this State of Pennsylvania alone account for more than $2 billion a year. The UK is the largest market in the EU – and the third largest market in the world – for exporters here.
America is the largest single destination for UK outward investment and the single largest investor in the UK. And your companies are investing or expanding in the UK at the rate of more than ten projects a week.
British companies employ people in every US state from Texas to Vermont. And the UK-US Defence relationship is the broadest, deepest and most advanced of any two countries, sharing military hardware and expertise. And of course, we have recently invested in the new F-35 strike aircraft for our new aircraft carriers that will secure our naval presence – and increase our ability to project our power around the world – for years to come.
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Seventy years ago in 1946, Churchill proposed a new phase in this relationship – to win a Cold War that many had not even realised had started. He described how an iron curtain had fallen from the Baltic to the Adriatic, covering all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe: Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Sofia and Bucharest.
Today those great cities – homes of great culture and heritage – live in freedom and peace. And they do so because of the leadership of Britain and America, and of Mrs. Thatcher and President Reagan.
They do so – ultimately – because our ideas will always prevail. And they do so because, when the world demands leadership, it is this alliance of values and interests – this Special Relationship between two countries – that, to borrow the words of another great American statesman, enters the arena, with our faces marred by dust and sweat and blood, to strive valiantly and know the triumph of high achievement.
As we renew the promise of our nations to make them stronger at home – in the words of President Reagan as the “sleeping giant stirs” – so let us renew the relationship that can lead the world towards the promise of freedom and prosperity marked out in parchment by those ordinary citizens 240 years ago.
So that we may not be counted with the “cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat”, but with those who “strive to do the deeds” that will lead us to a better world.
That better future is within reach. Together, we can build it.
Theresa May is Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. This is the speech she delivered at the Republican Party’s ‘Congress of Tomorrow’ conference in Philadelphia
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