TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MP, REMARKS AT POLITEIA: BREXIT, THE UK’S GLOBAL ROLE AND OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE
Shiela thank you so much, it’s wonderful to be here.
I am conscious as I gaze around this room and I see an extremely distinguished audience but I also see that the ghosts of great men inhabit this club and hopefully inspire those that come after them to greater deeds.
If I may say so one of the many reasons why I love to come to London is because this city has been at the centre of so much of what has shaped the world and I believe that it will be closer to the events that shape the world in the years to come because of what you did last year in voting to leave the European Union.
Now I should begin with a confession; I was one of those foreign luminaries who advised the British people to remain in the European Union.
I do hasten to add that I provided that advice not because I thought that Britain needed Europe but because I knew that Europe needed Britain.
Having given that advice I have never been happier than when that advice was cheerfully ignored.
The British people made a historic decision to take full responsibility for their future and I have to say that I have never been more full of admiration for the people of this mighty island than at that time.
It’s important to recall that Britain is the world’s fifth largest economy; it is the most dynamic major economy in Europe and the fastest growing economy in the G7.
If there is one country on earth that is entitled to face the future with confidence it’s the country which has given the world the common law, the mother of parliaments, and a modern world that has quite literally been made in English.
Even if the worst happens and Britain has to trade with the countries of the European Union on the basis of WTO rules, I can tell you that Australia has been doing it quite successfully for the last forty years and if you need any advice as to how it’s done I’m more than happy to give it to you.
But the instant Britain did vote to leave the European Union, people in Australia started to think about the appropriate terms of a free trade deal between our two countries and I have to say they are very simple: trade in goods should be absolutely free of tariffs and quotas, there should be full neutral recognition of standards and qualifications and there should be free movement of people for work not welfare.
If a motor vehicle is fit to be sold in Britain it should be fit to be sold in Australia.
If a doctor is fit to practice in Australia he or she should be fit to practice in Britain.
And if someone can do a job, particularly at a middle income, from the other country, why shouldn’t that be permitted?
Because in the end, this is a world and these are countries which should be encouraging people to get ahead.
Now I have to say, the more I think of the best future, not just for Britain but indeed for the countries that are remaining in the European Union with which Britain already has zero tariffs, zero quotas, comparable, indeed mutually recognisable, standards and qualifications and indeed free movement of people, why wouldn’t Europe do exactly the same with Britain in the future that it’s done in the recent past?
Sure, the Europeans might decide to whack on punitive tariffs but if they do they’ll be damaging themselves more than they’ll be damaging Britain because here’s the truth: the countries of Europe do not trade with Britain because Britain is in the EU, they trade with Britain because it is in their interests to do so and will be every bit as much in their interest to do so on the day after separation as on the day before separation.
Now I have to tell you that while negotiating free trade agreements is not easy it is doable.
It is doable.
But there is one lesson that I have learned, and that Australia has learned, from our success in negotiating free trade agreements with our three biggest trading partners, with Korea, with Japan and with China, and it’s a very simple lesson: do not leave it to negotiators.
Because if you leave it to the negotiators, the negotiations will go on and on and on.
And why wouldn’t they?
Given that each round of negotiation means a trip and an extended stay in a five or six star hotel and so often, we discovered, the only thing that came out of negotiations was the date of the next negotiations.
What I did when I became Prime Minister was essentially three things: I gave the negotiators a deadline, twelve months.
We got the Korean deal in six months, the Japanese deal in eight months, and I’m afraid we broke the deadline, we missed the deadline, it took us thirteen months to get the China deal.
But we set a deadline and we essentially made it.
The other thing I said to them was don’t try to get everything just get the best you can because we will take what we can get today and we will go for what we can’t get today, tomorrow.
And the final thing I said was that I will make this my mission at head of government level to try to ensure this comes off, not because I’m going to get down into the nitty gritty of what should happen to a particular product or a particular standard but by saying to the heads of government of the other countries: we are from Australia and we want to be as helpful as we humanly can.
So we did our best to correct certain wrongs that had been done to the Koreans by a previous government.
I stated what I know to be true that at least since 1945 Japan has been an exemplary international citizen and they certainly wanted to hear that, given the way that their history has been used against them.
And I said, again and again, in China, that the transformation of that country and the lifting of a half a billion people from the third world to a middle class in just a generation is quite simply the most extraordinary advance in wellbeing in all of human history.
And in that atmosphere, I have to say that, my brother heads of government were very happy to make progress. Very happy to make progress.
So my essential message to the people of Britain at this time, to use the world immortal words of FDR, the only thing you have to fear is fear itself.
You should be full of confidence, not just in your past but in your future and I say this to you, not just as the former leader of a friend, an ally.
I say this to you from a country where we think of Britain and Britons not just as friends, not just as allies, but as family.
You know what it’s like with family?
It’s one for all, it’s all for one.
We are always willing each other to succeed.
And believe me, believe in yourselves and you will succeed.