The one thing that stood out in Theresa May’s recent Conservative conference speech was her praise of free markets. In a hall erupting with applause, the Prime Minister noted “free markets are the greatest agent of collective human progress ever devised… We should defend free markets because it is ordinary working people who benefit.”
May noted that: “In the last 30 years, extreme poverty has been cut in half, global life expectancy has increased by nearly 20 years, (and) child mortality has halved.” That actually somewhat understates things – extreme poverty has fallen by more than two-thirds and child mortality has fallen by almost 60 per cent since the early 90s.
That great progress coincided with the world becoming economically freer, the integration of the socialist ex-Soviet states in the global market economy, and a substantial decline in average global tariffs—from 21 per cent in 1993 to five per cent in 2013.
So May is quite right about the importance of defending trade and enterprise as engines of prosperity. What is galling is that she continues to push a Brexit plan that is the antithesis to the formation of a global, free-trading Britain.
The great prize of Brexit is an economically liberal Britain which can reap the benefits of free and open markets around the world. Mrs May claims to admire these policies, but her Chequers plan is fundamentally incompatible with the kind of free-trading Britain envisaged by the likes of Trade Secretary Liam Fox.
As former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has rightly noted, Chequers would tie the UK to “EU rules, regulations and taxes across a wide spectrum of government activity, but with absolutely no say on those laws”.