Liam Fox MP: Heathrow will help Brexit Britain make the most of global opportunities
Britain's place in the world is built on trade, says the International Trade Secretary, as he urges MPs to back a new runway at Heathrow Airport in tonight's vote.
As the pre-eminent seafaring power in the world, our merchants traversed the oceans striking deals, opening up new markets and selling the country’s pioneering industrial output to consumers across the globe.
That trading spirit remains undiminished – which is just one reason why I am so sure Brexit will enable Britain to thrive. The world’s most dynamic growing markets are no longer exclusively on our doorstep, but increasingly in Asia, Africa and South America.
So when we are free to strike our own trade deals we will be free to target new markets in new nations, and set our own tariffs to ensure the flow of goods is unhindered by needless protectionism. It is the same opportunity our forebears saw and grasped. And it is one we must grasp as we exit the EU.
But in this ever more connected global marketplace, speed and connectivity will be crucial in allowing British business to be truly competitive. And while our merchant navy remains the envy of the world, our biggest international port is now in land-locked West London.
Connections by air have never been more important and other countries have not been slow to spot it. A recent report by the Airport Council International – the global trade body for airports – made for sobering reading.
The UK was the only country in the EU last year to see a fall in its number of international connections. Indeed, it was only one of three countries in the whole of Europe to be classed in that category – alongside Serbia and Moldova.
It also showed Frankfurt taking the top spot for the most connected airport in Europe for the first time. It pipped Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to that prestigious position, with Heathrow dropping to third. Amsterdam had previously enjoyed a meteoric rise over the last decade, having been as low as sixth in 2008. It’s perhaps no surprise that both Frankfurt and Schiphol have found more international connections by expanding their capacity.
Heathrow has great potential to grow internationally. For many years, it was the busiest airport in the world for international passengers. As recently as 2014 it was ranked third, but it has now dropped to seventh – overtaken by three airports in the US and three in Asia.
The reason for this is not that people don’t want to travel to the UK or to do business with us – quite the opposite. The reason is that Heathrow is full. And that’s why it’s so important that MPs vote to agree plans to build a new runway tonight.
Hub airports are vital to modern economies. They offer the scope and scale to reach into ever more international destinations. Heathrow is our biggest port by value and has the size and the influence to improve connections to more rapidly growing cities across China and India and reach their millions of consumers on behalf of British business.
Heathrow has the potential to spread these economic opportunities across the UK. The Government has been clear that it expects about 15% of the extra capacity provided by the new runway to be serving domestic markets. Which means businesses in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north and south west of England will have better and quicker access to the markets they need to build wealth and create jobs. That’s why the government’s plans have such broad-based support – both the CBI and trades unions back Heathrow expansion. As do local civic leaders and 38 of the country’s regional airports.
Since taking up my post as the country’s first Secretary of State for International Trade, I have encountered nothing but enthusiasm from global companies wanting to trade and invest in Britain. But we are not alone in seeking new markets for our goods – the global competition has never been fiercer.
Heathrow’s marketing slogan seeking support for the expansion plans is ‘The World is Waiting’. Never has a phrase been more apt as the UK establishes its own place on the world stage as we leave the EU.
We must raise our horizons and not keep the world waiting any longer.
Liam Fox MP is the International Trade Secretary