It is great to be back in North Wales again – Philip and I were here just two weeks ago. There will be no time for walking today. But it is always great to be with the Welsh Conservatives.
Alun – thank you for that introduction. And thank you for being a brilliant Secretary of State for Wales. You have a passion for your home nation and for its place in a strong United Kingdom – and you and your team in Westminster never stop fighting for Wales.
After three years as Secretary of State, Alun is now the grand old man of Welsh politics. That is not meant as in insult. Indeed, Alun is the Cabinet’s premier athlete – just this week completing the London Marathon in 3 hours 45. But with a new First Minister and three new leaders in the Senedd, it has been all change in Welsh politics.
Last year we said thank you to Andrew R T Davies for seven years of service leading our Conservative Assembly Members at Cardiff Bay. I am delighted that Andrew is still playing a key role as the Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Sustainability, and Rural Affairs.
And, after a good-natured contest involving Party members across Wales, Paul Davies took over the mantle.
I have always felt that our Party is a bit like a family. But anyone observing Returning Officer Davies announce that Davies had beaten Davies in the race to succeed Davies might have thought we had taken things a bit far! I meet Paul regularly and it is a pleasure to work with him – and with Byron, who is a great chairman here in Wales.
Leading the official opposition here in Wales, Paul has set out some clear priorities.
Boosting localism – so devolution does not stop at Cardiff Bay. Supporting businesses – putting small and medium-sized firms at the centre of economic policy. And building a strong Wales in a strong UK – fighting the separatism of Plaid Cymru and making the case for an outward-looking Wales in a Global Britain. Paul has made a great start – and I know that everyone here will be with him as he fights for a better future for Wales.
Yesterday I was out campaigning in the local elections in England. Those elections were very difficult for our Party. Results are still coming in – but the picture is clear. Councillors who have given years of hard work to their local communities have lost through no fault of their own. We fielded a record number of candidates this year – more than any other party and more than we ever have before. And I want to thank every single one of them for their service, both to our Party and our country. I commiserate with everyone who lost yesterday. I was a local councillor. I know how hard it is. I have knocked on the doors and delivered the leaflets.
You are the same here in Wales. With a devolved Assembly, you fight more elections than most.
You just fought a strong campaign in Newport West – helping Matthew Evans secure a swing from Labour to the Conservatives – no mean feat for a Party nine years into government. We all know that it can sometimes feel like a thankless task – but we know how vital it is for our democracy. So to everyone who stood-up for what they believe in, who stood-up for their local communities and – at a time when politics has a bad name – stood-up to be counted: I say – and we say – a sincere, thank you.
This is a difficult time for our Party – and these election results are a symptom of that. We have the privilege of governing our country at a momentous time. And we have a responsibility to deliver something truly historic. What is momentous and historic, is seldom simple or straightforward. But I think there was a simple message from yesterday’s elections to both us and the Labour Party: just get on and deliver Brexit.
I said when I ran to lead our Party that Britain can and should make a success of Brexit. That means leaving the EU and setting the UK on course for a bright future. The very best way to do that is by leaving with a deal. Not everyone agrees. There are some who do not accept the referendum result. They say there should be a second referendum and their aim is to stop Brexit. I profoundly disagree with them. If you give the people a choice and they make a clear decision, you have a duty to act on it.
That means leaving the EU – so we can spend our money as we choose, decide our own immigration policy, make our own laws, interpret them in our own courts, and make trade deals around the world. The deal we have negotiated with EU delivers that. Yet there are those who want us to give up on it and to leave without a deal. And I disagree with them too. Leaving with the good deal we have negotiated, a deal that works for the UK, is the very best possible outcome. It is a prize worth striving for. Let me tell you why.
As Conservatives, we are the Party of business. We know that by backing enterprise and rewarding ambition, everyone benefits. That is why we have helped over a million new businesses start across the UK – including thousands here in Wales. They have helped drive our employment rate up to a record high – with more people enjoying the security of a job than ever before. Here in Wales, employment has grown faster than anywhere in the UK over the last
We need to keep that up. So we need a Brexit that works for our manufacturers and our exporters – that keeps supply chains flowing and opens up new routes for trade. And our deal does that. Leaving with no deal would not. Conservatives are the Party of national security. Unlike a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn, we always put protecting our country first – not political ideology.
So we need to a Brexit that works for the police officers fighting crime across borders and the security agents using shared intelligence to defeat terrorism. Our deal does that. Leaving with no deal would not. And Conservatives are the Party of the Union – the precious bond between Wales and England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Majorities in two nations of our United Kingdom voted to leave. Majorities in the other two voted to remain. In Northern Ireland there is the added challenge of a land border with the EU. So we need a Brexit that works for the whole UK – our deal does. And Parliament has made clear that it will do everything in its power to prevent a no deal exit from happening. So if we want to deliver Brexit, we need to leave with a deal.
It goes to the heart of what our Party stands for. Because we Conservatives are the Party that faces facts – that seeks to govern the world as it is. And the fact is that, despite 9 out of 10 Conservative MPs backing the deal, because some joined other parties in opposing it, there were not the votes to get it over the line. Some MPs opposed it because they want to stop Brexit.
Others because it does not match up to their ideal of what Brexit might be. But politics is the art of the possible.
Leaving the EU with a deal that works for Britain is the best possible outcome available to us now. And that is why we are now reaching out across the House of Commons in order to build a majority for Brexit. Our goal is to deliver Brexit so we can move our country forward.
I will keep fighting– and we must all keep fighting – to achieve that goal. We need to stand together, stay the course and deliver for the British people.
I passionately believe that the only way for our country to move forward…to heal the divisions of the last few years, and genuinely to fulfil the instruction the British people sent us in 2016… is to leave the European Union and build a new role for our country in the world.
The way we do that will define us as a United Kingdom for generations to come. And it will define our Party in the eyes of the British people. That is our challenge and our opportunity. Leaving the EU with a deal that works for the whole UK is the only way we can move forward together.
To do so would not be a compromise of our Conservatism – it would be the fulfilment of it. Because ours is not a Party of one section of society, one shade of opinion, or one part of the country. We are the Party of the whole nation – serving the national interest.
That is the Conservative Party I joined over forty years ago. And that is the Party we remain today. A party that is decent, moderate, and patriotic. That puts the national interest first. That makes the public’s priorities, our priorities. Proud of Britain’s past, and optimistic about our future. Conserving the best of our inheritance, but never afraid of change. That believes in the good that government can do, but never thinks that government has all the answers. The party of ambition for every single one of our citizens.
We don’t think that a person’s success in life should be defined by who they love, their faith, the colour of their skin, who their parents were, or where they were raised. We believe that everyone should aspire to go as far as their own hard work can take them – with nothing holding them back. And that aspiration should be encouraged and rewarded. That is what it means to be a Party of Government in the United Kingdom. And a Party of Government is what I want the Conservative Party to remain. Because it is only in Government that you can make a real difference.
I was first elected in 1997. I remember those 13 years in opposition. The frustration of seeing a Labour government taking the wrong decisions – and being powerless to stop them. You know it here in Wales – where a Labour Government is letting down the people it should be serving.
Welsh children let down by an education system producing lower standards in schools, because of years of Labour complacency. Welsh patients not getting the high standards of NHS care they deserve, while Labour failed to pass on the funding increases that the Welsh NHS needs.
Council house tenants robbed of their right to buy their homes – and young people finding it harder to get on the housing ladder because Welsh Labour delivers the lowest rate of new homes in Britain. Conference – Wales deserves so much better. And in 2021, you will have the chance to offer people a better future. A real Conservative alternative to two decades of missed opportunities under Labour. It will take hard work and determination, but with a new team and with fresh ideas, ready to take Wales forward, I know you can do it.
And it will take hard work to win across the United Kingdom too. First, we must deliver Brexit. That is essential – but it will not be sufficient. It has to be the means to a broader end of making the whole United Kingdom a country that truly works for everyone. Beyond the day-to-day debate, beyond the arguments about process, that has to be our lodestar as Conservatives: to make life better for everyone in our country. To understand the challenges that working people face and to offer practical solutions that will work for them, driven by the Conservative principles that we believe in.
That is what we are doing. And it starts with a strong economy. We inherited a mess from Labour, but thanks to the hard work of the British people we have got our economy back on track.
Government borrowing down to its lowest level for 17 years. Our debt falling, our economy growing, and wages growing at their fastest rate for a decade – and faster than inflation.
Getting here has not been easy – it has meant taking difficult decisions. But even as we took them, we looked-out for working people.
Raising the personal allowance – saving working people up to £6,800.
Freezing fuel duty – saving the average driver £1,000.
Creating the National Living wage – giving the lowest paid an annual pay rise of £2,750 since its introduction.
So under the Conservatives, you are more likely to be in a job, earning a good wage, and paying less tax. And with a strong economy, we have the means to invest in the services people rely on and the infrastructure Britain needs. Conservatives are giving the NHS in England the biggest cash boost in its history – with a long-term plan to make sure every penny makes a difference.
As a direct consequence of that investment, the Welsh Government will see a £1.2 billion increase in its budget. That’s right – a ten-figure funding boost for Wales thanks to Conservative investment in our most cherished public service. I think the Welsh Government should spend that money on improving the NHS for patients here in Wales.
The UK Government is investing directly in a better future for Wales. Record investment in our railways, to bring our country closer together. Over £1.5 billion in the Wales and Borders Route, connecting Cardiff, Newport, Swansea, Wrexham and Shrewsbury. In the south, new InterCity Express Trains with faster journey times and more seats. Here in the north, a £50 million upgrade project to improve the service. Bridge tolls abolished on the Severn Crossing – saving motorists money and giving a boost to the local economy. City and Growth Deals for every square mile of Wales – investing in digital infrastructure, transport, and technology.
£36 million from our Modern Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to develop energy efficient homes at the Active Building Centre in Swansea.
£50 million for the Semiconductor Catapult Centre in South Wales.
A Nuclear Sector Deal launched in North Wales.
This is what you can achieve when you have a Conservative Government laying a strong economic foundation and stepping up to help our economy grow.
Cutting taxes and boosting pay for workers.
Helping businesses create new opportunities for young people.
Investing in the public services we all rely on.
Putting a down-payment on a brighter tomorrow for our country outside the EU and making a success of the future.
Of course there is more to do – and Conservatives are ready to take the next step. But we have to deliver Brexit first. The alternative does not bear thinking about. Because Labour under Jeremy Corbyn has no credible solutions to improve people’s lives. No plan to make Britain a stronger, fairer country. Only a reckless, ideological approach to the economy would take us right back to square one. Higher taxes, a thousand billion pounds more in borrowing, and fewer jobs.
It is our Party’s duty not only to deliver Brexit for our country, but to deliver our country from the disaster of a Labour government.
To do that we need to stand together, united as a Party. To deliver Brexit, to defeat Labour, and to build a better future for the next generation. We are doing something no Government has ever had to do before. It is not easy. To secure our country’s future, we must succeed. If we pull together – we can succeed. And if we put the country first – we will succeed.