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May and Xi: A tale of two speeches

While Theresa May was delivering her long-awaited ‘hard Brexit’ speech in London, Chinese president Xi Jinping was addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos, lauding the merits of globalisation.


PA Europe
The contrast between the two speeches was evident: while May paid lip service to globalisation during her speech, even interpreting the UK’s vote for Brexit as a vote “to embrace the world”, she spent far more time deriding the impact globalisation has had on Britain in the form of immigration and more power for supranational institutions: the two factors she believes led Britons to vote in majority to leave the EU.

Xi, by contrast, used his speech at the WEF to launch a firm and unequivocal defence of globalisation, stressing it’s not the cause of the problems that are now troubling the world. Xi also took a strong stance against protectionism, comparing it to keeping oneself locked in a dark room shut out from light and air. The Chinese president went on to promise to further open up some sectors of the economy to foreign investment, saying Chinese outbound investment would amount to $750bn over the next five years.     

While May emphasised Brexit would provide new opportunities for the UK to strengthen trade ties with countries outside Europe, she admitted Britain would have to leave the EU’s customs union to be able to take such opportunities. Such a move would constitute the partial resurrection of the very trade barriers that were removed with the conclusion of Single Market Act in 1987.


Brexit could theoretically bring “a more global Britain”, as May promised, but the PM would do good to keep in mind that the main promise of the Brexit campaign was to “take our country back”, not to take it forward. The British PM has indeed addressed these sentiments during an earlier speech in November when she derided internationalists as “citizens of nowhere”.
Xi, however, positioned himself as a promotor of global free trade in his speech yesterday, denouncing trade wars while carefully avoiding to mention Donald Trump’s name. May has been cosying up to the president-elect though, despite him winning the US elections on an anti-trade platform.
“President Elect Trump has said Britain is not “at the back of the queue” for a trade deal with the United States, the world’s biggest economy, but front of the line,” she said.

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