Theresa May: Brexit deal would support free societies in face of Russian threats

A Brexit trade deal would support Europe's commitment to open economies and free societies in the face of Russian threats to the international order, Theresa May has said.

The Prime Minister stressed a "comprehensive new economic partnership" with the European Union would "underpin" that "shared commitment" as Moscow seeks to undermine Western values.

She reiterated Britain's "unconditional" pledge to maintaining European security, including a proposed post-Brexit pact with the EU, while warning of the "scale and nature" of the threat from Russia.

Addressing the Lord Mayor's Banquet at the City of London's Guildhall, Mrs May said: "As I said in my speech in Florence, the UK will remain unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe's security.

"And the comprehensive new economic partnership we seek will underpin our shared commitment to open economies and free societies in the face of those who seek to undermine them.

"Chief among those today, of course, is Russia."

Mrs May highlighted Russia's incursion in Ukraine, violations of the air space of several European countries and "a sustained campaign of cyber espionage and disruption", including "meddling in elections" and hacking foreign ministries and parliaments.

The PM said Russia is seeking to "weaponise information" by planting fake news and "photo-shopped images" in an attempt to "sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions".

She told Moscow: "We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed. Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of Western nations to the alliances that bind us.

"The UK will do what is necessary to protect ourselves, and work with our allies to do likewise."

Mrs May also stressed the need to improve relations with Russia to avoid a return to the Cold War, saying: "While we must beware, we also want to engage."

Theresa May and her husband Philip with new Lord Mayor of London Charles Bowman and wife Samantha. (Victoria Jones/PA)
Theresa May and her husband Philip with new Lord Mayor of London Charles Bowman and wife Samantha. (Victoria Jones/PA)

She evoked the hope that greeted the fall of the Soviet Union, saying Britain and Russia should not be "in a state of perpetual confrontation", and announced that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will visit Moscow in the coming months for talks.

"We know that a strong and prosperous Russia which plays by the rules would be in the interests of the United Kingdom, Europe and the world.

"As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia has the reach and the responsibility to play a vital role in promoting international stability.

"Russia can, and I hope one day will, choose this different path.

"But for as long as Russia does not, we will act together to protect our interests and the international order on which they depend."

As we leave the EU, we must do all we can to ensure that UK and EU businesses continue to thrive side-by-side. That's why it was so important to speak to European business leaders in Downing Street this morning: pic.twitter.com/TtQTPgFLc0

-- Theresa May (@theresa_may) November 13, 2017

In a wide-ranging foreign policy speech, Mrs May acknowledged the "challenges" of Brexit, admitting there will be "ups and downs" but urging business leaders at the banquet to "embrace this period with confidence and optimism".

"Not grounded in some article of faith, but with a clear understanding of our strengths as a nation," she said.

She said the "defining British spirit" with its values of "fairness, justice and human rights" will be put to the task of leaving the EU and also upholding the international order which "is in danger of being eroded".

Mrs May highlighted the "enduring strength" of Britain's partnership with the US, which has been a "force for good for generations", while acknowledging "we will not always agree on each and every course of action".

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