It’s a measure of the resilience of this country that since the vote to leave the EU and in defiance of all predictions, the economy has grown much faster than the rest of Europe. Unemployment has fallen to the lowest level since 1972, exports have soared, English football teams have won both the Champions League and the UEFA cup by beating other English football teams, and inward investment has soared to a record £1.3 trillion.
It’s almost as if the commercial dynamism of the British people is insulating them from the crisis in our politics, and yet we cannot ignore the morass of Westminster, where parties have entered a yellow box junction, unable to move forward or back, while around the country, there is a mood of disillusion even despair at our ability to get things done. The longer it goes on, the worse the risk that there will be serious contamination and a real loss of confidence because the people of this country deserve better from their leaders. They need courage and they need clarity and they want a resolution.
And that is our mission today, and that is why I’m standing before you because now is the time to remember our duty to the people and the reasons for the Brexit vote. It wasn’t just about democracy. Though, that was fundamental. It wasn’t just about immigration though people were entirely reasonable in wanting national control. I remember that campaign vividly, and I think I understood some of the feelings of those who voted to leave. They wanted to be heard. They wanted to feel that they too could be part of the astonishing success of this country. They wanted to feel that their hopes and dreams were as important to the government as the desires and priorities of any Metropolitan-style guru or tech king or the head of some FTSE 100 company.
And so now is the time to unite this country and unite this society. And we cannot begin that task until we have delivered on the primary request of the people – the big thing that they asked us to do.
After three years and two missed deadlines, we must leave the EU on October 31st. We must do better than the current Withdrawal Agreement, that has been rejected three times by Parliament, and let me clear that I am not aiming for a no-deal outcome. I don’t think that we will end up with any such thing. But it is only responsible to prepare vigorously and seriously for no deal. Indeed, it is astonishing that anyone could suggest dispensing with that vital tool of negotiation. I think this is a great country, and that we are more than capable of rising to the challenge and it’s only by preparing and raising awareness of what no deal might entail that we would ensure that we do not resort to that option. It’s only if we have the guts and the courage to get ready for it that we will carry any conviction in Brussels and get the deal we need because they don’t want no deal any more than I do. And we will simply not get a result if we give the impression that we want to go on kicking the can down the road with yet more delay.
Delay means defeat. Delay means Corbyn. Kick the can again and we kick the bucket with every week and month that goes by, in which we fail to deliver on our promise. I’m afraid we will further alienate, not just our natural supporters driving them into the arms of insurgent parties, anyone who believes that politicians should deliver on their promises. The paradox is that we have not allayed the divisions in our society by failing to deliver the outcome, which millions voted for, we wouldn’t ease the tensions with delay, we made them worse, and we risk making them worse again. And so when we come up with that better deal. I think there will be a sense of overwhelming relief. As Brexit finally leaves the front pages, and becomes a debate about how to get the best possible free-trade deal in Brussels, and then they’ll be the chance to concentrate on the Britain that we can create for everyone.
It’s an extraordinary fact that the United Kingdom is forecast in our lifetimes, to go neck and neck with Germany as the largest most prosperous economy in Europe. With the lead in so many of the cutting edge industries: tech, academia, battery technology, turbine design that is enabling us to be world leaders in clean power and environmental protection. And yet, if I may be permitted to use a metaphor based on the internal combustion engine. We are somehow achieving Grand Prix speeds, but without firing on all cylinders. We all know there is a huge gulf in the prosperity between London in the southeast, the most productive region in the whole of Europe, and the rest of the UK. And so if we are to respond to that profound message of the Brexit vote. If we are to unite our country and unite our society, then we must fight now, for those who feel left behind.
We need now to level up, not to neglect our capital of course not, but to put in the infrastructure that will lift every region, Northern Powerhouse rail, proper connectivity in the West Midlands. It is absurd that Spain should have 80 per cent coverage of fibre optic broadband against only seven per cent in this country. Madness, that Leeds should be the largest city in Europe with no metro rail system. We must end the injustice of our education funding gap both in primary and secondary schools, giving young people everywhere the same tools and the same freedom and the same confidence to succeed and do more to fund our amazing at the colleges that have been too often forgotten, because it should be our fundamental moral purpose as a government to bridge, not just the wealth gap, not just the productivity gap, but the opportunity gap between one part of the UK and another.
And I know we can do it. I know we can unite our country and our society. Because I have seen and used exactly those tools to help to unite our capital, the greatest city on Earth. When I became mayor 11 years ago, we had four of the six poorest boroughs in the UK. When I left office after the two terms, we had none of the bottom 20, and although everybody’s life expectancy had risen it was among the poorest quartile, that the games had been fastest and what was the method by which we brought the city together: we made fantastic investments in affordable mass transit, so that people on modest incomes could live near their place of work, we out-built Labour with more than 100,000 affordable homes, we massively expanded the London Living Wage policy that was then adopted by the national government.
We cut the murder rate by 50 per cent, cut road traffic fatalities by 50 per cent. And when you consider that those calamities fall disproportionately on poorer families, you can see that everything we did was driven by a desire for social justice and promoted that outcome, and yet of course at the same time, we defended and championed the businesses and wealth creators who make those investments possible and there was a long period when I was just about the only politician who is willing to stick up for financial services, even though they produce about £70 billion in tax for our economy and I did it because that is the symmetry at the heart of modern conservatism.
We can fight for the teachers and the nurses, and the firemen, and the armed service personnel and the police, precisely because we are willing to encourage the tech wizards and the shopkeepers and the taxi drivers and, yes, the bankers as well. And we enable the extraordinary success of our private sector with a strong committed, passionate, well funded public sector. It’s that synergy, that symbiosis, that sizzling synergy that is so fertile in generating further economic growth and that is the formula that is the way we will breach the opportunity gap and bring the country together, responding to a mighty plea of the majority of our people for fundamental change on the 23rd June 2016 so that no town, no community, no person feels left behind.
That is the way we will reknit the bonds of this amazing country and in everything we do, we will seek to strengthen the union of our four nations. That invincible quartet, the awesome foursome that makes up the UK, the world soft power superpower, and I’ve seen across the world in our armed forces in our diplomacy, our sheer cultural impact how we are so much more than the sum of our parts.
Our friends abroad don’t think of England or Scotland, or Wales, or Northern Ireland, they think of all the values that are expressed by that Union Flag. Economic and political freedom, democracy, free speech, human rights, a passionate determination to campaign for the protection of the natural world. Female education. That’s what they know the United Kingdom stands for, and they admire it deeply. And over the last few years, I’ve seen in our friends the desire for this country to recover its confidence and self-belief. And the curious thing is that very often it’s been our friends and partners who have shown more confidence in this country than we have ourselves.
It’s time to end this debilitating uncertainty, to end the doubts and division with clarity and decision. And that is why I believe I’m the right person to take this country forward and I’m proud and humbled to have the support of so many of my parliamentary friends and colleagues here today, and indeed my representatives of my former team in City Hall.
And though I do not for one minute underestimate the complexity and challenges that lie ahead. I have long experience of managing real short term difficulties in the confident expectation of long-term success. I took this city through riots and strikes and all the teething problems of the Olympics, which was actually no picnic as I remember, and with a team of stars we brought this city together with new infrastructure, with renewed and relentless emphasis on education and technology, we shrank that opportunity gap, and to sum up my mission in a sentence: what I want to do now, with your help, is to do for the whole country what we did in London, releasing the creative energies of our country and its peoples and healing its divisions and I will make one final observation.
I know the London Labour Left. I have studied them and their ways. I know who they are, I know their obsessions with strange far-left Latin American caudillos with proto-Marxist views and a curious hostility to free speech. And yet in Jeremy Corbyn we have a man who is far to the Left of Ken Livingstone, in his nihilistic determination to hike taxes to penal rates, to attack wealth creation and private property, and its failure, again and again, to extirpate anti-Semitism from his circle. And I’m afraid that he, and what he stands for, are a real threat to our fundamental values and our way of life.
I come to this fight now as a proud conservative to this campaign and just about every seat in the country. And I believe in the innate decency of our country in his genius and in its hard-won freedoms. I believe in setting people free by equipping them with the education to achieve their dreams. I believe in the vital symmetry between free-market economics and superb public services, and I will do absolutely anything I can within the bounds of the constitution and the law to prevent the government of the UK from passing into the hands of those who, by their total disdain for wealth creation, their content – the normal aspirations of millions to improve their lives – would compromise our ability to fund the NHS, and so much else besides. My friends, we cannot let them anywhere near Downing Street.
Last time, I would remind you, that I faced an emanation of that cabal, I defeated him when the Conservatives were 17 points behind in London. We can do it again and we must. We can get Brexit done and we can win. We can unite our country and our society and that is why I’m standing to be leader of the Conservative party and prime minister because this contest is not chiefly about any one person, or even about the Conservative party, it is the opening salvo in a battle to restore faith in our democracy to renew the natural ties of affection that unite the UK, and to protect this country from red-tooth, red-clawed socialism of today’s Labour party.
And we’re going to do this by articulating a new and inspiring vision for sensible moderate, modern conservatism. My friends, I ask you, now, to join me in that great project and yes, sometimes that great challenge that lies before us, but with your help and with the help of the British people we will succeed and the whole country will win.