Address to the Welsh Party Conference 2018
Bore da cynhadledd.
Good morning conference.
It’s good to be almost home.
That said, the road between here and Llandysul is full of twists and turns so it might take a while to get there.
A bit like the Brexit negotiations.
Only with better scenery ...
You may have heard that the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier is said to be suspicious of the Anglo-Saxon view of the world.
Which may or may not be true.
But this is Wales.
A clever, Celtic nation;
One of the oldest in Europe;
Which for centuries has reached out well beyond its borders to build new relationships and new trading opportunities.
Just down the road from here Llanelli was once the tin-plate capital of the world.
Today the Trostre works contributes to Tata Steel’s global empire.
Or Carmarthen, developed as a trading port under the Normans.
From where the county’s agricultural products today are exported far and wide and make a significant contribution to the Welsh economy.
Dylan Thomas reputedly said that burning your bridges makes a nice fire.
The idea of deliberately destroying what links you with where you’ve been and where you want to go is a powerful one.
It’s why in the nine years since I was first elected as your Member of the European Parliament I’ve been determined to remember what we’ve achieved as a party and as a country as I seek to work with others to plan for the future.
We’ve established economic and financial credibility.
And weathered the global storm which threatened jobs and livelihoods.
We’ve invested in people and projects.
And stood shoulder to shoulder with our allies against those who threaten our security at home and peace abroad.
When some have questioned our decisions, or events have tested our resolve, we’ve stayed strong.
The coming months will test us once again as we seek to get the right deal when we leave the European Union.
Because it’s not just about those who voted to leave or those who voted to remain.
It’s about those who did not vote at all.
Our children and grandchildren;
And the children yet to be born.
Those who’ll be affected by the choices we make today;
And the opportunities we create for tomorrow.
Wherever I go, and whoever I talk to.
From the leaders of industry to people struggling to hold down a job;
Parents seeking to send their kids to a decent school;
Couples trying to make ends meet;
Or pensioners wanting security and support in older age.
They’re all worried about the future.
So we must reassure them;
Remind them we’re on their side.
And that we still have the vision and the drive to make a positive difference to their lives.
That same vision and drive which took us into government in 2010;
Which won us a majority in 2015.
And which saw more than a third of the Welsh electorate vote for us last year.
As your MEP I’ve worked closely with colleagues from across the EU to get the best deal for Wales and for Britain.
So I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment that we will remain a reliable partner with our European friends.
I welcome, too, the chance to build new alliances;
New trade agreements;
Stronger cooperation on security, counter-terrorism, and measures to combat cross-border crime;
Deeper collaboration on science, technology, and research;
All the things needed to give everyone in this country an equal chance to be the best they can be at whatever they choose to do.
I believe this Brexit generation has a responsibility to the next - and to those which follow - to get it right.
That means fulfilling the commitments which took us into government.
Growing the economy;
Putting more people in work;
Investing in services;
Breaking the cycle of joblessness and inactivity;
Removing the barriers which hold back business and keep people down.
In Wales, the value of our exports is around £16 billion a year.
I want it to go higher.
Our scientists are discovering new therapies;
Developing new theories;
And devising new ways to keep our planet clean.
Our farmers keep food on the table.
Our engineers keep planes in the air and cars on the road.
Our innovators, investors, the workers and business leaders.
It’s these talented people to whom we must give the right tools, and create the right conditions to make our country a land of opportunity and prosperity.
Just as we did when Wales was the engine room of the Industrial Revolution;
And the political leaders of the past gave us the Welfare State and the National Health Service.
As our Government seeks new partnerships around the world, I believe we must strive for the same here at home.
If our country’s future is to be built on these links, we need cooperation too between local and national governments, and between government and business.
As our party continues the task of driving forward the British economy, we should encourage the Welsh Government to take more pro-business, pro-enterprise, pro-competitive decisions in the areas for which it is responsible.
Because without that approach, and without a vibrant private sector, the Welsh economy risks falling behind.
We know that Wales is already home to many successful companies.
Some started here.
Others have invested and grown here.
One third of all foreign direct investment in Wales comes from other EU countries, while two thirds of Welsh exports go to European countries.
In a land known for hard work and innovation it should come as no surprise that last year the United Kingdom was the number one investment destination in Europe.
But with a reduced market share and a mixed picture across different sectors, we need to continue to reassure investors that we have the vision and ambition to retain this title in the years ahead.
From advanced manufacturing and information technology;
To the creative industries and financial services;
FDI from the Americas to Asia, the Middle East to the Pacific, is already providing fuel for Britain’s economic engine.
But we need more.
We must build on the partnerships which invest in the infrastructure needed to make our economy more competitive still;
The partnerships which sweep away the laws which restrict growth and deter investment.
The sort of partnership we’re seeing in the City Region initiatives;
A concept built on greater cooperation between the public and private sector to deliver a strong, vibrant, mixed, and balanced economy.
One which is strong enough to survive the hard times, and flourish in the good.
It’s these strengths we need to sell to the world;
Broadening our reach with emerging markets as well as those closer to home.
Ensuring that outside the EU Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom remain attractive to overseas investors for success today and a successful tomorrow.
Whichever side of the referendum result you were on, as a party and as a country we now need to move forward together.
To secure the best Brexit deal for Wales and for Britain.
In order to strike new trade deals to create more jobs and safeguard existing ones.
Getting control of our borders, our money, and our laws;
And looking to work in partnership with the Welsh Government, local government, and businesses across Wales to provide more opportunities for jobs, growth and investment in the years ahead.
These are the challenges we face today.
Recognising that no one party and no one person has a monopoly on good ideas about our country’s future.
But acknowledging that however we seek to get there we all want what’s best for our country.
I’m proud to represent a party that accepts this.
I’m proud to represent a party which has given us the only two women to become Prime Minister of our country.
I’m proud to represent a party which has produced the only woman to hold the post of Secretary of State for Wales - our friend Cheryl Gillan.
I’m proud to represent the party which recognises women as makers and doers;
I’ve spent a lot of time working with others to see how we can give more opportunities to women and girls.
Encouraging more women to play a greater role in public life.
Trying to identify the barriers from classroom to boardroom which prevent them becoming ambassadors for their communities and their country.
Seeking opportunities which 100 years ago - maybe even more recently than that - simply did not exist.
Our history is filled with inspirational women who overcame obstacles and inequality.
Pioneers like Frances Hoggan of Brecon, only the second woman in Europe to be awarded a medical doctorate;
A woman who pushed for education and social reforms at the end of the 19th century and whose achievements gave women like me the chance to study medical science at university.
Pioneers like Lucy Thomas, whose commercial accumen and determination in a male dominated world opened up the Welsh coal industry to new markets in the 1800s, and should inspire the businesswomen of today.
All are built on the foundations of policies which recognise and advance the empowerment of women.
Giving girls the skills and the confidence to become the business leaders and the decision makers of the future is not just the right thing to do;
It’s the smart thing to do.
Yet despite all the progress of recent years, there is much left undone - both at home and abroad.
In too many places women and girls lack access to decent work and education;
Suffer violence and discrimination;
And are under-represented in political and economic decision-making.
It’s not just the evil of the so-called Islamic State or of Boko Haram which threatens women and girls.
It’s the societal attitudes in too many countries which undermine confidence, limit opportunity, and abuse individuals.
When at the current rate it’ll take 70 years to close the global gender pay gap;
And when just one in five parliamentarians worldwide are women;
Meaning that in many countries women simply don’t have a say in the laws which discriminate against them;
Achieving equality between women and men today matters more than ever.
We can’t talk about tackling inequality if we don’t look to ourselves too.
We can take pride in the improvements we’ve made.
In Wales and across the United Kingdom we have some amazing women;
Those elected and those working tirelessly behind the scenes;
But we’re the only major party in Wales never to have had a woman MP.
It’s 100 years since women won the right to vote.
Yet since 1918 every single seat we’ve won in Wales has been won by a man.
Understanding and promoting the interests of everyone in Wales simply isn’t credible if at Westminster our MPs don’t include representation from half the population of Wales.
It affects the agenda we set.
The tone we take.
The experiences we bring.
In Wales our achievements of the past helped shape the world we know today.
It's the talents and tradition;
The outlook and the global reach of this small country of three million people on the edge of Britain which we must harness to meet the challenges of the future.
Not a Wales alone in the world.
But one of four nations;
A United Kingdom of 65 million people;
Built on a bedrock of equality, fairness, and opportunity.
Expanding our horizons beyond the countries of the European Union while not abandoning our important ties with them.
For as long as I continue to represent our party and as a Member of the European Parliament I will always seek the best deal for Wales and for Britain.
Supporting our Prime Minister and our government as they step up to the challenge of negotiating our exit from the European Union.
Supporting the businesses and communities and people of Wales as we move forward together.
Working together in the national interest;
As well as the interests of the world around us too.
Diolch yn fawr.