Blog: Proud of our maritime history

Last month, I visited China. Representing the Government on Maritime UK's trade mission, my aim was to showcase the excellence of the UK’s maritime industry, which in this country directly supports 500,000 jobs and contributes £22.2billion to our economy.

Most people know of Britain’s seafaring past, but perhaps fewer appreciate that the UK remains the world’s maritime centre. In the light of China’s ambitious plans for its own industry, I highlighted that UK businesses, with special skills and expertise, are well placed to help them realise their aims as well as ours. More broadly, the delegation, which, as Maritime Minister, I led, typified the fresh thinking about trading arrangements across the world that our exit from the European Union allows. Indeed, the ‘Golden Era’ conference was aptly named, for Brexit presents an opportunity – indeed, the obligation – to enhance Britain’s place as an enterprising, globally-trading nation. Even now that the Prime Minister has triggered Article 50, those who remain doggedly in denial still cling nervously to the familiar comforts of Europe. Continuing trade with the continent is, of course, important, but we should not be blinkered by that priority.

Other opportunities around the world abound and equating continued trade with continued membership of the EU’s Single Market and its Customs Union is myopically pessimistic. It is only outside this protectionist fortress that we will be free to embrace old friends and forge new alliances. These will include new relationships with China and developing economies in Asia and South America, as well as the rejuvenation of age-old ties with historic partners from across the Commonwealth and the Anglosphere. A key advantage of our new approach will be secured by retaking the UK’s own seat at the world bodies, including the World Trade Organisation, that determine global regulation.

Such status not only gives a right to vote in these bodies, but crucially also confers an entitlement to initiate new standards and propose amendments to existing ones. Instead of being represented by the EU, we will, once again, be free to co-operate with allies – old and new – to ensure that world regulation does not prejudice our particular needs. Such a strategy, in the finest British traditions, is bold, outward-looking and ambitious. To borrow Milton’s lines: “Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep and shaking her invincible locks…as an eagle mewing her mighty youth and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full midday beam.”

John Hayes MP is the Maritime Minister