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UK will be 'global leader' for free trade after Brexit, insists Theresa May

Published 03/09/2016

Theresa May will attend the G20 summit
Theresa May will attend the G20 summit

The UK will be a "global leader" for free trade following the Brexit vote, Theresa May insisted, as she headed to China for the G20 summit.

The Prime Minister, who faces a row with Beijing over the delayed decision on the Hinkley Point power station, maintained that we were in a "golden era" for UK-China relations.

Speaking at Heathrow before boarding an RAF plane to Hangzhou, eastern China, she said: "The message for the G20 is that Britain is open for business, as a bold, confident, outward-looking country we will be playing a key role on the world stage."

Ahead of talks with president Xi Jinping she said: "This is a golden era for UK-China relations and one of the things I will be doing at the G20 is obviously talking to president Xi about how we can develop the strategic partnership that we have between the UK and China.

"But I will also be talking to other world leaders about how we can develop free trade around the world and Britain wants to seize those opportunities.

"My ambition is that Britain will be a global leader in free trade."

Mrs May added: "I will be talking to other world leaders about the opportunities for trade around the globe that will open up for Britain following Brexit.

"I will be talking about how Britain will be seizing those opportunities."

The Prime Minister hopes to use the G20 summit, where she will hold talks with world leaders including US president Barack Obama, to show that the UK remains a "dependable" diplomatic and trading partner in the wake of the vote to quit the European Union.

But despite holding face-to-face talks with Chinese president Xi Jinping, Mrs May is not expected to use the meeting to make an announcement on the Hinkley Point project, which is backed by Beijing's state-owned nuclear firm.

Mrs May will have a meeting with President Xi on Monday, after the conclusion of the two-day G20 summit of leaders of the world's richest nations in Hangzhou.

Although a decision on whether or not the Hinkley Point C project in Somerset will go ahead is expected this month, UK officials indicated it would not be announced at the meeting with the Chinese leader - fuelling speculation the plan will be scrapped or significantly altered.

The French energy giant EDF, with support from China General Nuclear, had expected to build the £18 billion plant, but in a surprise move Mrs May's administration signalled a delay in making a final decision on the project amid reports of security concerns about Beijing's involvement and the high cost of energy from the power station.

With the UK seeking a new role on the world stage following the Brexit vote, the decision on Hinkley Point has major diplomatic implications for relations between the UK, France and China.

During the summit, Mrs May will hold her first face-to-face talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and is expected to adopt an approach of "hard-headed engagement" with Moscow.

She will also have a meeting with her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, with the trading relationship expected to dominate the agenda.

Mrs May's talks with president Obama follow the US leader's warning that the UK would be at "the back of the queue" for a trade deal if it voted to leave the EU.

But amid reports the planned US-EU trade deal has stalled, the UK hopes for talks on a transatlantic agreement of its own with Washington.

During the summit, Mrs May will have the chance to mingle with world leaders - including during a boat trip on Hangzhou's lake - for the first time since the EU referendum.

Former security minister Dame Pauline Neville-Jones said reassurances are needed from China on security issues surrounding Hinkley.

"The issue, I think, is much more day-to-day security implications of having an investor of that kind who isn't an ally - not an enemy - but isn't an ally in the way most investment hitherto in to this country has been from the West," she told BBC Radio Four's Today programme.

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