Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday hit out at protectionism around the world, as he set out his hopes that Britain could become a global trading nation after Brexit.
“The mercantilists are everywhere. The protectionists are gaining ground, from Brussels to China to Washington,” he said in a speech in London.
“Tariffs are being waved around like cudgels, even in debate on foreign policy, where, frankly, they have no place.
“And there’s an ever-growing proliferation of non-tariff barriers. The resulting tensions are letting the air out of the tyres of the world economy.” Britain became the first country to leave the European Union on Friday, ending nearly half a century of often reluctant membership.
It plans to leave the bloc’s single market and customs union after a transition period that ends on December 31.
Johnson hopes this will give it the freedom to sign free trade deals with the EU, but also the United States, Japan, and many other countries.
In a speech at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, south London, littered with references Britain’s past glories as a world maritime superpower, he laid out his vision for a new “Global Britain”.
“This country is leaving its chrysalis. We are re-emerging out of decades of hibernation as a campaigner for global free trade,” he said.
He warned that pulling up the drawbridge had damaging effects, discouraging cooperation, including in efforts to tackle international threats such as the novel coronavirus outbreak in China.
“At that moment, humanity needs some government, somewhere, that is at least willing to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange,” he said.
He likened Britain to the comic book character of Superman, which would “take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion” of free trade.
“The UK is ready for that role. We’re ready for the great multi-dimensional game of chess in which we engage in more than one negotiation at once,” he said.
“We are limbering up to use nerves and muscles and instincts that this country has not had to use for half a century.”