Britain will seek ambitious Gulf trade arrangement after Brexit - Theresa May
Britain will seek an "ambitious" new trade deal with the Gulf region, Theresa May said as she prepared to trigger the start of the UK's formal withdrawal from the EU.
The Prime Minister welcomed a commitment of £5 billion of investment from Qatar as a "bold statement of continued confidence" in the British economy.
Speaking at the UK-Qatar Business Investment Forum in Birmingham, she said that a "global Britain" would be the "most committed and most passionate" advocate for free trade anywhere in the world.
Qatar's investment in infrastructure projects across the country would play a significant role in shaping a "brighter future" for the UK outside the EU, she said.
"It is a bold statement of continued confidence in the British economy from long-term investors committed to prosperity in every part of our United Kingdom," she said.
"I hope we can pave the way for an ambitious trade arrangement for when the UK has left the EU, including exploring whether we can forge a new trade arrangement for the whole of the Gulf area.
"As a global Britain, I am determined that we will be the most committed and most passionate advocate of free trade in the world."
The Prime Minister will chair a meeting of the Cabinet on Wednesday morning as the letter formally invoking the Article 50 withdrawal process is dispatched to Brussels.
Signed personally by Mrs May - a so-called "wet signature" in Civil Service jargon - the letter will be delivered to European Council president Donald Tusk by the British ambassador to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow, at around 12.30pm UK time.
At roughly the same time, the Prime Minister will rise in the House of Commons to make a statement to MPs confirming the two-year countdown to Britain's departure from the EU is finally under way.
Even before the talks started, Brexit Secretary David Davis was insisting that Britain would not be paying the £50 billion "divorce bill" being demanded by the EU as the price of leaving.
Appearing on a BBC Question Time special on Monday, Mr Davis said the UK would meet its outstanding obligations but he did not expect to see "that sort of money change hands".
The Government remained committed to striking a comprehensive free-trade agreement with the EU, he said, but a "no deal" situation would not be the disaster critics claimed.
He dismissed warnings by the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, that the UK would be unable to import nuclear fuel and would face queues of lorries at Dover as trade ground to a halt because of the increased bureaucracy.
"We have got a huge contingency plan exercised across all of these issues, every department of government," he said.
He acknowledged "no deal is not as easy as some would have you believe" but said it would be "a lot better" than critics had claimed.