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European Single Market

Volume 534: debated on Tuesday 25 October 2011

5. What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the future of the European single market. (76297)

My right hon. Friends and I take every opportunity with our EU colleagues, formally and informally, to argue that we need to deepen and widen the single market to secure economic growth and create jobs.

Will the Minister tell me how much of the Foreign Secretary’s valuable time was spent on the diversion of trying to appease rebellious Tory Back Benchers instead of trying to achieve reforms to the European single market, which might benefit Britain’s interests? An estimate will suffice.

If the hon. Gentleman had been studying the conclusions of last Sunday’s European summit rather than the brief from his Whips Office, he would realise that the summit agreed to give priority to EU action to benefit jobs and growth. He would also know that it called for full implementation of the services directive, completion of a digital single market by 2015 and a reduction in the administrative burden of European regulation on business by a quarter by next year. That is a European agenda that could have been written in London, and it was achieved because of the intensive diplomacy of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary.

European free trade through the single market is clearly a good thing for this country, apart from the fact that we have recently seen an alarming increase in this country’s trade deficit with our European partners. What can Her Majesty’s Government do about that?

I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised that matter. I took note of the points that he and others raised in the debate yesterday evening, and I have looked at the latest figures. I am glad to be able to tell him that the trade deficit has narrowed since the figures that he and others cited yesterday were produced. The way to get the trade deficit down is, in part, through Government Ministers making every effort through commercial diplomacy to help our businesses to sell British goods and services in Europe and the wider world.

Now that the Prime Minister has managed to secure a seat at tomorrow’s summit in Brussels, what specific proposals will he put on the table, and which alliances will he build, or rebuild, to ensure that the eurozone 17 do not start to take decisions about the single market without us?

I am sorry that the hon. Lady, whom I welcome to her new responsibilities, overlooked the commitments already made on Sunday by all 27 Heads of Government to ensuring that the integrity of the single market is protected and that the rights of the Community at 27 are safeguarded. My right hon. Friend will be seeking both political and legal or administrative ways to ensure that the position of the Euro-outs is protected. He will find allies—my own experience in the General Affairs Council on Saturday certainly showed this—not only among other countries outside the eurozone, but among a number of eurozone member states that do not wish either the UK or other Euro-outs to be excluded from discussion.

Of course, as the Foreign Secretary pointed out yesterday, a real prize for this country will be completion of the internal market for services and liberalisation of the energy sector. Is that likely to be achieved under the Polish presidency?

I think that we will make some progress under the Polish presidency. I would like to think that we will accomplish everything my hon. Friend urges, but it is certainly our intention to continue to press forward with that agenda under the Danish and, if necessary, the Cypriot presidencies next year.