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Single Market

Volume 554: debated on Tuesday 4 December 2012

5. What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on protecting the integrity of the single market. (131104)

I regularly discuss the single market with my counterparts both at bilateral meetings and in formal sessions of the Council.

With the Prime Minister increasingly marginalised and nobody believing a word that comes out of the Scottish First Minister’s mouth, what can the Minister do to protect the £9.7 billion of exports from Scotland to the EU, and to ensure that there is a credible single market in future?

I fear that the hon. Gentleman wrote his question before he saw the outcome of the European Council at the end of last month. Given the emphasis he places on trade, I am sure he will have warmly welcomed our Prime Minister’s intervention to secure the free trade agreement between the EU and South Korea, which is already delivering opportunities for British businesses. I am sure he will also welcome the British Government’s strong support for the opening of trade negotiations between Europe and Japan, which was agreed last week.

Now that the penny has finally dropped within the eurozone that it cannot have monetary union without fiscal union, which in turn leads to closer political and economic union, what guarantees can the Government give that a caucus within the eurozone will not override UK interests within the single market?

This is something to which we are giving priority both in the immediate discussions on banking union and in all future negotiations on the future of the EU. I can give some reassurance to my hon. Friend. The requirements of the single market are written into the treaties and the terms of numerous items of EU legislation. On top of that, all 27 Heads of State and Government have made repeated commitments at European Councils that they are committed to defend the integrity of the single market.

But the Minister knows how important access to the single market is to our ability to attract foreign investment in, for example, car manufacturing. Surely he admits that there is a growing resistance in Europe to what is seen as the Government’s à la carte approach to their membership. Does he accept that that is becoming dangerous to our economic interests?

Our colleagues in the EU fully accept that we have taken a sovereign decision, which I thought was supported on both sides of the House, to stay out of the euro. It therefore follows that we do not take part in certain arrangements. However, I also find that my European counterparts are eager to work closely with us on measures to develop free trade further; to strengthen the single market—for example, to cover the digital economy, transport and energy—and to find ways to cut the cost and complexity of regulation, which applies to all European businesses.

There appear to be a number of siren voices now starting to question the value of the single market to the United Kingdom. Will the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, together with the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, do some detailed work to set out the exact value to the UK of our being part of the single market, and put that work in the Library?

A lot of this type of information is likely to emerge from submissions by businesses and their representative organisations to the balance of competences review which is now under way. To take one example, British car manufacturers would probably face tariffs of just under £1 billion a year were we to be outside the single market and paying the 10% tariff to export to the EU. Membership of the single market directly sustains jobs and prosperity in places such as Swindon, Solihull and Washington New Town.