The European single market gives British firms access to 500 million consumers and, as our largest trading partner, is responsible for almost half this country’s exports. There is a clear direct benefit to British businesses from European Union membership.
Britain has an enormous and persistent trade deficit with the EU, equivalent to about 1 million lost British jobs. The growing crisis in the eurozone will only make the position worse, and there is no end in sight to its economic problems. What are the Government going to do to protect Britain’s economic interests in this dire situation?
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not share the consensus among Opposition Members about the benefits of British membership. I am sure that if he occasionally crosses the border into Luton South and visits the vehicle production institution, he will recognise the EU’s importance to the industry and of its having the European Union negotiate access to bigger markets such as north America, as it currently is.
In a recent article in The Times, a host of senior Cabinet members, including the Foreign Secretary, the Chief Whip, and even some Ministers in the Secretary of State’s own Department, stated that they would campaign for an “out” vote in any EU referendum. In the same article, another Cabinet member was reported as saying:
“It would be a continual distraction from…work on the economy”.
Given that, as the Secretary of State said, the EU is one of our largest trading partners, what is his view on the impact on UK trade and jobs in the event of, first, an EU referendum, and, secondly, exit from the EU?
That unnamed member of the Cabinet was probably me; I did take a different view. None the less, I do have common ground with my Government colleagues in believing that the European Union needs to be reformed in quite radical ways. We need to deepen the single market, to reach trade agreements with other countries, and to reduce much of the bureaucracy that surrounds commercial activity.