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EU Membership

Volume 592: debated on Thursday 12 February 2015

11. What recent assessment he has made of the contribution of the UK’s EU membership to businesses and the UK economy. (907610)

The European single market gives British firms access to 500 million consumers and, as our largest trading partner, is responsible for almost half of this country’s exports. A wide range of economic studies demonstrate the benefits to the UK economy from EU membership.

It is my strongly held view that a UK exit from the European Union would be bad for British jobs, bad for British exports and bad for the British people. When did the Secretary of State last speak to the Prime Minister about the so-called negotiations with other European leaders about EU reform? Does he know what the deal-breaker is for the Prime Minister that would lead to the Prime Minister campaigning against our continued membership of the European Union?

The Prime Minister and I discuss this frequently, and we agree that there needs to be significant reforms and improvements in the European single market, particularly moving on to a digital single market. The hon. Lady is quite right to say that our exit would be massively disruptive, and a lot of actual and potential foreign investors in this country are making it absolutely clear that they are alarmed by that possibility, should there be a change of Government.

Can the Secretary of State tell us: how much this country has handed over in membership fees alone to the European Union since it became a member of the Common Market; what our cumulative trade deficit has been since we joined the Common Market; what our trade deficit was last year with the European Union; in how many years we have had a trade surplus with the EU since we joined the Common Market; what proportion of the world economy the EU made up when we joined the Common Market; and what proportion of the world economy the EU is today?

I will do my best to answer the second, third and fourth of the hon. Gentleman’s six questions, which related to the trade deficit. Clearly, if we look at the trade deficit in terms of services as well as goods, and if we look at capital flows, including inward investment, the position is a very positive one. I do have to record—I am sure he is aware of this—the extreme alarm now being expressed in business circles about the possibility of a Conservative Government, creating a great deal of uncertainty in this area. There is uncertainty about a prolonged hiatus as the conditions which he is seeking have to be negotiated and uncertainty as to the different forms of exit, be it the Norwegian, Swiss or Turkish model. He will have to reflect with his colleagues on the damage now being done by that uncertainty.

I note that the Secretary of State did not answer any of the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), because he is embarrassed by the answers he would have to give the House. It is my strongly held view that Britain would be better off out of the European Union, because we would be able to control our immigration and save the £10 billion a year membership fee. Given that we do have a massive and growing trade deficit with Europe—those countries sell us more than we sell them—is it not a complete myth that trade with Europe would stop were we to leave the EU?

Of course it entirely depends what the alternative arrangements are, and I have never been terribly clear what those people who want to leave are actually seeking. If we had a Norwegian solution, we would still have the immigration movements. If we had a Swiss agreement, there would be a substantial degree of integration. I think that what many Members who want to leave the EU are asking for is an arrangement such as that prevailing with Turkey, under which there is minimal commitment to a single market but very few of the benefits of membership.