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EU Reform

Volume 602: debated on Tuesday 10 November 2015

6. What his priorities are for business in the Government’s negotiations for reform of the EU. (902088)

We must empower businesses to compete more effectively by accelerating the integration of the single market, especially in the services, digital and energy sectors. We will do this by cutting red tape for business and pushing for more ambitious free trade agreements between the EU and the rest of the world.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the best interests of business will be served by our being a member of a reformed and reforming European Union? That extends to our remaining in the single market. From my right hon. Friend’s vantage point as President of the Board of Trade, it is extraordinarily useful that the European Union can negotiate such good strong deals for us globally.

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of the need for EU reform, but many businesses believe that the costs of membership currently outweigh the benefits. As the Prime Minister said, in order for us to get the best deal, we must have the referendum and let the British people decide.

Last week a group of senior business figures in the north-west said it was vital for jobs in our region that Britain stays in the European Union. Will the Government heed what they say and perhaps make it a priority in the negotiations that the £800 million of EU structural funds given to the north-West will continue?

The one thing that businesses agree on is the need for reform. They are united in that, whichever business group one speaks to. If we can get those reforms, which I am confident about—and the Prime Minister has talked more about them this morning—we will see an even bigger boost to jobs and opportunities in Britain.

Will the Secretary of State remind the House of the trade deficit that we have with the EU, and of the fact that the unreformed EU is clearly not working for British business?

My hon. Friend is right to remind us of the current deficit. That is why one of the reforms that we want is a deeper and broader single market which includes digital and professional services, which Britain is very good at, alongside manufacturing, so that we can do more trade.

Writing in The Telegraph, the Prime Minister’s potential successor as leader of the Tory party, the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), said that the Prime Minister was right

“to unsheathe a section of the blade that might soon be used to cut the rope and set Britain free”

from the EU. Has the Secretary of State made an assessment of the likely impact on Scottish business of Britain turning its back on its European trading partners, and does he think that is appropriate language from a man of such standing?

I agree that we need reform. All Members on the Government Benches agree on the need to fight for that reform, which means cutting red tape and creating a deeper single market, more ambitious free trade agreements and fairness between the euro-ins and outs. I hope the hon. Lady will join us in fighting for that reform.

A poll of Scottish business last month found that 82% of small and medium-sized businesses support the UK remaining in the EU. I dare say that those businesses value their ability to export more than £12.9 billion-worth of goods and services throughout the EU, creating wealth and jobs at home. Have this Government not lost all control of an exit agenda that was started only to appease right-wing Eurosceptic Back Benchers and may very well result in Scotland being dragged into delusional imperial isolation against its will?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new role, which I omitted to do earlier. She will know that one of the most important sectors in Scotland is the financial services industry, whether asset management or banking. That is one area where we could have deeper single market and do more trade with the rest of the European Union. If she supports that cause, then she will support our efforts to reform the EU.