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Digital Industries

Volume 609: debated on Tuesday 3 May 2016

7. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of a UK withdrawal from the EU on the UK’s digital industries. (904769)

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to take Question 7 with Question 14, if that is okay.

We think that leaving the EU would be an absolute disaster for Britain’s digital industries.

It would be okay, if the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) were here, but he isn’t, so it isn’t, but we will proceed unabashed by his absence, because we have the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown).

The digital sector is very important to the north-east of England, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) made clear earlier. Some 25,000 jobs are now directly involved in the sector. What reassurance can the Minister give the House that there will be market access arrangements with our partners in the EU in the event of a no vote?

I am afraid that I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman that reassurance, and that is what really worries me about our leaving the EU. Not only does the digital industry provide the 25,000 jobs he mentioned but overall it represents about 7% of the UK’s gross value added. We are at the heart of negotiating the digital single market, which will give our digital industries even more opportunities, and that is why we must stay in.

I was at a breakfast meeting this morning with digitech companies from Vancouver in British Columbia that are here on an inward trade mission, looking at investing in the UK. Does the Minister agree that this dangerous and damaging remain campaign, which is based wholly on a fear of leaving the European Union that is not justified, is going to do great damage? Has he done any assessment of how much damage is being done to investment by the talking down of this country by those who want us to remain in servitude to the EU?

I hear what my hon. Friend has to say, but I wish the leave campaign would stop running this terrible fear campaign. I am confident that we are going to stay in Europe and continue to attract investment. I am pleased to hear that our Canadian trade envoy, to which I gather my hon. Friend had access, shows us how even as members of the European Union, we can still negotiate and engage globally with many other countries. Being a member of the European Union does not prevent us from working with countries outside the EU, and the leave campaign’s fear campaign has to stop saying it does.

On Sunday, the European Union slashed roaming charges by 75%, and they will be abolished altogether next year. That is a huge boost to British businesses with European ambitions as well as to Leicester City fans, now with Champions league travel to plan. The UK is Europe’s biggest digital economy. We buy and sell more online than any other country. Would the Minister like to estimate how long it would take him, even with his fabled charm, to renegotiate all our international digital agreements in the event of a Brexit, and what our £118 billion digital economy would do in the meantime?

I think it would take ages—it would take absolutely years to renegotiate. I recently returned from a G7 meeting in Japan, proving again that the leave campaign’s fear campaign is completely wrong. I was able to spend some time with the European vice-president, talking about the great opportunities that the digital single market presents. It was a lot of fun. We want to be part of that digital single market—growing for Britain.