What recent assessment he has made of the UK’s membership of the EU on businesses.
The UK was the fastest growing major advanced economy in 2014. The OECD forecasts that that is to continue in 2015. This Government’s ambition is for Britain to be the most prosperous major nation in the world by the 2030s, and free trade with the rest of Europe has a very important role to play in that.
I welcome those words. The First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, was in Japan only last week, building on our strong cultural, economic and social ties with that country, which have developed over a long time, and promoting our exports, which increased by 27% in Wales last year, building on the work of established companies such as Toyota, Sony and Sharp. Those companies view Wales and the UK’s membership of the European Union as key to the trading relationship and the thousands of jobs it underpins. Does the Minister agree with them?
I respect the hon. Gentleman, but given the utter shambles of his party’s EU policy I am surprised that he wants to ask that question. It is clear that free trade is hugely important to the prosperity of our nation, and that means working with our EU partners on more free trade agreements. That is at the heart of our renegotiation, because we want more free trade with an EU that is outward looking, not just inward looking.
First, may I congratulate the new Leader of the Opposition on his shift in policy in making Labour more Eurosceptic?
Is it not the truth that the European Union holds us back on free trade? Does our current account deficit of some £50 billion not prove that we would be better off out of the EU, with more free trade, more jobs and more business?
My hon. Friend highlights an important issue. [Hon. Members: “Shambles!”] Labour Members are talking about their EU policy, but my hon. Friend wants to hear my answer. We want more free trade, which means that, at this point, we have to work with the EU. For example, if the free trade agreement being negotiated between the EU and the US—the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership—goes through as planned, it will add £10 billion a year to GDP, which is worth £400 for every hard-working family in Britain.
I utterly reject the idea that TTIP will be beneficial, but that is another question. The head of Vauxhall has said today that he is fairly relaxed about whether Britain remains a member of the European Union. We still import twice as many cars as we export, so there is plenty of scope for Britain to expand its manufacturing sector.
Under this Government, the manufacturing sector in Britain has been growing strongly, thanks to our policies to reduce the deficit and bring back economic confidence. As I have said, working with our EU partners is hugely important to increasing trade, particularly exports, and for sectors such as the automotive industry. They are doing very well, but they could do better if we keep working with our partners.
Given that so many of our firms are in supply chains that benefit from the single market, does the Secretary of State agree that it is absolutely necessary for the Prime Minister to make sure that we reform that single market so that we can stay in the European Union and continue to thrive as a nation?
We are focused on delivering a successful renegotiation, and once that is done we will let the British people make the decision in the referendum. Having a better single market is at the heart of that renegotiation: it is about having more competition, less red tape and more free trade.
Firms such as Nestlé and automotive companies such as Hyundai and Ford have indicated that a Brit exit could result in their scaling back. The UK automotive industry employs more than 700,000 people and accounts for 3% of GDP, according to KPMG. Does the Secretary of State really believe that it is worth risking foreign investment in the UK to solve an ideological battle within the Tory party?
The hon. Lady will know that the debate about the EU has been going on for many years and the right thing to do is to renegotiate. In order for that renegotiation to be successful, it is right to have a referendum. That is exactly what this Government are doing, and then the British people will decide. It is also clear that this Government have many policies that help industries such as the automotive industry to succeed, such as our investment in skills.