Our world-class universities, with their close links to business, are at the heart of the global knowledge economy. They will benefit from the reforms we want to see in place across the European Union. As the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise just said, the EU is our biggest market. Reform and growth on the European continent is good for British business, and it is good for our globally networked universities.
I discuss these issues regularly with Universities UK, which recognises that reform across the European Union will support growth and competitiveness. In turn, that will help the links that our great universities have with business.
Will the Minister confirm that last year our trade deficit with the European Union was £62 billion, and that it is therefore nonsensical for anybody to argue that we see the end of free trade with the EU if we were ever to leave it? When he has confirmed that, perhaps he can set out what on earth we get for our £18 billion membership fee every year.
We want to see the completion of the single market so that British businesses can compete more effectively across promising sectors of the European single market. We have a strong export sector and we want to break down further barriers that prevent our businesses from fulfilling their potential in that market.
May I stiffen the Minister’s answers? The truth is that British universities win more research grants from the European Research Council than any other country in Europe. Well over £1 billion flowed in last year from Europe into the British science base, which is more than any other country received. The European Union and our membership of it is mission critical to our success and the future of our high-tech, high-productivity industries. Over the months to come, will the Minister join me in helping to ensure that British universities are at the forefront of leading the campaign for this country to stay in the European Union?
British universities and British science punch well above their weight around the world, and they secured 16% of the last batch of grant money from the European Union. That is because we have a competitive, world-class research base, and we are the Government who are supporting it and providing a stable climate for business and universities to invest in research and science. The Labour party would jeopardise that with its new economic policies, which would destabilise our business climate.