The Prospects for British Trade Are Brightest If We Remain

08/06/2016 12:42 | Updated 08 June 2016

Now is the time to make the most of our enviable position as a bridge from Europe to the United States and the Commonwealth, not put it at risk. Our membership of the EU gives us greater leverage in trade deals, and key countries value our role as a gateway to the European market, and a leader - indeed, the pioneer - of the Single Market. As a truly global player, the United Kingdom as part of the EU should go on working to keep our local neighbours looking outwards, continuing to act as a champion of free trade. We must also encourage many more British firms to become exporters - like our neighbours in Germany - and not get caught up in the growing threat of protectionism in the world.

I recognize, of course, that the EU is not perfect. It's right that the bureaucracy is being cut back, it's right that we have started a process of reform. But we are setting ourselves up for disappointment if we make the perfect the enemy of the good or, worse, fool ourselves that where there are challenges in the UK economy, Brexit is the magic wand to overcome them. There is a risk, a real risk, of a Brexit hit to exports. A recent London School of Economies study estimated as its most optimistic trade scenario that a post-Brexit UK would see losses of 1.3 per cent of GDP. It is hard to see how it is a hit we can afford to take.

It has been comforting for some to blame long-standing concerns about British export performance on Brussels red tape. So why hasn't it held Germany back? And the truth is that it's not just Germany, but France and even the Netherlands - with a population of only 17 million - who export more in total than we do. In terms of exports per head of population, we can add Italy, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Ireland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, and Estonia to the list. EU membership is clearly not restraining their exporters. We do need to ask difficult questions about Britain's challenges in productivity and export performance - but the answers are not to be found in Brexit, indeed by leaving the EU and worsening our terms of trade with nearly half of our export market, we would make matters worse.

And, of course, it's not just our international companies that benefit from the EU, it's small businesses and consumers too. They will see more advantages as the Single Market for Services - championed by the UK - is taken forward. The removal of mobile roaming charges across all EU member states in June 2017 points to the potential for the Digital Single Market, as well. Working with twelve other EU member states, the UK is pushing for a Digital Single Market with a simple, transparent and stable regulatory environment that stimulates digital entrepreneurship and spurs digitisation across the economy to the benefit of business and consumers. We are winning the argument, it would be bizarre to walk away now.

We face the biggest social, economic, political and constitutional decision we may have to make this century: is our future to remain a part of the European Union, or to leave for something as yet undefined. Ours is a great country and we will prosper either way. But there are strong reasons to believe we will prosper more if we stay, particularly in the performance of our exports. It is the strong economic arguments for continuing to be part of the EU that have driven my decision to vote Remain on 23rd June.