With all the heat being generated by the current debate about Britain’s place in the European Union, it would be both easy and reckless to leave to one side the serious debate that we as a country must have. That is why it is so important that the Centre for British Influence through Europe is being launched now.
Our starting point must be the economic benefits to the UK of playing a full part in the largest single market in the world, the importance of Britain having a strong voice in Europe, and the dangers of letting the debate about Europe be shaped by those who put anti European ideology ahead of our national interest.
We need to actively protect and advance the single market – and our place in it – for the sake of British jobs. Around one in every ten jobs in Britain relies on British trade within the Single Market. Around half of all our trade goes to other European states – exports from around 100,000 firms. The City of London is Europe’s financial capital. As Europe evolves, we will need to fight hard to maintain the integrity of the single market and extend its reach.
Removing trade barriers in services and digital industries would be worth around £3,400 a year to the average household, money we need as we return our economy to health. But it won’t happen without leadership from the UK. We were among the Single Market’s architects: Lord Cockfield – a British Commissioner – helped design it. Margaret Thatcher played a critical role in pushing it through. And today – as the most open, liberal economy in the EU – we will need to help finish what was started twenty years ago. And that’s how we send the right signal to foreign investors too.
One of many reasons big multinationals come here is because we offer a launching pad to the world’s largest borderless marketplace. These companies need to be reassured that we will continue to be the best bridgehead into the European market. We cannot afford to give the impression that we are going to disengage.
Britain’s national interest demands that we maximise our influence and use that influence to boost growth, trade and jobs. That is the only way to protect British jobs. It’s a position that is pro-business and pro-Britain too. It should be obvious to all that we are more powerful negotiating from inside Europe than from the sidelines.
The EU is not perfect by any stretch and I’m a big advocate of EU reform. But the idea that we should extract ourselves from the bulk of EU obligations is nonsensical. We can offer a more compelling alternative: a strong UK, influential in Europe and so more influential in the world. Stronger with America and China, because we are at the heart of the EU.
I am a Highlander, a proud Scot, a patriotic Brit and a European. In a modern outward looking country these identities work together, and we are stronger because they do. Some people like to say that we are in a global race. And we are. The only way we will win that global race is if we are part of a strong team. To win that global race, we have to have the maximum influence in our continent to ensure that British influence is felt throughout the world.
We will only succeed in the global race as a strong, influential member of the European Union.
This is the transcript of a speech held by Danny Alexander at the launch of the Centre for British Influence through Europe on 30th January 2013.