The news that the UK exported more goods to non-EU countries than to EU countries in the three months to May, according to a report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, should come as no surprise to anyone. Of course, our current trade to the EU is being dampened by recession in much of the Eurozone, where there is no sign of resolution. If or when these economies pick up, then our trade to them should pick up also. But, putting aside these short-term considerations, it is now crystal clear that our future growth prospects crucially depend on a major realignment of our trading patterns away from sclerotic, ageing Europe to the dynamic and fast-growing parts of the world economy outside the EU. Europe may have been the future once – but it is no longer. Focusing on the EU, politically or economically, is quite simply no longer in this country’s interests.
Ruth Lea is economic adviser to the Arbuthnot Banking Group.
Although the brightest future opportunities for UK export growth lie in the emerging economies, Britain should not give up on the EU, which will remain its single largest market for the foreseeable future. But the two are not mutually exclusive. We should seek out new opportunities while trying to preserve and improve what we already have. The EU delivers important trade advantages for us. The customs union helps our goods exporters avoid costs. In London we see the benefits of a single financial services market, as firms use London as a gateway to the EU. However, without a constant effort to fight protectionism and overregulation, the benefits could decrease. We therefore need to expend energy to ensure that the EU remains economically liberal and open to our trade, while simultaneously reducing the costs of unnecessary regulation.
Christopher Howarth is senior political analyst at Open Europe.