Monday 14 March 2016 2:06 pm

Budget 2016: In the run up to the EU referendum, does Britain have to leave the blue to get out of the red?

Catherine Neilan is head of politics and investigations at City A.M.

Catherine Neilan is head of politics and investigations at City A.M.

The news that the Britain’s goods-trade deficit with the European Union has widened to a record £8.1bn will leave the chancellor's Byron Burger tasting somewhat tough just a few days before his Budget.

The record figures, released by the Office of National statistics (ONS), also showed a deficit of £23bn over the past three months. It is staggering to think that our current account deficit now amounts to six per cent of GDP. We are simply not exporting enough to get the much needed cash into the coffers to pay for imports.

As a result, our debts to the rest of the world are shooting up fast, leaving serious question marks around George Osborne’s claim that Britain is “earning its way in the world.”

The problem, not that our pro-EU chancellor would admit this, lies in the relationship with the blue flag of Brussels.

Many critics of the EU project focus on the astronomical cost of our membership, which has risen an extra £200m a year the last 10 years. That stands in stark contrast to the Swiss, who pay £50m less to access the single market.

Others claim red tape is the crippler, with more than 1,000 new business regulations passed last year. But the truth is that these latest account deficit figures prove our current trade deal with the EU is deeply flawed on many levels.

Perhaps the answer lies in Britain going back in order to move forward. Back to the free trade community, which we originally agreed to many moons ago, enabling countries to make individual trade deals with the rest of the world.

Opening Britain up to the emerging economies could be the only way to ramp our exports up and start paying our bills. And now is the ideal time, as with sterling weak following investor concerns of a Brexit, price of UK exports will be lower in foreign currencies. This should, in theory, trigger an increase in demand for UK exports.

However, we can only do this if we are free to apply our own laws, not the ones of the EU, to drive new commerce with other nations.

While certain moves are welcome, such as ones MEP Dan Hannan has been making to make Britain part of a new devise trade area based on the highly successful Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), more needs to be done, and quickly.

With over 40 per cent of our trade conducted within Europe, over three million jobs linked to EU trade, not to mention nearly six million EU jobs linked to British trade, it would be foolish to propose measures that put any of this at risk.

That said, these latest ONS figures prove that, if nothing else, Britain can ill afford to plod along with the same old narrow attitude towards trade through only the eyes of the EU.

Serious change is needed and it is clear from David Cameron's renegotiation efforts, Brussels is not listening. If the country is really serious about getting out of the red, and into the black in order to truly lay claim to “paying its way in the world, then it is looking like the only way to do so is to cut our political links to the blue.