Later today Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, will make a detailed and well-reasoned speech on Europe at the British-American Business Council.
Given the location, and the fact of the Prime Minister's discussions this week with President Obama, it is not surprising that Cable will start off by highlighting the significance of a EU-US free trade agreement.
This FTA would be the biggest bilateral agreement in the world. The EU and US account for almost half of world GDP and one third of global trade flows. Every day, around €2 billion worth of goods and services are traded bilaterally.
As Cable will say: “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity that we should move quickly on while the politics on both sides of the Atlantic are favourable.”
But the big news is that Liberal Democrat Cable’s speech represents a comprehensive rebuttal of Conservative peer Lord Lawson, who last week became the most prominent recent figure in the UK to recommend exiting the EU.
Cable attacks all three key planks of Lawson’s argument: firstly that the EU represents an intolerable regulatory and fiscal burden and attacks on the City; secondly that the EU diverts the UK from greater economic prizes in Asia; and thirdly that the UK could adopt a looser trading position with the EU comparable, inter alia, to Norway, Canada, the USA or Switzerland.
One the first point, Cable will say that a great proportion of the regulation that business regularly complains about is of a local variety: the hoops that business must jump through are created by our immigration controls, our planning system, our complex tax regime or health and safety regime.
Very few of which, he will say, are determined by Europe and even where the EU bears responsibility, it is “fanciful to think that the alternative to EU rules would be no rules.” Indeed, an “independent” UK would also generate measures for consumer, environmental and social protection, he will promise his audience of business leaders.
On the second issue, the Business Secretary will chastise the eurosceptics as requiring a “reality check”. Figures show that exports from the UK are growing rapidly to countries like Russia, China and Brazil and are not in any way inhibited by our membership of the EU. Indeed, Cable will comment in line with British Influence research, the UK often lags well behind Germany and even France and Italy with exports to the BRICs.
The fact is that for all the dynamism of economies in Asia, Latin America and elsewhere, the EU is not just the largest single market in the world by a long way it is the UK’s most important trading partner. Almost half of our exports are destined for the EU, and seven of the UK’s top ten trading partners are member states. One in 10 UK jobs depend on trade with the EU. By contrast, China accounts for 2.5 per cent of our exports, India and Russia both under two per cent, and Brazil under one per cent.
On the third issue raised by Lawson, that of the UK’s relationship with the EU, Cable is forensic in demolishing Lawson’s "indulgent and reckless" vision. This is because any minimum type Norwegian arrangement of remaining within the Single Market would indeed retain the benefits of the Single Market but also the budgetary cost of the continued contribution and the costs of regulations over which the UK would no longer even have a vote.