When the UK joined the EEC I opposed it for two main reasons. The first was the likely long term erosion of our sovereignty. The Treaty of Rome made clear it was much more than a free trade area or more accurately a custom union that they had in mind. The second was the economic damage high UK contributions and the asymmetric approach to trade was likely to do to our economy.
Which brings me back to the UK balance of payments. The UK is not uncompetitive. We have a healthy trade surplus on a regular basis with our number one trading partner, the USA. We regularly sell more to Australia and Switzerland than they sell to us, two other important trade partners. When it comes to the rest of the EU it is always the other way round. We have usually suffered bad deficits.
In the early years of our membership the whole approach was to ease duties and restrictions on trade in goods where Germany had the advantage, and to restrict or fail to liberalise trade in services where the UK had an advantage. That worked very well for the rest of the EU who ran big surpluses at our expense.
In more recent years the EU has dangled the carrot of a better trade in services for the UK as a means to gain more and more control over our service areas by endless regulation. Whilst some of the new rules have helped build pan European business opportunities, more of the rules have driven up costs and damaged the UK’s worldwide competitiveness in services.
The official Pink Book for 2013 shows the UK running a massive deficit of £88bn on the current account with the rest of the EU, led by Germany at minus £35bn. In all years since 1997 the UK has run a current account surplus with the Americas, Australasia and Oceania. We have been large importers from China, but the German deficit has far exceeded our Chinese deficit. Trade with India is well matched.
The UK’s surplus on services is heavily dependent on insurance, pensions and financial business, which recorded a £58bn surplus in 2013. Our travel account is in heavy deficit, as we travel more and spend more than foreigners do when visiting the UK.
When conducting domestic policy we need to remember just how this country earns its living. When conducting foreign policy, we need to remember just what a bonus the rest of the EU gets from its current relationship with the UK. £14.8bn of our current account deficit in 12013 was our net payments to the rest of the EU, for the privilege of them selling us goods! They would want to keep their access to our market, whatever other sensible political arrangements we might insist on.