PM speech at O2 on the EU referendum: 23 February 2016 (Archived)
The Prime Minister spoke on why the UK should stay in a reformed EU and answered questions from staff at the O2 headquarters in Slough.
Thank you, thank you very much. It’s great to be here in Slough, where so many – what? Hold on a second. This is actually the town where so many businesses have their European headquarters, where so many jobs have been created, and I think it’s a very good place to start the conversation we need to have over the next 4 months about whether Britain stays in the European Union or leaves.
As Karen said, it’s also good to be starting in a telecoms company. This is a very successful business, but in an extraordinarily successful industry. 200,000 people employed in the UK: you account for almost 2% of our economy, so a great place to start.
Now, in 4 months’ time, we’re all going to have to make a very, very big decision: does Britain stay in a reformed European Union or do we vote to leave? Now, you make decisions at election times, and I would argue this is a much bigger decision, because at election times, you can vote in a team of people, and if you’re fed up with them after 5 years, you can vote them out. Obviously, I don’t like that bit, but you can do that.
This is a decision, though, that lasts for life. We make this decision, and it’s probably going to be the only time in our generation when we make this decision. And I was determined to make sure the British people had the very best possible decision. So what I’ve done for the last 9 months is to try and sort out some of the things that people are frustrated with, with the European Union. Because it’s not a perfect organisation; no organisation is perfect.
And I thought that the 4 things that most frustrated people about the European Union was that it’s been too bureaucratic and not competitive enough, so we got a proper set of actions to make sure we take burdens off business and create jobs and sign trade deals around the world. I’ve sensed – and I think many people have sensed – that it’s been too much of a political union, too much about the politics, and not about creating jobs and prosperity. So we’ve got Britain carved out of an ever closer union, so we don’t have to take part in those things anymore.
I’ve sensed – I think a lot of people have sensed – that it’s been too much of a single-currency club. The euro is tremendously important for those countries in it, but those countries out of it like Britain, we want to make sure we’re treated fairly inside the European Union, so we have fixed that to make sure we can never be discriminated against.
And the fourth thing I wanted to fix was to make sure that, of course we have free movement in Europe: you can live and work and travel and retire in different European countries. But we need to take some of the pressure off in terms of migration, and specifically, we need to have greater control over our own welfare system. So I’ve managed to secure the agreement that people who come to Britain and work, they’re going to have to come and work for 4 years before they get full access to our welfare systems. Now, I’m not saying I’ve solved all the problems that Britain’s got with Europe, or all Europe’s problems, but I think this is a good basis to now ask people, ‘Do you want to stay in this reformed Europe or do you want to leave?’
And I think when we come to this, the really big question, I think there are 3 very positive reasons for wanting to stay inside this reformed European Union. The first is, that I believe we’ll be better off, that we’ll create more jobs, we’ll create more livelihoods, we’ll see more investment, we’ll see more success for Britain. Why? Well, because we’re part, inside the European Union, of the biggest free-trade single market anywhere in the world: 500 million people, bigger than the US, bigger than China’s internal market. This is the wealthiest, strongest market in the world, and we have privileged access, without tariffs, the ability to trade and invest right across the EU.
And I think about it from O2’s point of view. Because we’ve got a set of rules about telecommunications and mobile phones and the rest of it, that’s been good for business because we’ve been able to break down barriers in other countries and set up businesses in other countries. That’s good for jobs, because we’re creating more jobs, including right here in Slough. But it’s also good for consumers, because this competition inside the single market has actually driven down prices and it’s cheaper now; much cheaper to use a mobile phone today than it was a decade ago. And also, with the end of roaming, it’s going to be – which we’re getting in 2017, it will be cheaper still when you travel.
So point one, I think we’ll be better off. Far better off inside the European Union. Three million jobs are dependent on our trade with Europe. Now, of course, not all the jobs would go if we left the European Union; we’d still do trade with Europe. But can we really put our hands on our hearts and say all those jobs would be safe, that we wouldn’t be disadvantaged if we were on the outside? I don’t believe we can, so we’re better off.
The second reason is, I believe that we’ll be safer inside the European Union. We obviously face, in our world today, some very big threats in terms of crime and terrorism, and obviously the primary thing we do there is we have a strong police force, we have security and intelligence services, we work with our longstanding partners like America to try and keep our people and keep our country safe. But I can tell you, as your Prime Minister, I’ve seen so many times how the border information we exchange with other European countries, how the criminal records information we exchange with other countries, this helps to keep us safe.
Let me just give you one example. We all remember those terrible days in 2005 when London was bombed by terrorists. The second time that was attempted, on 21st July, 1 of those bombers got out of the country, but because we were part of the European Arrest Warrant, we were able to get him arrested, get him back to the UK, and he’s now sitting doing a 40-year jail sentence. Before we had the European Arrest Warrant, before we had those arrangements, it could take years, sometimes as much as a decade, to get people extradited from other European countries back here, so we will be safer inside the reformed European Union.
I also believe we’ll be stronger. I believe profoundly that Britain is not the sort of country that simply looks inward on itself. We know that we should have a role in the world, because we will be stronger and safer and better off if we can actually get things done around our world. And as part of the European Union, just as being part of NATO or part of the United Nations, we can get things done. How did we get those oil sanctions against Iran, so they gave up their nuclear weapons? We did that inside the EU. How have we made sure we’ve had a strong response to Vladimir Putin and what he’s trying to do in the Ukraine? We’ve had sanctions set out inside the EU. How have we stopped our ships being attacked as they go round the coast of Africa and Somalia? We’ve done that through NATO, but also through the EU. So I believe we are stronger in the world if we are part of a reformed European Union. So stronger, safer, better off.
But I think we have to recognise in this decision you’re all going to take in 4 months’ time, that it is a choice. I’ve set out the positive choice of why I think we’re better off, stronger and safer, but we also need to ask ourselves, what would it look like outside the EU? And here I think we need some answers from the people making the other case, because right now, they’re not telling us what it’s going to be like outside the EU. I’ve looked at what the models are. You can have a situation like Norway. They sign up to all the rules of the EU, so they have to pay into the EU, they have to take migration from the EU, but they have no say on what the rules are. That seems to me a very, very poor deal.
You could go to the other end of the spectrum, and say, as I think Mr Farage did yesterday, ‘Let’s just have the World Trade Organisation rules and be a member of the World Trade Organisation outside the EU, and see what that means.’ Well, what that would mean is, you’d start having to pay tariffs every time you export a car to Europe. Britain, for instance, is now the third largest manufacturer of cars in the EU: it employs 140,000 people. So I think we’ve got to look very carefully at these alternatives, because each one of them shares a key disadvantage, which is that basically, if you leave the EU, you no longer have any say over the rules, over the laws, over the way this market works, and we are, in the end, a trading nation where our businesses need access to that market and need a say over those rules.
When all is said and done, it’s not going to be me that makes the choice; it’s going to be all of you. This is a referendum where every single vote counts the same. But I just make 2 final pleas to you. First of all, I think what we can have now is the best of both worlds. Inside the bits of the EU that work for us, inside the single market, inside the political cooperation to get things done, inside those things that keep us safe against terrorists and criminals, but not in the single currency, not in the Schengen no-borders system, not in an ever-closer political union. We have the best of both worlds.
Final thing from me is that I feel very strongly about this. I feel that having spent 9 months trying to get us a better deal, securing that deal, and now with 4 months to go before this referendum, I feel with all I’ve seen in the last 6 years as your Prime Minister, the right decision is to stay in a reformed EU. I have no other agenda. I’m not standing as your Prime Minister at the next election. I’m simply going to speak for the next 4 months about the advantages I see of staying in and the dangers of coming out. But in the end it will be your choice, the British people’s choice. If you choose to stay in, we know what we get. If you choose to leave, I will put in place the arrangements as your Prime Minister that you asked me to do. But my strong advice, with all that I’ve seen and all that I know, is the right thing for Britain is to stay in a reformed Europe and to cast that vote on 23 June.
Thank you very much and look forward to your questions.
Now, we’ve got some time for questions if you put your hand up and there’ll be roving microphones and if you wait for those. You may not need them, but just in case.
Hi there. Thank you very much. So just a quick question. Looking at BBC News the other day I noticed that the pound had gone down about 2% against the dollar. I just wondered what your thoughts were on the impact on the British economy based on the speculation of a Brexit or a British exit from the EU? Also, the kind of long-term impact of that and also the short-term impact of that, and I guess what you’re going to look to, to rectify that.
Well look, I think it’s a very good point. I don’t think it’s necessarily right to speculate too much about what happens on the markets one day against another, but the government will want to set out very clearly what we think the economic impacts could be. Obviously we know if we stay in a reformed European Union we know what to expect. We know how the market works, we know how to sell our goods, we know how to create jobs, we know how the systems work. If we leave, there is this period of great uncertainty. And that’s why I think there could be a bad economic effect and what we’ll do is make sure that the Treasury and the Bank of England and other authoritative organisations set out the facts, set out the figures so people can make a judgement.
But I think the reason why there’d be a bad effect is quite simple: if you leave, the process is you spend 2 years discussing the arrangements for leaving, and at the end of those 2 years, unless there’s unanimous agreement by the other 27 members, you’re automatically out of the European Union. And as you spend those 2 years negotiating what your position will be like outside the EU, you can’t really do the trade deals with other countries that we have today. So I think there’ll be big uncertainty for businesses. And that’s why I think, if you believe in voting to leave you’ve got to really believe it. You’ve got to feel very, very strongly this is the right answer because I think there’ll be a lot of uncertainty and businesses will be saying, ‘Well what are the rules for exporting, what is our access to the single market, how certain can we be?’ And that’s why I’m so pleased that O2 today has come out very strongly in support of staying in a reformed European Union. We’ve got 35 of the biggest businesses in Britain who’ve all said that they think Britain is better off. Nissan, the car company – and we make more cars now in the north east of England than the whole of Italy because of the great success of Nissan. And they’ve said this today, ‘For us, a position of stability is more positive than a collection of unknowns.’ And I think that is worth listening to.
Obviously we’ve got to listen to other voices as well, but when we listen to businesses we’re not just listening to what some big business chief might say, we’re actually listening to the effect on jobs, to the effect on families’ finances, to the effect on the prosperity for our country and for all our people.
Okay, let’s have a question from up here.
What do you see the potential advantage is for us leaving? I know you talk about advantages of us staying, but if we were to leave, what would you see as the advantages?
I think those who want to leave should speak about those, but chiefly what they point to, I think, is this idea that obviously if you leave the EU you are able to make more decisions for yourself because you’re not taking part in the decisions in the EU that cover a lot of areas of regulation or legislation, such as the laws that for instance govern mobile phones in Europe. I think, look, that is true but you’ve got to ask yourself, does that make you more powerful? Does it make you genuinely more sovereign? Because the fact is if you leave the EU the EU doesn’t cease to exist.
So let’s take your industry. If we were to leave, you’d still have the European Union making rules about mobile phone coverage, technology and all the rest of it. We’d be on the outside and if we wanted to sell into the EU we’d still have to obey the rules that were being written. The difference is that we wouldn’t be writing them.
Now some people say, ‘Yes, but you never get to write the rules, you’re not that powerful in Europe.’ Well Britain is the second largest economy, the second largest net contributor and we do make a real impact on those rules. In fact, I would argue, if you take your industry, if we weren’t there I think Europe would become probably more protectionist, less open, it’d be less easy for companies like O2 to break into other European markets. So I think what you’d be left with, if we were to leave, is a sense that you might feel a bit more sovereign about making your own decisions, but you wouldn’t actually be able to make the decisions that make a difference to people’s lives.
So I think you get more power and influence in, than you get from the illusion of sovereignty out. But I think that’s going to be one of the key questions in this campaign.
Let’s have one from the press.
Thank you very much, Prime Minister. Listen, my question is this: a former Tory leader today, William Hague who knows all about splits on Europe, warned about the dangers ahead in the coming months, and that’s partly because a man who wants to be Tory leader, Boris Johnson, will be campaigning on the other side to you. When you said yesterday you have no other agenda, and you’ve repeated that here today, we all know you were talking about Boris Johnson, will you at least admit that?
No, look I’m saying this because I feel this so strongly. Right? I’m not standing again as Prime Minister and I just want people to know that I am speaking about this issue after thinking about it very, very deeply. After thinking about all the things I’ve learnt as Prime Minister over the last 6 years.
I think 6, 10, 15 years ago, I don’t think that I believed that Europe was as important to our security as I believe it is today because I’ve seen with my own eyes just how important this security and intelligence and sharing of information is.
I’m not sure that 6 maybe 10 years ago I thought that Europe was quite so important for Britain getting things done in the world. I thought obviously NATO matters, our partnership with America matters, but I see and I’ve seen this for 6 years that if we want to fix stuff, whether it is trying to stop people smugglers in the Mediterranean, whether it’s trying to stop pirates off the coast of Africa, whether it’s confronting Iran about the nuclear programme, whether it’s trying to get better results in Syria, we gain by sitting round that table with the French, with the Germans, with the Italians and getting things done.
Look, we can do great things on our own. We’ve got amazing armed forces, brilliant intelligence services, we’re the fifth biggest economy in the world, we’re a great power. But we get more by being in these organisations and I want to speak very clearly about that because I feel this, with my experience over the last 6 years, very, very deeply.
Now let me say about Boris, I have huge respect for Boris as a politician. He’s a great friend of mine. He is a fantastic Mayor of London. I think he’s got a lot to give to the Conservative party. I think he’s got a lot to give to this country. But on this issue I think he’s got it wrong and I think he’s reached the wrong conclusion. So we’re going to have, I hope, a very reasonable, civilised argument, both between us and between other parties, and you’re going to find people with some fairly strange bedfellows. This is one where, you know, Jeremy Corbyn and I agree. I mean, we don’t agree about many things but we agree about this one.
So we just have to have a debate, and yes of course it’s going to be a strong and a passionate debate, and I think he’s got this one wrong. And I would say to anybody who is thinking about this and is struggling to decide, because I think lots of people, I think we all feel quite conflicted. In all of us there’s a questioning about what’s the right answer for Britain. I would say: anyone who’s finding it hard to make up your mind, and you feel it’s a very balanced decision, I would say come down on the side of security and safety and certainty. Because in this reformed European Union we know what we get. We know what we get in terms of jobs and prosperity and security. Outside, what do we get? And I don’t think the people who want us to leave are spelling it out.
Yesterday in Parliament it was quite interesting. Not only do the people who want to leave, not only are they not sure about what they want to do when they’ve left, ie do you want to have a Norway-style solution or do you want a world trade solution or do you want a trade deal? They haven’t worked that one out but they’re also not sure about how they even want to leave or indeed in some cases whether they really do want to leave. Some people are suggesting, maybe if we vote no, we can have a second renegotiation, we can have a second referendum, and I think that is a complete illusion. This is a straight decision: you stay in or you get out, and I think it’s misleading people if we pretend there’s some other answer here.
So I think Boris has got this wrong. I have huge respect for him; I think he’s got a very strong future in British politics. But on this one, I think he’s made the wrong decision.
Now, let’s have gentleman over here.
Welcome to O2, Prime Minister. You mentioned the European Union, and you mentioned that the UK is the world’s fifth biggest economy, it’s the second biggest economy in the EU and the second biggest contributor. There are those who say that the EU cannot credibly continue without us in it, and that if we were to vote for Brexit, it would lead to the EU’s breakup, which the UK could end up being a haven for investors and so on. How would you respond to that argument? We hear a lot about the impact on the UK, but what do you think the impact could be on the EU and the implications for the UK if we vote for Brexit?
It’s a very good question. I think the impact on the EU, I’d say 2 points about that. One is, I think it would weaken the west at a time of great concern and conflict. We’ve got Putin to the east, we’ve got Daesh in Syria and Iraq, and problems of terrorism. This – it’s a time, I think, for strength in numbers. It’s not a time for dividing the west. So in that respect, it would make the EU weaker and make the west weaker.
But the other thing I’d say is, I don’t believe – some people believe if Britain left the EU, the whole thing would sort of collapse. I don’t think that is the case. I think actually, what would happen is the EU would probably become more protectionist. I think it would probably become more politically integrated. I think it would probably want to take even more decisions over people’s lives, and those decisions would affect us. I think this is one of the key points; one of my cabinet ministers said at the cabinet meeting, you know, ‘We’d all like to be in Utopia, but I guess when we get to Utopia, we might find the EU’s there already.’ You know, this thing doesn’t cease to exist because we leave it, and I think it would go in the wrong direction.
And if you take your industry specifically, you know, Britain has been a great force in Europe and continues to be a great force in Europe for opening up markets, for saying that other countries should liberalise their telecoms sectors and allow in new companies, just as we’ve done here. And I think that if we’re not there making that point, less of that will happen, and that is bad news for British telecoms companies. So I think it would be a worse Europe if we’re not there, but at the same time, I think we’d be showing disunity at a time when we need strength in numbers for the security of our people.
Let’s have a few more questions.
Hi, Mr Cameron. We’ve obviously had the blond bombshell of Mr Johnson coming out and supporting the ‘leave’ campaign. Also, I noticed today that almost 2 thirds of FTSE 100 CEOs didn’t sign a letter to suggest we should stay in the EU. Are you concerned there’s increasing momentum going towards the ‘leaving EU’ campaign?
I think it’s going to be a very hard-fought contest. I think that, you know, they’re very strong arguments on both sides; there’ll be very strong figures on both sides. But I think when it comes to business and industry, the overwhelming view I am getting is that British business, particularly those that trade a lot with Europe, really want us to stay in the EU. And for 35 FTSE 100 companies to come out and say this so clearly as they have today, I think that is a very positive, very clear decision by them and a very clear message, that they’re saying, ‘We’ll be better off if we stay in.’ And, you know, for companies these days to make a statement like that, they find that sometimes quite difficult; they have to go through corporate governance proceedings, board meetings, to make those decisions. And many businesses don’t want to get involved in any political issue.
But I would say to them: this is not like a general election. It’s not about backing one team or another team. This is a decision that we’re going to have to live with in Britain for decades to come, and so if you have a strong view, you should make it clear. But I think it’s a – I can’t remember before 35 FTSE 100 companies coming out in this way quite so clearly. So I’m convinced the strongest arguments are on the ‘remain’ side, and I’m going to use everything I’ve got in the next 4 months to put those arguments, because I believe this is so important.
Thank you very much indeed. Prime Minister, the business letter which was raised by the previous questioner, isn’t the era of business leaders telling the British people how to vote over? Shouldn’t this be a debate about the strength of people’s arguments, not their share prices?
And secondly, if I may, can you just be more – answer that question a little bit more fully: why do you think so few other business leaders, those other 2 thirds, didn’t sign your letter? Because I know that you were hopeful that more would.
Well, first of all, I would say it is a huge number of FTSE 100 companies, the 100 biggest companies in the country, coming out and being so clear that Britain is better off remaining in a reformed Europe. That’s a very clear statement. As I say, one of the reasons companies often find it hard to go forward is that they sometimes have to have board meetings and sometimes don’t want to make any form of political statement. But I can tell you this: if the ‘leave’ campaign could produce 35 business leaders of this statute – of this sort of stature, they’d be over the moon. And I don’t think they have the prospect of doing that with FTSE 100 leaders in any way like what has happened today.
Now, I would argue, this is not business leaders telling people how to vote. This is simply people running some of the largest businesses in our country that employ over 1 million people between them, saying this has real consequences for our country, and if we care about jobs, if we care about investment, if we care about a strong British economy, then the right decision is to remain in the EU, and I would encourage, not just businesses, I’d encourage trade unions to speak out, I’d encourage voluntary bodies, non governmental organisations, universities, anyone who thinks this is important. If you think it affects your business, affects jobs, affects the way that you think Britain can do well or badly in the world, speak out. This is a really, really important decision. We’re going to take it in 4 months, and it’s going to last for decades, so I don’t think anyone should hold back. I’m certainly not going to hold back, and I think that anyone who thinks this is important: speak out.
I was wondering if you could take us back to the moment when you found out that Boris Johnson was going to campaign for the other side, as you. How did you find out, and were you irritated or were you just disappointed?
No, I – you know, I’ve been talking to Boris for many weeks about this issue. We’ve had lots of long conversations about it, lots of text messages and emails and face-to-face conversations about it. And look, I – of course I’m disappointed, because I want everyone possible to back my side of the argument, and I believe in it very passionately, and so obviously I’m disappointed. But I understand there are lots of people who, you know, have very strong views about this.
But I would say to anyone who’s taking time to decide, who’s thinking about it and weighing it up and trying to work out what’s best, if you’re not certain, surely the best thing to do is to back the side that has the security and the safety and the certainty of what we know. Because it is undoubtedly true that voting to leave is a risk. Even if you think there’s going to be some great future at the end of the process – and I don’t buy that – there’s undoubtedly a period of risk and uncertainty. You’ve got 2 years when you have to negotiate what your leaving looks like. During that period, you can’t go around signing trade deals with other countries, and when you leave, what is your relationship going to be with the single market on which so many jobs depend? What will be the decision of businesses thinking about where to invest in Europe, about whether they should come to Britain?
Here we are in a telecoms firm, but let’s take another example, let’s take financial services, an important industry. Right now, all those businesses know what they’ve got. They know that if you are located in Britain, because we’re a member of the EU, you can sell your services in every other EU country. Now, if we leave the EU, we may not have that, and so those companies, if they’re only based in Britain, would have to move some jobs into other EU countries. Overseas companies thinking of coming here would think, ‘Well, why come to Britain? Because I don’t get that right to passport all my services throughout the rest of the EU. I’d better go somewhere else.’ So it seems to me there’s a real danger of job losses, in that industry and in many others besides.
Plus, I think you’ve got to think something else. If you’re not in the single market, what is the danger of the countries of the single market discriminating against you? Right now, we have recourse to stop that. Europe the other day did actually try, very annoyingly, to say that if you wanted to do complex deals in euros, you had to be in a eurozone country. That was really bad news for Britain but we fought it, through the courts, and we won, and in my renegotiation we’ve set out a principal that means that can never happen again. But leave the single market, leave the European Union, yes we’d still have a great financial services industry, London’s an amazing financial centre, but they could start discriminating against us from day one. And what recourse would we have?
So these are the questions and that’s why I say there is uncertainty, there is risk, there is a leap in the dark if you leave the single market and leave the EU, so if you’re not certain, don’t leap. Stay with what we’ve got, knowing it’s going to get better because of the deal I negotiated with the EU which does address some of the biggest concerns we’ve had in our country.
Let’s have a few more. Lady up here. Thank you.
Hiya, so – so my question is in terms of common man like – I am not part of Britain, I come from overseas, so I see my neighbour who’s a Polish guy who’s getting more benefits than I’m supposed to get it, so what is it like?
I think this issue about benefits and welfare and migration, I think is a really important issue and I’ll be very level with you: part of being in the European Union is accepting the free movement of people. That we are able, in Britain, if we want, to go and work and live, travel, retire in other European countries, and other European countries can come and do that here in Britain. So there is that free movement, but what there’s not is the free movement to go and claim benefits. If someone comes to Britain, if they – under all the rules I’ve changed, if they come to Britain, they can’t claim unemployment benefit for the time they come. If they haven’t got a job after 6 months, they have to go home because they can’t sustain themselves. And what we’ve now agreed is that if you come and work, you don’t get full access to our tax credits, our in-work benefits for 4 years. And also if you claim child benefit, you can only claim child benefit at a rate discounted for the country you come from. So I think these are good changes, big changes which will have an effect on this issue about welfare claiming and migration that I think has concerned people in our country.
But I’m not saying we’ve solved all the problems, there still is pressure from freedom of movement and that’s why we’ve made some other changes as well, to make sure that if people have – are criminals, we don’t have to let them in, if there are people trying to do sham marriages, that we can deal with that. A whole lot of changes to free movement, and I think that’s really important because people want to know there’s a basic sense of fairness. And I would say the thing people most want to know is that there’s no something for nothing. You can’t come here and start claiming benefits straight away, you’ve got to pay into the system before you get out of the system. And that’s one of the things that my renegotiation has secured.
Okay, let’s have a few more, let’s have the gentleman right here.
I just wanted to kind of ask a question about ourselves as O2 and try and bring it to life in that sense. You might be aware that we’re being acquired by Hutchison at the moment, and BT EE’s transaction went through the CMA, it was all fine, and then because we’re foreign-owned, it’s going through a European Commission body and they – probably it was different political or whatever agenda to us. I’m just wondering if you think that’s a proof point of success?
Okay, first thing is, the way this works is that mergers, over a certain size, are looked at by the European Union. It’s not because you’re owned by a foreign owned country, it’s because of the scale of the merger that’s being contemplated. Now I must make no comment on it, it’s not up to me, it’s up to independent competition bodies, both here in the UK and in the EU. So they will have to decide, and I was talking to your Chief Executive about this; they’ll have to decide whether it is good for competition and all the rest of it, or not.
What I would say though, just come back to how this impacts your industry: this has been, and is, an unbelievable success story. You think about – go back 10, 20 years, how many people were employed in mobile telephony, now we’re talking about 200,000 people, the spawning of huge numbers of different industries around what you do, with all the games and the applications and all the rest of it.
And I would argue that, for your industry, of course we’d still have a great mobile phone market in Britain if we were outside the EU, of course we’d still have great mobile phone companies, but would we have the opportunities to use these rules in Europe to break up the monopolies in other countries and make sure that O2 can be a success in those countries too? We wouldn’t, and I think they’d go in the opposite direction. And when I look around Europe and telecoms markets, so many of them are still dominated by the old legacy nationalised company. And actually we’ve shown in Britain that a more competitive market means lower prices, better services, much more innovation. And we want to drive that right across the EU. We’ve got a chance to lead the EU in this industry. Indeed, some of the best companies have been born and bred right here in Britain and I want them to be able to, you know, paint on the larger canvas and create the jobs, more of which we want to see here.
Last question I’m afraid. Lady here.
You’ve talked a lot about big business but I’m interested to know, as a strong supporter of small business, do you really think that being in the EU is better for them?
Very good question. Okay we’ve done a lot of arguments about a big company like O2, and what it means. What about small companies? I’d make a couple of points. First of all, about 1 in 5 small companies export, and most of them will be exporting to Europe as well as other countries. And there the same arguments apply. If you are going to sell into Europe, you’ve got to meet the rules of the single market. So if you’re outside the EU, you still have to meet those rules, but you have no say on what they are. And I think Britain can be a force for good, in Europe, in terms of making sure the rules are fair, and making sure we cut bureaucracy. And one of the things I secured in my agreement, the special status for Britain, is that we are going to have targets to cut bureaucracy in each of the main business areas, which I think will help small business.
I’d also make this point: many small businesses that don’t export are part of a supply chain with companies that do export, and so I think that the idea that there are 2 sorts of businesses, one entirely domestic and one international and exporting, I think is rather out of date.
Now those who want to leave will argue of course if you’re outside the EU then you’ve got to meet the single market rules when you sell into Europe but you could deregulate your rules here in the UK. But there I would say: is that really worth that much? When you look at all the international surveys, they say that Britain is one of the best places in the world to start a business, to run a business, to comply with regulation and the rest of it. So I don’t think the benefit you get out of being outside the EU, on that basis, is worth anything like the giving up of the influence and the rules in the single market on which we do rely. The figures are very straight forward: 50% of what we export goes to other EU countries; 7% of what they export comes to us, so when some people say, ‘Well we’ve got a trade deficit with Europe, so they need us more than we need them,’ I think they’re making a mistake.
We obviously are a global country, we trade all over the world, we’ve doubled our exports to China, and we need small businesses to play a part in that too. And we shouldn’t be choosing between either doing better in the Far East, the Middle East, China, America, the Commonwealth, we shouldn’t be choosing between that and doing well in Europe. We should try and do both. Let’s be in the single market, trading effectively with other European countries and increasing jobs and growth. And at the same time getting out there and taking on the world in the way that we have with China and India and other countries.
Look I really enjoyed coming today, thank you for being so patient with me and thank you very much indeed. Thanks a lot.