Ben Chu: Europe has been good for our car makers

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The Independent Online

Outlook Speaking of economic optimism, there were some more decent new car sales figures yesterday. Registrations in the first half of the year were up 10 per cent on the first six months of 2012, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Perhaps surprisingly, given our traumatic history with British Leyland in the 1970s, car construction is a bright spot in our otherwise lacklustre manufacturing sector. But the really important point about our car industry is that we export most of the motors we make, and also import a hell of a lot that are made elsewhere too. The siren cry of those who want the UK to depart the European Union is: "They sell more to us than we do to them." The logic is that it would be in the rest of Europe's interests to agree a free trade deal with us because their exporters would suffer more than ours if they didn't.

But beware. We used to have a trade deficit in the car sector. However, that changed in the first quarter of this year. Over the first three months of 2013 the UK exported £6.2bn worth of cars and imported £5.8bn. And bear in mind that some 65 per cent of the UK's car exports go to Europe.

Let those who are blasé about the UK's future access to the single market explain how the threat of a pull-out from the European Union would be good news for our motor manufacturers.