Brown: Britain must be at heart of Europe

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Indy Politics

Britain must put itself at the heart of Europe to protect jobs and support economic growth, Gordon Brown insisted today.

In thinly-veiled criticism of the Tories, the Prime Minister claimed that retreating to the European sidelines would deal a "devastating blow" to UK business.

Speaking to business leaders at the CBI conference in London, Mr Brown said he was spearheading demands for a Europe-wide economic growth strategy.

Seeking to exploit the Conservatives' hostility towards the European Union, the premier said that UK growth was entwined with that of the Continent.

"It is by putting Britain not on the fringes of Europe, but at its heart, that Britain can protect its interests within Europe, and shape the future of Europe from a position of strength that can deliver growth and jobs for the British people," he said.

"To walk away from this would be to deal a devastating blow to the future of British business - and it's my belief that we must never allow this to happen."

Appealing for UK business to be "outward-looking" in order to harness the opportunities of global change, Mr Brown said higher European growth would create thousands of new British jobs.

"We must never forget that Europe accounts for 60% of our trade; more than three million British jobs depend on Europe," he warned.

"The European Union is the biggest exporter in the world and the second biggest importer. And it accounts for almost a third of the world's GDP."

The Prime Minister expressed frustration with the recent focus on the EU's "personalities", referring to the controversial appointments of the new permanent president of the European Council and high representative for foreign policy.

"Europe needs to think about how we create the growth for the 10 million new jobs the continent needs," he said.

Mr Brown has been urging fellow European leaders to focus on delivering economic growth as the world begins to emerge from the recession.

He said today that Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez had agreed that growth and jobs would be "the priority" for his forthcoming presidency of the European Council.

The Prime Minister also sought to underline the dividing line between Labour and the Tories on the fiscal stimulus.

Conservative leader David Cameron tried, at the same conference, to stress his own party's commitment to fuelling economic growth.

Mr Brown said: "You cannot say you are going for growth and then in the next breath demand the withdrawal of the very measures essential to lock in the recovery and enable the growth to take place."

The Prime Minister announced he would be hosting a British international investment conference early next year to showcase to the world the opportunities offered by UK industry.

"It's well said that those who build the present only in the image of the past will miss out entirely on the challenges of the future," he said.

"We are now in an age of global change. We should have confidence that together we can, and we will, establish Britain's place at the centre of this global economy."

Mr Brown was the first of the three main party leaders - followed by Liberal Democrat chief Nick Clegg and then Mr Cameron - to set out his stall before the CBI this morning.

The Prime Minister sought to strike an upbeat note about the potential for British growth after the recession.

"When I consider our prospects I'm optimistic about the high valued-added products and services we are ready to offer the world - and the leading positions we have in industries which are relevant to the future, such as business and financial services, advanced manufacturing, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, aviation, our creative industries, and our higher education," he said.

"These are exactly the exports that a global economy - set to double in the next 20 years - will want to buy.

"As an outward-looking nation seeking sustainable growth in a world where trade is set to increase rapidly, a priority must be to attract inward investment - and we should be proud to show our strengths in these industries to the world."

He said he wanted to see "thousands" of Chinese firms working in the UK, rather than the current level of around 400.

"In our new growth strategy, I want not just hundreds but thousands of Chinese companies in Britain and British companies in China," Mr Brown said.

"I know that we will soon sign new strategic partnerships with India. Trade relations with the US are strong.

"So we need an outward-facing Britain, attracting inward investment and sustaining high value-added jobs."

Mr Brown reiterated that he would not withdraw the fiscal stimulus too early.

"Choking off recovery by turning off the life support for our economies prematurely would be fatal to British jobs, British growth and British prosperity for years," he said.

"So that's why we will continue with our current plans to support our economy until the private sector recovery is established, and we will ensure that nothing we do will jeopardise that recovery.

"Our strategy has to be to go for growth, now and in the long term, supporting the economy while ensuring sustainable public finances."

Mr Brown set out a vision of high speed rail links from Britain reaching further into western European cities such as Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, and Cologne, in Germany.

Recommendations for a north-south high speed line in the UK are to be presented to the Government next month.

The Prime Minister said: "Let me tell you what we could ultimately achieve - a European network of train services that takes us quickly not just to Paris and Brussels but quickly to Cologne and to Amsterdam.

"And one that starts not just in London but in the north of our country."

He said journey times between Scotland and London could come down to under three hours.

"Faster rail travel, not only within Britain, but to and from the mainland of Europe, is within our grasp," he said.