By Lord Heseltine, former Deputy Prime Minister
I believe Britain must remain part of the EU. As Europe's leaders meet in Council, they have at the top of their agenda discussions on competitiveness and growth. They know that their first priority is to get Europe back onto a strong financial footing.
As a country we cannot afford to gamble with our position as a leading nation by throwing into question our future membership. Promises about a future in-out referendum serve to unnerve businesses already investing billions in our own economy, by virtue of our close links with the EU.
The stakes are simply too high to allow short-term political concerns to outweigh our long term economic and business interests. There is one clear cut opportunity for people to make their views known on this and other matters, and that is during the 2015 general election. It is incumbent on my party and on all other parties to put Britain's national interest first and foremost and support our continued membership of the EU – leading not leaving, as my colleague the Rt Hon Ken Clarke has so often eloquently set out.
That debate must be an informed and considered appraisal of the evidence. EEF's report on the benefits of our membership is a vital contribution to the discussion, because it is based on the views of manufacturers who are at the vanguard of driving growth and helping make the economic recovery sustainable.
As EEF has said, the debate as we head into elections for the European parliament next year, must shift to focus on the benefits of membership – access to markets, the free movement of people and greater levels of funding for innovation.
As a strong and proud country we must lead from within to reform the institutions of the EU where reform is needed and to keep the agenda of the Council, the Commission and the Parliament firmly focused on Europe's economic growth and future potential.
The size of the prize, as EEF put it in Manufacturing: Our Future in Europe, is significant. Billions of pounds worth of new trade deals, such as the historic EU-Canada free trade agreement signed in the last few weeks, are on the table . Prime Minister David Cameron rightly seized on this success and called for greater efforts to push through the next big prize – a US-EU trade deal. And more will follow. With the best will in the world Britain alone cannot hope to negotiate deals on this level operating as a sole trader.
More and more businesses are speaking out, because they see the risk that Britain is potentially taking by even considering an exit plan. Nissan's chief operating officer, Mr Toshiyuki Shiga, couldn't have been more candid. As one of the biggest investors in the UK employing thousands of British workers in the North East, he said it was very important from his perspective that the UK remains part of the single market.
With Britain as a leading player in Europe, future foreign investment will be secured as we power ahead in a new era of industrialisation where we have a real opportunity to redefine what it means to make it in Britain. We must hold our nerve and work closely with European partners to drive growth and prosperity across the continent. It's in our national interest.