Nomura |The ‘Brixit’ August 8, 2012
Strangely enough, experts in the history of the EU often point to the eminent Britishstatesman, Winston Churchill, as one of the early promoters of European integration. Ina speech delivered at Zurich University in September 1946, the by then former Britishprime minister, reflecting on how to remedy the travails which had long afflicted Europe,opined as follows:
“What is this sovereign remedy? It is to recreate the European Family, or as much of itas we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safetyand in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe…. The first step in therecreation of the European Family must be a partnership between France andGermany.”
However, as Philip Stephens pointed out in the article quoted at the start of this sectionof our report, Mr Churchill coupled this with “the caveat…that the enterprise would beginat Calais”. We shall return to this point when we examine the policy of the current Britishprime minister, David Cameron, later in this report.Nevertheless, by the early 1960s, another British Conservative prime minister, HaroldMacMillan, had determined to take the UK into the EU’s predecessor, the EuropeanEconomic Community (EEC), only to find accession vetoed by the then French PresidentCharles de Gaulle.
Furthermore, General de Gaulle vetoed UK accession again in1967, this time following an application for membership by a Labour government led byHarold Wilson. Many historians believe that General de Gaulle was not motivatedprimarily by economic considerations; rather, he (rightly) saw the UK’s membership bidas driven in significant part by London and Washington’s shared desire to undermineFrance’s bid to usurp US leadership in Europe via the EEC.Nevertheless, with President de Gaulle succeeded by Georges Pompidou, a third Britishapplication (under another Conservative prime minister, Edward Heath) was to provesuccessful and, together with Denmark and Ireland, the UK finally joined the EEC on1 January 1973.
Faced with deep internal divisions on the issue, Mr Wilson’s Labour Party fought twoelections in 1974 committed to renegotiating the UK’s accession terms and then holdinga referendum on EEC membership.
EEC heads of government agreed a revised deal inDublin in March 1975, of which Mr Wilson said: “I believe that our renegotiationobjectives have been substantially, though not completely, achieved”. In any case,sufficient had been achieved to persuade 67% of voters on a 65% turn-out to vote infavour of continued membership despite persistent divisions in a government which hadhad to depend on opposition support to carry most of the parliamentary preparatoryvotes for the referendum.
Indeed, the Conservative Party, under the leadership by nowof Margaret Thatcher, had supported UK membership of the EEC in the referendummore or less en masse.In 1984, Mrs Thatcher, by now in her in her sixth year as prime minister, successfullynegotiated a rebate to the UK’s EEC budget contributions – the main reasons for whichwere: the relatively small benefits which the UK obtains from the Common AgriculturalPolicy (at that time 80% of the total EEC budget and still 41% of the EU’s today); and theUK’s then ranking as the third poorest among the 10 member countries. The rebate,which currently amounts to around EUR 5bn per year, has become totemic amongBritain’s political classes, to be defended at almost any cost in the face of increasingresentment among other EU members – an issue which, as we consider later in thisreport, could come to a head before the end of this year.
The EEC was also commonly referred to at this time as the ‘Common Market’.
Denmark and Ireland, together with Norway, were motivated in part by their close economic ties with the UK (andhad joined the UK’s previous bids for membership). Norway’s application failed after EEC membership wasrejected in a referendum.
The February 1974 general election yielded a minority Labour government, which the party was able to turn intoa majority in the second election held in October.
So deep were the divisions in the Labour Party that Mr Wilson took the unusual step of suspending theconstitutional convention of cabinet collective responsibility on the issue.
Even after a change of heart, joining ‘Europe’ was notstraightforward