Lubos Tomicek

writer ~ mental health advocate ~ blogger ~ debater ~ logician

UK EU flag opposite directions signs

From joining the EC until announcement of 2016 referendum

Joining EC ~ 1972/3

The decision to join European Communities (the predecessor of European Union) was taken by UK politicians without consultation with public. However, even between politicians, the stance on joining the EC was diverse across parties as much as it is today, and that would continue during whole 41 years of membership. While the Conservatives were officially for joining, the Labour’s leader Harold Wilson reversed his previous (and subsequent) position against joining, claiming, that the deal negotiated by Conservative PM, Ted Heath, was unfavourable for Britain. In Tory party, the opposition to the EC treaty was led by Enoch Powell while in Labour it was Roy Jenkins who led pro-oriented MPs.

The vote was marked by the longest debate until then, with over 300 hours during the, often very unscrupulous, fight which ensued. During Second reading PM Ted Heath even went so far as initiate the vote of confidence by stating, that if the government were to be defeated, “this Parliament cannot sensibly continue”. In spite of danger of triggering general election, Tory rebels voted against the Bill, which was the first time since war, when conservative’s MPs didn’t support government in vote of confidence. The vote eventually passed with 309 to 301 votes.

The pressure put by Ted Heath on rebellious MPs was later described as “a more intensive brainwashing operation than any Prime Minister, reverting to his previous character as chief whip, had ever carried out. Those who went into his room in the week before the Second Reading came out looking more like ghosts than men.’

The voting went from march until July and has been pushed through with a secret help of, at that time little known, young MP Ken Clarke, who was the ‘gofer’ between Conservative’s government and Labour’s pro-EC fraction. At the end, the Bill was passed with support of rebellious Labour MPs, who defied party whip and thus enabled the bill to pass. On the 1 January 1973, the UK became a member of European Communities.

In this section I used material from various sources
Two main: Wikipedia & an article by Michael Cockerell
published in The House, Parliament's Magazine 

Referendum ~ 1975

In 1974, Labour was back in power and it’s leader, Harold Wilson, went to EU to negotiate better deal. Upon completion of his mission, the referendum was called for and in 1975 the question of EU was put to the public. Like the referendum in 2016, the result were declared to be advisory, but it was promised to honour the decision. The campaign 2016 resembles the campaign run in 1975, with government split on the issue and allowed to campaign against official government position with exception of House of Commons, where ministers were required to keep the governmental position. Also MPs were divided across parties.

The narrative of in side was, that membership is not about political union, rather it is about economic cooperation and a free market. While they said, that UK will be ‘pooling some powers with (then) eight member states, with the same breath they said, that it will be only for a ‘few commercial and industrial purposes’. The out side voiced the opinion, that membership ment not only currently lost powers, but many other powers transferred to Brussels in years to come and continuous path to the merging with France, Germany and others, creating one nation. Government used all the possible tactics to make sure people voted for EC membership, including a 16 page pamflet sent to every household in Britain. On the side note, the 16 page pamflet sent to every household in Britain by government led by PM David Cameron in 2016 and many other tactics, including renegotiated deal just before referendum are clear indication, where he got his inspiration from. Back to the 1975.
The question on the ballot paper was designed to affect decision, as it is proved, that people much rather say YES than NO.

“Do you think the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (the Common Market)?”

Answer: YES or NO

Ballot paper for referendum 1975

The big lie of remain

The remain side won by a big margin with 2/3 of people voting to stay in the EU. Only 30 years later in 2002, hidden under “30 years rule”, the documents from the negotiations conducted before UK joined European Communities became public. They proved that all the politicians on in side knowingly lied about the extend of the powers transferred to the EC, consequences on political sovereignty of UK and about membership of EC being only membership of an ‘economic bloc’. For example, the internal document of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO 30/1048) stated clearly that

“Areas of policy in which parliamentary freedom to legislate will be affected by entry into European Communities” were “custom duties, agriculture, free movement of labour, services and capital, transport, and social security for migrant workers.” The document also stated, that: “it is advisable to put the considerations of influence and power before those of formal sovereignty.”

FCO 30/1048

The release of documents lead to increased unrest among the public and many people who in 1975 vote in complained, that they were told, the vote is purely about trade agreements aka common Market. “How could we know it’s not true? Even the ballot said so!” they bitterly accused politicians, who lied to them. But at the time, the widespread belief was, that the referendum was successful, and the only thing needed is to enjoy newly gained status of member of EC. The eurosceptics didn’t stopped their campaigning for change after referendum, many people continued campaign for Britain to leave EC, and later EU. Even those who supported the in argument, often rebelled against EU. The biggest (and most successful) person came into No. 10 in 1979.

The “golden years” of Iron Lady

While on domestic front Margaret Thatcher came out as divisive (even today you can meet people, who either hate her or adore; virtually no one is in between), in relationship with EU her time in office has been successful on such a level, that any other PM could only dream about it. Thatcher’s stand against further centralisation of power in Brussels is well documented. Some people even think, that her famous “No, no, no” speech in House of Commons in 1990 is a proof, that today she would be a Brexitier.

I, personally, am not convinced of it. After all, Margaret Thatcher, while she was passionately (and mostly successfully) fighting for British interests, she also many times expressed her belief, that membership of EU is in best interest of UK. My opinion is, that she had seen as the best way forward, to stay in and fight the EU from within. her belief was, that EU should have as less powers as practically possible, and that member states should be responsible for most of their own policies. And while she was a Prime Minister, it was exactly that stance, which kept EU from ever-expanding ambitions.

On the side note, I do believe, that if Margaret Thatcher would be in charge of renegotiations with EU conducted by Mr. Cameron in 2015, UK would not vote Leave in 2016 referendum, because she, being an Iron Lady, would bring much better deal than Mr. Cameron and people would be happy to remain. I also believe, that the negotiations of withdrawal, Britain would be already independent country with free trade treaties covering big chunk of the world, including EU. While Theresa May tried to appear as new “Iron Lady”, the fact is that she was an utterly clueless negotiator and the new membership treaty she brought back to UK is actually not a result of negotiations between two independent big world powers, but surrender treaty of UK to bullying and demanding EU. But more on that in second article on UK & EU relationship, which will cover the period from February 2016 until May 2019.

The most successful politician in UK?

Looking back to the nineties, in February 1992 The Maastricht treaty has been signed. It directly lead to the future resentment within UK, as it handed another chunk of powers from UK to Brussels. At this time, a 28 years old eurosceptic member of conservative party, started his journey to become one of the most famous British politicians not only in UK, but all over the EU and far beyond. This is not an exaggeration, but statement of personal experience. Everyone, whom I spoke to abroad, knows, who is Nigel Farage, very few of them heard for example about Boris Johnson.

Farage left Conservative party following the acceptance of Maastricht Treaty. He became one of the founding members of UKIP (UK Independence Party) and embarked on, what would be a 25 years long crusade to get Britain out of EU. There are many others, who backed the notion of Britain as sovereign, independent country. But the truth is, that Nigel Farage with his witty (and therefore remarkable and easily memorable) speeches, delivered both, in UK and in EU parlament, did single handedly pushed Conservatives to the wall and forced out of them the referendum. If not for him, there would be no referendum in 2016. Even Farage’s opponent, our well known young conservative MP, who helped to bring about so crucial vote in 1973, Ken Clarke, admitted in April 2019:

“(Farage) is the most successful politician of my generation

Ken Clarke

Former Conservative MP and Minister, Ann Widdecombe, (she’s became a candidate for a new, Farage-lead Brexit Party in EU elections 2019), stated, that Margaret Thatcher is the only politician more successful than Farage. I do have to agree, because the only reason, why Conservatives in run up to the 2015 general election promised the country referendum was, that UKIP led by Farage, won the 2014 EU elections and became the leader of biggest UK delegation to Brussels. The threat of UKIP candidates standing in general elections and possibly repeating the gains from EU elections, and the growing tension in electorate; pushed Cameron to promise the EU referendum, if they will win elections.

Disgruntled eurosceptic voters abandoned Labour, LibDem and UKIP to vote for Conservatives in hope, that this would be a quicker way to secure referendum. Conservatives won with 36.9% of the votes, which gave them 331 of 650 seats in parliament. While the view of Mr. Cameron might differ a lot (as with every politician), there is one thing we can put on his plus side; he kept his promise. After re-negotiating new concessions from EU in his ‘New deal for Britain’ (flash-back to the 1975 referendum, anyone? I can promise, that this isn’t the last one!), on 20th February 2016, Cameron announced that referendum on membership of European Union will be held on 23rd June 2016. While it was a big victory for Farage and other eurosceptics, the fight was far from over. Upon announcement of the referendum, the hardest and most exhausting part of 25 years long campaign just only started.

Next article will be about the evolution of Brexitiers and Remainers and it will cover the time period from February 2016 until may 2019

Thank you for reading.

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