the truth in 1975 -
but did not hear.
It is fascinating doing some research into the whole EEC/EU debate from the early 1970’s as I did as part of yesterdays post and the likely announcement by David Cameron tomorrow (that the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty means we won't be having a referendum on it).
So much of the ire about Europe today is based on the modern 'fact' that people at the time ‘weren’t told’ that the project was to create a federal superstate.
I get this from UKIP people on the doorstep all the time, they say that Heath ‘misled the nation’ over the EU. I have always believed they were right, I have said many times that people thought we were just joining the a free trade area, not a superstate.
In common with the majority of the British People I was not able to take part in the debate at the time, so I cannot say I can remember. But the documentary evidence still available that I have turned up this week flatly contradicts this sentiment, much to my surprise.
On holiday recently I read Heaths autobiography and in that he says he always made clear what the scope of the project was. In just a few days searching I have found scores of references in speeches and leaflets at the time from both proponents and opponents of the EEC that we would indeed be agreeing to become part of an eventual single, unified 'United States of Europe' with ambitions to unify and have one currency as far back as 1969.
"At the Hague Summit, on 1 and 2 December 1969, a decision was taken, on a proposal from the German Chancellor and former Finance Minister, Willy Brandt, to draw up a step-by-step plan with a view to creating a European economic and monetary union. On 6 March 1970, the Council instructed the Luxembourg Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Pierre Werner, to chair a committee mandated to pinpoint the fundamental options for the gradual creation of an economic and monetary union among the then six Member States."
I knew we tried and failed to agree terms to join the EEC in 1962, but I didn't know that Wilson had begun talks again in 1967, and yet again failed to find enough common ground.
Here is the climax of a speech Ted Heath gave in 1972 in Brussels at the ceremony to mark the end of negotiations, and before Parliament debated and then ratified the accession treaty :
“What design should we seek for the New Europe? It must be a Europe which is strong and confident within itself. A Europe in which we shall be working for the progressive relaxation and elimination of east/west tensions. A Europe conscious of the interests of its friends and partners. A Europe alive to its great responsibilities in the common struggle of humanity for a better life.
Thus this ceremony marks an end and a beginning. An end to divisions which have stricken Europe for centuries. A beginning of another stage in the construction of a new and greater Europe.”
This makes it abundantly clear what Heaths vision for Europe was - he saw the EEC as a building block for a much wider, and much closer union.
And in the leaflet that went to every home in Britain in 1975 the very main page stated in bold print:
The aims of the Common Market are:
* To bring together the peoples of Europe.
* To raise living standards and improve working conditions.
* To promote growth and boost world trade.
* To help the poorest regions of Europe and the rest of the world.
* To help maintain peace and freedom
The fact is people were told it was going to be a union that went far beyond a trade area, but weren’t worried about this in 1973 or 1975 when we were nationally bankrupt and an international laughing stock.
Politicians and the voting public of the time had seen Britain win a war and promptly lose an empire and then slide from the worlds main power to a third-rate and still contracting economy by the early 1970's. They thought a 'merger' was the best way to stay relevant on the world stage.
No-one foresaw that possibility that we would soon elect a Government that would reshape Britains economy and make the country independently powerful enough to manage outside the EU if we wanted to.
That is why the debate has emerged in the way that it has, not that we were misled in 1973 or in 1975 but we joined the EU at the very nadir of our national fortunes, and had we not joined in 1973 we probably would have remained independent to this day.
Either way I remain of the view that the public are overdue to have a say on our EU membership, whatever we were or weren't clear about in 1973 we have the information now and a new generation of Britons, brought up in a different era, need to have a voice on this.