Until his untimely death on 18 January 1963, Hugh Gaitskell was leader of the Labour party. On 3 October 1962, he delivered a long speech at the annual Labour Party Conference, opposing the United Kingdom’s accession to the European Economic Community (EEC). The full transcript can be read here.
While he was against the EEC, his speech was an even-handed one, looking dispassionately at the pros and cons of EEC membership, but with one eye on what it could lead to, ultimately a United States of Europe. Here he set out his stall:
“I plead at the start for tolerance, tolerance in particular between those who hold the more extreme views in this controversy – those who, on the one hand would like to see Britain enter Europe whatever the conditions, and those who, on the other hand, are opposed to Britain entering Europe on any conditions.
“This is a crucial, complex and difficult issue. Anybody who thinks otherwise is a fool. It is not easy to find one’s way through all the ramifications, the effects upon us in this country, the effects on the Commonwealth and the effects on the world.
“Are we forced to go into Europe? The answer to that is, No. Would we necessarily, inevitably, be economically stronger if we go in, and weaker if we stay out? My answer to that is also, No. There is no real evidence that this is the case.”
He talked of the effect on The Commonwealth of going into the EEC, notably the imposition of import tariffs. On any economic benefit to us, he quoted of Sir Donald McDougall, Deputy Director of the National Economic Development Council, appointed by The Conservatives as Chief Economist:
“There is no really compelling economic argument for Britain’s joining unless it is thought that, without being exposed to the blast of competition from the continent, she will never put her house in order.”
He went on to analyse what we would lose or gain in trade terms – there would be no tariffs on EEC trade, we lose out with EFTA and The Commonwealth, although then 16.7% of our trade was with the EEC countries, 13% with EFTA and 43% with the Commonwealth – those figures are not a lot different today. It was a different world though, the UK then exported artificial textiles, steel, machinery and vehicles. On the downside, we would have to import expensive European food instead of cheap Commonwealth food. However, he saw trade through the prism of the UK being a net exporter, not a net importer (of physical goods) as we are now.
On efficiency, after recounting that the USA’s high standard of living came from efficiency (in a manufacturing age), he observed:
“I do not think you can judge their efficiency simply by the size of the country to which they belong. Some of the most efficient firms in the world are from small countries, from Switzerland, Holland and Sweden, with no large home market at all.”
He then uncovered one of the main fallacies of the EEC/EU argument:
““The fresh breeze of competition” … is a strange argument to use. It is said that we should go into the Common Market because tariffs will be reduced against us, that it is because it is going to be easier to sell there, and our competitive position is improved. But they say at the same time, “Our firms will benefit from finding it harder to compete at home, because they no longer have the protection they enjoy at present.” You cannot have it both ways. It is either better for industry to have tougher competition – which it will certainly get at home, or better for it to have easier conditions which it will get in the markets of the Six. Both arguments cannot be true.”
Today, it seems, we lose out on that deal as our firms are finding it harder to compete at home, notably in high-value capital projects where European companies seem to win most times.
He then discussed the movement of capital and fear of plants moving to Europe. While that happens today with some heading to Eastern Europe, there is more flight of capital and manufacturing beyond Europe, such as the Ford Transit plant in Southampton going to Turkey.
Then he advanced the argument used by others in those days that the Commonwealth was static. But today it seems it is dynamic, there are some fast-growing economies such as India and many African countries. The BBC article Africa’s economy ‘seeing fastest growth’ emphases that growth, and UKIP’s policy of “trade not aid” could help the trend, with an advantage to Britain of historical Commonwealth ties over the EU.
Gaitskell then observed on political Left-Right finger-pointing but quite clearly states where the problem lay then:
“The truth is that our faults lie not in our markets or the tariffs against us but in ourselves; in the failure to invest enough; in the ‘stop, go, stop’ four-year cycle to which we are all so accustomed, in the failure to spend enough on research; in the failure to solve the apprenticeship problem, even to do anything about it, and to build up the necessary reserves of skilled labour; in the continued existence of an antiquated and unfair tax system…”
I would suggest that those problems still remain with us. On political aspects, he further observed:
“The European Economic Community has come to stay. We are not passing judgment on that; it is not our affair. It may well be that political union will follow. It would be the height of folly to deny that therefore in the centre of Western Europe there will in all probability develop a new powerful combination, which may be a single state, and it would, of course, be absurd to question the immense impact that this can have upon world affairs.”
He then took a broad view of political unions, looking at hypothetical possibilities for union with neutral countries, or with the USA, both of which would be as unacceptable now as it would have been then. In determining whether the EEC/EU would be a force for the good, he posed all the right questions:
“So let us have less of this talk of narrow nationalism. It is not a matter of just any union, it is a matter of what are the effects of the union. Is it an aggressive one? Is it damaging to others? Is it selfish? Is it inward-looking or is it internationally minded? Is it power-hungry or is it satisfied. Does it erect barriers as well as pull them down? All these questions have to be asked, if we are honest, before we can decide.”
We know now: it is aggressive in an underhand way; it is very selfish, inward-looking, power-hungry and seeks to create a Fortress Europe. He was also suspicious of the political motives behind the then EEC:
“What exactly is involved in the concept of political union? We hear a lot about it; we are told that the Economic Community is not just a customs union, that all who framed it saw it as a stepping stone towards political integration. We ought to be told what is meant by that, for if this be true our entry into the Common Market carries with it some very serious political obligations. But when you ask it is not easy to get a clear answer. When Mr. Macmillan speaks of belonging to a larger political unit what does he mean by ‘belonging’? What are we supposed to be joining?”
Again, we know the answer to his questions now: there are many political obligations, it is a larger political unit that is still growing in size, scope and power. And in UKIP we know we want out of it, that a majority of British people want the same thing. In terms of that growth, he also foresaw the United States of Europe:
“What does federation mean? It means that powers are taken from national governments and handed over to federal governments and to federal parliaments. It means… that if we go into this we are no more than a state in the United States of Europe, such as Texas and California… But I could take others: it would be the same as in Australia, where you have Western Australia, for example, and New South Wales… This is what it means; it does mean the end of Britain as an independent nation state. It may be a good thing or a bad thing but we must recognise that this is so.”
But, MacMillan, Heath and Wilson avoided all that troubling detail, they told us it was only about free trade and open borders, and now we know they were all lying, as did their successors, notably Major, Blair and Brown and now Cameron and Clegg. The most famous line in his speech then followed:
“We must be clear about this: it does mean, if this is the idea, the end of Britain as an independent European state. I make no apology for repeating it. It means the end of a thousand years of history.”
That was half way through the speech: it is a very lengthy speech, over 13 pages of close-typed text, and he explored all the political, trade and foreign policy aspects as well. His closing paragraph nails his personal colours to the mast (and given he was Labour leader then, his party’s colours too):
“After all, if we could carry the Commonwealth with us, safeguarded, flourishing, prosperous; if we could safeguard our agriculture, and our E.F.T.A. friends were all in it, if we were secure in our employment policy, and if we were able to maintain our independent foreign policy and yet have this wider, looser association with Europe, it would indeed be a great ideal. But if this should not prove to be possible; if the Six will not give it to us; if the British Government will not even ask for it, then we must stand firm by what we believe, for the sake of Britain, and the Commonwealth and the World; and we shall not flinch from our duty if that moment comes.”
Regrettably, on 18 January 1963, Hugh Gaitskell was cut down in his prime, aged 56, after a sudden flare of an autoimmune disease. And now, thanks to his successor Harold Wilson, elected as his replacement, we are in that European Union which is busy increasing its powers, and suffering from its impact.
He gave the speech as a true patriot, and showing loyalty to those in The Commonwealth who still remain loyal to us, despite the despicable way we have treated them by joining the EU. A loose association with Europe would be admirable, but not what we have now, and that is why Britain must leave the EU.