“I believe that our renegotiation objectives have been substantially though not completely achieved.” The government will recommend a vote in favour of continued membership.
David Cameron? No, Harold Wilson after the then European Economic Community heads of government agreed to a deal in Dublin on 11 March 1975. This was just before the referendum of that year, in which we voted to stay in the EEC, as it was then.
The then government sent a copy of its own pamphlet arguing in support of continued EEC membership to every household, just as David Cameron is doing now, and this was followed by two more pieces of literature, one each from the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns, which were distributed nationally.
The ‘Yes’ campaign was extremely well funded and supported by the majority of British newspapers, as well as most of the country’s businesses, several trade unions, farmers and various groups around the country.
The campaign concentrated on decrying those in the ‘No’ campaign, implying they were mad to even consider coming out of the EEC. To his credit, the then Industry Minister Tony Benn claimed that half a million jobs had been lost and food prices had soared ‘as a direct result of our entry into the Common Market’. He was tagged the ‘Minister of Fear’.
But what goes around comes around. Since 1975, the European Economic Community has changed its name several times and is now the European Union. It has moved from being simply a trading bloc into something quite different. It has grown from the nine countries which were members in 1975 to the 28-member super-state it is now, and many of these new members are the poorer countries of Eastern Europe, thus bringing down the average standard of living of the whole of the union.
The treaties of Lisbon and Maastricht have changed our relationship with the bloc and the euro has been introduced. The European Parliament and the European Court of Justice have grown in stature and power and now have the ability to control the everyday lives of Britons.
And the whole reason for the EU, which was kept from us by the 1973 Prime Minister Ted Heath, has now become clear. The powers that be want to transform the bloc into a single country – the United States of Europe, totally integrated politically, financially and in every sense that matters.
In June this year we have the opportunity to have our say once again, only this time it is the pro-market camp which is being labeled ‘Project Fear’.
Just as in 1975, we have had the spectacle of a Prime Minister going into negotiations with the rest of the EU, promising “proper, full-on treaty change” and a “fundamental change” in our relationship with the EU.
And what did Cameron come back with? A few cosmetic changes to our relationship with the EU which he announced with a fanfare as a great success but which nobody can now even remember. In 1975, Harold Wilson did exactly the same, keeping his demands deliberately ‘loose’. Like Cameron, this allowed Wilson to claim he had won ‘significant’ changes to our relationship with the EU and that made voting to stay in the obvious choice.
As we know, the outcome of the 1975 referendum was two-to-one victory for the ‘Yes’ campaign. However, along with a whole slew of similarities between the 1975 referendum and the one coming up in June, there are many disparities. In 1975, the majority of the media were in favour of staying in the EEC. This time, quite a good proportion of the newspapers, especially the red-top tabloids, are campaigning for Brexit. Business is split down the middle, with big businesses wanting to stay in the EU, probably because of the subsidies and grants they get from the union, and smaller businesses fed up to the back teeth with the stream of directives coming out of Brussels.One of the questions raised in 1975 was whether or not Parliament would lose its power. In the literature of that year voters were assured that: ‘Membership of the Common Market also imposes new rights and duties on Britain, but does not deprive us of our national identity. To say that membership could force Britain to eat Euro-bread or drink Euro-beer is nonsense.’
Voters were also told that no important new policy can be decided in Brussels or anywhere else ‘without the consent of a British Minister answerable to a British Government and British Parliament’, and that ‘the British Parliament in Westminster retains the final right to repeal the Act which took us into the Market on January 1, 1973’.
Looking back, were these promises kept, or at least sufficiently kept to persuade the British public that the EU is a good thing, or will those who have tasted the arrogance, ineptitude and downright corruption in the European Union know in their hearts that on our own we can make Britain great again?
We will know on June 24.