Believe it or not, Conservatives used to be the party of Europe.
Indeed, it was:
- The Conservatives that joined the UK to the European Community.
- The Conservatives that advocated and helped to design the EU’s Single Market.
- The Conservatives that encouraged the former Communist countries to join.
It was also one of the Tory party’s greatest leaders, Winston Churchill, who promoted the cause of a united Europe as the antidote to war on our continent.
It was 74 years ago today, on 19 September 1946, that Churchill gave his landmark speech at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, when he called for a united Europe as the way to guarantee peace.
His aim was to eliminate the European ills of nationalism and war-mongering once and for all. He proclaimed his remedy, just one year after the end of the war:
“It is to re-create the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom.
“We must build a kind of United States of Europe.”
The European Economic Community was formed on 25 March 1957 with the signing of the Treaty of Rome by the six founding European nations: France, Italy, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
Just four months later, at London’s Central Hall, Westminster in July 1957, Churchill gave a speech welcoming the formation of a “common market” and stating:
“We genuinely wish to join…”
From then onwards, every Conservative Prime Minister strongly endorsed Britain being a member of the European Community – with the notable exceptions of the current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and his immediate predecessor, Theresa May.
Hardened Eurosceptics were always previously on the far side-lines of the Conservative party. But now, they’re in charge, with Mr Johnson at least pretending to be one of them (he wasn’t always).
This month last year, 21 Conservative MPs were sacked because they rebelled against the UK crashing out of the EU in a catastrophic no-deal Brexit.
Those no longer welcomed included Sir Nicholas Soames, grandson of Sir Winston Churchill.
Sir Nicholas had been a Tory MP for 37 years, and like his granddad, is a passionate supporter of a united Europe.
His sacking shockingly demonstrated that the new Europhobic Tory party could no longer tolerate pro-EU members in their midst.
Although Boris Johnson restored Sir Nicholas to the party a few weeks later, he decided not to stand again as a Conservative candidate.
A few months before the EU referendum, Sir Nicholas gave an impassioned speech in the House of Commons, remembering his grandfather’s address in Zurich, which he described as a speech of “great prescience and great vision.”
Sir Nicholas extolled the European Union’s remarkable achievement in bringing us:
“peace, stability, freedom and security unprecedented in a thousand years of European history.”
“It is a very great credit to our country that we should have played such a leading role in seeing this through.”
But his message, along with that of his grandfather, Sir Winston Churchill, is now off-message.
Can the Conservative Party ever be the same again? Their pro-Europe legacy has been shattered.
- Related article by Jon Danzig: Winston Churchill: A founder of the European Union
- Watch this extract of Churchill’s speech of 19 September 1946 and his grandson’s tribute to it in the House of Commons.
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