When Prime Minister, Theresa May, said in Florence last autumn that, “the United Kingdom has never totally felt at home being in the European Union”, she not only misrepresented the history of her country, she betrayed the legacy of her party.
It was only because of the passionate resolve of past Conservative Prime Ministers that Britain joined the European Community in the first place.
Now, Mrs May is Britain’s only Prime Minister ever to go against membership of the European Union and the cherished Single Market of Europe. She will be taking Britain out, whereas all previous Prime Ministers (both Tory and Labour) wanted Britain to be in.
▪ WINSTON CHURCHILL: It was one of the Tory party’s greatest leaders, Winston Churchill, who passionately promoted the ‘Union of Europe as a whole’ and is recognised as a founder of the European Union.
When the European Economic Community (now called the European Union) was created in 1957, Churchill welcomed the formation of a “common market” by the six founding countries, provided that “the whole of free Europe will have access”.
Churchill added, “We genuinely wish to join..”
But Churchill also warned:
“If, on the other hand, the European trade community were to be permanently restricted to the six nations, the results might be worse than if nothing were done at all – worse for them as well as for us. It would tend not to unite Europe but to divide it – and not only in the economic field.”
In 1961 Conservative Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, applied for Britain to join the European Community.
Churchill wrote, “I think that the Government are right to apply to join the European Economic Community..”
He added, “We might well play a great part in these developments to the profit of not only ourselves, but of our European friends also.”
▪ HAROLD MACMILLAN: In a pamphlet explaining to the nation why Britain had applied to join the European Community in 1961, Prime Minister Macmillan wrote:
“By negotiating for British membership of the European Economic Community and its Common Market, the present Conservative Government has taken what is perhaps the most fateful and forward looking policy decision in our peacetime history.
“We did not do so lightly. It was only after a searching study of all the facts that we came to accept this as the right and proper course.”
Mr Macmillan continued:
“By joining this vigorous and expanding community and becoming one of its leading members, as I am convinced we would, this country would not only gain a new stature in Europe, but also increase its standing and influence in the councils of the world.”
▪ SIR ALEC DOUGLAS-HOME: Mr Macmillan’s successor, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, was briefly prime minister for one year from 1964. He supported Britain’s application to join the European Community. Sir Alec said:
“I have never made it a secret that I cannot see an alternative which would offer as good a prospect for this country as joining the E.E.C. [European Community].”
And he also stated:
“I am acutely conscious that there are two questions which have to be asked: not only whether we should go in, but what is the prospect for Britain if we stay out. Those two questions have to be asked because, whether we are in or out, the Community goes on.”
▪ EDWARD HEATH: It was Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath, who joined Britain to the European Community following the backing of Parliament after 300 hours of debate (contrast that with the scant time given to Parliament by the current Conservative government to debate the triggering of Article 50 and the European Withdrawal Bill.)
On the evening of 28 October 1971, Mr Heath addressed the House of Commons during the momentous debate on Britain joining the European Community. He said:
“Surely we must consider the consequences of staying out. We cannot delude ourselves that an early chance would be given us to take the decision again.
“We should be denying ourselves and succeeding generations the opportunities which are available to us in so many spheres; opportunities which we ourselves in this country have to seize.
“We should be leaving so many aspects of matters affecting our daily lives to be settled outside our own influence. That surely cannot be acceptable to us.
“We should be denying to Europe, also – let us look outside these shores for a moment – its full potential, its opportunities of developing economically and politically, maintaining its security, and securing for all its people a higher standard of prosperity.”
Mr Heath added:
“..tonight when this House endorses this Motion many millions of people right across the world will rejoice that we have taken our rightful place in a truly United Europe.”
Parliament did endorse the Motion, and Britain subsequently joined the European Economic Community on 1 January 1973.
▪ MARGARET THATCHER: Two years later the Labour government offered the British people a referendum on whether the country should stay in the European Community. Tory leader and future Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, strongly campaigned for the country to remain in the Community.
In a keynote speech at the time she said:
“It is not surprising that I, as Leader of the Conservative Party, should wish to give my wholehearted support to this campaign, for the Conservative Party has been pursuing the European vision almost as long as we have existed as a Party.”
Mrs Thatcher also pushed for, and made possible, the Single Market of Europe.
In September 1988 in Bruges, Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher gave a major speech about the future of Europe. She said:
“Britain does not dream of some cosy, isolated existence on the fringes of the European Community. Our destiny is in Europe, as part of the Community.”
Mrs Thatcher added:
“Let Europe be a family of nations, understanding each other better, appreciating each other more, doing more together but relishing our national identity no less than our common European endeavour.”
Crucially she said in support of the Single Market:
“By getting rid of barriers, by making it possible for companies to operate on a European scale, we can best compete with the United States, Japan and other new economic powers emerging in Asia and elsewhere.”
▪ JOHN MAJOR: And it was former Conservative Prime Minister, John Major, who negotiated and won Parliament’s backing to sign the Maastricht Treaty, that among other benefits gave us EU Citizenship rights allowing us to reside, work, study or retire across a huge expanse of our continent.
At the Tory Party Conference of 1992, just six months after John Major won a surprise victory in the General Election, he said to the party faithful:
“I speak as one who believes Britain’s future lies with Europe.”
And Mr Major warned about Britain walking away from Europe:
“We would be breaking Britain’s future influence in Europe. We would be ending for ever our hopes of building the kind of Europe that we want. And we would be doing that, just when across Europe the argument is coming our way. We would be leaving European policy to the French and the Germans.
“That is not a policy for Great Britain. It would be an historic mistake. And not one your Government is going to make.”
And Mr Major crucially added:
“Let us not forget why we joined the Community. It has given us jobs. New markets. New horizons. Nearly 60 per cent of our trade is now with our partners. It is the single most important factor in attracting a tide of Japanese and American investment to our shores, providing jobs for our people..
“But the most far-reaching, the most profound reason for working together in Europe I leave till last. It is peace. The peace and stability of a continent, ravaged by total war twice in this century.”
▪ DAVID CAMERON: Previous Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, also strongly supported Britain’s continued membership of the EU, and his government’s official advice to the electorate during the Referendum was to vote for Remain.
Of course, Theresa May also shared these sentiments during the Referendum, when she campaigned for Remain and declared:
“I believe it is clearly in our national interest to remain a member of the European Union.”
And she added then:
“If we do vote to leave the European Union, we risk bringing the development of the Single Market to a halt, we risk a loss of investors and businesses to remaining EU member states driven by discriminatory EU policies, and we risk going backwards when it comes to international trade.”
But now, Mrs May has volunteered to go against her own wise words prior to 23 June 2016, and as our Conservative Prime Minister, seems determined to wreck the legacy of all the past Tory Prime Ministers – indeed of all UK Prime Ministers – of the last 60 years. Why?
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