The party may bear the same name, but Conservatives today are not the same as Conservatives of yesterday.
The party has morphed into the Brexit party by deterring or kicking out any MP or Parliamentary candidate who supports EU membership.
Or else, Tory MPs and government ministers who used to support Remain have simply transitioned into Brexiters.
Things used to be so different. The Tory party was THE party of Europe – the party that did more than any other to bring us closer to our continent.
- It’s because of the Conservatives that the UK applied to join the European Community in the first place.
- It’s because of the Conservatives that the UK eventually joined the European Community.
- It’s because of the Conservatives that support for Britain’s continued membership of the European Community was won by a landslide in the first referendum in 1975.
- It’s because of the Conservatives, under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, that the Single Market of Europe came into existence.
- It was the Conservative government in the 2016 referendum officially supported the UK’s continued membership of the European Union.
- Most Conservative MPs voted for Remain in the referendum.
Since the European Community was founded in 1957, with just two exceptions, the passionate resolve of ALL past Conservative Prime Ministers was that Britain should join it and remain in it.
▪ THE EXCEPTIONS
The two exceptions are today’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and his immediate predecessor, Theresa May.
Johnson and May are the only Tory Prime Ministers – indeed, the ONLY British Prime Ministers if we include Labour too – to go against membership of the European Union and the cherished Single Market of Europe.
But even Johnson and May were once pro-EU.
Theresa May campaigned for Remain and stated during the referendum:
“I believe it is clearly in our national interest to remain a member of the European Union.”
And Boris Johnson promised Prime Minister, David Cameron, that he would be supporting the Remain cause and assured him that the Brexit campaign would be “crushed like a toad”.
Minutes later he announced that he was joining Vote Leave.
It seems that both Mr Johnson and Mrs May supported their careers more than the best interests of their country.
But looking back over the past six decades of the Tory party, Johnson and May are aberrations because in government, Conservatives have more traditionally championed our country’s close relations with our continent.
▪ 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 in 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
“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.
“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 to the scant time given to Parliament by the Conservative government under Theresa May 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, in 1975, 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.
“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
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.
He called for Britain to be at ‘the heart of Europe’.
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 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.
In a keynote speech just days before the vote, Mr Cameron told the country:
“I feel so strongly that Britain should remain in Europe. Above all, it’s about our economy. It will be stronger if we stay. It will be weaker if we leave.”
Who now represents Remainers/Rejoiners?
- With the Tories now more akin to being the Brexit party;
- with the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, saying that the Remain-Leave debate “is over” and even that Labour can ‘Make Brexit Work’;
- and with the Liberal Democrats recently rejecting a proposal for “an immediate campaign to reverse Brexit”
And yet most people in the country think Brexit isn’t working.
- A newly released YouGov poll shows that a significant majority of Britons think that Brexit is going badly, with only 18% thinking that it’s going well.
- Today, more people than not think that leaving the EU was a mistake – and that’s consistently been the case for most of the past five years.
Conservatives should remember their roots.
Isn’t it time to at least consider an exit from Brexit?
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