David Cameron has committed his party to a referendum on Europe. He proposes to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership; the subject of that renegotiation will be put in a referendum to the British electorate, who will be able to decide whether or not Britain remains in the EU. Those are much the same terms on which the previous referendum took place in 1975.
There are some common misconceptions about the 1975 referendum. I voted in that referendum, and being a dreadful hoarder, I still have copies of the leaflets and posters from that campaign. I can remember no point at which it was ever suggested that this was about nothing more than trade. The Government’s pamphlet, Britain’s New Deal in Europe, explained that the aims of the European Community were
- to bring together the peoples of Europe
- to raise living standards and improve working conditions
- to promote growth and boost world trade
- to help the poorer regions of Europe and the rest of the world
- to help maintain peace and freedom.
According to Cameron, “today the main, over-riding aim of the European Union is different: not to win peace, but to secure prosperity”. That doesn’t look so different to 1975.
Cameron argues: ‘Put simply, many ask “why can’t we just have what we voted to join – a common market?” ‘ Is that what we voted on? The European Community of the time was clearly a federalist project, and the European Peoples’ Party, which the Conservatives were aligned with for many years, was federalist in principle. The leaflet for the “Yes” Campaign, delivered to every household, has admittedly only one very oblique reference to “European economic and political integration” (in a quotation from the Australian Prime Minister). The leaflet for the “No” campaign, however, was much more direct: the Common Market, they argued in the second sentence of a long pamphlet, “sets out by stages to merge Britain with France, Germany, Italy and other countries into a single nation”.
Neither of these pamphlets is available anywhere else on the Internet, so I’ve scanned the text and included them here: Why you should vote YES and Why you should vote NO. It’s striking how little the arguments against have moved in nearly forty years.