By John Bufton MEP | WalesHome.org
• “There is no question of eroding any national sovereignty; there is no blueprint for a federal Europe. There are some in this country who fear that in going into Europe, we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears I need hardly say are completely unjustified.”
These were the assurances made by Prime Minister Edward Heath to his Government and country in 1971, ahead of taking us in to what was then known as the European Economic Community. Four years later, in 1975, his successor, Harold Wilson, gave the country a retrospective referendum on continued membership – the last time Britons were given a ballot on Europe. The question put to the public was simple:
“Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?
That was 35 years ago to the day. What we now have established in Brussels is a far cry from the notion of a Common Market.
Only voters over 53 years of age have ever had a say on our membership of the EU. For the rest, the European Union has become a given, and sadly for many, an unquestionable and somewhat irrelevant topic. So entrenched are we in the numerous directives and legislative orders that have entangled British law over the decades, that talk of leaving Europe has become to the mainstream parties, almost archaic.
Couple this with the current media apathy and widespread public ignorance on Europe, and further federalist integration is allowed to develop unchecked while the people of Britain, bogged down in a quagmire of over-governance, do not seek to equate Europe with the torrent of gratuitous bureaucracy that makes the world we live in today so stiflingly Orwellian.
But this was not always the case. Hark back again to that date in June 1975 when a turn out of 65% voted 67% in favour of remaining in the so-called common market, and you observe a very different political and media landscape to the one we have today. The Pro-European Campaign dominated the airwaves and became the foremost agenda for all the mainstream press. In fact the debate only found opposition in a lesser circulated Communist national, The Morning Star, the irony being that today the main critics of Brussels find stringent comparison with the former Soviet Union.
At the time, politically, the foremost critics of the concept of the Common Market were led by the left wing parties. The No campaign included the left wing of the Labour Party, comprising cabinet ministers such as Tony Benn. Some members of the Conservative Party also supported the No campaign, although there were far fewer Conservative Eurosceptics in 1975 than there were in subsequent debates on Europe. Among other parties supporting the No campaign were Plaid Cymru, who today purport to hold a radically different view on our membership.
The constitutional change brought about by what is now the European Union has been the greatest in the last 300 years of British political history. Yet the conduct of the campaign in 1975 failed to value the delicate democracy needed to steer the public through such a huge undertaking. The pro-Europe campaign enjoyed vastly greater funding than the No campaign, especially due to support by the CBI whose backing saw many British businesses donating to the cause. The CBI is today at times one of Brussels greatest critics, as is the National Farmers Union which, in the seventies, also pledged support to the pro-European agenda.
But isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing? Anybody who opposed the common market on the grounds of fears for the future developments of a political organisation was labelled a lunatic, a scaremonger and a troublemaker. Some things evidently have not changed. Yet history alone has taught us that that is exactly what has happened. Integration has deepened, we have witnessed a handful of equally potent treaties signed without referral to public opinion, and when people have come out in opposition, their remarks have been entirely overlooked. Thus an entire political system with its own Secretariats and Parliaments, courts of law and constitution grew out of the ashes of what was once a friendly trade agreement. Yet you cannot criticise something for its existence alone. Instead you must look at the direct consequences of it and establish how they affect the lives of the very people whose opinion has been successively vetoed by successive Governments.
Anybody who purported that food prices would increase, integration into the European continent would isolate us from the Commonwealth, British jobs would be under threat and our lives would become overly regulated was deemed a fantasist 35 years ago. Even today, the voice of the Eurosceptic is associated with an outmoded model of thought, a harking back to the good old days of British Imperialism, an out–of-touch embittered crank whose finger is no longer on the pulse in a globalised world.
But why is it deemed so radical or anachronistic to oppose an institution that sucks out national wealth, binds countries politically and is gradually eroding the very concept of national sovereignty? Put directly: “Would you wish to see the UK as part of The United States of Europe?”, I am certain that a huge majority of the population would say: “No!” Yet such claims are reduced to poppycock and hyperbole while the political elite continue to conduct their European negotiations in a clandestine manner, far from the gaze of the British public who would most certainly plunge the brakes on the project were they only to have a clear picture of the European scene.
Often we find ourselves having to take solace in Switzerland as a shining example of European sense. It is hardly sinking under the heavy burden of remaining independent from the European Union. Some might even suggest it has prospered over and above its continental neighbours.
Some 35 years ago we were told if we did not join the Common Market we’d go bust. We were ill advised to disregard our Commonwealth, 54 countries formerly part of the British Empire whose head is our Queen. They speak our language, they share our ideals and they are as diverse as Ireland to India, Canada to Cameroon, Ghana to Guyana. Their diversity and richness of culture and tradition make them an ultimate force as a global diaspora. Instead we have allied ourselves with geographic neighbours and placed all of our eggs in one basket. Now we see the Eurozone sinking and by mere association British industry is losing value hand over fist as the contagion spreads like a trade virus.
What is important to keep in mind is that at no point would I, or any other UKIP member, wish to be described as anti-Europeans. We are Europeans, and we wish to continue to trade and work alongside our European neighbours on issues of great import and demonstrate solidarity on big issues and promote peace. However, were we to lift the heavy weight of some 120,000 directives issued from Brussels, regain control of our over-fished waters (it is interesting to point out here that territorial waters of the EEC were carved up and apportioned between member states before the UK’s entry into the Union, notably by largely landlocked countries), have free reign to farm and trade according to our own standards, deal with issues of human rights in British courts according to our national laws and sentiments, open our borders to whom we choose, not according to whichever nation has most recently been granted visa free travel by Brussels, and begin to re-establish our ties with our forgotten cousins, I am sure that the UK would be a more prosperous, free, democratic, independent and proud country. We would also save something in the region of £65 billion annually just by shirking our disproportionate membership fees and cutting loose from the bureaucratic waste.
In a document classified as “Confidential”, entitled: Cabinet Official Committee on the approach to Europe, Sub-Committee on Financial and Monetary Aspects, Economic and Monetary Union” reference AEO(F)(70)5, dated November 9, 1970, prepared by two senior Treasury officials, it was remarked:
“It should be noted at the outset that the plan for economic and monetary union (EMU) has revolutionary long-term implications, both economic and political. It could imply the ultimate creation of a European federal state with a single currency. All the basic instruments of national economic life would ultimately be handed over to the central, federal authorities.”
Ted Heath was asked by Peter Sissons on an episode of Question Time, 1st November 1991: “…The single currency, the United States of Europe: was that on your mind when you took Britain in?”
The former Prime Minister simply replied, “Of course, Yes.”