Voters weren’t misled about “Common Market”

by Jack Schickler | 23.03.2016

When we last had a European referendum, in 1975, people voted two-to-one in favour of membership. Eurosceptics often claim the British people were conned: they were supposed to have voted for a “common market”, but Europe has since grown into something much larger. Yet the broader aims and aspirations of the European Community – as it was then known – were plain for all to see at the time.

The Community we joined “was supposed to be all about free trade”, says Daniel Hannan. Nigel Farage says voters were tricked at the time, but voters “were not getting – and have never got” what they were led to believe. Think tank Open Europe says voters felt “cheatedwhen political aspects, rather than a mere common market, came to the fore. Boris Johnson says that the project has “morphed and grown… to be unrecognisable”. MP Rebecca Harris says that, in contrast to the early days, the EU now “encroaches on almost every aspect of our lives”.

1975 debate was not just about a “common market”

These claims don’t stand up. Voters in 1975 were asked if they wanted to “stay in the European Community (the common market)”. But the debate was not simply about economics. The Yes campaign refer to the benefits for safety and security. The “political case” was “paramount”, said Margaret Thatcher. A few years earlier, Prime Minister Edward Heath had spoken of a “united Europe” and a “European destiny”. The Times editorial on referendum day referred in glowing terms to campaign speeches that had given a “sense of European development as an ideal”, and agreed we were part of a “European family”.

Eurosceptics imply the phrase “Common Market” was used by pro-Europeans to pull the wool over voters’ eyes. But, while the phrase appears extensively in the No campaign leaflet, their europhile counterparts use it hardly at all. Neither the Heath speeches nor the Times editorial cited above mention the phrase.

Always clear Europe would evolve

Another Brexiteer complaint is that, whatever the project once was, it has grown, and evolved in the wrong direction. It’s true Europe has changed. There are now fewer areas where we have a veto, and more power for the European Parliament. While the UK is out of the euro and the Schengen free-travel zone, they change the EU’s dynamics. New members from the east have increased the impact of the free movement of people.

But many of the changes Brexiteers dislike and claim they were misled about – free movement, harmonised taxation, social and labour provisions, the supremacy of European law – were spelled out in the 1957 Treaty of Rome, whose preamble also referred to an “ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe”.

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    In 1970, Foreign Secretary Sir Alec Douglas-Home acknowledged – and seemed to welcome – that the institutions would evolve. The UK government’s 1971 White Paper said it was “inevitable” Europe’s external policies would broaden as interests harmonised, arguing the UK should be on the inside when that happened. Further new ideas were being sketched out even before the referendum: in 1972, EU leaders, including Heath, called for for an EU environment policy, economic and monetary union, and transformation into a “European Union”.

    It is right to say the European Community has changed since the seventies, and not just in name. It is wrong to say that the nature of the project, and how it might evolve, were hidden from voters in the last referendum.

    The third paragraph of this article was amended on 6 April. The speeches cited by Edward Heath were given in 1971 and 1972 when the UK joined the European Community. 

    Edited by Michael Prest

    4 Responses to “Voters weren’t misled about “Common Market””

    • I was just too young to vote in 1974 but remember some of the debates and we had a talk about it at our school. I was struck by the peace in Europe argument and binding former adversaries together to make a Uk, French, German conflict unimaginable and thought that my generation must not repeat the mistakes of my grandparents with Ww1 & WW2.
      I have never fully understood what is so bad about a “United States of Europe” the USA does ok and a Texan or a Californian can be proud of both State and Country, I am proud to be English, British and European.

    • I voted to remain in 1975 and can confidently say that neither myself nor members of my family were aware of the “grand plan” for Europe. We were, in my opinion, deliberately misled. In those days there was no internet, just TV, radio and newspapers, and lots of government propaganda.
      Up until a year ago, I actually believed that the EU, despite its flaws, was probably a good thing.
      My view changed dramatically when I researched how the EU operates.
      I shall definitely vote to LEAVE this time, because I want to live in a democracy.

    • I would pull you up on one massive flaw in this article.

      Eurosceptics imply the phrase “Common Market” was used by pro-Europeans to pull the wool over voters’ eyes. But, while the phrase appears extensively in the No campaign leaflet, their europhile counterparts use it hardly at all.

      The phrase “Common Market” was on the actual ballot paper as cites in the ITV source you linked to.

      So the argument does not make sense, unless you are trying to fool yourself into believing an untruth?