Maggie’s 1975 pro-Europe case remains strong today

by Victor Sebestyen | 30.03.2016

Many commentators over the last weeks have speculated on which side of the EU debate Margaret Thatcher would have come down in the forthcoming Referendum. She casts such a continuing spell over politics today that for many voters – particularly Tory voters – her views, as the totemic figure of modern British Conservatism, matter.

Of course, we will never know the answer. But we do know what she said in the only referendum we have had on the issue – and it is worth recalling just how enthusiastically pro-European she was in the vote in 1975, held just a few months after she became Party leader. “To come out (of Europe) now, with nowhere else to go, would jeopardise our own and our children’s future,” she said in The Daily Telegraph on 4 June, on the eve of poll. “In politics we always have to consider ‘what is the alternative?’ The European Community or what? If we came out now we should be renouncing a treaty and cold-shouldering our friends…The reasons for staying in have actually nothing to do with the re-negotiated terms. They are concerned with more fundamental feelings; with the ideal and vision of what we could do together… and with the consequences that would arise for Britain if instead of solving our problems as part of a partnership we withdrew into the unknown.”

She may have changed some of her views over subsequent years in her dealings with the Brussels Commission, or while handbagging other European leaders. But at no time in decades of political life did she publicly say she wanted to leave the EU – or that she had been wrong to recommend a Yes Vote in 1975.

“At a time of uncertainty in world affairs, Europe gives us a far better chance of peace and security, and if we want our children to continue to enjoy the benefits of peace our best course of action is to stay in Europe,’ she said in a speech in North London on 19 May.

In fact Thatcher made some of the best Vote Yes speeches of the entire campaign – though if she uttered them today she would be unlikely even to be selected as a Tory parliamentary candidate. If only pro-Europeans now would use some of the uplifting rhetoric she did then – and raise their sights -, voters might be inspired.

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In 1975 Thatcher tended to use a “big picture” narrative about Britain’s place in the world and our global influence. She seldom became bogged down in the minutiae and the duller details. “As we look at our island story we see that our people have always been at their best when they have been outward looking,” she said at the start of the campaign in the House of Commons. “Political and economic power in the world today is based on continents and on populations the size of the Americas, Western Europe, Russia … Where power resides, there must British influence be exerted.”

Many of the issues in the debate are almost exactly the same as they were 40 years ago. For many diehard Eurosceptics the crux arguments were then, and still are, about sovereignty. Thatcher tackled them head-on.

Joining any international organisation took some sovereignty away, she admitted. Being a member of NATO meant obligations “at least as far reaching as those under The Treaty of Rome. Britain has for generations thought of herself as a power that was different in kind. Proudly so. It is this sense of distinctiveness that (the antis) play upon when they promise ‘independence’ by return of post. But their prospectus ignores the fact that almost every major nation has been obliged…to pool significant areas of sovereignty so as to create more effective political units.”

Many Vote Leave campaigners now argue that Britain should be like Norway – obtain a trading agreement with the Union but stay outside its institutions. This was an option back in 1975 too and Thatcher mentioned it several times on the campaign trail. But she rejected the idea on the same grounds pro-Europeans reject it now. “The choice is whether to be outside…and yet have to accept everything it decided on trading provisions, including standards….or whether to stay in and have an influence over decisions that will seriously affect the whole of our economic life,” she said.

Perhaps David Cameron has studied Thatcher’s referendum speeches and in the campaign he will find the voice to enthuse us to vote Yes, as she did. “Of course the European Community (as it was then called) is not perfect,” she said in one of her most rousing performances. “No human institution is. But what comparable opportunities can a Britain in isolation offer? We shall not spurn allies. We must ensure than an outward-looking Britain continues to exert her influence wherever it counts for most in the world.”


Edited by Geert Linnebank

Tags: , Categories: Articles, Brexit

One Response to “Maggie’s 1975 pro-Europe case remains strong today”

  • This is such a ridiculous report to suggest maggie was pro europe. She was pro EEC in 1975 not EU and the EU state there are enough Youtube vidoes of her denouncing the idiot John MAjor on Maastricht and many others clearly stating he prosition.