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Great Britain Remains Skeptical of Europe (January 2, 1973)

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If accession day put the British public, though not official England, in a mood more appropriate for a funeral march than a “fanfare for Europe,” then it is hardly surprising: that is, not after the accession opponents’ systematic campaign, which led to their taking over all the leadership bodies in the Labour party and the trade unions. This campaign, which was echoed in the Conservative party with not entirely innocuous vote revolts in the House of Commons, pulled out all the stops. The battle slogans appealed to the material and to the always effective patriotic instincts of the British – the latter due to their general and easily ignitable foreign animosity. The fear of a flood of price increases and the theory of sovereignty loss, as asserted by Michael Foot and Ennoch Power, were and still are the most effective weapons.

[ . . . ]

Ill humor and discord on accession day would not be cause for particular worry if one of the old traditions of British politics took effect from now on, namely, if the defeated opposition accepted the majority decision of the parliament, but that seems out of the question. The shadow cabinet, the Labour party caucus, the entire executive committee of the Labour party, and the General Council of the General Federation of Trade Unions made a binding decision that the next Labour government would initiate new negotiations on whether Great Britain should remain in the European Economic Community, with the ultimate decision being made by the British electorate in a referendum.

Within the scope of British parliamentarianism, there is hardly a conceivable solution that would come closer to open sabotage of a parliamentary majority decision. In order to justify such a destructive course, for which there is no counterexample, Wilson must legally question not the formal, but the intrinsic legitimacy of the ratification act.

No one, not even Wilson, denied that Britain’s joining the EEC is a personal triumph for Heath. In his accession address, the prime minister characterized the accession as “a powerful, historical moment, in every sense of the word,” but that is the only flight of fancy in an otherwise characteristically sober appeal, whose common denominator was the assurance that in practice, the cooperation of the Community of Nine would turn out to be the best thing for everyone.

In Brussels and the other capitals of the Community of Nine, the idea that a future Labour cabinet could raise the question of Britain’s joining the EEC anew might seem unrealistic to the point of absurdity. In the everyday struggles of party politics in Britain, however, it is an unsettling reality with potentially serious consequences. It may very well be that the Labour party has set a course that guarantees a new defeat for itself from the outset – if [for example] accession should be convincingly established as a good thing in the consciousness of the voting majority by the time of the next elections to the House of Commons. Wilson must not consider the risk all that great, since otherwise he would not have done so astonishingly little to resist the requirement of a referendum, which he had always and repeatedly rejected publicly. The British dailies, however, presented a united front against him in the question of joining the EEC, once the Daily Express also abandoned its years-long campaign against accession. The communist party organ is the only exception.

Source: Heinz Höpfl, “Mehr Trauermarsch als Europa-Fahne. Großbritannien am Tag des Beitritts zur Europäischen Gemeinschaft” [“More Funeral March than Europe Fanfare. Britain on the Day It Joined the European Community”], Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, January 2, 1973.

Translation: Allison Brown

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