Britain has always had a split personality when it comes to Europe.
Winston Churchill wrote in 1930, “We are with Europe, but not of it.” But he also talked favorably about the “United States of Europe.” being formed.
The great historical figure has therefore been used over the years by proponents and critics of Britain’s EU membership alike.
Indeed, some claim that, in post-war British politics, the underlying divide is not between left and right, but between those who believe that the future of Britain lies in Europe and those who do not.
Charles de Gaulle cited the ambivalence of Britain against joining the euro club as a reason why France vetoed membership in the European Economic Union, the predecessor of the EU, in the early 1960s.
The French President argued that a “deep-seated hostility” to a pan-European initiative existed in Britain. But what worried him, really, was that Britain would weaken the position of France on the continent.
It was only after de Gaulle quit the Elysee Palace in 1969 and Britain elected Edward Heath’s pro-European Tory prime minister that Britain ultimately entered the Common Market in 1973.
But the Labour Party, in particular, was split on the issue and vowed to resolve the question in the first British referendum since gaining a razor-thin majority in 1974.
Most Labour cabinet members, as well as their Tory shadows, headed by Margaret Thatcher, came out in support of the country remaining in the European Community in the 1975 election campaign.
While the Conservatives and Liberals supported a Yes vote, Labour officially ended up not endorsing either side; party members and most unions favored No. Among the parties, the SNP was also against more membership.
A popular picture of Mrs. Thatcher wearing a pro-EU sweater bearing the flags of all Member States was created by the campaign.
The outcome of the referendum has never been in doubt: 67.2 percent yes, 32.8 percent no.
But after the referendum, the love-hate relationship between Britain and the European Union worsened, eventually transforming itself from an economic project into a political one with a parliament, a flag, a growing civil service and a monetary system.
Britain opted out of the Exchange Rate System, which had the goal of maintaining stable exchange rates. Indeed, opinion polls in 1980, a year after its launch, showed that the British were now firmly opposed to EC membership, 65% to 26.
The 1983 election manifesto of the Labour Party, described as the “longest suicide note in history,” vowed to leave; the party’s pro-European wing had merged to form the SDP. However, Michael Foot’s party lost.
The Euro-psychodrama started to unfold dramatically during the subsequent Conservative governments of the 1980s and 1990s, and the divide between Britain and Brussels grew as the EC, under the presidency of French socialist Jacques Delors, pushed with the Single European Act, which established a single market and a single currency, towards a federal Europe. Britain decided against it again.
Mrs. Thatcher made her famous Bruges speech in 1988, in which she opposed ‘a European superstate exercising a new Brussels domination.’
The prime minister was convinced to put Britain on the ERM in October 1990, as inflation was raging. Within days, however, she criticized the aspirations of Brussels, telling the House of Commons how Mr. Delors wanted the European Parliament to be the democratic arm of the EC, the executive of the Commission, and the Senate of the Council of Ministers.
“No, no, no,” the Iron Lady announced to a combination of MPs’ laughter and derision. A month later, she was thrown out of Downing St. by her Cabinet colleagues; a victim, she said, of “treason with a smile on her face.”
But it fared no better for her replacement, John Major. “the bastards.”the bastards.
In September 1992, the prime minister invested billions of pounds as sterling came under pressure and increased interest rates to a whopping 15 percent to sustain it. Yet he finally embraced weakness and defeat,