Saturday, 12 May 2018

A History Lesson: Did the UK join the EEC for the wrong reasons?

Giving all the fuss about Brexit, you may have wondered why did the UK join the EEC in 1973 and did the UK achieve the goals it set itself?

The reasons can be traced back to a study made by the Macmillan Government in 1959. The "Future Policy Study" was a long range study of UK overseas policy during the decade to come (1960 to 1970). It revealed amongst other things that the then French President, General De Gaulle, regarded the Treaty of Rome, which created the European Economic Community in 1957 (the EEC, the forerunner of the EU) as a purely commercial treaty, which De Gaulle admitted he would not have signed, if he had been French president at the time.

The Britsh prime minister Harold Macmillan still wanted the UK to be a world player. However, the summit meeting in May 1959 between the four "great" powers of the time (USA, USSR, UK and France) had failed to achieve any positive outcome, because of the shooting down of an American U2 spy plane over Russia earlier that month. It was at a time when the UK was losing its Empire and Macmillan realised that on its own, the UK could no longer be the "World player" that it had been. The study suggested that the UK had two possible routes, either to help develop the emerging economies of the Commonwealth or to throw in its lot with the EEC.

As historian Peter Hennessy wrote in his book "Having it so good: Britain in the Fifties" , "EUROPE, for the British was not a shining collective goal in itself, but a means of sustaining BRITISH power." As the French philosopher Raymond Aron put it in 1962, "those for whom Europe is to be a fatherland cannot avoid recognising that in British eyes (except for a small minority) it will never be anything but a means for something else".

The main reason for joining the EEC then, was to sustain Britain's powers in international affairs. Indeed the reports suggested that the UK expected to become the lead player in the EEC, if it joined. Hennessy described UK "wishful thinking" in not believing what the Treaty of Rome said about ever closer union in its opening paragraphs on the grounds that only French "mystics" could subscribe to it.

However the report acknowledged that joining the EEC might be unpopular. " It is to be expected that , if we were to join the Six (the original six countries of the EEC) there would be considerable opposition from some sections of public opinion.."

In a conclusion that Hennessy describes as "chilling", the 1959 report declared " This opposition would require careful handling; intensive RE-EDUCATION would be needed..."

This re-education started before 1973, when the UK joined the EEC and continues to this day. However, the UK never did achieve the dominance over the EEC that was its original goal. That honour now clearly lies with Germany. Indeed the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, then the Amsterdam, Nice and then Lisbon treaties increasingly took power away from Westminster and gave it to Brussels. The UK went from being a net exporter to the EEC to having a massive trade deficit with the EU (£82bn in 2016).

Notes to the 1959 report also concluded that the UK " should consider full membership, but seek special terms to meet our fundamental interests and those of the Commonwealth." Edward Heath, who took the UK into the EEC, failed to achieve any special terms and the UK has continued to fail to negotiate any meaningful "special terms" even when the EU was faced with Brexit (as David Cameron discovered).

The time has come to recognise that the UK failed in its original objectives and that the EU juggernaut will continue towards its goal of "ever closer" union until a United States of Europe is achieved or the EU implodes as its nation states collapse.

It may or may not be too late for plan B, to develop economic ties with Commonwealth countries. But it is time to recognise that the massive private and public debt (more than doubled since 2010 under Tory "austerity" to over £2 trillion) that the UK has amassed by being part of the EU must be addressed. As the 1959 report predicted:

"Whether we join the Six or not, we shall have to reduce the proportion of our output devoted to consumption and increase the proportion which is invested or exported."

We have ignored this advice in the forty five years since we joined the EEC, which has left the UK in massive debt. Now is the time to reverse that situation, exacerbated by the urgent need to reduce consumption in order to reduce the risk of global warming. We need to stop pretending we are a global power and instead put the needs of the British people and the country first.