Movement: Opinion polls consistently show a growing majority wanting to leave the EU altogether - an option that even David Cameron no longer rules out
By Christopher Booker
Forty years ago today, in what was arguably the most fateful political move ever made by a British Prime Minister, Edward Heath took us into what was then called the ‘Common Market’.
Such a step had scarcely been mentioned at the previous General Election, and the British people had very little idea of what they were letting themselves in for, other than a trading arrangement that might make it easier for us to sell our goods to our Continental neighbours.
Four decades later, the picture could scarcely look more different. We have seen that supposedly cosy club we joined transformed, step by step, into a vast, bloated bureaucratic empire, imposing its suffocating rule over 27 nations.
We have also seen it plunged into the most destructive crisis in its history — one it has brought entirely on itself by its reckless dream of locking the countries of Europe together into the straitjacket of the euro.
During those 40 years the British have never been happy members of this club. Too often we have been out of step, and even bitterly at odds, with the rest — as in our refusal to join that single currency.
But today, as the EU’s inner core of countries drive towards ‘full political union’ in a desperate bid to save their doomed euro, the British now look at this swollen political monster with fearful bemusement.
Politicians of every party talk plaintively about the need for us to negotiate a ‘looser relationship’ with the EU, while opinion polls consistently show a growing majority wanting to leave it altogether — an option that even David Cameron no longer rules out.
Even on the Continent, influential voices are now recognising that something very significant is happening in Britain, as they suggest we should perhaps be allowed something never seen before — a mere ‘associate membership’ of the EU, allowing us to continue trading with it but without all its political superstructure.
How did we come to such a pass? Are we today looking at another historic crossroads, in its own way just as fateful as the one we faced back in 1973?
The real problem the British people have had with the ‘European project’, as its insiders call it, is that they have never really begun to understand its real nature, and what was always intended to be its ultimate goal.
The chief reason for this is that our politicians have never properly explained it to us.
What makes this so much worse is that those who were most enthused by it, such as Heath, knew full well what ‘the project’ was really about — the plan to weld all Europe together under an unprecedented form of super-government.
They deliberately decided to conceal it from us, for fear that our anxieties about our loss of sovereignty might prevent them from being allowed to join.
Ten years ago, with my co-author Richard North, I wrote a comprehensively researched history of the ‘European project’.
I had already been reporting for years on the incredible damage membership of the EU was doing to British life, through thousands of crazy directives and regulations, through the destruction of our proud fishing industry and the undermining of our agriculture, which was until 1973 the most efficient in Europe.
The real story, surprisingly, goes back to the 1920s, when a senior League of Nations official, Frenchman Jean Monnet, first began to dream of building a ‘United States of Europe’, very much on the lines that decades later would shape the European Union as it is today.
After World War II, Monnet, by then the second most powerful man in France, finally set the project on its way. He knew there was no chance of bringing such an astonishingly ambitious vision into being all at once. So his plan was that it should gradually be constructed, piece by stealthy piece, without ever declaring too openly what was intended to be its ultimate goal.
At first it should be presented as just a trading arrangement, the ‘Common Market’ set up in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome. But the essence of that treaty was to create the core institutions of what Monnet always intended should one day be the ‘Government of Europe’.
Frenchman Jean Monnet first began to dream of building a 'United States of Europe'
The idea was to work for ‘ever closer union’.
Treaty by treaty, it would take over more powers from national governments, based on the sacred principle that once power to make laws was handed over to Brussels it could never be given back.
Ever more countries would be brought into the net, until the project reached its ultimate goal as a super-government, with its own president and parliament, its own currency and armed forces, its own flag and anthem — all the attributes of a fully-fledged nation state.
Thus, stealthily assembled over decades, would this new ‘country called Europe’ finally take its place on the world stage. What we found most shocking in researching this story was that, when Britain’s leaders first considered joining the project, they were made fully aware of this hidden agenda.
As we see from Cabinet papers and other documents of the early Sixties, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and his ‘Europe Minister’ Edward Heath were put completely in the picture about the secret ‘grand plan’. But in June 1961 the Cabinet formally agreed that it must not be revealed to the British people.
In Macmillan’s words, to admit ‘the political objectives’ of the Rome Treaty would raise ‘problems of public relations’ so ‘considerable’ that they should be kept under wraps. It was vital to emphasise only the economic advantages of British entry.
Thus did Macmillan and Heath become drawn into complicity with that same web of deceit which was driving the ‘project’ itself (which is why we called our book The Great Deception).
Twice in the Sixties Britain made failed attempts to join the project — but within weeks of Heath entering Downing Street in 1970, he applied to Brussels a third time. Scarcely had negotiations begun than he learned that his future partners were already discussing the next steps along their path to full integration: a single currency, European defence forces, a common foreign policy.
Heath immediately sent word to Brussels pleading for all this to be kept quiet, because it might blow the gaffe with British voters.
For two years the negotiations continued, with Heath handing over all he was asked for, from giving away Britain’s fishing waters, the richest in the world, to become ‘a common European resource’, to the betrayal of our Commonwealth partners by excluding their goods from what had been for many their main export market.
Finally, Heath got what he was after: entry to the club — although he still pretended that the Common Market was little more than a trading arrangement.
On the day we entered, he told the British people on television that any fears that ‘we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty’ were ‘completely unjustified’.
Deliberate lie: On the day we entered the club, Heath told the British people on television that any fears that 'we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty' were 'completely unjustified'
This was a deliberate lie, as no one knew better than him and the senior Foreign Office official who two years earlier had written a secret paper on ‘Sovereignty’.
The paper chillingly spelled out how it would be the end of the century before the British people woke up to how much of their power to govern themselves and make their own laws had been given away — by which time it would be too late.
So began the dismal story which has been unfolding ever since. Already by the late Seventies, as the Common Market morphed into ‘the European Community’, we were becoming known in Brussels as ‘the awkward partner’.
Then came Mrs Thatcher’s five-year battle to win that rebate on our payments into the EU budget which, thanks to the ludicrously lop-sided conditions accepted by Heath, would have made us the largest single contributor by 1985.
In 1986 came the treaty called the Single European Act, which not only set up the Single Market but handed over to Brussels all sorts of other powers, including environmental laws which were to lead to everything from the shambles of our rubbish collections to building thousands of hated and useless wind turbines.
Mrs Thatcher had a five-year battle to win the rebate on our payments into the EU budget which would have made us the largest single contributor by 1985
In 1990, nothing did more to inspire hostility to Mrs Thatcher among her European colleagues, led by Jacques Delors, than her defiant opposition to the Maastricht Treaty, designed to create the European Union, introduce the ‘social chapter’ and, above all, to launch the single currency.
As soon as he replaced her, John Major proclaimed his wish for Britain to be ‘at the heart of Europe’ and signed the Maastricht Treaty (admittedly with those vital opt-outs for Britain on the single currency and the social chapter).
But seven years later he ended up more at odds with his partners than ever, as they imposed their worldwide ban on the export of all British beef products over ‘mad cow disease’, tried to sneak us into the social chapter under ‘health and safety’ rules and laid their plans for yet another integrationist treaty in Amsterdam.
Tony Blair, too, wanted to be ‘at the heart of Europe’, as the single currency approached (which he would love to have joined), signing us up to the social chapter with its damaging working-time rules, and two more treaties, at Amsterdam and Nice.
But he too found it hard to keep up with that relentless drive for ever closer union, as it led to seven years of tortuous negotiation to create ‘A Constitution for Europe’, eventually sabotaged by the voters of France and Holland, so that it had to be smuggled in by deceit as the Lisbon Treaty (which, among much else, incorporated the Court of Human Rights into the EU). Scarcely was the ink dry on Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s signature on that treaty than the EU was plunged into its worst-ever crisis over the euro, which today is spreading misery across southern Europe.
As always, the response of the EU’s leaders has been to call for yet ‘more Europe’, and a new treaty to force the eurozone members into ‘full political union’.
This is now leaving Britain more obviously marginalised than ever, condemned to remain in the outer ring of a club, many members of which would now be only too pleased to see the back of us.
This humiliating prospect has seen our politicians running around like bewildered sheep, bleating about the need for Britain to negotiate a ‘looser relationship’ with the EU, to get back to that trading arrangement we thought we were entering 40 years ago.
Marginalised: Our politicians have been running around like bewildered sheep, bleating about the need for Britain to negotiate a 'looser relationship' with the EU
Astonishingly, this is now even being echoed as a possibility by those influential voices in Europe itself — even though the most fundamental rule of the club we joined back then was that, once powers are passed to Brussels, they can never be given back.
As David Cameron prepares to give that ‘very important speech on Europe’ he has promised us very soon, he could not do better than to meditate on the shrewdest words ever uttered by a Prime Minister about Britain and Europe. In 1973, as a junior member of Heath’s Cabinet, Margaret Thatcher made all the approved noises about how wonderful it was for Britain to join this club.
Once in office, however, she went on a painful learning curve, as she saw from the inside just what the real game was and how ruthlessly it was played. She was brought down in 1990 by an alliance of Europhiles in her party and their Brussels allies, because she was the last real obstacle to their Maastricht Treaty.
What really riled them was that she had seen through their true agenda and the disastrous course on which they were set.
With even Jacques Delors, the chief architect of Maastricht, suggesting it might be best for Britain to leave the EU, Mr Cameron should dwell on a passage from her last book, Statecraft.
‘That such an unnecessary and irrational project as building a European super-state was ever embarked on,’ wrote Lady Thatcher, ‘will seem in future years to be perhaps the greatest folly of the modern era. And that Britain . . . should ever have become part of it will appear a political error of the first magnitude.’
If Mr Cameron truly wishes to speak for the British people and our country’s future, he should bear those prophetic thoughts in mind.