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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Renegotiation and referendum: history repeating?

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has published a previously confidential account of the 1974-75 renegotiation of the UK's EU membership under Harold Wilson's Labour Government. That renegotiation largely resulted in only token concessions to Britain - greater imports of New Zealand butter being chief among them. They were however enough to secure an In vote of just over 67% in 1975.

The account, written in 1975 by Nicholas Spreckley, then head of the FCO's European department, is a hugely interesting read. Some of the similarities to the situation David Cameron finds himself in are striking, although there are major differences in today's environment, such as a much less deferential media, a greater flow of information, far more actors in the space (including think-tanks), which means the public will be far better placed to assess the success of any negotiations.

Still, the politics described are remarkably similar to those of today. Consider this passage:
"The Germans, the Dutch and the Danes seemed the most sympathetic to British objectives...But as so often, it was the French attitude which was at once the most important and the most critical. In these early weeks the French government took the line that the Treaties and the principles of the Community were inviolable."
The most important figure was then German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who proved willing and keen to be helpful in addressing British concerns. France, however, was hard work and largely unhelpful.

There are also strikingly similar disagreements about the budget, and the UK's contribution to it, the frustration of UK ministers to fundamentally alter the CAP, and so on.

There are however some clear differences in approach between then and now. The 1970s negotiators were extremely cautious and ruled out treaty changes at an early stage - due to the small of number of such changes, this was seen as a radical option in the UK and among the eight other member states. However, David Cameron is on the record as saying he wants treaty changes as part of his negotiations.

As Sir Stephen Wall writes in his foreword, the "past is a different country", and with over 40 years of collective memory of the EU - added to the famous British cynicism - Cameron is unlikely to be able to pull off the Wilson trick with the British public this time around.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

But Germany and France will still play good cop/bad cop to get their way.

Plus ça change.

Anonymous said...

Firstly, there is no possibility of significant re-negotiation without using article 50 of the Lisbon treaty.

Secondly, there is no possibility of re-negotiation on movement of people, capital, goods and services if we stay in the single market.

Thirdly, there is no possibility of treaty change in the foreseeable future to take account of the wishes of the UK.

Fourthly, if, and it is a very big if, Cameron gets re-elected without needing a coalition, then he will almost certainly try and mislead the British people into believing he has been successful in renegotiation even if this is not the case. And the British people will probably believe him.

David Horton said...

I agree that this report is interesting, not only the content, but the similarities between foreign sovereign state attitudes then, and those that exist now.

It would be tempting to grab quotes from the report and dissect them, but I think that to do so would dilute the very simple message that that this report provides, when looked at the whole.

And it is this.

The British Government considered that any plans or ideas for Economic Union and/ or Monetary Union, were completely undeveloped, requiring years of cooperative planning. The underlying theme is that the Government considers it so unimportant, presumably due to its remoteness & unlikelihood, that it is barely even acknowledged. The entire focus is on food, money and jobs, as evidenced by the hilariously partisan ‘official’ referendum advice (http://www.harvard-digital.co.uk/euro/pamphlet.htm ). It is therefore barely even mentioned in any argument or discussion at that time.

The argument often put forward by EUphilia, is that if anyone bothered to read the detail back in 1975, they would have seen that European Union was one of the aims of the EEC/Common Market. Well, you have to look very hard to find it, although I will concede that it is there. You have to squint, however, and look outside any British documentation. And then translate from another language. The reason is that it is only alluded to in EEC or foreign policy documents. Public information in Britain at that time, did not anywhere state implicitly that the long term aim of the EEC/Common Market is European or Monetary Union. The 1975 Spreckley Report refers to it, almost as an afterthought, but it is completely absent from all published advice.

It is certainly not in the official pamphlet linked above. The closest it gets is when it quotes: “The aims of the Common Market are: to bring together the peoples of Europe.” Even Har Juncker would find it hard to extrapolate that vague, nebulous sound-bite to somehow signpost us to the present day EU.

It is then important to consider the question on the paper.

- “Do you think that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (The Common Market)?”

I acknowledge that brevity is essential when asking such a question, but there is brevity and there is paucity. The Government never envisaged that Europe would actually succeed at any form of Union, and so merely asked the question of the day. There is nothing about further integration.

That day is now passed and yet successive Governments, of whatever hue, have eased the country ever further into deeper Union; without, and this is key, any sort of mandate, beyond being a member of the Common Market. No political party (until recently) has ever suggested a referendum on EU membership in their manifesto. Essentially, on the basis of a single question back in 1975, successive governments have taken a lot onto themselves.

So contrary to the EUphiles claim, the British people have never been asked whether they agree to be a part of a European or Monetary Union. It is time that wrong was righted and British people were formally asked if they agree to extend the mandate we gave to our elected leadership in 1975.

Average Englishman said...

"Cameron is unlikely to be able to pull off the Wilson trick with the British public this time around."

Too damn right. I was conned in 1975 along with an awful lot of other people. Edward Heath was my MP and with the benefit of hindsight, he makes Tony Blair look like paragon of honesty and virtue.

The effect on the UK's trade with the Commonweath was not made clear. The idea of a United States of Europe was regarded as ridiculous by the 'pro Common Market' lobby, as was the idea of a common currency. The whole thing was sold to the UK voter as a step up from the UK's then involvement with E.F.T.A. (the European Free Trade Association) that would improve trade links and help a very ailing economy. No mention was made of 'ever closer union' and the effective ending of the UK as an independent country. The politicians knew they couldn't get the thing past the people without lying on a massive scale and so that is what happened. Sadly, I think that our current crop of politicians are if anything, worse than those who were in power in 1975, so I expect no more than another pack of lies but this time, as OE says, things are different.

The UK people now largely know the EUSSR are for the monster that it is and those who are still in the dark become fewer every day. The EU is failing as an economic entity and it is apparent that overall, the UK would be 'better off out' economically as well as in terms of clawing back our lost freedoms.

If Dave wins the next election outright and then does not try to wriggle out of holding the referendum on some pretext or other and then, against my expectations, he actually wins through to keep the UK in the EUSSR by another massive con trick, the margin of any victory for him would be very slight. The matter would not just go away afterwards. UKIP is here to stay and so will be the discontent with the EU that would only grow larger as it continues to take control over our country and makes more unpopular decisions. So, if Dave 'pulls a rabbit out of the hat' this time, it will only postpone the inevitable not change it.

Denis Cooper said...

"The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has published a previously confidential account of the 1974-75 renegotiation of the UK's EU membership under Harold Wilson's Labour Government."

Until I've had a chance to read all of its 200 plus pages I will restrict myself to a single general question:

"Precisely why has the FCO chosen to publish this confidential report now, nearly four decades after the event?".

Whatever their reason it is very unlikely that they suddenly have the best interests of the British people at heart.

Anonymous said...

With the MananaZone now heading full steam into a deflation trap the Single Market (don't make me laugh) is shrinking by the day. Europe will soon be just another dog that has had its day.

Soon the Euro-Sovereign debt crisis will re-appear and, for some nations, default beckons.

The EU is overseeing the largest destruction of monetary value in the history of this planet.

When do we get to hang these chumps?

SC