The first application
in The British political elite and Europe, 1959–1984
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This chapter looks at the background to Britain’s first application to join the Common Market, and the reasons why Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan decided not to enter Europe when he would have been welcomed in 1957, but waited until 1961, when the application was rejected. The chapter also explores the pressure faced by the British government from the American President and US business for Britain to join the EEC. Macmillan’s application had huge implications for the Labour Party, which was divided over the issue at the time. Hugh Gaitskell’s monumental speech to party conference in 1962 where he warned that entering the EEC would be the end of a thousand years of history, galvanised and even united his party. Harold Wilson gave his wholehearted support for Gaitskell’s position on Europe. This enhanced his own position in the leadership election following the untimely death of Gaitskell in 1963.


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