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.