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Robert Lister Nicholls

Throughout the debates on EEC membership, sovereignty has been referred to by several of the leading actors to either advance or prohibit the cause of Britain in Europe. This chapter is therefore devoted to the history and concept of this highly complex term. The internal and external challenges to parliamentary sovereignty are examined, including the power of the executive, governance, globalisation and British foreign policy. Numerous examples of the various types of sovereignty and how these have been utilised by MPs are included. These examples show precisely how the term can be open to exploitation, particularly over the course of Britain’s relationship with Europe. This chapter therefore demonstrates how this concept has been used by members of the political elite to influence an unaware British public.

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Robert Lister Nicholls

Chapter 5 focuses primarily on the problems faced by Prime Minister Wilson in his struggle to keep his party united. Following Macmillan’s failed attempt at EEC entry, Wilson also found himself facing not only US pressure to apply for membership, but also from the pro-European right-wingers in his party. Having been seen to have strongly supported Gaitskell’s passionate speech opposing EEC membership, Wilson needed to be able to make an application without on the one hand appearing to shift his position on Europe, and on the other hand attempting to maintain party unity for electoral advantage. During this period, WiIson also faced the difficulty of combating leadership challenges from Roy Jenkins and James Callaghan. For both Macmillan’s and Wilson’s respective applications, the conditions of entry were inextricably linked with party management, with both leaders lacking total commitment to Europe. Wilson also used pressure from the CBI for Britain to join the EEC to his own advantage. As a consequence of his application, Wilson gained the support of British business.

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Robert Lister Nicholls

For some members of the political elite, the public’s verdict on the 1975 referendum meant the issue was over at least for the foreseeable future. For others, however, the debate continued. A large number of Labour left-wing anti-Marketeers were unhappy at how the defeat on Europe was followed by a general offensive by the leadership against the left of the party on other issues. This chapter examines the events following the outcome of the referendum including the resurgence of the Labour left as a consequence of the 1979 general election defeat. Also analysed are the Labour Party conferences held in 1981 which were dominated by the left. These conferences formed the cornerstone of policy for the forthcoming 1983 general election, and for some right-wingers in the Labour Party, provided the catalyst for the Social Democratic Party. This chapter focuses primarily on the Labour Party, yet it was the Conservatives that was to be the party most deeply divided over the issue of Europe.

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Robert Lister Nicholls

Testing the book’s central argument, this chapter examines the positions taken by individual MPs, the two major parties, the British press, and public opinion over the twenty-five year period. Analysis is also provided on the effects on individual members of the political elite in the light of European events. There are a number of trajectories related to this chapter which can be found in Appendix 6. These individual trajectories show the various and often changing positions of MPs over the period 1959–84, and whether they supported leave or remain in the 1975 referendum. In respect of the press, the trajectories cover the twelve leading British newspapers and journals and their positions on EEC membership. The trajectories on public opinion clearly demonstrate, for example, how opinion shifted from being anti-membership to strongly pro-membership leading up to Wilson’s decision to hold a referendum in 1975.

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Robert Lister Nicholls

This conceptual chapter aids the analysis of the British political elite. It examines elite theory and for the purpose of the book, provides a definition of the British elite. With the aid of elite theory, this chapter offers an understanding of the reasons why it was the left-wing of the Labour Party, and the right-wing of the Conservative Party that were largely against EEC membership, albeit for different reasons. Also examined is the interaction between the political elite and the wider elite, and the extent of the influence that finance capital has on decision-making in Britain. The relevance of public opinion is also discussed. The chapter analyses the extent of the influence that public opinion has on the British political elite in respect of policy-making, and how the elite are able to manipulate mass opinion.

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Robert Lister Nicholls

The introduction provides a comprehensive outline of the conceptual and core chapters, and an explanation as to how they substantiate the arguments made in this book. The arguments deployed are developed by a theoretical framework which clarifies the key concepts. The conceptual chapters on political elites and sovereignty are followed by a series of chronologically based chapters which provide supporting evidence for the main conclusion. The introduction includes a brief synopsis of the chapters, offering a description of what each chapter specifically focuses on. This includes the particular aspects of each chapter to be discussed and an explanation of how the issues raised will be examined and addressed. In addition, the introduction explains the role of the trajectories that are instrumental in assisting the substantiation of the books’ central argument.

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Robert Lister Nicholls

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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Robert Lister Nicholls

The conclusion summarises and explains the findings of the research for this book and reflects briefly on the inter-relationships between the period analysed and the continuing European debate. It is clear that during the period which included two unsuccessful and one successful application, the long-term implications of membership did not weigh heavily with many members of the political elite. The evidence suggests that for many members of both major political parties, short-term considerations were of greater importance. There is evidence, for example, that party management was of greater concern for Wilson and Callaghan than a genuine commitment to EEC membership. The findings also show that the short-term nature of the debate stored up future problems for political parties and their leaderships, which ultimately led to Britain voting to leave the European Union.

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Robert Lister Nicholls

This book argues that the current problems over Britain’s membership of the European Union are largely as a result of the absence of quality debates during the 1959–84 period. The situation today is also attributed to members of the political elite subordinating the question of Britain’s future in Europe to short-term, pragmatic, party management or career considerations. A particular and original interpretation of Britain and Europe is advanced, aided by recently discovered evidence. This includes the methods used by the Conservative government to ensure it won the vote following the 1971 parliamentary debate on Britain’s proposed entry into the EEC. It also delves into the motives of the sixty-nine rebel Labour MPs that voted against their own party on EEC membership, and how the British public were largely misled by political leaders in respect of the true aims of the European project. This is a study of a seminal period in Britain’s relationship with Europe. Starting from the British government’s early attempts at EEC membership, and concluding with the year both major political parties accepted Britain’s place in Europe, this book examines decision-making in Britain. As such, it contributes to a greater understanding of British politics. It answers a number of key questions and casts light on the current toxic dilemma on the issue of Europe.

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Robert Lister Nicholls

Prime Minister Wilson’s decision to hold a referendum on Common Market membership in 1975 had a huge impact not only on both the Labour and Conservative parties, but also on individual members of the political elite. Events leading up to the referendum are analysed: these include the general elections of 1974 and the crucial House of Commons three-day debate on the Labour government’s recommendation that Britain remain a member of the EEC. This chapter explores Wilson’s motives for holding a referendum, and despite a clear verdict from the public, demonstrates how the issue was to be far from settled. This was a period of particular significance for several leading players in the European debate. As such, analysis is provided on the reasons why some members of the political elite changed their positions on Europe, and the highly significant consequences for the parties and individuals following the 1975 referendum.