It has been argued that BIE won the referendum because of their likeable campaigners, superior finances and organisation and widespread media support. But is this the case? This chapter explores these advantages and asks whether they were the decisive factors in securing a ‘yes’ vote in 1975. In doing so, it examines BIE’s established ‘insider’ status, the impact of the renegotiation, and BIE’s connections to Westminster and other organisations as key aspects of their campaign.
The renegotiation has been seen as a political strategy designed to manage the Labour Party rather than as a genuine attempt to redress the UK’s terms of membership. While it is clear that Wilson was trying to manage his party-political problem, the renegotiation was also continuous with the Heath government’s attempts to reform the EC. This chapter examines Minister of Agriculture Fred Peart’s attempts at reforming the CAP and the extent of his achievements.
While 1973 was a bad year to join the Community, there were other factors that contributed to the difficulties in UK–EC relations. The decision, taken during the accession negotiations, to accept the CAP despite the knowledge that it would contribute to the UK’s position as a net contributor to the EC budget was justified by the belief that the UK could ‘join now and negotiate later’. Thus, following entry, the Heath government’s approach to EC agricultural policy was shaped by the need to reform the CAP. This chapter examines the extent to which the government achieved its aims.
This book has examined four main ideas. The first was the extent to which Heath’s European policy was impacted by the crises of 1973. Second, the continuities between the European policies of Heath and Wilson were explored. Third, Wilson’s motivations for proposing the renegotiation and the nature of the outcome were considered. The final section asked why the public voted ‘yes’ in 1975 and attempted to offer greater context to the outcome of the referendum. The notions of decline and crisis were central themes which help to explain the course of Britain’s diplomacy, the domestic presentation of Community membership and the shape of public opinion in this period. The conclusion reflects on these lines of analysis.
In addition to attempting the reform the CAP, the Wilson government also worked towards consolidating the ERDF during the renegotiation. This area of continuity between Heath and Wilson is significant because the eventual ERDF that emerged mirrored that which was on the negotiating table when the talks broke down in February 1974. This is also an area in which the Wilson government’s strategy for constraining the anti-Marketeers, in particular Tony Benn, was a key ingredient of success.
Reforming the CAP was not the only method available to the Heath government for reducing Britain’s budget contributions. The creation of a European Regional Development Fund from which the UK would be a net beneficiary was the other strategy devised by the government for changing the EC to suit British interests. Yet the ERDF was not set up until after Heath left office. The reasons why this was the case is the main topic of this chapter.
The UK’s entry to the EC coincided with a series of international crises, including the devaluation of the US dollar in March, the Year of Europe affair in April and a major increase in oil prices in October. Studies of these turbulent events have established a relationship between them and the difficulties that the Heath government experienced inside the Community. This chapter examines this claim.
Reform of the CAP and the creation of the ERDF were two key methods for reducing the UK’s contributions to the EC budget under both Heath and Wilson. Yet Labour took this policy further and sought direct reforms of the EC budget. This chapter traces the budget renegotiation from the early official level talks, outlined in Chapter 5, through to the final agreement reached in Dublin and shows why this aim was pursued chiefly by Callaghan and officials, rather than by Wilson. It also returns to the government’s main aims in the renegotiation and assesses how far they were achieved.
On 1 January 1973 Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath brought the UK into the European Community. Although this was celebrated at first, by the end of the year the mood had changed from ‘hope to uncertainty’. Not only was 1973 a bad year to join the Community, the UK had done so on the promise that it would ‘join now and negotiate later’. This proved a poor strategy. Compounding these difficulties, Heath faced trouble at home which eventually led him to lose the February 1974 general election. Labour’s Harold Wilson returned to Downing Street, promising a fundamental renegotiation of the terms of membership and a referendum on whether to stay in the EC. This was what he delivered and, in the end, 67 per cent of voters said ‘yes’ to continued membership. Yet the renegotiation has been dismissed as a political strategy which ultimately delivered few results and the referendum is seen as an ‘unenthusiastic vote for the status quo’. But it is clear that in some areas, Wilson’s renegotiation was contiguous with the Heath government’s attempts to revise the terms of entry. Moreover, there was a lively campaign in 1975, which engaged the country in a wide range of arguments for and against membership. In this book, Lindsay Aqui seeks to understand what happened during the first year of membership, the extent to which the renegotiation changed the terms of membership, and whether voters were convinced of the pro-Market case in 1975.
In January 1973, when the UK entered the European Community, Edward Heath declared that ‘A very exciting time is now beginning’. His optimism soon turned out to be misplaced. Yet the turbulent first two-and-a-half years of membership ultimately culminated with the 1975 referendum and a major public endorsement of the European Community. Harold Wilson declared that ‘Fourteen years of national argument are now over’. This introduction explores the various explanations of what transpired during the period from January 1973 to June 1975 and sets out the main arguments of this book.