With less than two months to go before the UK leaves the European Union (EU), the Tory party are still fighting like rats in a sack, over our exact terms of leaving the bloc. But it wasn’t always this way.
In 1946, Sir Winston Churchill, leader of the Tory party, and freshly ejected from the office of Prime Minister after World War 2, delivered his famous speech in Zurich calling for the creation of “a United States of Europe”. As Churchill urged a Franco-German partnership to lead his vision of a new Europe, he declared that Great Britain and the British Commonwealth, along with the US and USSR, should be “friends and sponsors” of the project. He did not talk of the UK becoming a member itself, though.
In 1961, Harold Macmillan, Tory party leader and Prime Minister, made a formal application to join the European Economic Community (EEC), as the EU was known in those days. The application was unsuccessful, mainly because the French President, Charles de Gaulle, was vehemently against Britain joining.
Finally, in 1973, Ted Heath, Tory party leader and Prime Minister, took us into the EEC, without a referendum either. That came in 1975 after Heath was replaced by Harold Wilson, the Labour party leader, as Prime Minister.
There were always some Tories, who were against joining the EEC, but the trouble really began in the 1980s. By this time Margaret Thatcher was Tory party leader and Prime Minister, and she managed to give the impression of being anti-EU, particularly by getting an increase in the UK’s rebate from the EU. But she was also the main architect of the European Single Market, which her admirers in the Tory party rail against now.
It is true that Thatcher was against greater political union though and famously said in a speech in the House of Commons in 1990:
The President of the Commission, Mr. Delors, said at a press conference the other day that he wanted the European Parliament to be the democratic body of the Community, he wanted the Commission to be the Executive and he wanted the Council of Ministers to be the Senate. No. No. No.
Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister later that year, after a leadership challenge by the very Europhile Michael Heseltine, when most of her Cabinet said they thought she should go, mainly due to the controversial ‘poll tax’ proposals. The right of the party blamed the more liberal wing who happened also to be pro-EU.
John Major who took over as party leader and Prime Minister, had all kinds of trouble from Tory MPs on the right, and mainly about Europe, and especially The Maastricht Treaty which he signed in 1992, which expanded the political union aspect of the EU. Major dubbed his Tory MP opponents as ‘the bastards,’ but my favourite quote at the time from Major was about one of those ‘the bastards’ Bill Cash, who is still an MP today. Major said that whenever he heard Cash’s name mentioned, the sound of white coats flapping came to his mind.
After a change to the election process for Tory leader, allowing the membership, which has become increasingly anti-EU, a final say in the election, every Tory party leader has by necessity been a Eurosceptic. David Cameron, only became the leader in 2005 by affecting Euroscepticism, although as time has revealed this was really not the case. Cameron was forced into the promise of holding a referendum if the party won power again, but he didn’t think he would have to act on this, as his coalition partners in government from 2010, the Lib Dems would block it. Surprisingly, Cameron won a majority for the Tories in 2015 and had to follow through on his promise. Of course, the referendum in 2017 went the way of the UK leaving the EU, narrowly.
It should be noted that at the time there was no clamour for a referendum on our membership of the EU amongst the public at large, only in the Tory party. Yes, UKIP were starting to take votes of Tory candidates, but they never won a single seat in Parliament, other than Tory MPs who defected to them. Then UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, tried and failed seven times to get elected to Parliament.
And here we are today. A country now bitterly divided, where supermarkets expect to run out food, hospitals run out of medicines, companies relocating out of the UK and taking jobs with them, where plans have been prepared for martial law (which has never happened before in the UK in modern history, even during World War 2), and for the Queen to be evacuated from London, should largescale civil unrest materialise after a ‘no deal Brexit.’
So much for the Tories being the ‘natural party of government’ in the UK, their obsession, nay fetishism about Europe threatens to ruin the country and its international standing. When this all goes tits up, as it surely must, I just hope people remember who was responsible for this whole fiasco.