After the British electorate voted to leave the EU in June 2016, many people, particularly on the losing Remain side, searched for someone to blame. David Cameron was a favourite, as he was the one who allowed a vote on the issue. Various politicians on the leave side were also singled out for allegedly misleading the public.
In reality, however, the 2016 referendum result was the natural outcome after decades of massive constitutional change undertaken without the express consent of the British people. When the people got a vote on the issue, they finally decided that enough was enough. So how did it all come to this?
In 1972, the UK, Norway, Ireland and Denmark sought to ratify the Treaty of Accession and formally join the European Community (EC). Norway held a referendum, and upon this being rejected by its electorate, did not ratify the treaty. The United Kingdom, with a new Conservative government led by Edward Heath, brought forward legislation to accede to the EC without consulting the people.
Heath refused to consult the electorate partly because he knew he would lose. Notes attached to the European Communities Act 1972 recorded that it was passed “against strong public opinion”. Polling following the accession in 1973 showed the people thought it was wrong to join the EC, at a majority of almost two to one.
Politicians were aware of this fact. In the second reading of the European Communities Bill in Parliament, several politicians acknowledged that the public were opposed to going into the EC:
“There are some on both sides of the argument who say, “Let us wait and see; let us wait for a European consciousness to develop; let us wait until public opinion demands it.” I believe that there is great danger in that. Either Europe must develop as a nation, or it will wither as a concept.”
— John Pardoe MP, debating in the second reading of the European Communities Bill in February 1972.
In the third reading of the Bill, there was further acknowledgement regarding strong public opposition:
“Indeed, the gravest charge that we who wish to join the Community have to answer is that there is an opposition from the people, a lack of full-hearted consent to the terms, which makes it wrong for the Government to drive on into Europe.”
— Hon Nicholas Ridley MP, debating in the third reading of the European Communities Bill, in July 1972.
Despite such reservations, the bill narrowly passed. Without the consent of the electorate (and with the electorate arguably against such a policy) the UK joined the European Community in 1973.
The 1975 referendum
With a change of government in 1974, the new Labour administration fulfilled a manifesto promise offering the people a referendum on EC (Common Market) membership. This would be the last time the people would be allowed a direct say on the issue until the 2016 EU referendum.
Remainers were aware that they had to change public sentiment towards the EC. And they did just that – through massive public spending, a sustained campaign of Project Fear, and fundamental dishonesty about the true goals of the EC with regards to ever closer political union.
The imbalance in spending between Remain and Leave in the 1975 referendum campaign was truly gigantic. The Remain group, “Britain in Europe”, raised £1.5m (over £11.5m today), whilst the Leave group, “British business for World Markets”, raised a paltry £8,000 (plus £125,000 in government grants, which were given to both sides). Financial contributions made by BP and Sainsbury’s alone were more than three times the size of the entire amount raised by the Leave campaign.
The referendum also saw Project Fear deployed for the first time. The British people were warned that they faced permanent exclusion from a fast-growing European club. Veteran left-winger Peter Shore, debating at the Oxford Union shortly before the referendum, summed up the Remain campaigning:
“So the message that comes up is fear, fear, fear. Fear that we won’t have any food. Fear of unemployment. Fear that we have somehow been so reduced as a country that we can no longer totter about in the world independently as a nation.”
— Peter Shore, speaking at the Oxford Union in 1975.
“Project Fear” was accompanied by persistent deception by politicians regarding what the true aims of the EC were. The Remain campaign were keen to portray the EC as nothing more than a “Common Market”, where further transfers of sovereignty were out of the question. This lie had been running since before the United Kingdom had acceded – as recently as 1971, a leaflet was sent to every house stipulating that “there is no question of Britain losing essential sovereignty”. Politicians also appeared on broadcast television to re-enforce this view in the years leading up to the referendum:
“There are some in this country who fear that, in going into Europe, we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears, I need hardly say, are completely unjustified.”
— Edward Heath, speaking in a television broadcast in 1973 to mark the signing of the Accession Treaty. This started a series of misleading statements meant to change public opinion into supporting “Remain” in the referendum.
These claims that the nation’s sovereignty was safeguarded was a continued theme throughout the referendum. Transfers of sovereignty, as well as Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) were ruled out, despite “ever closer union” featuring heavily throughout the Treaty of Rome, the document signed by the six founding members.
In response, the public voted to remain in the EC by over 67%. It would be the last time they were directly consulted on the issue until 2016.
Further Economic and Monetary Union
Although voters in the 1975 referendum believed that EMU and further monetary union were off the table, planning began for the UK to join the ERM (Exchange Rate Mechanism). This was a system to peg exchange rates of different countries to a small band based on the European Currency Unit, which would eventually become the Euro. James Callaghan sent David Owen to negotiate the UK joining the ERM in 1978, only three years after the referendum had been secured with promises of no further EMU.
The UK did not join the ERM when it started in 1979, but in the 1980s the Treasury started an unofficial policy of “shadowing the Deutschmark”. The Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, after long periods of opposing EMU and the newly created Maastricht treaty, was removed by the Europhiles in her party and replaced with John Major in 1990. Major signed the UK up to joining the ERM officially in October 1990, without public consultation. It ended up as a disaster, with Black Wednesday and the UK’s withdrawal from the mechanism in 1992.
The Maastricht Treaty
Under the Maastricht Treaty, the European Community morphed into the European Union (EU). A new single currency, the Euro, was formed and the treaty committed member states to further economic and political integration.
Many member states, including France, Denmark, and Ireland, held referendums. There was an argument in the UK for a referendum as well, however these were resisted by the government. The call for a referendum had some merit, especially as the preceding general election had seen all major parties commit to ratifying the Maastricht Treaty, meaning that there was no democratic choice to oppose it.
Many people, including historian Vernon Bogdanor, made the case that the public should be consulted regarding the Maastricht Treaty.
“There is a clear constitutional rationale for requiring a referendum in such circumstances. MPs are entrusted by the electorate with legislative power, but they are given no authority to transfer that power. That authority requires a specific mandate from the people.”
— Vernon Bogdanor, writing in favour of a referendum in 1993.
The government ignored these calls, and forced the treaty ratification legislation through parliament. The “Treaty on European Union” was ratified in Maastrict in 1992 without public consent.
The Constitution for Europe and the Lisbon Treaty
The millennium was ushered in with New Labour in power, and they made repeated promises to give the British electorate a long-overdue say on integration with Europe. In 2004, a new EU treaty called the “Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe” (commonly referred to as the European Constitution or as the Constitutional Treaty), arrived on the agenda.
The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, twice argued that the Constitutional Treaty should be put to the people in a referendum. In April 2004 he told Parliament that it should debate the European constitutional question “in detail and decide upon it” and “then let the people have the final say”.
The Labour manifesto in 2005 also outlined Labour’s policy regarding the new treaty:
“We will put it [the constitution] to the British people in a referendum and campaign wholeheartedly for a Yes vote.”
— Excerpt from Labour’s 2005 manifesto
However following the rejection of the Treaty by French and Dutch voters in 2005, the treaty was amended, and the British referendum was cancelled.
Europhiles were not to be put off following this setback. In 2007, the Treaty of Lisbon was drawn up, and signed by member states in Lisbon. Eurosceptics in Parliament were furious that commitments to consult the public had been cancelled, and then backtracked on entirely.
“Why will the Secretary of State not give us a referendum, given that his party promised one and that all the powers that we worried would be transferred under the constitution are now being needlessly and recklessly given away in this document?”
— John Redwood MP during the second reading on the Lisbon Treaty, January 2008.
Although the treaty was little changed from the failed Constitutional Treaty, it was described by the EU as an amendment to the Maastricht Treaty (the Lisbon Treaty was also known as the Reform Treaty). The position taken by the Labour government at the time was that, as this was merely a reform treaty, no national referendum would be required.
As with Maastricht, the government continued to resist calls for a referendum, and the legislation passed through parliament. Further integration with the EU, as well as legislation which transferred the primacy of legislative power from London to Brussels, was agreed to by politicians, once again without public consultation. The treaty came into force in 2009.
It is clear that since we joined what we were told was a Common Market, pro-EU politicians have sought to avoid direct consultation with the British electorate regarding the EU, preferring instead to give away power and promote further integration through stealth.
For the first time since 1975, the people were given a vote in 2016, having been deceived and lied to for decades, and voted “Leave”, giving a mandate to the government to undo decades of sovereignty transfers conducted without public consent. The blame for this lies not with the Leave campaign and eurosceptics, but rather with Remainers who have forced through integration policy for the past 40 years.
— JR, 30/11/2018