Voters in Britain’s referendum need to understand that the European Union was about building a federal superstate from day one
By Prof Alan Sked
As the debate over the forthcoming EU referendum gears up, it would be wise perhaps to remember how Britain was led into membership in the first place. It seems to me that most people have little idea why one of the victors of the Second World War should have become almost desperate to join this “club”. That’s a shame, because answering that question is key to understanding why the EU has gone so wrong.
Most students seem to think that Britain was in dire economic straits, and that the European Economic Community – as it was then called – provided an economic engine which could revitalise our economy. Others seem to believe that after the Second World War Britain needed to recast her geopolitical position away from empire, and towards a more realistic one at the heart of Europe. Neither of these arguments, however, makes any sense at all.
When growth did happen, it did not come from the EU. From Ludwig Erhard’s supply-side reforms in West Germany in 1948 to Thatcher’s privatisation of nationalised industry in the Eighties, European growth came from reforms introduced by individual countries which were were copied elsewhere. EU policy has always been either irrelevant or positively detrimental (as was the case with the euro).
Nor did British growth ever really lag behind Europe’s. Sometimes it surged ahead. In the 1950s Western Europe had a growth rate of 3.5 per cent; in the 1960s, it was 4.5 per cent. But in 1959, when Harold Macmillan took office, the real annual growth rate of British GDP, according to the Office of National Statistics, was almost 6 per cent. It was again almost 6 per cent when de Gaulle vetoed our first application to join the EEC in 1963.
In 1973, when we entered the EEC, our annual national growth rate in real terms was a record 7.4 per cent. The present Chancellor would die for such figures. So the economic basket-case argument doesn’t work.
What about geopolitics? What argument in the cold light of hindsight could have been so compelling as to make us kick our Second-World-War Commonwealth allies in the teeth to join a combination of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Germany and Italy?
Four of these countries held no international weight whatsoever. Germany was occupied and divided. France, meanwhile, had lost one colonial war in Vietnam and another in Algeria. De Gaulle had come to power to save the country from civil war. Most realists must surely have regarded these states as a bunch of losers. De Gaulle, himself a supreme realist, pointed out that Britain had democratic political institutions, world trade links, cheap food from the Commonwealth, and was a global power. Why would it want to enter the EEC?…