Euroscepticism in Contemporary British Politics: Opposition to Europe in the Conservative and Labour Parties since 1945

Euroscepticism in Contemporary British Politics: Opposition to Europe in the Conservative and Labour Parties since 1945

Euroscepticism in Contemporary British Politics: Opposition to Europe in the Conservative and Labour Parties since 1945

Euroscepticism in Contemporary British Politics: Opposition to Europe in the Conservative and Labour Parties since 1945

Synopsis

Anthony Forster argues that euroscepticism, in addition to being a political stance, displays the seeds of becoming a new faith. Through a detailed analysis of British post-war politics, he shows the development of a core set of beliefs, a history of persecution, displays of moral rectitude in opposing Europe and the power of scepticism to change existing beliefs. This challenging new history of euroscepticism will be a valuable resource for undergraduate students of politics and European studies.

Excerpt

In the first quarter of a century after the Second World War, two distinct periods of opposition to closer European integration were evident. The dominant theme of the first period, from 1945 to 1961, was one of scepticism, a feeling shared by the Labour government of 1945 to 1951, the Conservative governments of 1951 to 1961, and the majority of their MPs, constituency chairs and party activists alike. In this period, substantive policy differences on Europe were rare and anti-Europeanism-a rejection of anything to do with supranational Europe-was widespread. The second period saw the shattering of this consensus when, on 31 July 1961, Harold Macmillan announced to the House of Commons that the government would open talks to explore whether satisfactory terms for joining the European Economic Community could be negotiated. Macmillan's policy was opposed by the Labour Party, but following the rejection of Macmillan's bid and Labour's return to power on 31 March 1966, it too embarked on its own ultimately unsuccessful application for membership. Within the course of a decade, the issue of Europe had thus risen to the top of the political agenda, with dramatic consequences both for relations between the two main parties, but also within them.

In the first period between 1945 and 1961, an exclusive focus on Europe and the possibility of the government participating in supranational integration were unthinkable to most in the political establishment. Even following the Messina talks which began in June 1955 to explore how to create the Economic Communities, what little discussion that took place was confined to the political elite, and internalised within the major political parties at Westminster and key Whitehall departments, sometimes reaching the floor of the House of Commons, but rarely aired in the public domain. Notwithstanding the fact that a sceptical view dominated Parliament, tensions were, however, evident in the views of opponents of involvement in moves towards supranational integration. These differences of emphasis and motivation in opposing supranationalism evident in the first period, manifested themselves more fully in the second period from 1961.

Once Macmillan had announced his intention to open negotiations there was a refinement of the rather generalised anti-European arguments used to reject British entanglement in Europe. In particular, the declining value of the Empire Common-

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