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#Brexit: the 1975 EU referendum (when Labour acted like Conservatives)

An historic insight on Britain’s referendum on the EU (formerly known as EEC) membership by Stefano Fugazzi, founder of ABC Economics and author of ‘Brexit?’, a book which remarkably spent 4 weeks at Number 1 in Lulu’s ‘Business & Economics’ UK Chart (available in Paperback and eBook).

brexit3Did you know (or are you seasoned enough to remember) that in 1975 Britain held a referendum on Europe, two years after joining the European Economic Community (the EU as it was known back in the days)? If you didn’t, then carry on reading…

The Conservative Party pushed for ‘Britain to join Europe (and the Common Market)’…

Britain joined the European Economic Community (EEC) on 1 January 1973 under the lead of Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath with the support of a young Margaret Thatcher.

The decision proved to be troublesome as in the run-up to the 1974 elections the Labour party pledged to hold a referendum on Europe to allow people the opportunity to decide whether Britain should stay in the Common Market on renegotiated terms, or leave it entirely.

The 1974 elections yield a Labour majority and Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson kept his promise and a referendum was held the following year.

Why Labour pressed for a referendum on Europe and what they wanted to renegotiate with the EEC

The Labour Party had traditionally feared the consequences of EEC membership, such as the large differentials between the high price of food under the Common Agricultural Policy and the low prices prevalent in Commonwealth markets, as well as the loss of economic sovereignty and the freedom of governments to engage in socialist industrial policies, and party leaders stated their opinion that the Conservatives had negotiated unfavourable terms for Britain.

The 1975 referendum: 67% voted in favour of Europe

The outcome of the very first nationwide referendum held in Britain was crystal clear: over 67% of voters supported the Labour government’s campaign to stay in the EEC, or Common Market, despite several cabinet ministers having come out in favour of British withdrawal.

The result was later hailed by Prime Minister Harold Wilson as a “historic decision”.

For him the victory came after a long and bruising campaign against many in his own party, following Labour’s promise to hold a vote in its general election manifesto last October.

Faced with the referendum question, “Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?” Britons voted “Yes” in most of the 68 administrative counties, regions and Northern Ireland. Only Shetland and the Western Isles voted against the EEC.

Sources: various including the BBC News portal and “The first European elections” handbook by C. Cook and M. Francis (1979).

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