DAY  :  5 June 1975


The Government have announced the results of the renegotiation of the United Kingdom’s terms of membership of the European Community.

Do you think that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?

RESULTS :                                                                 YES     67 %

                                                                                   NO      32 %


After the end of World War II, most European countries were economically, socially, and demographically exhausted. The inability of the League of Nations to prevent another devastating military conflict on the European continent intensified thoughts on the integration of European countries, which would prevent the horrors of the First and Second World Wars. After the end of World War II, Winston Churchill was one of the most vocal supporters of European integration. In 1946, Churchill called for the creation of the United States of Europe.


He saw, however, the UK as a supporter of this group, but not as a member. A large part of the British political establishment attached great importance to Britain’s relationship with the Commonwealth and the special relationship with the US. For example, in 1950, the Labour Government led by Clement Attlee rejected Frances’s invitation to join the emerging European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). One reason was an unwillingness to participate in the kind of integration implied by the supranational concept.

Hand patterned with the flag of the European Community envelops another hand patterned with the flag of the United Kingdom

In 1955, the Conservative Government led by Anthony Eden sent only a junior official in the role of observer to a very important conference in Messina (Italy), which set out the path towards closer European integration. Thus, there was clearly a general lack of enthusiasm for European integration on the part of successive post-war British governments.

In 1957, the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) were established. In spite of the institution of common customs tariffs and a common agricultural policy, the UK did not consider it advantageous to participate in such economic integration. However, over time, it became clear that on the European continent there was a new economic powerhouse that would have a major impact on trade in Western Europe.

European Free Trade Association (EFTA)

For this reason, the UK came up with a counterproposal – the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Nevertheless, Harold Macmillan, who became Conservative Prime Minister in 1957, slowly realised that incorporation into the EEC would be useful and advantageous for Britain.

In 1961, the government announced its commitment to accede to the EEC. In January 1963, however, there was a surprise setback. The French President, Charles de Gaulle, announced that France would block Britain‘s accession to the EEC. President de Gaulle argued that the UK was unable to accept the political goals of the EEC. Overall, he described the UK as a non-european state, one which attached greater importance to its relationship with the Commonwealth and with the US, in particular. President de Gaulle was known for his generally frosty relationship with the US. For several years after the imposition of the French veto, the possible involvement of Britain in European integration became a little-discussed issue in the British political milieu.

President de Gaulle vetoed UK membership

In 1964, however, a Labour government under Harold Wilson came to power, and, in 1967, Britain again applied for membership of the EEC. In the same year, President de Gaulle once again vetoed UK membership, using the same arguments as before. It was clear that while de Gaulle remained French President, the UK would never become a member of the EEC. In 1969 president de Gaulle stepped down. In 1970, the european-minded Edward Heath became the new conservative prime minister of Britain.

Negotiations on Britain’s accession to the EEC began again. They were completed relatively quickly. In 1972,  Britain’s accession was agreed, and on the 1 January 1973 the UK formally joined the EEC. In both main political parties in Britain, however, there was some debate about the benefits of membership and about Britain’s conditions of entry into the EEC.


Referendum 1975

In 1974, Harold Wilson became Prime Minister of a minority Labour Government. He argued that the terms of Britain’s membership of the EEC were too stringent. In particular, his government expressed concern about the level of Britain’s contribution to the EEC budget. On the 5 June 1975, after some concessions in other areas had been negotiated, a referendum was held on whether the UK should remain in the EEC. The referendum question was as follows:

The Government have announced the results of the renegotiation of the United Kingdom’s terms of membership of the European Community. Do you think that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?

More than 67 % of voters expressed a preference for staying in the EEC. Harold Wilson called the result of the referendum a historic decision. In 1976, James Callaghan became Britain’s new Labour Prime Minister. During his term, he tried to  reduce Britain‘s contribution to the EEC budget.

United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?


Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative Prime Minister of the UK from 1979 to 1990, saw her country’s membership of the EEC mainly in economic terms. She had no interest in political integration. Thatcher managed to negotiate some exceptions for the UK in this respect, and also to reduce the UK‘s contribution to the EEC budget (the British rebate). Her demand I want my money back“ is well-known in this regard.

Margaret Thatcher stamp

“I want my money back“

Thatcher’s government also supported the Single European Act (SEA), which was an important element in creating a more efficient single market. In 1990, Thatcher’s cabinet approved the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). Discord in her cabinet, however, was palpable, and eventually, in the same year, Mrs Thatcher resigned.

John Major then became Conservative Prime Minister. In the push towards further European integration, Major negotiated several important exceptions for the UK. In particular, he negotiated Britain’s exclusion from the Schengen Agreement, which involved the partial opening up of European borders.

In 1997, Tony Blair became Britain’s first Labour Prime Minister for 18 years. During his administration, the process of European integration gained considerable momentum.

European institutions increased their power at the expense of the national parliaments of the EU member states. Most significantly, in 1999, the single European currency (Euro) was established, and, in 2002, euro coins and banknotes entered circulation. The UK led by Tony Blair, however, elected to keep its own currency.


single European currency (Euro)


Together with his Labour party colleague Gordon Brown, who replaced him as head of the Labour government in 2007, Blair saw the main problem of the EU in its adherence to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Both men criticized the bureaucrats in Brussels, who, according to them, were completely out of touch with the economic realities of life in EU member states. During his tenure as Prime Minister, Gordon Brown re-examined the issue of adopting the euro. However, Brown’s Cabinet concluded that it was not in the UK’s economic interests.

The current Conservative prime minister, David Cameron, is in favour of Britain’s  membership of the EU. However, he wants to negotiate better conditions of membership. A referendum on whether Britain should remain in the EU will be held on the 23 June 2016.

23 June 2016…