Chatham House: Independent thinking on international affairs

International Affairs

The discomforts of life on the edge: Britain and Europe, 1963–1975

N. Piers Ludlow, November 2012

The publication of Stephen Wall's second volume of The official history of Britain and the European Community allows us to revisit a period when Britain found itself perched uncomfortably on the edge of the EEC. The period covered, between 1963 and 1975, includes the failure of Britain's first attempt to accede to the EEC in 1963, the second Labour-led application of 1967 which like its predecessor was thwarted by a veto from General Charles de Gaulle, the revival of Britain's second application once de Gaulle had left power, the membership negotiations of 1970–1, the struggle to secure parliamentary ratification of the European Communities bill, Britain's first year in the European Community and the Labour-inspired renegotiation of British membership in 1974, before ending with the 1975 referendum on British membership which resulted in a seemingly decisive popular vote in favour of remaining within the EEC. Throughout the emphasis is on the high politics of entry, with Harold Macmillan, Harold Wilson and Edward Heath playing the starring roles — and with de Gaulle cast as the lead villain.

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