The debate over UK membership of the EU is not new. As Britain approaches its second referendum on the issue, here is a look back at how arguments from both sides have developed over the past 50 years.
As a centre for informed debate, Chatham House has been a forum for discussing Britain's evolving relationship with the EU since the debates about joining the Common Market first began in the 1960s to the establishment of the euro through to today. This selection from the Chatham House archive presents discussion and writing from some of the most interesting speakers of each era and provides an illuminating look at the genesis of today's debates.
The Case Against Joining the Common Market (1971)
The UK joined the EEC in 1973 and voted to remain in a referendum in 1975. Concerns about Britain becoming a member of the European Economic Community ranged from the impact on its relationship with traditional allies to agriculture to broader social, political and economic issues, as raised in this meeting held under the Chatham House Rule. Note: Redactions in the text exist to preserve the identities of the speakers under the Chatham House Rule.
'If you enter [into the Common Market] your frontiers will wither away, and if your frontiers wither away with a European Parliament then surely your sovereignty is merged into one run by a European Parliament.'
The Case for British Membership of the European Community (1980)
The 1975 referendum did not end the debate. In 1980, former home secretary Roy Jenkins, then the president of the European Commission, presented the positive case for the UK's continued membership.
'Britain plays a leading role in political cooperation, and for us to exclude ourselves from this... would not only be unwise it would almost be insane.'
The Uncommon Market and the Alternatives (1980)
In the same year, two speakers advanced the argument that the Common Market hinders, rather than encourages economic growth in Britain, and argued against 'the failed federalism of an increasingly monetarist, reactive, defensive and collapsing Common Market'. Note: Redactions in the text exist to preserve the identities of the speakers under the Chatham House Rule.
'The supranational pretensions of the community have been an obstacle to effective international action.'
Can Britain Learn to Play the European Game? (1984)
As Britain came under increasing pressure for further integration as the decade wore on, William Wallace, director of studies at Chatham House, argued that Britain ultimately has no other choice than to remain in the EU and adapt to and shape the politics of the continent.
'There is no escape if one is interested in pursuing Britain’s economic, political and security interests from playing the European game.'
Britain’s European Choices (1990)
By the end of the 1980s, the positions of the major political parties were beginning to shift, and the lines for the coming battles over the Economic and Monetary Union were being drawn. In this environment, Lord Thomas examined the possibility of the UK withdrawing from the EU entirely or establishing a role on the periphery, warning of the downsides of both.
'If we were a rich, hard-working, patriotic, well-educated, self-sufficient nation, ready for sacrifice and disdainful of comfort, such a policy [that of withdrawal] just might lead to national regeneration.'
The Future for Europe (1995)
Following the UK's withdrawal from the Exchange Rate Mechanism, new Labour leader Tony Blair examined why Britain is so hesitant about Europe and why it should and must play a more central role.
'A role at the centre of Europe is fully consistent with Britain’s history, not a rejection of it.'
Britain and the European Union: Building the Enterprise Centre of Europe (1996)
The following year, chancellor of the exchequer Ken Clarke argued that to remain a global player, Britain must first be a key player within Europe.
'It is rather ironic that as we engage in a seemingly interminable political debate over our role in Europe, the economic debate is largely over - business sees that Europe is where the action is commercially and consumers see it too.'
Prospects for the Outs: Britain in Europe (1998)
As Britain faced a debate over whether to join the single currency, Financial Times journalist Martin Wolf argued that the consequences of staying outside the euro were exaggerated by politicians.
'Scare mongering has, inevitably, begun, as the date for the launch of the euro has come closer.'
The Challenge of Migration: The EU Dimension (2000)
As the EU prepared for enlargement to former communist states of central and eastern Europe, Adrian Fortescue analysed attitudes of EU member countries towards immigration.
'There’s nothing new about immigration… It’s been around for centuries, probably all of us in our way are immigrants of one kind or another.'