Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Group for Europe (opening Conservative referendum campaign)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: St Ermin’s, Westminster
Source: (1) Thatcher Archive: CCOPR 314/75 (2) ITN Archive: News At Ten, 16 April 1975
Editorial comments: Embargoed until 1830. Edward Heath was on the platform beside MT - their first public appearance together since her election as leader.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2024
Themes: British Constitution (general discussions), Commonwealth (general), Conservative Party (organization), Conservative Party (history), Employment, Industry, Trade, European Union (general), Economic, monetary & political union
(1) Thatcher Archive: CCOPR

I welcome this opportunity to launch the Conservative campaign to keep Britain in Europe.

It is not surprising that I, as Leader of the Conservative Party, should wish to give my wholehearted support to this campaign, for the Conservative Party has been pursuing the European vision almost as long as we have existed as a Party.

It was Disraeli who said: “I assume also that no great power would shrink from its responsibilities … if that country from a perverse interpretation of its insular geographical position, turns an indifferent ear to the feelings and fortunes of continental Europe, such a course would, I believe, only end in it becoming an object of general plunder.

“So long as the power and advice of England are felt in the Councils of Europe, peace I believe will be maintained, and maintained for a long period.”

And, of course, that is right. We are inextricably part of Europe. Neither Mr. Foot nor Mr. Benn nor anyone else will ever be able to take us “out of Europe” , for Europe is where we are and where we have always been. [end p1]

It is a fact that there has been peace in Europe for the last quarter of a century, and for that alone I am grateful; that my children have not been embroiled in a European conflict as were the children of the previous two generations.

Nor do I think that we should take this peace too much for granted, for it has been secured by the conscious and concerted effort of nations to work together.

We are part of Europe. It was Churchill who, at the Congress of Europe in 1948, said: “The movement for European unity must be a positive force, deriving its strength from our sense of common spiritual values.

“It is a dynamic expression of democratic faith, based upon moral conceptions and inspired by a sense of mission …”

And as Harold Macmillan, who made Britain's first application to join the Community, said: “We are European, geographically and culturally and we cannot, even if we would, disassociate ourselves from Europe” . [end p2]

That vision of Europe took a leap into reality on the 1st of January 1972 when, Edward HeathMr. Chairman, due to your endeavours, enthusiasm and dedication Britain joined the European Community.

* The Community gives us peace and security in a free society, a peace and security denied to the past two generations.

* The Community gives us access to secure sources of food supplies. This is vital to us, a country which has to import half of what we need.

* The Community does more trade and gives more aid than any group in the world.

* The Community gives us the opportunity to represent the Commonwealth in Europe. The Commonwealth want us to stay in and has said so. The Community wants us.

Conservatives must give a clear lead and play a vigorous part in the campaign to keep Britain in Europe to honour the treaties which you, sir, signed in Britain's name.

We must do this, even though we dislike referenda. We must support the Harold WilsonPrime Minister in this, even though we fight the Government on other issues.

We must play our full part in ensuring that Conservative supporters say “Yes to Europe” .

In particular, there is a duty on Conservative Members of Parliament who believe in and voted for Britain's continuing membership of the Community to play a leading role in their own constituencies during the campaign.

Members must give a lead both by their words and by their example. [end p3]

I note that a few left-wing politicians have been talking as if this campaign is about whether we should JOIN the European Community.

It is not. We have been members for two and a half years.

It is a question of whether we should leave.

But for Britain to leave would mean denouncing a Treaty.

Britain does not break Treaties.

It would be bad for Britain, bad for our relations with the rest of the world and bad for any future treaty on trade we may need to make.

As Harold Macmillan said recently: “We used to stand for good faith. That is the greatest strength of our commerce overseas. And we are now being asked to tear up a Treaty into which we solemnly entered” .

The choice is clear.

We can play a role in developing Europe, or we can turn our backs on the Community.

By turning our backs we would forfeit our right to influence what happens in the Community.

But what happens in the Community will inevitably affect us.

The European Community is a powerful group of nations.

With Britain as a member, it is more powerful; without Britain it will still be powerful.

We can play a leading role in Europe, but if that leadership is not forthcoming Europe will develop without Britain.

Britain, if she denounced a treaty, cannot then complain if Europe develops in conflict with Britain's interests. [end p4]

It's up to us to tell our people what is at risk in this referendum. We have no reason to feel complacent. We must tell them of the advantages of Britain's membership, not simply in general terms, but how it has helped their area in particular.

Every region has received some help and the amounts vary from the large to the very small. For example: Training and retraining some 153,000 unemployed persons, in assisted areas, including schemes for young persons under 25 years, women over 35 wishing to return to work and men over 50 + £34,269,000. Training and retraining 24,500 unemployed in Northern Ireland = £7,752,000. Grants to British Steel Corporation for research into the monitoring of effluent from steelworks = £122,366. Loan for the construction of a new North Sea oil fired power station at Peterhead = £10,400,000. The National Coal Board has received loans of £19 million for the modernisation of collieries. Even a grant for the expansion and re-equipment of a Stilton cheese factory at Mastington in Derbyshire—there seems to be no danger of us losing sovereignty over Stilton.

In two years we have received grants and loans totalling £290 million from the Community. What better evidence is there that the European Community is actively helping us here in the four corners of Britain with our problems. There is bound to have been some tangible benefit in your area.

Whether it be a £7 million loan for building a second Dartford tunnel under the Thames, or £27,500 flood prevention embankments on the river Lurgg in Hereford. Let us make sure that the electors know of these benefits and where they come from.

During the coming weeks we are going to hear a number of myths and scares from some anti-marketeers. It is a myth that our membership of the European Community is to blame for the sharp deterioration in Britain's trade balance with the Community nations.

The truth is that some goods would have cost us much more if we had not been in the Community. [end p5]

Food, for example, made up more than 50 per cent of our deficit. This is because as food prices for certain items such as cereals, started to rocket on world markets we switched to cheaper European supplies.

Oil, 11 per cent of our deficit with the Community; because we are short of refining capacity in Britain we have to import oil products from the Community. We would have had to have done so whether we were in the Community or not.

Similar considerations apply to chemicals and plastics, iron and steel.

It is a myth that the Community is simply a bureaucracy with no concern for the individual.

The entire staff of the Commission is about 7,000—smaller than that of the Scottish Office.

It is a myth that our membership of the Community will suffocate national tradition and culture.

Are the Germans any less German for being in the Community, or the French any less French? Of course they are not!

It seems to me to display an amazing lack of self-confidence in Britain on the part of some people, that they think that, whereas no other nation in the Community has lost its national character, Britain in some way will.

These points and others must be answered—on the public platform—on the doorstep.

When referendum day comes there may be some who do not want to vote. But no one can opt out of this decision. It is a decision that will affect us all. It is a decision that will affect future generations. [end p6]

It is a decision in which all should participate to secure our future in a free society.

We must act to defend our children's future as those generations before us acted to protect ours.

For hundreds of years the peoples of Britain have been writing history. Do we want future generations to continue to write history or are they simply going to have to read it.

If we fail, they will read how we broke faith with both the present and the past.

If we fail and the British people vote ‘No’ to the European Community, they will read how there was a defeat for co-operation between nations, and how there was a victory for the tribunes of the Left.

They will read how extremism won over commonsense. For it is purely common sense to belong to a community working together in peace on economic and political issues that concern us all.

It is purely commonsense to have access to secure sources of food supplies, when as a nation we have to import half our food.

It is surely commonsense to belong to the Community that is the largest trading and aiding unit in the world, and play our part in that Community.

It is surely commonsense for Britain to continue to play a part in the Council of Europe.

It is purely commonsense that we should now listen also to the Commonwealth—those Nations who twice this century, have come to Britain's aid to defend democracy in Europe.

Not one of them now want us to leave. The Commonwealth wants us to stay in. Britain has made a vital contribution to the past. She has a contribution to make to the future. It will be bigger in Europe than alone. [end p7]

(2) ITN Archive: News at Ten, 16 April 1975

Reginald Bosanquet

The Common Market referendum: the Cabinet tomorrow decides whether or not more than a million British citizens living overseas will be allowed to vote. It's understood the Government is against letting them vote in the referendum for fear that fraud could upset the results.

The new Conservative Leader, Mrs. Thatcher and her predecessor, Mr. Heath, appeared together on the same public platform for the first time tonight since the party leadership changed.

The occasion was the opening at a hotel near the Commons of a campaign of the Conservative Group for Europe to keep Britain in the Common Market.

Mr. Heath chaired the meeting and opened the proceedings by welcoming Mrs. Thatcher. Then he went on: [end p8]


Now we are entering on a further phase. That of the referendum. The party has made its view clear, that it is opposed in any case to a referendum as a constitutional device. We regard it as abhorrent. We also regard it as unnecessary. We regard it as part of a party political manoeuvre, but if there is to be a referendum then we are going to throw everything we've got into the task of winning that referendum.


Mrs. Thatcher had some kind words to say about Mr. Heath:


Edward HeathMr. Chairman and colleagues. It is especially appropriate that we should open the Conservative campaign to keep Britain in Europe under your Chairmanship. Because you have done more than anyone else for the Conservative cause in Europe, and to see that Britain's place is in Europe. Naturally, it's with some temerity that the pupil speaks before the master, because you know more about it than any of the rest of us. I think there are four main reasons for Britain staying in the community. First, the community gives us peace and security in a free society. The peace and security denied to the past two generations. Second, the community gives us access to secure sources of food supply. And this is vital to us, a country which has to import half of what we need. Third, the community does more trade and gives more aid than any other group in the world, and fourth, the community gives us the opportunity to represent the Commonwealth in Europe. A commonwealth which wants us to stay in, and has said so, and the community wants us to stay in and has shown it to be so.