Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1975 May 19 Mo
Margaret Thatcher

Speech in Hendon (European Referendum campaign)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Speech
Venue: Christ College School, Hendon
Source: Thatcher Archive: CCOPR 486/75
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: Embargoed until 2000. Sections of the text have been checked against excerpts broadcast on BBC Radio News 2200 and ITN’s News at Ten 19 May 1975. Dutch and Finnish TV crews were also present (Finchley Times, 23 May 1975).
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2728
Themes: Agriculture, British Constitution (general discussions), Commonwealth (general), Conservative Party (history), Employment, Industry, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (general discussions), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc)

I am very pleased to be able to be here this evening. To help to ensure that in Barnet we get a massive Yes on June 5th for Britain's continued membership of the European Community.

The debate about Britain's membership of Europe seems to have been going on for some considerable time now.

It is important that we should not allow people to become bored with the arguments. For it is essential that we not only win the Referendum on June 5th but win it with a decisive and unchallengeable majority.

We must all make every effort to ensure that the people of the Borough of Barnet actually get out on Referendum day and vote ‘Yes’.

The case for Britain's continued membership is being made strongly throughout the country. It is a strong case. I do not want to repeat all the arguments of that case tonight, but rather concentrate on those parts which have not yet been thoroughly debated.

At a time of uncertainty in world affairs, Europe gives us a far better chance of peace and security and if we wish our children to continue to enjoy the benefits of peace, our best course of action is to stay in Europe.

The anti-Marketeers would like us to insulate ourselves from the rest of Europe and isolate ourselves from the remainder of the world. [end p1]

But neither the instincts nor the interests of this country are isolationist.

Indeed it has been our practice to record the history and development of mankind. Traditionally we have always looked for our island livelihood and safety to being part of a larger grouping.

When geographical discoveries placed us on the main route between the New and the Old Worlds, the British sense of mission and adventure created the greatest maritime Empire the world has known.

When tyranny threatened the nations of Europe, we created a balance of power which preserved the Continent as well as ourselves.

These were not the parochial politics of “minding our own business” . Our business spanned the world.

We must now count ourselves a lesser people than our forebears simply because the world around us has moved on. The Old Empire has evolved into a new Commonwealth and the Europe of feuds into a Europe of friendship. But it is still true, in the most literal sense of the term, that Britain's business is in the world.

We rely on world imports for nearly all our industrial raw materials. We are the world's largest market for foodstuffs. To pay for both we need to export to the world goods and services currently representing one-fifth of the gross national product.

These are the facts of life. They cannot be changed by a Referendum: but what the Referendum could change, or put at risk, is Britain's capacity to cope with them.

Now let us look at some of the facts.

Only about 55 per cent of the food which we eat in this country is home produced. We have to import nearly half our food requirement.

For example, we import over 40 per cent of our wheat, 70 per cent of our sugar, nearly 100 per cent of our maize grain and 75 per cent of our butter. [end p2]

We are the largest importer of food in the world. For years we have taken these food supplies for granted. As a nation, our policy has been to develop our industrial strength and to buy our food on the world market at the cheapest possible prices. Today this is no longer possible for it is dependent on two conditions.

First, there must be sufficient agricultural surplus in other countries for us to buy. Secondly, we must be able to afford to pay for it. It has always been assumed that Britain should buy her food from whatever source is cheapest, on the understanding that the price of food varies from one part of the world to another from year to year. If we couldn't buy our food cheaply in one market place, we could buy it cheaply in another. But will there be sufficient agricultural surplus in other countries for us to buy in the future?

Let us look at the facts.

Drought in 1972 in certain major wheat growing areas has meant that world grain stocks are almost exhausted. The world has become dependent on this year's harvest for next year's food. Yet reserves of food are at their lowest level on record. As Dr. Boerma, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, one of the United Nations' agencies said in Rome in January, current figures are that the world has reserves of only 21 days beef, 21 days wheat, 7 days butter and 6 days rice.

Meanwhile world population growth, especially in the under-developed countries, continues to rise. The Government's own recent White Paper on food supplies points out “… with the world population expected to rise by 2 per cent each year, severe strains are likely to be put on world food producing sources” . They already are.

We cannot expect countries which have insufficient supplies for their own needs to be prepared to sell food to Britain. As the Financial Times said on 12th March, “Affluent countries cannot count on continuing to enjoy immunity from a world of food shortage in the way they have in the past and just because they are affluent” .

It would under these circumstances be foolish to rely on surpluses of food in the world which we might buy. What would happen if there was a shortage? If other countries which had limited supplies wanted to feed their own people first? Nor should we expect to continue to buy food cheaply on the world markets. [end p3]

Since 1972, the price of food throughout the world has increased, as we know only too well when we do our own weekly shopping. There are no indications that food will be cheaper in the future.

Therefore, to rely on the policy of seeking cheap food on the world market is no longer practicable. The era of cheap food is over.

Those who have the supplies in time of scarcity will, as we saw with sugar, sell to those who have the money to pay the highest prices.

Yet this is exactly what those who wish us to leave the European Community want us to do, at a time when the world has become dependent on each year's harvest for next year's food, at a time when the world population is growing at a rate of one billion people every 15 years.

At a time when the world's reserves of food are at their lowest level on record, and at a time when we as a country are more dependent on imported foodstuffs than any other major country.

They are asking us to leave a community of relatively secure food supplies.

Membership of the Community protects us both from abnormally high prices and ensures us access to sufficient supplies at reasonable cost.

Whereas we import half of our food requirements, France produces 102 per cent of her requirements, Holland about 123 per cent, Denmark 230 per cent and the Community on average produces 91 per cent. of her own requirements.

By membership of the Community, we have access to those food supplies. [end p4]

So that whereas Britain on her own is only self-sufficient in six of the 20 main commodities, milk, barley, poultry, eggs and potatoes—the Community is over 90 per cent self-sufficient in 15 of them. And there is not a single product where we are more self-sufficient than the Community.

Where the Community doesn't produce all it needs, it has much stronger bargaining power than any single country to obtain supplies elsewhere.

Our membership of the Community gives us a prior claim on this relatively secure and self-sufficient source of food.

As the Times put it on 14 March under the headline ‘Could we afford to eat if we left the EEC?’

“…   . the pro-EEC formula is a simple one: stay in and take advantage of community surplusses or leave and struggle against the twin pressures of rising demand throughout the world and a depreciating pound …   .”

The message is simple. [Beginning of section checked against ITN News at Ten, 19 May 1975] By staying in the Community it enables us by right to have access to these sources of supplies whatever happens to world harvests, and there are many of us who would take the view that we would perhaps sometimes pay a little more for secure sources of supply than not know from one year to another whether we were going to get enough at the price we wish to have.

Now these are the food facts of life. They can't be changed by a Referendum. What a Referendum can change and put at risk is Britain's ability to cope with them. To take a gamble of leaving Europe would be reckless in the extreme, and could lead to us finding ourselves standing at the end of world food queues. It's a gamble where we have little to win, but a lot to lose. End of section checked against ITN News at Ten, 19 May 1975. [end p5]

Furthermore, not only does the Community give us access to secure supplies of food, it also enables us to be more certain of the industrial raw materials needed both for home manufacture and for exports.

Outside of the Community, we should have to bargain for ourselves, squeezed between the world trading giants.

Inside the Community we have the strength of the trading power that we need by being a member of the world's most commercially strong trading group.

This trade bloc comprises, let it be remembered, our closest neighbours and our largest customers. How could we withdraw from it without damaging our industry in general and our exports in particular?. Such withdrawal would severely shrink the effective scale of the “home market” for many of Britain's most sophisticated manufacturers. It would correspondingly render the Continent more attractive but Britain less attractive to investment.

And it would mean that Britain's trade with Western Europe—still our fastest growing market—would be conducted on terms and regulated by rules in which had had no say.

Is it little wonder that there is not one leading British company that wishes us to leave Europe?.

Why? Because they know that to leave the Community would make British goods less attractive, and British exports would have to compete on ever increasingly unfavourable terms in Europe, as decisions were made affecting us, but in which we have no say.

Not only do we have to export to survive, we have also to attract new investments into Britain to provide new jobs and allow industry to expand. Since January 1973 at least 82 companies from the rest of the Community have either started or expanded operations in Britain. Can we honestly expect that Europe and the rest of the world will continue to invest in Britain if we leave the Community? [end p6]

Therefore the Community gives us — access to secure supplies of food — helps us to obtain the industrial raw materials we need — provides us with a large home market for our exports — gives us a greater chance of attracting foreign investments into Britain.

To leave such a Community would not merely be a leap in the dark, it would be like a leap overboard from a secure ship into dark and unchartered waters.

Is Britain really in such a strong economic position that we can afford to jump overboard into the cruel and choppy sea?

That is not to say that if we stay in Europe it will all be plain sailing. It will be hard work. But at least there is a better chance that we will eventually make it to harbour.

But so out of touch with reality are the anti-marketeers like Mr. Benn that they seek to prove that by throwing ourselves into the dark, unchartered waters, that there will be more jobs available.

There is no evidence of this whatsoever. Indeed all the evidence is to the contrary. A poll has just been published by the Opinion Research Centre which shows that of the large sample of firms questioned, three quarters expected they would suffer at least some harm, 41 per cent of them a lot of harm, while only 6 per cent expected to benefit.

Forty one per cent expected to invest less in Britain after withdrawal, only 5 per cent to invest more: 51 per cent expected to employ fewer people in Britain, only 5 per cent to employ more.

The evidence is clearly that if we leave the Community, there will be fewer jobs. But the dangers do not end there. To come out of the Common Market could lose us influence and standing, not only in Europe but in the Commonwealth as well. Some 22 of the developing countries of the new Commonwealth have obtained agreements with the European Community, giving them virtually free access to the Common Market. How many of them, if forced to choose between these advantages and their old links with Britain, would choose the latter rather than the former? [end p7]

And the older Commonwealth countries, Australia, New Zealand and Canada—not one of them believes that it would be in their interest or in ours, or in Europe's, were we to withdraw from the Common Market.

But say the anti-marketeers, if you vote No in the Referendum, you will get back your sovereignty. The truth about sovereignty is that in the European Community each of the member states continues to enjoy all its individual traditions—constitutional, administrative, legal and cultural.

What it believes to be its vital national interests are safeguarded in principle by a right of veto, and in practice by a continuous process of compromise and accommodation.

Naturally, any international treaty or agreement or convention involves some derogation of sovereignty in the juridical sense of the word.

This is true of the principles ambodied in the Charter of the UN—as it was of the former Covenant of the League of Nations. It is truer still of such institutions as the GATT and NATO. The issues involved and the obligations undertaken through membership of these organisations, which have existed since the 1940s, are at least as far-reaching as those under the Treaty of Rome.

That Treaty carefully defines the areas of economic and social policy where decisions are pooled. Such areas cannot be extended without unanimous agreement of the member states. Within these areas the main responsibility rests with Ministers of democratic countries. In our case with British Ministers responsible to Parliament at Westminster.

I do not deny that, by comparison with her neighbours, Britain has for generations thought of herself as a power that was different in kind. Proudly so. It is this sense of distinctiveness that anti-marketeers play upon when they promise “independence” by return of post.

But their prospectus ignores the fact that almost every major nation has been obliged by the pressures of the post-war world, to pool significant areas of sovereignty so as to create more effective political units. [end p8]

On the last Independence Day of his life, the late President Kennedy announced to the assembled Governors of States at Philadelphia that independence for their country was no longer enough. One by one he went through the familiar, sonorous clauses of the preamble to the American Constitution: and one by one he showed how inadequately they fitted within a simply national frame of reference.

“By ourselves we cannot” , he said, “Establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, or secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our prosperity” . Only by joining with other free nations could these ends, and more besides, be won. This Declaration of Interdependence rang round the world.

It carried a loud, plain warning to other great countries against burying their heads, ostrich-like, in the sands of the past. For if the richest and most powerful of democracies acknowledged that it could not live by itself alone, then surely isolationism had become an obsolete concept none of us could now afford. What we needed instead was partnership—in the political, military, social and economic fields—and machinery to make that partnership endure.

In the public life of Western Europe, this has been a dominant theme for thirty years. Some of its finest expressions are to be found in the eloquent words and constructive work of Sir Winston Churchill, Mr. Harold Macmillan and Mr. Edward Heath. We are justly proud in the Conservative Party, that it was our leaders who ranged ahead in thought and imagination.

It is now the active duty of all of us to ensure—by argument, influence and vote—that what they helped create we help conserve.

As I said in the House of Commons when this final phase of the debate began, the paramount motive for doing so is political—the warranty for peace and security. [Section checked against BBC Radio News Report 2200 19 May 1975] The countries of western Europe, by working ever more closely together in economic and social concerns are building bridges of reconciliation and understanding between peoples long divided by rivalry and conflict. [end p9]

Had they done so sooner, the fearful slaughter of two world wars in one half-century might never have happened. [End of section against BBC Radio News Report 2200.] Alas, we cannot call back yesterday; but for tomorrow we are, each one of us, solemnly responsible to our children.

For their sakes as well as for our own, we must keep Britain in Europe.