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

1975 Jun 4 We
Margaret Thatcher

Article for Daily Telegraph ("The Choice Before Us")

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Source: Daily Telegraph, 4 June 1975
Editorial comments: Item listed by date of publication.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1208
Themes: Agriculture, Commonwealth (general), Conservative Party (organization), Employment, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (general discussions)

Europe: the choice before us

To come out now, with nowhere else to go, would jeopardise our own and our children's future

After 16 years in Parliament, I remain idealistic at heart, analytical in mind and practical in action. And so I tackle the European question with something of each approach, and I believe that the decision we have to make needs all three.

As the campaign has developed, I have begun to wonder how the “don't knows” are going to make up their minds. On almost every topic—food prices, jobs, trade—different people, most of whom hold positions of distinction, have said different things. Statistics have been used to maximum confusion. Allegations have been hurled across the brutal arena of politics. Personalities, rather than policies, have dominated the debate.

On this subject, you cannot just draw up balance sheets and read off the answers. Each argument is a matter of opinion, feeling and judgment. On the eve of decision, may I outline why I believe we should stay in the European Economic Community, and why I fear for the future if we were to withdraw.

Peace and security

First, I believe the Common Market makes a constructive contribution to the peace and security of Europe. If, by some trick of time, we could change past events, most of my generation and older would have said: “If only there had not been two World Wars—how different things would have been.” The talent that was lost through valour and self-sacrifice, could have lived to flourish and prosper the cause of our people. The millions who endured sorrow and heartbreak could have built happier and fuller lives.

Today, European peace is taken for granted. But human nature has not changed. It is still possible for a nation to be subjugated by a dominant, determined minority, bent on extinguishing the flame of freedom, in the name of some false but plausible slogan. Prevention lies not only in the willingness of peoples to be vigilant in defence against tyranny; it consists of being prepared to live our lives together, in their becoming so enmeshed through trade and co-operation that to turn on one another would be unthinkable and impossible. In Britain we stood alone, but we could not have won alone. To win the peace we have to work together, to work at it hard and to work at it day by day. The Community exists to do just that.

Second, our standard of living, and jobs, depend on our ability to produce goods people want at a price they are prepared to pay, and to sell them in the international market place. No amount of political talk or artificial figuring can obscure that hard fact of trading life.

By being in Europe, we gain access to a tariff-free market of 250 million people. If we cannot sell enough when there are no tariff barriers, we are going to find it much more difficult to sell to countries who put up barriers against us. However, our trading performance with Europe is improving faster than with the rest of the world.

Further, our prosperity, our exports and our jobs depend on private enterprise. The European Community is based on a mixed economy with rules designed to make genuine co-operation work. Tomorrow's industries, tomorrow's jobs may not be the same as today's. The EEC recognises this and deliberately sets out to help movement from one job to another with generous grants, benefits and retraining schemes. This is the right approach for Britain.

Third, the debate has raged fiercely over food prices and supplies. Some people want to buy cheap food where they can. But, supposing the supplies were not there. We know what happened with sugar—we couldn't get it cheap. The nations who had the supplies sold them dear, and the Common Market had to intervene and get a better bargain for Britain than we could have won on our own.

Reason and equity tell us that those who produce our food want and deserve as generous a return for their efforts as those who work in manufacturing and service industries. So they will arrange their agriculture and their sales and supplies accordingly. In Britain we have to import every second meal. Those who run the country must ensure that supplies are forthcoming. The Common Market (including us) is very nearly self-sufficient in foodstuffs. But, you will say: “What about prices?” Taking the food bill as a whole, the facts show that last year the price to us within the Community was about the same as we should have paid outside. In future sometimes we shall pay less in the Community, and sometimes we shall pay more. But we shall have a stable source of supply, and I believe that most housewives would rather pay a little more than risk a bare cupboard.

In the Common Market we can be sure of having something in the larder.

Fourth, Britain has always been involved in world affairs. For centuries our history was of alliances or battles in Europe. Then we founded a mighty empire which grew into a Commonwealth. That too became involved in Europe in two World Wars. Now, some people are worried that by joining Europe we may have neglected old loyalties. We have not. One after another our Commonwealth partners have said they want us to stay in Europe, because it is in their interest that we do so. At the Commonwealth Conference in Jamaica a few weeks ago, they spontane [end p1] ously issued a statement to that effect.

Fifth, in politics we always have to consider “what is the alternative?” The European Economic Community, or what? We do not know. We have spent five years of successful negotiation, and renegotiation, with the Community nations. We have been welcomed by them, and worked with them. If we came out now, we should be denouncing a treaty and cold-shouldering our friends. At that precise moment we should have to say: “Now we have broken one treaty, we want you to give us another on a different basis—as a free trade area.” Such a course of action would deal Britain's reputation a severe blow, cause loss of confidence in our ability to overcome economic problems, and would meet with hostility, just when we need help.

In fact, the consequences of coming out would be much more severe than the consequences of never having gone in. Other nations, including each of the EFTA and many Commonwealth countries, have made their own arrangements with Europe, and would not wish to upset them for us. To come out now with nowhere else to go, would jeopardise our own, and our children's future.

Fundamental feelings

Those are my five reasons for staying in. They have actually nothing to do with the re-negotiated terms—terms which did not alter one single clause of the treaty we signed. They are concerned with more fundamental feelings; with the ideal and vision of what we could do together if we put as much effort into using our freedom in peacetime as we do to defending it against an obvious foe; with a reasonable examination of the prospects for food, trade and jobs; and with the practical consequences that would arise for Britain if, instead of solving our problems as part of a partnership, we withdrew into the unknown.

There is a very small minority in the Conservative Parliamentary party who have opposed Britain's membership of the Community. Over the years they have diminished in number. I respect their views but do not agree with them.

Tomorrow's result will affect our future for the rest of the century. If the pro-European cause is to triumph, every person who believes in it must go to the polls and vote “Yes.” It is not a time for complacency. It is not a time to opt out of voting, nor to opt out of Europe.