The then French President General Charles De Gaulle had never wanted United Kingdom membership of the Common Market, now known as the European Union. He vetoed United Kingdom application to join the Common Market in 963 and again in 1967.
General De Gaulle warned the five founding members of the Community Market (Belgium, The Netherland, Luxembourg, Italy, and Germany) that any attempt to imposed United Kingdom membership on France would result in the break-up of the Community.
Following the resignation of General de Gaulle from office in 1969, a glimmer of hope existed among members of the Common Market and Prime Minister Heath applied a third time for United Kingdom membership and was accepted. And on 1st January 1973, the United Kingdom became a fully-fledged member of the European Economic Community (EEC) now the European Union (EU).
British public uneasiness about Europe is a long-standing fault line that runs through Parliament, offices, factories and social clubs. But in the face of incessant and vociferous opposition by leading members of the ruling Labour Party including Michael Foot, Tony Benn, Barbara Castle as well as a prominent right-wing Tory such as Enoch Powell (well known for his racist Rivers of Blood speech), the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson did not have much option but to hold a referendum in 1975 on the United Kingdom continued membership of the European Community.
And with a thumping majority of two-to-one (67.2% to 32.8%) in favour of British continued membership of the European Community, The Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, filled with exuberance, asserted that “it puts the uncertainty behind us and commits Britain to Europe”.
One of the arguments often advanced in favour of the principle of holding a plebiscite is the notion that a referendum on a given issue will produce a decisive finality on the matter. However, the continuing agitation for a new Scottish independence referendum by the Scottish National Party (despite a number of previous No votes) and the prevailing Brexit impasse is indicative of the apparent falsity of the foregoing premise.
In the 1970s, most of the opposition to the United Kingdom continued membership of the European Community came from the hard left and the Trade Unions. But today, the oppositions come from the far right of the Tory party, the Brexit party as well as the racist United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP).
The In or Out 2016 referendum question was simplistic and obfuscated the deep-seated complexities and interwoven nature of British trade and commerce in Europe, as well as environmental protection, transport and aviation and security issues to mention but a few.
The referendum campaign was essentially dominated by issues around immigration, jingoistic and xenophobic rhetorics. Hence, critics of Prime Minister Cameron argued that he ought to have presented a detailed study of the In and Out Cost-Benefit Analysis to enable voters appreciates the full implications for voting one way or the other. But it appears that the desire to hold his bitterly fractured party together sufficiently to be able to run his government effectively was Prime Minister Cameron’s primary concern.
Euro-skeptics hostility and disdain for the European Union since the 1970s have not changed. Thus, it was like a déjà vu all over again, when a former top French diplomat Pierre Sellal, said that President Macron may veto any Brexit new extension because trust with the United Kingdom has broken down.
Members of the No Campaign have often blamed immigrants for various social issues including the changing faces of British Cities, rising unemployment among the local populace, jumping social housing waiting list, pressure on schools and NHS budgets, lengthy waiting time at General Practitioners (GP’s) surgeries, living on Social Security Benefits, etc.
The Brexit xenophobias have conveniently overlooked the fact that the United Kingdom has immensely benefited from immigration. It is beyond conjecture that migrants are not scroungers but hard-working men and women, who are prepared to do the jobs that are often shunned by the local populace. And without the invaluable contribution of migrants Doctors, Nurses, Radiographers, Pharmacists, Cleaners etc, our National Health Service (NHS) will be unable to operate at near full capacity.
Further, farmers will struggle to work on their farms without easy availability of lowly paid migrant workers picking the agricultural produce for example.
In conclusion, therefore, it is imperative that Brexiteers should stop living in a cloud cuckoo land and get real about the consequences of a no-deal Brexit as stated in the Government Yellow Hammer Report, including the looming economic debacle, shortages of medicines, Doctors, Nurses and the rising cost of living.
And unlike in the 1960s and 1970s, the British Empire has collapsed and Britannia no longer rules the wave. Today’s world trade and commerce are moving towards regional convergence and trading blocks. Brexiteers must let national interest take pre-eminence over narrow political jingoism and xenophobic instincts.
Mac-Miller Anabraba, APC Chieftain and Media Entrepreneur