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De Gaulle, Gaitskell and the single market—to understand Britain’s relationship with Europe, consider this historic counterfactual

What if… Britain had never joined the European Economic Community, later the EU? We would have joined the EEA instead and our present troubles would have resolved themselves far sooner

By George Yarrow  

Photo: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

In January 1963 French President Charles de Gaulle vetoed Harold Macmillan’s (unenthusiastic) application to join the European Economic Community: the UK would be too disruptive. In the same month the Leader of the Labour Party, Hugh Gaitskell, was struck down by a very rare, fatal case of Lupus, aged 56. The effect of the first event was to delay UK accession to the EEC by about eight years: the second event has arguably had an even more profound effect on subsequent history.

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