As Britain leaves Europe the former Ukip leader is practically dictating government policyby Andrew Adonis and Will Hutton / June 13, 2018 / Leave a comment
It was “common sense” for Britain to stay in Europe, Margaret Thatcher declared, launching the 1975 Conservative “Yes to Europe” campaign wearing her famous “Yes to Europe” jumper.
“It seems to me,” she said, “to display an amazing lack of self-confidence in Britain … to think that, when no other nation in the Community has lost its national character, Britain in some way will.”
But the seeds of her later bitter hatred of the EU were evident even in these early days—she was, for instance, sympathetic to Enoch Powell and his anti-immigrant and anti-European tirades.
Yet obliged by the Cold War and American expectations, she formed a triumvirate with Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand. At this stage she went with the “economic right” rather than the “nationalist right”; hence the single market—ironically, the one transformational British project in the UK’s forty-five years of EU membership. The aim was to create the largest, richest, single market. It was a breathtaking ambition.
Then, in September 1988, came her Bruges speech.
The catalyst was Jacques Delors, former French socialist finance minister under Mitterrand, who in 1985 became the most radical president ever of the European Commission. Delors pioneered “social Europe,” including new employment rights, which Thatcher detested.
Thatcher was okay with the EU while she thought it was about “markets,” but when Delors came to Bournemouth in early September 1988 to address the Trades Union Congress on the “social dimension of Europe,” she was appalled.
She promptly rewrote the speech she was due to give to the College of Europe in Bruges twelve days later, inserting the attack on Brussels as a putative superstate. It was the start of the anti-EU Thatcher.
When Thatcher was forced from power in 1990, she fell partly because of her poll tax and partly owing to her bristling opposition to Brussels.
She railed against her moderate successor, John Major, for signing the Maastricht Treaty, even though Major secured an opt-out from its key tenet—the single European currency. Her last vote in the Commons, in 1992, was as the head of a rebellion against Major calling for a referendum on Maastricht.