“There are some in this country who fear that in going into Europe we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears, I need hardly say, are completely unjustified.”
Prime Minister Edward Heath, television broadcast on Britain’s entry into the Common Market, January 1973
And so began a long, confusing and largely hidden march towards a federal Europe – and we, the people, were never informed or asked our opinion.
In 2001, under the 30-year rule, documents relating to Britain’s application to join the Common Market in 1970 became available. What these papers revealed more starkly than ever before was just how deliberately the Heath Government and the Foreign Office set out to conceal from the British people the Common Market’s true purpose. They were fully aware that it was intended to be merely the first step towards creating a politically united Europe, but they were determined to hide this away from view.
In 1969, the Council of Ministers had commissioned the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Pierre Werner, to draw up a plan to move the Common Market forward to full economic and monetary union. His confidential report began circulating in Brussels in October 1970, just as Britain’s negotiations to enter the European Economic Community were getting under way.
In the British Foreign Office, the Werner Report rang alarm bells. A secret briefing note to Mr. Heath from Con O’Neill, the senior civil servant responsible for Europe, explained that, if implemented, Werner’s proposals would have enormous political repercussions. They envisaged “a process of fundamental political importance, implying progressive development towards a political union”. The long-term objectives of economic and monetary union, it was made clear to Mr Heath, “are very far-reaching indeed”, going “well beyond the full establishment of a Common Market”. The Werner plan could lead to,
“the ultimate creation of a European federal state, with a single currency. All the basic instruments of national economic management (fiscal, monetary, incomes and regional policies) would ultimately be handed over to the central federal authorities. The Werner report suggests that this radical transformation of present Communities should be accomplished within a decade”. (PRO/FCO 30/789)
Such a political and economic union, possibly also including a common defence policy, would thus involve a massive loss of national sovereignty, which would ultimately leave member states with somewhat less power “than the autonomy enjoyed by the states of the USA”.
But what alarmed the Foreign Office was that Mr Heath and his ministers did not throw up their hands in horror and say “good heavens, we had no idea this was what the Common Market is about. On the contrary, when Geoffrey Rippon, the minister in charge of our negotiations, went to see M. Werner on October 27, the minutes of their discussion show that Rippon went out of his way to congratulate him on his report, which he said “well stated our common objectives”. Privately, Her Majesty’s Government had no objection to the political union Werner was proposing.
It seems that the only real concern of Mr Heath and his colleagues was that this plan should not be talked about too openly in public, because this might so inflame public opinion that it would be much harder to persuade Parliament and the British people that it was in their interests to join what they were being assured was no more than a ‘common market’, intended to boost trade.
Mr Rippon urged on M.Werner, that this goal of political and economic union should be achieved only in a “step by step approach”, because “it was natural for people to be afraid of change” and “part of his problem in Britain was to reassure people that their fears were unjustified”.
When these documents were released 30 years later, this was confirmed by a retired Foreign Office official Sir Crispin Tickell, who had played an intimate part in Britain’s Common Market negotiations as Geoffrey Rippon’s private secretary and was present at the meeting with Werner. In a BBC interview Tickell frankly admitted that, although worries over Britain’s loss of sovereignty had been “very much present in the mind of the negotiators”, the line had been “the less they came out in the open the better”
This is a disgrace and one the Conservatives have never apologies for.