Belfast Telegraph

The vote to join Europe in 1975 was based on a lie ... but at last we’re getting our sovereignty back

Claims of deception and misrepresentation over Brexit negotiations are nothing new, writes Nelson McCausland

Claims of deception and misrepresentation over Brexit negotiations are nothing new, writes Nelson McCausland

A few months ago I had a conversation with a journalist about the possibility of a referendum on the border. I happened to mention that there had already been a referendum in the 1970s and the journalist said, “I didn’t know that”.

I went on to explain that there had been a border poll in Northern Ireland on March 8, 1973; that it was boycotted by the SDLP and Provisional Sinn Fein; that almost 99% of the voters wanted to remain in the United Kingdom; and that the Provisional IRA marked the day with four car bombs in London.

Subsequently, nine members of the Provisional IRA from Belfast were imprisoned, including Gerry Kelly and the Price sisters, Marian and Dolours.

More recently, Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price both said that Gerry Adams had discussed the operation at an IRA meeting in Belfast.

So, the next time a Sinn Fein politician calls for a referendum on the border, just remember how the IRA marked the last one.

However, that conversation was a reminder that many people, especially younger people who didn’t live through the events, are often unaware of key events that happened 40 or more years ago and that brings me to Brexit.

The current process whereby the United Kingdom is extricating itself from the European Union is complex and the Government has a very difficult task.

Meanwhile, the Euro-fanatics are still not reconciled to the result of the referendum and the debate still goes on in the media, with both sides of the argument accusing the other of misrepresentation and deception.

All of which reminds me of the first European referendum, back in 1975, and after 40 years forgotten by many.

Edward Heath, the Conservative prime minister, had signed the Treaty of Rome in January 1973 and, at that point, the UK joined what was then usually called the Common Market. That was done on the basis of a commitment that we would retain our national sovereignty.

Indeed, in June 1971, a White Paper had been sent to every home in the UK, promising that, “there is no question of Britain losing essential sovereignty”.

Then, in a television broadcast in January 1973 to mark the signing of the Treaty of Rome, Edward Heath went even further.

He said: “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.”

Two years later, there was a referendum, on June 5, 1975, and the majority of voters supported the UK’s continued membership of the Common Market, now the European Union.

But that vote was on the basis of assurances which were dishonest.

Both Edward Heath and Harold Wilson knew that, in joining the Common Market, they were ceding sovereignty and joining a political project which had as its end goal the creation of a federal United States of Europe.

The preamble to the Treaty of Rome clearly stated that the objective was “ever-closer union”.

Moreover, with the passage of time and the release of Government papers under the 30-year rule, we now know that both Labour and Conservative governments had been briefed, time and time again, about the loss of national sovereignty. They were also warned that the ultimate aim was political union across Europe.

The loss of national sovereignty was confirmed by Judge Bruce Morgan on April 9, 2001. He said that, when the UK joined the Common Market in the 1970s, parliament and the British people “quite voluntarily surrendered the once seemingly immortal concept of the sovereignty of parliament and legislative freedom”.

So, when folk talk about deception and misrepresentation in relation to Europe, the greatest deception of all was that it is just a “common market” and not much more.

That was the basis on which 67% of voters backed the European Community in 1975, but it was a lie.

Thankfully, that great lie has been exposed, the tide has turned and we are now on the way to recovering our national sovereignty.

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