Take us back to the Europe we joined 50 years ago

Fifty years ago today, on 1 January 1973, the United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community.  

As President of the European Movement, writes Michael Heseltine, I deplore the deception that Brexit represents. I look back to 1973 as the post-war year when Britain accepted the loss of its Empire and chose a new European destiny. 

David, the positive choice that our country made in 1973 has been undone by Brexit, but our movement remains determined to take us back to Europe. Thank you for being part of this movement.

The twentieth century saw bloodshed on an unprecedented scale. By the end of the second world war, the peoples of occupied, defeated Europe, who had experienced the horrors of conflagration three times in three-quarters of a century, responded to the imperative that it must never happen again. We should never forget that that is why modern Europe was born. 

New Year’s Day 1973 gave us a new sense of hope and purpose. A fresh generation of politicians saw a better future for our country by pooling our sovereignty with our neighbours to build something that would not replace our national identity but would be greater than the sum of the parts. Over the next 20 years, that is what we did. 

The rules that constrained travel in Europe, that propped up airlines and stopped you from taking more than £50 spending money on your foreign holiday, were all junked, and airlines like EasyJet brought European holidays to millions who had never been abroad. 

A whole new market developed in professional services – with the UK at the centre of it. It was, particularly, the opportunity for British financial companies to serve a much larger European market which they seized with energy and skill.   

Today, on New Year’s Day, as we reflect on all the benefits that EU membership brought us, let’s bring renewed energy to our campaign to reverse Brexit in 2023.

It is easy to look back at Brexit and list the unfulfilled promises. The British people were deceived, and that becomes clearer every day. Every day the need to change direction becomes more urgent. 

The UK economy is over five per cent smaller, says the Centre for European Reform, than it would have been without Brexit. A survey of its members by the British Chamber of Commerce published last week found that Britain’s Brexit trade deal fails to help more than three-quarters of companies increase sales or grow their business. I could bring more examples, but I’m sure you’re more than aware of these statistics. 

Brexit is not irreversible, and public opinion is moving. 67 per cent think the government is handling Brexit poorly, 45 per cent think we should re-join compared with 32 per cent in favour of staying out, and 58 per cent think we were wrong to leave compared with 42 per cent who think we were right. This gives us plenty to build on in 2023, as we work to again achieve a pro-European consensus in this country. 

We need to start rebuilding bridges. It is time for a pragmatic, constructive policy towards Europe, one rooted in our shared history and with an appetite for restoring this country’s place at its heart.   

Thank you for being part of the movement that is determined to make this happen, and I wish you a very happy new year – 

Michael Heseltine 

President of the European Movement UK