Britain's entry to the EU (1973)



Britain entered the EU (then known as the Common Market) on 1 January 1973.


At that time the Prime Minister was Edward (‘Ted’) Heath, Conservative. It was he who led the negotiations and gained Parliamentary approval even though there had been no mention in the Conservative Party Manifesto at the preceding General Election.


At the time there was a lot of talk about how household goods (such as washing machines and fridges) would be cheaper. It was widely known, but not emphasised, that prices of food and clothing would go up.


There was enough of an outcry to bring about a referendum in 1975 on Britain’s continued membership.

From SJ:-


This is a YouTube recording of an Oxford union debate about the 1975 referendum that was due to take place in two days time, from a Mr Peter Shore MP who was debating along with others about the membership of the Common Market. 

I did not realise that we were joined up without even a say!  Times don’t change do they?

If this debate had been made public at the time, I don’t believe the result would have been 2/3 for staying in.

Peter Shore accused Ted Heath of being the first PM to change constitutional things without first consulting the people of the country. And Ted Heath just smirked!

Peter Shore said that we have now (in effect) a written constitution of which none was written by the British people and that the Common Market was superior law to us now. So even then the conversation was being had about them trumping us with their laws et cetera and of course it got worse as the years went on and the next lot of treaties signed away even more of our powers.

What struck me was the quality of the debate... not like the rubbish we now get.

From RL:-

I was a teen at the time and remember the discussions between adults well.

Everyone I overheard thought that it was only about prices – that was what all the discussion was over - and, had the referendum happened first, no way would we have voted to join because the cost of food and clothing went up. Back then far more of most people's income went on such basics.

Once in, people didn't want all the aggravation of leaving again, and many were taken in by the "jaw jaw not war war" argument. That was the biggest reason given - the idea that while people were arguing about the prices of things in the shops they wouldn’t be going to war with one another. People then were battered by wars, for example my French teacher had lost a leg in the First World War, survived the bombs of the Second, and thought that a Common Market would ensure peace. It’s not much of an argument, but it’s what was repeated, and people were exhausted by it all.  I never once heard sovereignty mentioned.

Also, nobody then thought to question the integrity of the BBC or of a PM who spoke formally in Parliament.

From JN:-

That’s not quite the case, RL, because sovereignty was mentioned but there was a concerted effort by Heath and the BBC and major newspapers not to report speeches by Peter Shore, Tony Benn and Enoch Powell, and some others.

I remember my father going to a hall to hear Enoch Powell, and talking to him afterwards - my father remarked that it had been a good speech and EP told him it wouldn't be reported. It wasn't.


The leaflet to explain the EEC for the referendum, which is available online, was patronising and concealed the details of the Treaty of Rome. There was a deliberate attempt to make out that it was purely a trade organisation when the Europeans were quite clear that they wanted much more than that. Definitely a case of the elite 'knowing better'. The cost to the country in contributions, our fishing and our loss of manufacturing alone has been immense, never mind the increase in bureaucracy.