Shortly before Britain’s 1975 referendum on whether it should say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to continued membership of the European Economic Community (later to become the European Union), Labour MP Peter Shore delivered an impressive speech in favour of Britain voting ‘No’.
Here is a clip of that speech’s conclusion, delivered with the passion it deserved:
“Three and half years ago, when they were urging us to go in, oh what a campaign it was!
“You’ve got to get in to get on” was the slogan of that day. Five or six pounds a week better off for Britain if we can only get in to the Common Market. All the goodies were spread out, and Donald Stokes of Leyland buying one page advertisements saying, “all we need is a great domestic market of 250 million and we will sweep Europe!”
And do you know what has happened? And this is the one significance of the trade figure – I’m not arguing – who cares about the actual details of the size of it – that doesn’t matter. It’s the trend! The trend!
Three years ago, four years ago, we were almost in balance with the Common Market in this country.
What’s happened since? 500 million down in 72′. 1000 million in 73′. 2000 million in 74′. Running now at the rate of 2400 million this year! Don’t you see what that’s going to do to the prosperity of this country! You can’t go on borrowing that.
When you add to that the burdens I mentioned a moment ago, and we under grave threat! We’re in peril at the present time, and the country must know.
Therefore, now what do they say? What is the message that comes now? No longer to tell the British people about the goodies that lie there. No longer that. That won’t wash – will it? Because the evidence will no longer support it.
So the message, the message that comes out is fear, fear, fear.
Fear because you won’t have any food.
Fear of unemployment.
Fear that we’ve somehow been so reduced as a country that we can no longer, as it were, totter about in the world independent as a nation.
And a constant attrition of our moral.
A constant attempt to tell us that what we have and what we had as not only our own achievements, but what generations of Englishman has helped us to achieve, is not worth a damn.
The kind of laughter that greeted the early references that I made that what was involved was the transfer of the whole of our democratic system. Not a damn!
Well, I tell you what we now have to face in Britain, what the whole argument is about. Now that the fraud and the promise has been exposed.
What it’s about is basically about the moral and the self-confidence of our people. We can shape our future. We are 55 million people. If you look around the world today, and you listen to Gough Whitlam and his 14 million Australians. He trades heavily with Japan – and I’m very fond of the Australians – but do you think that he’s going to enter into a relationship with Japan, which gives Japan the right to make the laws in Australia?
Do you think Canada, 22 million of them, and to the south a great and friendly nation – yes, they are – but do you think Canada is going to allow its laws to be written by the 200 million people in some union in America? No, no – of course not.
The whole thing is an absurdity! And therefore I urge you, I urge you to reject it. I urge you to say ‘No’ to this motion! And I urge the whole British country to say ‘No’ on Thursday in the referendum!
A long tradition
It would seem that the Remain Campaign has a long tradition of attempting to scare the British public out of its wits at the thought of Britain leaving the EU.
“They’re asking you to leap into the unknown”, warned Jeremy Thorpe during the debate in which Peter Shore made his speech. Of course, Thorpe could no more know Britain’s future inside the EU than out. He couldn’t possibly have known what the EEC to would later morph into and what implications membership would have for Britain.
In the run up to the 2016 EU referendum, David Cameron would echo Thorpe’s warning of “a leap into the unknown”, likening Brexit to a “leap into the dark”.
It seems old tactics die hard. But in the end those tactics failed to dissuade the public from voting to leave.
Would that Peter Shore (1924 – 2001) had lived to see his speech rewarded 41 years later. He would have been sure to appreciate the victory.