The Long and Twisting Path to Brexit

Romance and Courtship
Winston Churchill, in the years immediately following World War II, out of office but still hugely influential, sometimes then sounded like the herald of a ‘United States of Europe’, at least of its non-Communist components. But when he returned to power in the early 1950s, he never entered into any practical negotiations with the original six-member European Economic Community, and his successor, Anthony Eden, showed no enthusiasm for doing so.

However, when I was living in London in 1960-61, it looked as if Harold Macmillan’s Conservative Government was going to take the U. K. into the EEC. I was in favour, i nfluenced by persuasive arguments I was reading in the literate political monthly, Encounter. I was unimpressed by the opposing populist views (‘Empire Free Trade!’)regularly thundered by Max Beaverbrook and his minions in the Daily Express, which had over four million readers in those days. I was also little moved by hostile fulminations I heard from radical orators in Hyde Park.

As a mathematics student at Queen’s, I had not been very interested in politics of any kind, but Britain rapidly drew me in. I began, like many of my generation, with an illusory enthusiasm for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which I imagined as having far greater importance than the European economic question. I was unconvinced of the necessity of nuclear weapons for Britain or Canada, and I attended numerous CND rallies, listening attentively to Bertrand Russell. But I soon acquired doubts. ‘Unilateralism’ looked to me too much like a dangerous unreciprocated favour to the Soviets, and the more I read about atomic weapons, the more I understood the grim logic of maintaining them. In any case, the CND Trafalgar Square crowds were having little impact on the House of Commons. Like the Conservatives, the Hugh Gaitskell-led Labour opposition supported strategic deterrence, more divided about joining the EEC.

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