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MEMORY LANE: When we said ‘yes’ to Europe

Buxton Advertiser archive, June 1975, former prime minister Ted Heath meets local MPs and Labour cabinet minister Harold Lever before addressing 1,000 people at a pro Europe rally.

Buxton Advertiser archive, June 1975, former prime minister Ted Heath meets local MPs and Labour cabinet minister Harold Lever before addressing 1,000 people at a pro Europe rally.

One afternoon in late May, 1975, around one thousand people packed the Pavilion Gardens main hall for a pro-Common Market rally at which national figures from the three main political parties passionately proclaimed the need for Britain to remain bound to Europe.

The rally came a week before the UK’s only-ever referendum on European membership.

Held on June 5, the national vote was held to gauge support for the country’s continued membership of the European Economic Community (EEC), or Common Market, which two years previously it had entered under the Conservative government of Ted Heath.

Mr Heath was one of the three to address the crowds in Buxton; the others being leader of the Liberal Party Jeremy Thorpe and Labour’s Harold Lever. All were applauded as they took to the stage, but a clapometer might have shown Mr Heath receiving a little more than the others, reported the Advertiser.

The meeting had been organised by the High Peak for Europe Campaign Committee, and attracted massive security measures, with uniformed and plain clothes police much in evidence in the Gardens.

Mr Heath told the audience: “When I signed the treaty in Brussels, it was as Prime Minister of this country, and I did so with the full authority of Parliament, after going through all the Parliamentary procedures, and I signed it in the name of the whole of the British people.”

He was one of those who believed a referendum was not necessary, but it was going to be held and it would serve no purpose for people to boycott the polling booths because they did not agree with it, the paper reported.

Mr Lever said: “The anti-Common Marketeers are trying to make us believe that the consequences of world recession are the result of our being members of the EEC - there could hardly be a less honest argument.”

Meanwhile, at an anti-Common Market rally in Whaley Bridge the week earlier, Labour councillor David Bookbinder questioned how long it would be before Britain followed the lead of other EEC countries in imposing VAT on food.

Cllr Bookbinder said he was not against a united Europe, but that a lack of solidarity within the EEC community had been demonstrated.

Although not a believer in “government by referendum”, he added that the country was in a “totally unique situation”. It would be a truly democratic decision, which would be mandatory whatever the result.

Derbyshire eventually followed the national trend by voting two to one in favour of staying in Europe. Nearly seven of every ten voters turned out in the High Peak.

 

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