When he spoke on Television in January 1973 about joining the Common Market, Prime Minister Edward Heath told the nation, “There are some in this country who fear that in going into Europe we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears, I need hardly say, are completely unjustified.”
As he spoke these words Edward Heath, and some of his closest colleagues, were concealing an extraordinary secret; a secret that the public and most MPs did not know, but which was to emerge into the light of day 30 years later when previously sealed official papers were opened.
The secret that Heath and his colleagues kept quiet in 1973 was revealed in January 2001 with publication of the Cabinet Papers relating to Heath’s application to join the Common Market in 1970. They tell an extraordinary story.
The story begins in 1969 when the Council of Ministers commissioned the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Pierre Werner, to draw up a plan to move the Common Market towards full economic and monetary union. His secret report began circulating in Brussels in 1970, just as Heath’s application arrived. A copy of the report reached Whitehall, where it set alarm bells ringing in the Foreign Office.
The FO official who led the British delegation negotiating our entry to the EEC was Sir Con O’Neill. When he saw the copy of the “Werner report” O’Neill drafted a secret briefing note to Heath explaining that Werner’s proposals would have far-reaching implications because, he said, they envisage “a process of fundamental political importance, implying progressive development towards a political union”. The long-term objectives of economic and monetary union, he told Heath, “are very far-reaching indeed”, going “well beyond the full establishment of a Common Market”.
O’Neill warned that The Werner plan could lead to, “the ultimate creation of a European federal state, with a single currency. All the basic instruments of national economic management (fiscal, monetary, incomes and regional policies) would ultimately be handed over to the central federal authorities. The Werner report suggests that this radical transformation of present Communities should be accomplished within a decade”. (PRO/FCO 30/789)
O’Neill warned Heath that the Werner plan would leave member states, including the UK, with even less power than that enjoyed by the states of the USA.
The response of Heath and Geoffrey Ripon, the minister he put in charge of negotiations, ought to have been at least to question the real motives of the EEC. But the public records show that the consequences of which O’Neill warned were not only expected by the British Government but were welcomed by them – as long as they were kept secret from the British people.
When Geoffrey Rippon went to meet Werner on October 27, he congratulated him on his report, which he said “well stated our common objectives”. (PRO/CAB 164/771)
But, Rippon told Werner, this true goal of political and economic union should be achieved only in a “step by step approach”, because “it was natural for people to be afraid of change” and “part of his problem in Britain was to reassure people that their fears were unjustified”.
Present at the meeting was Foreign Office official Sir Crispin Tickell, Geoffrey Rippon’s private secretary. In a BBC interview 30 years later, Tickell frankly admitted that although worries over Britain’s loss of sovereignty had been “very much present in the mind of the negotiators”, the line they had taken was “the less they came out in the open the better”.
Only one conclusion can be drawn from these facts. When he promised the British people that they would not lose their independence or their sovereignty, Edward Heath knew perfectly well that Britain’s joining the EEC would necessarily involve the sacrifice of both independence and sovereignty. Edward Heath deliberately lied to the British people. And Heath’s lies have led directly to the situation we are in today.