Today, the Conservative government is deeply divided over Brexit. As Theresa seeks to renegotiate her Withdrawal Agreement, her MPs fear concessions, such as remaining in a customs union or holding another referendum could split the Conservative Party even more. In 1975, it was the Labour government to face a real crisis over the UK’s relationship with the bloc.
Prime Minister Harold Wilson had come back from Brussels with what he claimed was a “better deal” for the UK and was leading the referendum on the UK’s membership of what was then the EEC, the precursor to the EU.
Labour’s left, under the charismatic leadership of Tony Benn, believed the EU would constrain popular sovereignty.
The former peer hated the Common Market, as he saw it as a “capitalist club” which would erode British democracy and destroy jobs.
During a debate with Labour MP Roy Jenkins of the Yes campaign, hosted by David Dimbleby, Mr Benn’s arguments can be seen as resoundingly prophetic for many Brexiteers today.
The left-wing veteran claimed that the bloc poses a great threat to democracy, as European commissioners don’t have to answer to their electorate.
Mr Benn told Mr Jenkins: “The people in Bristol have sent me to Parliament over 25 years and you, I think, longer from your constituency.
“And every time, they have had the power to dismiss me or to re-elect me and because of that I have had to listen to them.
“Now, the commissioners don’t have to listen to the British people, because they are immune from the possibility of electoral defeat.”
The Labour MP added there is a price to pay for the idea of a European integration, and that price is paid by the electors.
Mr Benn noted: “Whoever they elect in future elections will not be able to change the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Regional policy because that has been adopted by previous governments and cannot be changed by a single nation, whoever, whichever government is elected.”
It was not the first and last time Mr Benn made a passionate argument for Brexit.
During a speech at a Labour conference fringe meeting in 2007, the former MP claimed the UK should leave the “bureaucratically evil” EU or face the “destruction” of its domestic democracy.
He noted a nation should be able to adhere to its own constitution, make its own laws and uphold its own parliamentary rule instead of being bullied by a supernational state.
Suggesting a new type of relationship with the bloc, Mr Benn said : “Cooperation on the basis that you put up proposals for harmonisations and the nation states decide which of those proposals they will adhere to.
“It will be slower.
“It will be more difficult but, by God, in the end you’ll be sure that every single harmonisation law has been consented to by the parliament and can be repealed by the succeeding parliament.”
Published at Fri, 25 Jan 2019 20:43:00 +0000