chapter  1
31 Pages

Conservative moves towards Europe, 1945–75: ‘like chasing a girl’

British entry into the EEC and Edward Heath are indelibly linked. On 22 January 1972 in a ceremony in Brussels he signed the Treaty of Accession on behalf of Britain. At the third British attempt a Conservative prime minister had succeeded in taking Britain into Europe. It was a personal triumph for Heath, who had played a central role in negotiations for over a decade and appeared to conclude a process initiated by Winston Churchill in 1946. It represented a substantial milestone for the Conservative Party, which against its natural hesitations and core ideological values had been convinced that entry was both necessary and welcome. This conversion had taken nearly a quarter of a century, it had been uncertain, but in the event the Conservatives had become the party of Europe. How, and why, did the party decide it should join Europe? Moving chronologically through the earliest proposals for European unity to the creation of the EEC to British entry and confirmation of membership in 1975, this chapter explores the reaction of the Conservative Party, which for much of this period was the party of government. What makes this transformation all the more significant is that at face value it appeared as though involvement in Europe ran contrary to the party’s heart and yet its leadership had managed to convince the head.