To The Association Des Chefs D’enterprises Libres, Lyons

enochpowellSpeech on the subject of the European Economic Community, 12th February, 1971

Enoch Powell

It is a principle of British politics, and no doubt of the politics of other countries – it is certainly a principle to which I subscribe wholeheartedly – that one does not, when abroad, criticise the policies of one’s own Government nor attack one’s political opponents – or even one’s political friends! There are ample opportunities for doing so at home, and it is at home that one should seek to alter, if necessary, the external as well as internal policies of one’s country. However, there are exceptions which prove rules; and I believe that the subject on which I have undertaken to address you is such an exception.

The decision whether or not Britain is to become a member of the European Economic Community must in a special sense be a collective decision of Britain and the countries of the Community together. The area of this debate forms a single arena bounded only by the frontiers of what would be the enlarged Community if Britain acceded. Moreover, it is a debate in which the peoples themselves must participate. It cannot be left to be conducted in that upper air which is inhabited by ministers and governments. This is because the meaning of this decision is different from all other external acts of government: a connection is to be formed which is not intended again to be dissolved but which is to result in all the peoples of the Community coming to form in effect one electorate. The debate must therefore anticipate that result in imagination, in order to determine whether it is a possible result, and, if possible, a desirable one.

The French public and electorate have the right to attend, as it were, the British debate, to participate in it, and to hear not merely what Her Majesty’s Government are saying but what the British people are saying. This is one of those final decisions, to be or not to be, which are normally entrusted not to governments but, by way of plebiscite, to whole peoples. The fact that a referendum forms no part of customary British institutions does not alter the nature of this decision. It seems to me therefore wholly right and necessary, not to say urgent, that the British case against, as well as for, accession to the Community should be placed before the peoples of the Community, who are to decide, together with us, what the limits and membership of their community are to be.

Not everyone may agree with me in this; but at least those in Britain who advocate British accession have no complaint. After all, it is they who wish to see in future the most crucial economic and political questions debated and decided for Britain on the continent of Europe. They actually look forward to an administration and a parliament on the Continent taking counsel for the entire Community. They, of all people, cannot object to the debate on Britain’s accession to the Community being conducted on the Continent as well as in the British Isles.

What I have to tell you, because it is fair and necessary that you should know it, is the fact that the greater part of the people of Britain are profoundly opposed to the British accession to the Community. I must also tell you what I believe are the principal reasons for this repugnance, which I myself share. But before I do so, I ask leave to present my credentials.

You, above all people, appreciate the importance of verbal precision, and the dangerous power of words misapplied. Unhappily such misapplication is common in Britain on the topic of the Community. The word ‘European’ has been appropriated to membership of the Community. Consequently those who advocate British membership have arrogated to themselves the style of ‘Europeans’ and describe their opponents as being ‘against Europe’. As I shall argue, if these labels have to be used at all, they ought to be transposed, and the label ‘anti-European’ affixed rather to those who wish Britain to accede to the Community than to those who oppose this. It is as a European among Europeans that I claim to speak to you.

Both in the years when I was my party’s official spokesman on defence, and also before and since, I have always argued that Britain’s commitment to the alliance with her continental neighbours is second only in importance to her commitment to the air and maritime defence of her own islands. In fact, my stress upon the continental commitment of Britain’s main forces has got me into frequent troubles with the ‘East of Suez’ brigade. In particular I am passionately francophile and have for many years believed and publicly stated that a breach in understanding between France and Britain could have as serious consequences in the future as it I has actually twice produced during the present century. The profound differences of social, cultural and political idiom between our nations conceal the identity of our devotion to individual liberty: I would dare to say that there is no third nation in the world which shares with us the same meaning and the same instinctive valuation of personal freedom. The forms under which we respectively seek and maintain it may sometimes be almost mutually incomprehensible; the substance is the same.

The word ‘comprehension’, and its converse ‘incomprehension’, which I have just used by implication, have much to do with what is and is not ‘European’. From boyhood I have been devoted to the study of that Greek and Roman inheritance, which in varying measure is common to all that is Europe, and not only ‘Europe’ of the six or eight or ten but Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals – and beyond. I also claim that reverent enthusiasm for the history of my own country which commands an equal reverence for the past that has formed everything else which is European. The truest European, in my opinion, is the man who is most humbly conscious of the vast demands which comprehension of, even a little part of this Europe imposes upon those who seek it; for the deeper we penetrate, the more the marvellous differentiation of human society within this single continent evokes our wonder. The very use of the word ‘Europe’ in expressions like ‘European unity’, ‘going into Europe’, ‘Europe’s role in the world’ is a solecism which grates upon the ear of all true Europeans: only Americans can be excused for using it.

Perhaps the fact that I address you this evening in French is the beginning of my explanation, why the British have this preponderant sense that their national destiny cannot be merged in that of the Community. I mean that observation in the most serious manner possible. With equal delight and effort, like those who have climbed a frontier range of mountains, one surmounts the linguistic watershed and looks out, like Winckelman looking from the Alps into Italy, over another land – a different past, and a different future. There is no more ignorant vulgarity than to treat language as an impediment to intercourse, which education, habit, travel, trade abolish and remove. The function of language in the life of nations, as a means both of differentiation and of self-identification, is rooted in the very origin of humanity, and increase of knowledge tends to enhance its significance rather than diminish it. Everything that nationality means is represented and, as it were, symbolised by language, which becomes less and less like a common currency the more one penetrates its inner meaning. When one of our poets wrote, during the Napoleonic War, ‘we must be free or die who speak the tongue that Shakespeare spoke’, it was a description of the British nation as precise as it was relevant. I come, then, to you, with my imperfect French, as one equally conscious of his own nationhood and yours.

I have deliberately dived into the debate at the deep end. Eight years ago, when your president pronounced the funeral oration upon Britain’s previous negotiation with the Community, the issue was seen and presented on our side of the Channel as, I do not say economic, I say merely commercial: the substitution of one system of preferences and trading arrangements for another. It was viewed in the context of a progressive expansion of trading opportunity which had been taking place: the liberalisation measures in OECD; the negotiation for a Free Trade Area with the Rome Treaty countries; the proposal of a European Free Trade Area; the ‘Kennedy round’. Some pedants insisted on actually reading the Treaty of Rome and talking about political unification; but this received scant attention, on the ground that such ideas were typical continental theorising, remote from practical possibility, and in any case destined to be held in check by British pragmatism, once Britain should be ‘inside’. All the greater was our astonishment when the president’s veto seemed to be concerned with Sky-bolt and Polaris, Americans and Anglo-Saxons. What on earth had that to do with being inside or outside a customs union or with what had seemed to us the only burning issue – Commonwealth preference? As for myself, I had entered Mr Macmillan’s Cabinet only six months before the veto fell; but I am prepared to confess that in those days I used to argue the case, and answer objections, on purely commercial grounds with the same sort of reasoning as no doubt Richard Cobden deployed when negotiating the Anglo-French commercial treaty of 1860. At least in this respect I shared the general mood of the public, which was vastly unmoved either by the negotiation or its failure.

Of course we were wrong. Events have proved us wrong. We did not hear or believe or understand what you were saying and doing on the Continent. Only somewhere about two or three years ago, with the emerging possibility that a new negotiation might somehow succeed, did the public wake up, rub its eyes and unstop its ears. What it heard, to be perfectly fair, was very different on both sides of the Channel – but particularly in Britain – from what it had been hearing when it last went to sleep. The case for British accession is now both economic (in the full sense) and political. The economic argument is not so much the classic, Cobdenite case of as large an area as possible for the division of labour – the ‘large home market’ – but the claim that, if integrated into an economy which was growing at a fast rate, Britain would be dragged, or shocked, or inspired, into growing at a similar rate – anyhow faster than has been its experience recently, or (it might be added) for a hundred years and more.

This economic argument is, however, officially declared to be secondary in importance to the political argument. This claims that Britain can only have ‘power’ or ‘influence’ or ‘a voice’ in the world of the future by being part of what is called ‘a united Europe’, which will be in the same class as those other unitary great powers, Russia and America. Sometimes this ‘power’ or ‘influence’ is given a specifically military content, in terms of self-defence against Russia with less, or eventually no, direct American assistance.

What is undeniable about this modern version of the case for British accession is that it is not only compatible with economic and political unification, but positively requires it: the advantages now held out can only be realised part passu with the progress of unification; and some of them, particularly the military advantages, do not accrue at all until unification is completed.

The realisation of all this has produced a marked reaction on the part of the British public. Before, during and since the General Election the hostility of the electorate to British entry into the Common Market (we still prefer this name for the Community, in an effort to cling to the concept of a customs union) has been sharp, unmistakable, growing and already – even on the admission of protagonists of British accession – preponderant. The prime motive of the hostility is not ‘economic’. It is not the fear either of more intense competition or of higher food prices and consequently higher cost of living, though both these are voiced. The motive is political. In a word, it is nationalist. It is repugnance or incredulity towards the possibility of being politically integrated with continental Western Europe. In a recent debate in the House of Commons our Minister of Agriculture said: ‘If one were to ask the average British person whether he would rather have two shillings in his pocket with our present economic sovereignty or four shillings without it, I have no doubt what answer he would give.’ Neither have I; but it is the opposite answer to that which the Minister meant. The average British person would reply: ‘I don’t believe I shall get four shillings by giving up my sovereignty; but I wouldn’t if I did, because I never have and I never will.’

Given this widespread resentment, the British Government find themselves forced to argue against their own case, by representing steps towards economic and political unification as remote and in any event capable of being slowed down or vetoed by Britain as a member of the Community. When at home, Ministers find themselves talking down such documents as the Werner Report and quoting with approval any statements from their opposite numbers on the Continent which imply reluctance to hasten the pace of unification. There are, however, three distinct contradictions in this attitude. One, as I have noted, is that it involves arguing against the very grounds on which British accession itself is commended. Secondly, it involves asserting a British attitude which is highly suspect at Brussels; it is necessary to stress the constitutional impossibility of one British parliament binding its successors and the intention of Britain to act as a brake on unification. Finally, it is little consolation to those opposed to losing national sovereignty to be told that it will only happen later on and that sovereignty will be retained in detail after entry, provided it has been ceded in principle before entry.

It must be admitted that the news which the British hear from inside the Community is extremely puzzling to them, and that this assists our politicians in the necessary process of anaesthetising the British people while they undergo the operation to remove their national sovereignty. One cause of confusion and, as I believe, misunderstanding is the reported, and perhaps real, contrast between the attitude of France and of the other five countries, particularly Germany. The most common rhetorical question among protagonists of British accession, both before and since the resignation of President de Gaulle, is: what national sovereignty has France lost by being a member of the Community? It is fallacious on one obvious count, that it refers to the past, not to what is at issue, namely the future; but it is dangerous in that it conveys the suggestion, which the British are prone enough anyhow to believe, that the Continentals say one thing (in this case, political unification) and mean another (in this case, the indefinite preservation of national sovereignty and exclusive national interest). It is dangerous on a third count, too. The British are quite human, in preferring others to take the awkward decisions rather than themselves. Having been able to leave to President de Gaulle, while he was there, the brutal business of saying no to British accession, they need little persuasion that, now he is gone, they can still leave it to the French Government to veto any genuine pooling of sovereignty.

The rhetorical question about France is the marker buoy over a submerged British suspicion which is real and sharp, but rarely or never exposed to the air. It starts with puzzlement over the reasons why the members of the Community want (if they do want) Britain to join it; for the natural instinct of those who find that they are ‘on to a good thing’ has not historically been to share it as soon as possible with as many others as possible. Some people, it is true, find no difficulty in believing (against the evidence) that mankind has recently and drastically altered for the nobler and more altruistic. Others are sufficiently British to believe that everybody secretly admires them and wants to have more nice, honest, brave, reliable, accommodating English in the home team. Most, however, have to cast around for some other explanation, and are not even convinced that this is a simple case of ‘the bigger the stronger the richer the better’. After all, British accession means no more than a 25 per cent expansion of the Community, and most Continentals look down, rather than up, at Britain’s economic performance in the last twenty years.

The explanation that holds the field is one which occurs very naturally to the British mind: balance of power. Each member of the Community, this explanation runs, hopes that the British will tip the scale – in their own direction, naturally – on a crucial lineup. There are indeed systems of weighted voting and qualified majority; but the addition of one piece in the top class enormously increases the possible permutations. Even more important, in the democratic institutions which the Anglo-Italian declaration of 1969 foresaw, the counting must, broadly speaking, be of heads. Thus, so it is argued, the Low Countries foresee the historic intervention of Britain on their behalf; the French hope for a counterpoise against the Germans; and each of the present three large powers gains a potential ally if the other two ‘gang up’ against it. The interpretation assumes, it is true, that the elements of the population of the Community remain nationally self-conscious; but even more manifestly it assumes majority power as the pattern towards which the Community is expected by all its members to tend. If the Community was to be no more than a group of nations which co-operated when all were agreed, there would be no point in bringing Britain in.

As so often in politics, a study of matters actually in hand is more revealing and more reliable than the asseverations and the protestations of the actors. The negotiations in which Britain is engaged at Brussels relate not to the content of the Treaty of Rome and the rules and nature of the Community – these the United Kingdom openly accepts as not being negotiable – but to the duration and stages of the transition by which the United Kingdom would accomplish her accession. One of the subjects of negotiation is the size of the British quota of the Community’s common budget, which will presently accrue automatically-from the yield of certain defined taxes in all the member countries. One of these taxes is the value added tax, a certain percentage yield of which is to be paid into the Community revenues, to be applied by the Community centrally. It follows that there would not only have to be a value added tax in Britain but that it would have to be precisely the same tax, with the same exemptions and the same incidence, as in the other countries. Now, at present Britain has no VAT, and the questions whether this new tax should be introduced, how it should be levied, and what should be its scope, would be matters of debate in the country and in Parliament. The essence of parliamentary democracy lies in the power to debate and impose taxation: it is the vital principle of the British House of Commons, from which all other aspects of its sovereignty ultimately derive. With Britain in the Community, one important element of taxation would be taken automatically, necessarily and permanently out of the hands of the House of Commons. This is something quite different from an undertaking by Britain to subscribe, for instance, so much to the various agencies of the United Nations: no one in consequence takes out of our hands the decision what taxes to levy and how and on whom.

Here, in microcosm, is the logic of that harmonisation which none can deny to be inherent in the nature of the Community. What is true of the value added tax applies, with parity of reasoning, to every other subject of harmonisation. Those matters which sovereign parliaments debate and decide must be debated and decided not by the British House of Commons but in some other place, and by some other body, and debated and decided once for the whole Community. There is no need to resort to theory and speculation to ascertain whether membership of the Community means the loss of national sovereignty: the fact is implicit in the very negotiations themselves as they proceed at Brussels through a mass of seeming detail. The popular instinct in Britain, that this is what it is really all about, is right.

Whether the answer should be yes or no, for accession or against accession, depends on whether the people of Britain will accept the voice of the people of the whole Community as binding upon them – at first in some, then in more and more, and finally in all the essential matters of fiscal, social, economic and political determination. When I say ‘accept’, I mean accept heartily and willingly, no less than the people of all parts of the United Kingdom today accept as self-evidently binding upon them the fiscal, social, economic and political decisions of Her Majesty’s Government and of the British Parliament, resting upon the electorate of the United Kingdom. In brief, can we be, and will we be, one electorate, one constituency, one nation, with you and with the rest of the people of the Community? I do not believe that anyone who knows Britain can doubt that the answer to that question is No.

It may be said that neither would the electorate of any of the founder members of the Community answer that question in the affirmative at this moment, and that consequently the fact that the British cannot is irrelevant. Even if this were true of your own countries – and it is no business of mine to judge whether it is or not – I believe there are several reasons why the argument is not valid. In what I am about to say I mean not the slightest depreciation of the institutions or of the national identity of any of the nations of the Continent or the tenacity with which that identity has been formed and defended. Nevertheless, it is a fact that the British parliament in its paramount authority occupies a position in relation to the British nation which no other elective assembly in Europe possesses. Take Parliament out of the history of England and that history itself becomes meaningless. Whole lifetimes of study cannot exhaust the reasons why this fact has come to be; but fact it is, so that the British nation could not imagine itself except with and through its parliament. Consequently the sovereignty of our parliament is something other for us from what your assemblies are for you.

What is equally significant, your assemblies, unlike the British parliament, are the creation of deliberate political acts, and mostly of recent political acts. The notion that a new sovereign body can be created is therefore as familiar to you as it is repugnant, not to say unimaginable, to us. That deliberate and recent creation of sovereign assemblies on the Continent is in turn an aspect of the fact that the Continent is familiar, and familiar in the recent past, with the creation of nation states themselves. Four of the six members of the Community came into existence as such no more than a century or a century and a half ago – within the memory of two lifetimes. You will not imagine that I am treating with less than profound respect the historical and human background to the risorgimento, or to the rise of the modern German state, or to the establishment of the two kingdoms in the Low Countries. I say only, what I believe cannot be contested, that it is far more natural for nations with this kind of experience to imagine and participate in the further creation of new sovereign political entities in Europe than it is for us. An outside observer is not therefore surprised that the French, who of all the six most resemble ourselves in the duration and natural evolution of their national identity, appear to have more difficulty than the other five members in giving an affirmative reply to that question which the British instinctively answer in the negative.

It would be wrong not to add one thing more which contributes to the British response. An essential element in forming a single electorate is the sense that in the last resort all parts of it stand or fall, survive or perish, together. This sense the British do not share with the inhabitants of the continent of Western Europe. Of all the nations of Europe Britain and Russia alone, though for opposite reasons, have this in common: they can be defeated in the decisive land battle and still survive. This characteristic Russia owes to her immensity. Britain owes it to her ditch. The British feel – and I believe that instinct corresponds with sound military reason – that the ditch is as significant in what we call the nuclear age as it proved to be in the air age and had been in the age of the Grande Armée of Napoleon or the Spanish infantry of Philip II. The proposition is not one to be developed here; I must content myself with barely stating it. Error or truth, myth or reality, the belief itself is a habit of mind which has helped to form the national identity of the British and cannot be divorced from it. I began by mentioning that I personally had been and still am a fervent advocate of Britain’s military commitment on the Continent: I am not contradicting this when I say that the British commitment on the Continent, psychologically and materially, must always be limited; it can never be total. Yet total commitment is implicit in the merging of sovereignty, in the unification of an electorate.

That assertion brings me to the last thing that I want to say, which is indeed the reason for my speaking at all. It is often urged in Britain that one need not take too seriously the commitment of the Community to political unity, and that because the realisation of that commitment, if it is realised at all, will be gradual, there is no reason against taking into membership of the Community a Britain which is not merely neutral but positively hostile towards political unification. If unification comes, the British will have grown used to it – in the jargon this is disguised as ‘the habit of working together’; and if it does not come anyhow, no harm will have been done. I totally dissent. It is not for Britain to gauge the sincerity of the Community’s member governments and of the public opinion behind them. It is not for us to judge what you ought to want to do, or what it is possible for you to do. What would be as dishonourable as foolish, would be for Britain and her people to allow the Rome Treaty to be acceded to on their behalf with mental reservations. The enterprise of the Community is on so lofty a plane, the commitment of those who join is so solemn, that we dare not enter upon it, and you on your part dare not accept us in to it, unless we can do so ex animo, with a genuine and hearty intention that in the fullness of time political as well as economic union shall come out of it. Therefore it is right that you should have no illusions about the true state of mind in Britain and not be misled by that unanimity and show of confidence which all who speak officially are in duty bound to maintain. There is a saying which we have that ‘the Queen wants no unwilling subjects’. I cannot believe that you of the Community can want unwilling partners. The question of British accession to the Community was not presented for decision to the British electorate at the General Election last year; and as both major parties professed themselves ready to negotiate and ready to accede provided the terms – which, now prove to be purely transitional terms – were satisfactory, there was no means for the feeling of the electorate to express itself. I myself, however, told my electors in my address to them that I would oppose, and do my personal utmost to prevent, British accession; and I am in no doubt that in that at any rate I was expressing the preponderant opinion not only of those who voted for me but of those who voted on other grounds against me, and (what is more) that this would be generally true throughout the country. It seems to me therefore to be part of my duty, so far as I am able, to carry the debate on to the continent of Europe and in one country after another of the Community, commencing, as is most fit and proper, here in France, to leave no one in doubt that those who seek to make the United Kingdom a member of the European Economic Community are not speaking for the people of Britain.