The first referendum

Reassessing Britain's entry to Europe, 1973-75

By Lindsay Aqui

The first referendum
Hardcover -
  • Price: £85.00
  • ISBN: 9781526145192
  • Publish Date: Jul 2020
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
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  • Price: £85.00
  • ISBN: 9781526145215
  • Publish Date: Aug 2020
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
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    Book Information

    • Format: Hardcover
    • ISBN: 978-1-5261-4519-2
    • Pages: 328
    • Price: £85.00
    • Published Date: July 2020


    Although the United Kingdom's entry to the European Community (EC) in 1973 was initially celebrated, by the end of the first year the mood in the UK had changed from 'hope to uncertainty'. When Edward Heath lost the 1974 General Election, Harold Wilson returned to No. 10 promising a fundamental renegotiation and referendum on EC membership. By the end of the first year of membership, 67% of voters had said 'yes' to Europe in the UK's first-ever national referendum.

    Examining the relationship between diplomacy and domestic debate, this book explores the continuities between the European policies pursued by Heath and Wilson in this period. Despite the majority vote in favour of maintaining membership, Lindsay Aqui argues that this majority was underpinned by a degree of uncertainty and that ultimately, neither Heath nor Wilson managed to transform the UK's relationship with the EC in the ways they had hoped possible.


    'Brexit raises important questions, not only about Britain's future relationship with Europe, but about its past. Was Britain always an "awkward partner"? Could membership have taken a different course? Lindsay Aqui's new book makes a valuable contribution to the contested history of Britain and Europe. Richly researched and clearly argued, it offers new insights into Britain's entry to the European Community, its early years of membership and its first national referendum in 1975.'
    Robert Saunders, Reader in British History and Co-Director of the Mile End Institute, Queen Mary University of London

    'In the wake of Brexit, Lindsay Aqui has written a timely and insightful study, based on exhaustive research, of how Britain's first ever referendum came to be held and decided. She shows that Harold Wilson was better-disposed to membership of the European Community than is often understood. Certainly, while his tactics showed striking parallels to those of David Cameron forty years later, they had a very different result.'
    John Young, Professor of International History, University of Nottingham

    'As Britain enters a new relationship with Europe, Lindsay Aqui's book is a well-timed and compelling addition of a historian's voice to this complicated and ever evolving relationship. Aqui adopts a multidisciplinary approach, relying on a rich source of different archives, press and public opinion polls to tell the story of the period 1973-1975 in a clear and accessible manner.'
    Eirini Karamouzi, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary History, University of Sheffield

    'Lindsay Aqui's well-researched and perceptive study shines important new light on Britain's bumpy and difficult debut as an Economic Community member state. In the process the book tells us much that is new about the European policies of both Heath and Wilson. It is a fascinating read.'
    N. Piers Ludlow, Professor of International History, The London School of Economics and Political Science

    'This book is a focused and highly original study on British government policies and public attitudes towards European integration during a short but crucial period of British membership in the European Community. Contrary to what the title of the book suggests, this impressive study goes far beyond a mere analysis of Britain's first referendum on EC membership. The book also provides an in-depth analysis of Britain's first three years of membership in the European Community and the Heath and Wilson governments' attempts to change the Community from within.

    Aqui convincingly stresses the continuities that existed between the Heath and Wilson governments and presents both Heath's European policy and Wilson's renegotiation of Britain's terms of membership as two related attempts to change the Community from within. Both leaders were confronted with hostile public opinion and inner-party opposition and were under pressure to adapt Community policies to better suit British interests. Thus every round of negotiations in Brussels, be it on agricultural policy, the European Regional Development Fund or the British budget contributions were eminently political and scrutinized by anti-marketeers and the public at home. The Wilson government's renegotiation of the terms of membership and the resulting referendum are thus considered as an end-point of a first phase of membership during which Britain, and its political elite, were trying to come to terms with membership in the EC, rather than merely as an answer to Labour's internal divisions on Europe.

    Based on a wealth of archival sources, media and survey data Aqui seeks to explain the outcome of the 1975 referendum against the backdrop of longer-term debates and themes that have characterized the issue of British membership such as sovereignty, British standing and influence, prices and economic arguments. As the study convincingly demonstrates, the 1975 context of the referendum put to the forefront discourses on crisis and decline and meant that voters were cautious and more likely to choose the status quo. With this the book confirms ideas of British endorsement of membership in 1975 as largely unenthusiastic and short-lived.'
    Katja Seidel, Senior Lecturer in the Humanities, University of Westminster


    Introduction: The beginning of a 'very exciting time'
    1 The road to membership

    Section I: The first year of membership
    2 Crisis and instability
    3 Challenging the common agricultural policy
    4 Creating a regional policy

    Section II: The renegotiation
    5 Renegotiation: Objectives and strategy
    6 The CAP revisited
    7 Consolidating the ERDF
    8 The budget and the end of the renegotiation

    Section III The referendum
    9 Britain in Europe and the National Referendum Campaign
    10 The outcome

    Appendix I: Louis Harris International's research methodology


    Lindsay Aqui is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy, University of Cambridge

    The first referendum

    By Lindsay Aqui

    Hardcover £85.00 / $130.00

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