It is hard to understand why our political leaders in the 1950s and 1960s came to the conclusion that Britain’s future lay in shackling itself to the European ‘project’. Some may have believed the post-war rhetoric about laying the foundations for lasting peace in Europe; others may have felt that entry to the Common Market, at the time apparently dynamic and growing, was the answer to Britain’s chronic economic under-performance. But this will not do. The leaders of the time were advised explicitly that entry to the EEC (as it was) implied significant and progressive loss of sovereignty and eventually the extinction of parliamentary democracy. Instead of confronting these facts, they chose to dissimulate and deceive. Edward Heath perhaps carries the primary guilt and shame; but he was one of many.
Why did they abdicate their responsibilities so cravenly? — responsibilities to the British people, to their history and to future generations? (of course neither Arthur Salter nor Edward Heath had children.) It is difficult for those of us born after the war to reconstruct their frame of mind. There was clearly, after Suez especially, a collective failure of confidence and of nerve in Britain. They were tired and diminished. Dean Acherson’s 1962 assertion that “Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role” perhaps cut deep; and the United States exerted significant influence, both overtly and behind the scenes: Monnet’s Action Committee for the United States of Europe was, as we now know, one of the vehicles by which the USA sought to brigade independent European nation states into a structure which mirrored their own federal constitution. (The USA continues to promote its own Great Power agenda in this direction today.) But these considerations do not greatly illuminate their deepest thoughts.
If those who took Britain into the EU were not, at heart, ashamed of their betrayal, why did they go to such lengths to conceal the real nature of what they were doing?