Exhibition – The Long Road Into Europe
Runs from September until 7th November
The exhibition charts Britain’s ambivalence towards greater European unity during the years after the Second World War as the country came to terms with the start of the loss of Empire and the humiliation of the Suez Crisis. Having opted out of the talks that led to the creation of the European Economic Community in 1957, by 1959 Britain was having second thoughts. Under the Government of Harold Macmillan, Britain applied for membership in 1961. Edward Heath was his chief negotiator. The negotiations progressed but, seemingly convinced that Britain was not sincere in its commitment to European unity, French President De Gaulle, halted the process by wielding a veto. This failure broke the back of Macmillan’s government and he observed ‘all our policies at home and abroad are in ruins’.
Harold Wilson’s Labour Government submitted a fresh application in 1967 but that too foundered on the rock of French opposition. De Gaulle left office in 1969 but was succeeded by his political ally, Georges Pompidou. Edward Heath returned to the fore with his election victory in 1970 and he set about trying to win Pompidou round. As Heath’s Political Secretary, Douglas Hurd, recorded ‘Pompidou had to believe that Britain was coming into Europe not out of despair, not to make trouble, but as a capable and determined partner.’ Against the odds, Heath succeeded – probably his paramount political achievement. The exhibition then describes the process of winning Parliamentary approval and the confirmatory referendum of 1975.