“Are we now to isolate ourselves from Europe?” Harold Macmillan

Photo of Harold Macmillan by Vivienne (Florence Mellish Entwistle)

Note: No EU country has ever fired a shot at another EU country.

Sixty years ago, in 1962, the then British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, set out a strong and compelling case for Britain to join the European Economic Community (later to be renamed the European Union).

What’s remarkable is that Macmillan’s pro-Europe arguments of six decades ago apply equally today, as Britain has done exactly what he warned against: isolating ourselves from the rest of our continent.

Macmillan’s words should send a shiver up the spines of all true Tories who remember that, until very recently, every Conservative government and Prime Minister strongly supported Britain’s membership of the EEC/EU.

Here’s an extract of what Mr Macmillan (nicknamed ‘Super-Mac’) told the British people at the time of our application to join the European Community, all those years ago:


That has always been true, but it has now become a reality which we cannot ignore. In the past, as a great maritime Empire, we might give way to insular feelings of superiority over foreign breeds and suspicion of our neighbours across the Channel. For long periods, we were able to maintain a balance of power in Europe which served us well. Indeed, if we had not turned away from Europe in the Imperial heyday of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it is even possible that the slaughter of two world wars might have been avoided. Are we now to isolate ourselves from Europe, at a time when our own strength is no longer self-sufficient and when the leading European countries are joining together to build a future of peace and progress, instead of wasting themselves in war?

We have to consider the state of the world as it is today and will be tomorrow, and not in outdated terms of a vanished past. There remain only two national units which can claim to be world powers in their own right, namely the United States and Soviet Russia. To these may soon be added what Napoleon once called the “sleeping giant” of China, whose combination of a rapidly multiplying population and great natural resources must increasingly be reckoned as a potent force in world affairs.A divided Europe would stand no chance of competing with these great concentrations of power.


But in this new European Community, bringing together the manpower, the material resources and the inventive skills of some of the most advanced countries in the world, a new organisation is rapidly developing with the ability to stand on an equal footing with the great power groupings of the world.

By joining this vigorous and expanding community and becoming one of its leading members, as I am convinced we would, this country would not only gain a new stature in Europe, but also increase its standing and influence in the councils of the world. We would bring to the inward preoccupations of a continental land mass the outward looking vision of a great trading nation whose political and economic horizons span the globe.

For Britain to stay out and isolate herself from the mainstream of European strength would, I believe, have very damaging results both for ourselves and for the whole of the Commonwealth. There might be no immediate disaster, but we could not hope to go on exerting the same political influence.


Accession to the Treaty of Rome would not involve a one-sided surrender of “sovereignty” on our part, but a pooling of sovereignty by all concerned, mainly in economic and social fields.

In renouncing some of our own sovereignty we would receive in return a share of the sovereignty renounced by other members. Our obligations would not alter the position of the Crown, nor rob our Parliament of its essential powers, nor deprive our Law Courts of their authority in our domestic life.

The talk about loss of sovereignty becomes all the more meaningless when one remembers that practically every nation, including our own, has already been forced by the pressures of the modern world to abandon large areas of sovereignty and to realise that we are now all inter-dependent. No country today, not even the giants of America or Russia, can pursue purely independent policies in defence, foreign affairs, or the economic sphere. Britain herself has freely made surrenders of sovereignty in NATO and in many other international fields on bigger issues than those involved in the pooling of sovereignty required under the Treaty of Rome.


One thing is certain. As a member of the Community, Britain would have a strong voice in deciding the nature and the timing of political unity. By remaining outside, we could be faced with a political solution in Europe which ran counter but which we could do nothing to influence.

It is common knowledge that our prosperity as a nation, and indeed our very existence, depends on exporting our goods abroad.

The countries of the European Community, with their rapidly expanding economies, would provide us with that market. This is one of the strongest arguments for going in and competing on level terms.


We regard it as a first priority to secure a fundamental reshaping of the present framework of world trade. As a member of the European Community, the possibilities of moving at last towards world-wide agreements on trade should be greatly improved. We believe that it would decisively reinforce those European forces already working in favour of liberal and progressive policies.

One final word. It seems to me certain that the policies adopted by this powerful Community in Europe will have a decisive effect on the future history of the world and on our own fortunes here in Britain. We are faced with a tremendous issue. This is no time to bury our heads in the sands of the past and take the kind of parochial view which regards Europe with distrust and suspicion.”

Harold Macmillan was Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1957 to 1963. Under his administration, Britain first applied to join the European Economic Community (later to be called the European Union) in 1961. Britain became a member in 1973.

Jon Danzig is a campaigning journalist and film maker who specialises in writing about health, human rights, and Europe. He is also founder of the pro-EU information campaign, Reasons2Rejoin. You can follow Jon Danzig on his Facebook journalism page at www.Facebook.com/JonDanzigWrites