On Sunday Len Deighton book SS GB comes to our TV screens. The premise is that we lost the war in 1940 and were occupied by the Nazis.

But we weren’t. Most of Europe has experienced Nazi or Soviet occupation and in the post war years Greece,Spain and Portugal were under military or neo fascist governments.

For them the EU is a political project,a badge of democratic honour, a resolve never to tear the continent apart again. The single market,Euro and freedom of movement are important but fundamentally it is their experience of the past that drives the project forward.

We have not experienced direct conquest for 1000 years. We don’t need to cleanse ourselves from the experience of occupation.Indeed our narrow escape in 1940 left us with a proud self confidence in our own identity that when others buckled we stood strong.

But fighting WW2 weakened us, we lost an empire and by the sixties we were looking for a role. As our economy weakened, the emerging Common Market was bringing prosperity to the war ravaged economies of Europe. Europe was an attractive proposition for our economy but nothing more. No need for it to remove the shame of the past, no need for the vision thing of an ever closer union, no need to get involved in the Euro or Shengen and by the way we want our rebate.


At its heart that has been the problem with our tortuous relationship with Europe that I have seen played out during my 40 years in journalism when I have met many of the players in the drama. I want to tell that story and weave in some of my anecdotes as we go along.


I didn’t start in journalism until 1974 and much had happened already in the story of the UK and Europe.

In 1946, with Europe still in ruins Winston Churchill spoke of a United States of Europe SPONSORED by the UK. Much controversy about whether he saw us in it.I read it this week to prepare for this speech and it is clear to me that he did not.

And that posture of  the UK standing on the sidelines prevailed as Germany and France first formed the coal and steel community and then the Common Market. The Treaty of Rome celebrates its 60th anniversary next month.

It is difficult now when Europe is never out of the news to think of Britain’s total indifference to the development of the Common Market in the 1950s.We had recovered from the war,indeed we were told we had never had it so good at the 1959 election won by Harold Macmillan.

But the dawn of the new decade brought a change of heart and a belief that we should be in.However events of WW2 still cast a shadow in the shape of President De Gaulle. In 1963 and 1967 he vetoed our application perhaps because of tensions with Churchill when De Gaulle elected himself as leader of the Free French or because he saw that in our hearts we looked to the open sea rather than Europe.

So we come to the 1970 General Election,a highly significant date in our story because it was this vote by the British people that saw us enter the European Community. The Conservatives were elected on this manifesto pledge


The issue immediately split the parties, then as now. One of the leading Tories opposed to us joining the Common Market was a man called Enoch Powell.He was one of the most formidable politicians I encountered with his piercing eyes and formidable intellect. He offered some interesting advice on how to make a good speech. Do it on a full bladder. It would be too much detail for you to know if I have taken that advice today. Powell failed to block the bill as there were enough Conservatives and pro European Labour MPs to put the European Communities Act on the statute book and we joined in January 1973.

However within 15 months the architect of our entry Ted Heath was out of office and Britain was immediately faced with a referendum called by the Labour leader Harold Wilson. Why did he call a referendum? Because of a passionate desire to consult the people. No but because of internal party divsions. 1975 and 2016 no difference. Wilson and Cameron abandoning representative democracy for plebiscites.

In 1975 our membership was confirmed (DIMBLEBY) with the new leader of the Tory Party, I forget her name now, enthusiastically campaigning to remain with a jumper with the flags of Europe all over it.

Labour was the party opposed to Europe at this time,campaigning for withdrawal in 1983 under the influence of Tony Benn. He was one of the most formidable speakers I ever heard and a real challenge to interview.He was highly suspicious of the press.Indeed his paranoia could be compared to Donald Trump. He had some great lines. He said there were two kinds of politicians, weathercocks and signposts. Weathercock politicians turn this way and that, doing what’s popular at the time or what the whips tell them to do.The signpost politicians were ones who had a clear vision and stuck to it.

It was in the mid eightees that the 2 main parties began their major shifts. Labour slowly came to back the social and workers benefits of the EU. Mrs Thatcher, whilst approving the single European Act made herself unpopular by demanding a British rebate. This was followed by the arrival of Jacques Delors as President of the European Commission and his project of a federal Europe and single currency.

Up Your Delors said the Sun and Mrs Thatcher echoed the same sentiments in less colourful language in a famous speech in Bruges.

Margaret Thatcher was the dominant figure in the first part of my broadcasting career and whenever I interviewed her you could tell that she enjoyed the cut and thrust of the interview. Once when she was privatising the water industry I asserted that the new companies would be purely motivated by profits.She pointed her finger encased in a black glove at me and said “Profits Profits.Aren’t Granada Television interested in making profits. Her press officer apologised saying she had had a stressful day.I assured him that it was fine because I had got a great revealing quote.

In October 1990 Mrs Thatcher told the Commons she rejected Mr Delours plan for the future of Europe with the European Parliament as the democratic body,the Commission as the executive and the council of ministers as the senate. No,no no she said. But it was the answer to those who say the EU is undemocratic.

Within a month she was out leaving John Major in charge. It was a shock when he won the 1992 election after he turned round a failing campaign by bringing out his soap box in this very city and challenging an overconfident Neil Kinnock who had been telling his supporters “we’re alright we’re alright”. Almost immediately Major was engaged in  a titanic battle with his Euro sceptic rebels over the Maastrict Treaty which involved large transfers of power to the EU. The struggle nearly destroyed the Tory Party heralding 13 years of Labour ascendancy where calls for a referendum were fended off while eastern Europe freed from the Soviet Union joined. Blair was oblivious to the immigration time bomb that it created.But he shares some responsibility for the Leave vote which this very day he is seeking to reverse. Towards the end of his premiership I met him in his 2005 General Election campaign bus.When my interview was over I quoted Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar “if we meet again we’ll smile,if not this parting was well made”. Look what happened to him snapped the Prime Minister no doubt with Brutus Brown in mind.

After Brown was defeated no referendum followed for a further 5 years because of the Lib Dem presence in the Coalition government.

But pressure was growing for a vote on our European membership.In 1973 the European project was the bright alternative to a failing British economy.By 2015 the EU was associated with a failing Euro Zone, uncontrolled migration and a centralised inflexibility under the leadership of Jean Claude Juncker. Britain’s economy was doing relatively well and was a huge magnet for people from Eastern.UKIP had won the 2014 European elections a charismatic leader who aided by an increasingly Eurosceptic Tory Party spooked Cameron into promising an in/out referendum if he won with an outright majority. He didn’t expect to have to redeem his promise but as I forecast as soon as the promise was made the EU would’nt give him enough consessions, fed up with our half in half out approach down the years The referendum became a lightening rod for millions of peoples grievances where they could vote FREE of party loyalty.


The Remain campaign lacked the courage to put the positive case for Europe with joy and enthusiasm concentrating instead on excessive doommongering. This contrasted with a very effective “take back control” message from the leavers. Added to this was years of hostile   coverage in much of the press and we voted Leave.

Despite a narrow result hard line Brexiteers are in charge with Remainers in total disarray over how to get the small majority to respect the wishes of the 48% who wanted to remain. This is partly because the economy did not suffer a meltdown in the immediate months after the vote


It is important to realise that when we trigger Article 50 we have to leave the EU. I can’t see how the Lib Dem idea of a second referendum can happen, despite the merits of giving people a vote over the terms.

I have a feeling that Mrs May and the hard line Brexiteers are at their zenith now.  The Lords may huff and puff but will  trigger Article 50. Then the tough negotiations will begin against a potentially darkening economic position. We are currently fuelling growth by credit with personal debt on the rise

Brexit has devalued the pound and the price consequences of that are starting to feed through. The former Business Secretary Vince Cable warned the other day that business decisions are stalling and concerns about the future in key industries like cars, aerospace and pharaceuticals are growing. The future of the Vauxhall plant at Ellesmere Port will be an early test of whether not being in the Single Market matters. It surely can’t help with pressure from the German and French governments to consolidate car production on the continent.There are fears that migration controls could cause skill shortages and wage inflation just at a time when we want to launch a major programme of infrastructure building.


But we must acknowledge there is an alternative vision.Britain thrived on global partnerships before and may be able to do so again

Brexit will mean that we can intervene to protect our industries if the UK government is minded to do so.We certainly won’t be able to blame Europe anymore. We may be able to prevent hostile foreign takeovers like the one from Pfizer that nearly succeeded with Astrazeneca.

We will be free to alter things like the working time directive and environmental controls.But they have been put in place for good reason and we will see how much appetite there is amongst the British people to scrap them.

If it goes wrong my worry is that those areas that voted to Leave bear the brunt of our departure whilst the Remain voting London carries on unscathed.

We need to remember we are entering divorce proceedings.It is important to look at it from the 27s point of view.Remember what I said at the beginning.For them it is a much bigger project than a trade deal. We have destabalised a 5 year budget and encouraged forces in France and the Netherlands who want to undermine the EU.

They could present us with a bill of 40-50 billion withdrawal bill. We will almost certainly have to pay something for the deal we agree on.

The deal has to be negotiated with 27 members and some regions (remember Wallonia and the Canadian Treaty) with at least 20 approving. Then it comes back to Westminster where MPs will have the choice of approving it or exiting with no deal and world trade organisation terms.

Finally it goes to the European Parliament who will be determined that the deal is worse than that enjoyed by continuing members of the EU. How could it be otherwise? Members inside the Chester Business Club enjoy the benefits of membership not available outside.

The 2016 referendum was in a true sense historic.

We are apparently more comfortable ploughing our own furrow on the global stage aware of our proud history of independence. The vision of full partnership with a more European future that flared briefly in the 1970’s has faded. Let’s hope we made the right choice.














Labour’s inexperienced leadership has been blind sided by the government over the terms of our leaving the EU. They have fallen for a reluctant promise from Theresa May to lay out her plans for the negotiations. Don’t hold your breath. The Tories didn’t want to do this. They deployed powerful arguments for keeping things close to Ministers chests. They still believe in that strategy and the document, when it is produced, is likely to be as clear as a December fog.

For instance will it reveal whether we want to be part of the Single Market or Customs Union? Will it reveal our position on freedom of movement? Will it indicate whether we are prepared to continue paying some EU contributions in return for concessions? I very much doubt it. However Labour have taken the pressure off the government. The threat to disrupt this unwise process of leaving the EU had been a cause Labour could rally around. It certainly paid off for the Lib Dems in the Richmond by election last week.

Instead the government have a blank cheque for triggering Article 50. Also the decision of the Supreme Court over whether parliament must pass an act to trigger Article 50 is rendered far less significant because Labour has paved the way for the government on the issue.

Labour’s blunder is particularly frustrating because it has been revealed during the Supreme Court proceedings that the EU Referendum was not legally binding. Indeed Ministers resisted an attempt to make it so. It was an advisory referendum so we Remainers are entitled to politely here the advice of the 52% and take a different view now that the implications of leaving are becoming clearer by the day.

One is reinforced in that view by my colleague, Mr McKenna, who writes eloquently this week about the pack of lies that was told by the Leave campaign. Amongst them was the threat that millions of Turks were about to come and live here. Last week the European Parliament (the democratic voice of the EU) voted to suspend any talk of Turkish membership because of its human rights record.


I recently completed my parliamentary boundary road show visiting Lancaster, Chester, Liverpool and Manchester. These hearings were on reshaping the parliamentary map to reduce the number of MPs and even out the size of constituencies.

Labour has expressed its anger that the population figures on which the calculations are based are out of date. They are expecting to lose seats in the shake up and I was expecting strong feelings to be on display. In truth there was barely a whimper. This was particularly surprising in regard to Wirral where two Labour seats are folded into one. There was mild concern in the eastern part of Greater Manchester over the splitting up of Oldham and the joining together of the very different communities of Hyde and Marple.

The changes will give the Conservatives more seats but ironically it has been the Tories kicking up the most fuss. They strongly objected to the linking of Lancaster and Morecambe in one seat and the creation of a vast North Lancashire constituency stretching from the Upper Lune Valley to the outskirts of Preston.

Further south the Tories have the problem of George Osborne’s Tatton seat being abolished. The former Chancellor has ruled out leaving the region. A close aide to Osborne has told me there will not be a battle with Graham Brady for the new Altrincham and Tatton Park constituency so we are denied the prospect of the ex Chancellor and the chairman of the 1922 Backbench committee and champion of grammar schools going head to head. So what will Osborne do? He may find the selection rules give him difficulties if he looks towards Weaver Vale or Eddisbury.

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Let’s ask the burning question for the North of England. People outside most of the large cities voted Leave in justified rage at being ignored. Would they vote Leave again after a week when billions of pounds have been written off our companies and banks? When investment decisions that could bring vital work to the very areas that voted Leave are being put off? When we have seen division grow between young and old, North and South, Scotland and England and Nigel Farage disgrace Britain with another loutish performance in the European Parliament? Even more worryingly some people feel the Brexit vote has given them a licence to openly abuse people from ethnic communities. We have seen the Vice Chancellor of Manchester University having to issue a statement trying to calm fears amongst her international staff about their jobs and European research funding.

In that list I have not even mentioned the political turmoil which is both adding to the crisis but may just give us an opportunity to stop this Brexit insanity in its tracks.

The Labour Party could be on the brink of extinction. Since the decline of traditional industries and mass union membership it has seen a struggle between its socialist and social democratic wings. When the struggle for the leadership is resolved, it is possible that Jeremy Corbyn will be re-elected as leader by the socialist grass roots completing the split between the parliamentary party and activists.

At the same time the Conservatives will have a new leader and Prime Minister who is likely to want a General Election mandate. It was significant that the party’s officials accelerated the timetable so that an October General Election is now possible before the winter sets in.

There is a growing chance that the new Prime Minister will be Theresa May. Although on the Remain side, if she lets it be known that she would appoint Andrea Ledsom from Leave to a new post of Cabinet Minister for Brexit, it may be enough to overcome Boris Johnson.

If a General Election is on the way, there is only one option for social democrats in the Labour Party and that is to link up with Liberal Democrats, Greens and any pro EU Tories who want to join in a grand alliance to ask for a second referendum. One candidate would stand against the Tories in each seat. A normal election would be possible in Scotland due to the strong pro European stance of the people and parties there. The Lib Dems are reported to be gaining members at the rate of one a minute following leader Tim Farron’s pledge to campaign to rejoin the EU. We don’t need to rejoin though, just stop the years of complex, acrimonious unravelling straight away now that people can see they were fooled. We have not triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which would probably put us beyond the point of no return.

There is an obvious risk that such a stance could see UKIP winning many seats accusing a “second referendum” alliance of ignoring the democratic wish of the people. However the situation is so serious that such a charge has to be taken on board and answered in the following way.

The brazen Brexiteers have already been found out on their promises for NHS funding, their ability to cut immigration and the claim that Turkey would be joining the EU soon. Remain forecasts of a massive economic impact on the markets has been proved right. Assertions that Brexit had no idea what shape our relations with the EU would look like have also been proved right and most fundamental of all the Remain campaign was right that our standing in the world would be diminished as we turned inwards to fight ourselves.

Europe must reform and democratise, the issue of immigration must be addressed, the arrogant Jean-Claude Juncker (President of the Commission) must be replaced. But we must stay in the EU.

Cross party coalitions came together in the 1918 and 1931 elections. Grave times call for exceptional measures. All pro EU politicians must unite now or we are on the road to a painful exit from Europe and Conservative governments stretching long into the future.




There wasn’t a great deal of coverage in the papers about the European Parliament’s victory over mobile phone roaming charges. But then it was a good news story about a body they like to pour contempt on rather than treating it like the impressive democratic forum of 28 nations, which it is. Anyway you will soon find sending home your selfies when you are on holiday a lot cheaper because the Members of the European Parliament have used their collective power to stop the mobile phone companies ripping you off.

Enjoy the benefit while you can because its increasingly likely that in 2017 we’ll be out of the EU on our own in the world. As soon as David Cameron announced the referendum in 2013 I warned that it would coincide with the mid term of the next parliament when  governments are unpopular. Never mind the issue, people from hard working doctors to those who’ve lost their tax credits will want to take it out on the Prime Minister. Cameron and Osborne will be campaigning to stay in, so many people will want to give them a bloody nose and will vote to come out.

We could see this begin to play out in the Oldham West and Royton by election on December 3rd. UKIP have chosen John Bickley. He’s a candidate for all seats having already fought Wythenshawe and Sale East and Heywood and Middleton. I profoundly disagree with his politics but he is an able candidate and will give Labour a run for their money.

Europe is poorly reported by our media generally. Not only did the European Parliament’s victory over roaming charges get little publicity, there was virtually no coverage of the Treasury Select committee’s inquiry into the actual consequences of our withdrawing from the European Union. I sat through two hours where witnesses who knew what they were talking about outlined the complexity, cost and uncertainty of what detaching ourselves from our friends and neighbours would mean.

Next week the Prime Minister is due to clarify what he actually wants from the EU in order to campaign to stay in. He will get an opt out from ever closer union and possibly a formal recognition that the £ will always exist alongside the Euro. He may get the ability for the Westminster parliament to “red card” some EU measures. But to convince Eurosecptics he wants a four year ban on EU migrants gaining access to in work benefits. Immigration is the big issue Cameron wants to deliver on and what he wants is illegal under European law because it discriminates against people because of their nationality.

That’s why I fear people will vote “no”. Cameron will be ridiculed for not stopping what some people call “benefit tourism” . Ironically the “living wage” project of the government will make it more attractive for foreign workers to come here to cut our lettuces, clean our streets and support the National Health Service.