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.














Later this month Lancashire County Council will finally decide whether exploration for onshore gas can go ahead at two sites in the county.

We know what a group of protesters feel about the idea. They have attracted widespread media coverage for their opposition activities in Lancashire and Salford. But do they speak for the majority of people in the county and beyond?

Centrica Energy is bringing together a panel of guests next Wednesday to take part in a live debate on the role of gas in the region. The panel members are all in favour of the go ahead but I will be the independent chair and all views are welcome. The phone in will take place on Wed June 10th at 5pm and anyone wanting to take part or find out more should register at

There are believed to be trillions of cubic feet of shale gas under Lancashire. To get it energy firms would need to use a process called fracking. Water and chemicals are pumped into shale rock at high pressure to extract the gas.

Centrica holds a 25% stake in energy company Cuadrilla’s Bowland exploration licence which will soon be determined by Lancashire councillors. They have a difficult decision because opponents have dominated the debate spurred on by the so called Blackpool earthquake in 2011, TV pictures from America showing tap water being set on fire and a belief that we should be cutting our dependence on carbon based fuel due to global warming.

Councillors also will have in mind that their planning officers initially recommended that the drilling applications be refused. Crucially however their objections related to surface noise and traffic movements. They gave the green light to the drilling operation. Cuadrilla hope they have addressed those issues now.

There is the positive case for fracking in a county that has been meeting the nation’s energy needs since the days of the Lancashire coalfield. Heysham provided one of the first nuclear power stations and for thirty years offshore gas has been extracted from Morecambe Bay.

The UK is facing a potential energy crisis due to the closure of old nuclear plant, environmental limits on burning coal and a growing reluctance to rely on Russia for gas supplies. Our margins are slim and could be severely tested during a hard winter.

There is also the potential for extra jobs at companies like Centrica who already employ 5,000 people in the North West supporting 10,000 people in the supply chain.

I look forward to hearing your views next Wednesday at 5pm.


I reported on the former Lib Dem leader in his good times and his bad. His opposition to the Iraq War seems more justified every day that ISIS advances across Syria and Iraq.

He was the only Lib Dem MP to vote against his party going into coalition with the Tories in 2010. As they sit in parliament with their eight members now, perhaps he was right about that too.

My last interview with him at a Southport conference in 2005 was not a happy experience. He was clearly struggling with his alcohol problems and I prefer to remember his sunny smile and firm convictions.

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Although the last months of the old parliamentary session gave the impression that MPs had run out of things to do, the Queen’s Speech had plenty of content, particularly to help small businesses in the North. Not that parliament’s success should always be measured by the amount of legislation passed. The old maxim “when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change,” is a good one. MPs should debate the bills they do pass more thoroughly with at least two or three days for a second reading.

After the Lib Dem’s poor showing in the recent elections, there was a danger that David Cameron would be left riding into his last legislative term before the General Election with Nick Clegg strapped, half dead, over the back of his horse. Instead the Posh Boys have signalled that they are in it together till the end.

Lib Dem influence remains alive both in measures included, like infant free school meals, and bills left out, such as entrenching the E.U referendum in law.

The key elements in this Queen’s Speech are pension reform and help for business. It is a bold aim of the Prime Minister to make Britain the most business friendly country in the world but the list of support measures is long. Penalties on employers who undercut the minimum wage should help honest business people. Measures to reduce delays in employment tribunals, to tackle red tape (again) and simplify the collection of National Insurance from the self employed will all be welcomed.

The government pledge to help SMEs with access to finance will be met with some scepticism. A survey out this week found that a third of companies planning growth in the North West feared the banks would turn them down.

The pension changes will potentially affect people’s lives into the second half of the century. Giving people new rights over their pension pots and the proposed defined collective contribution schemes(DCCs) are not without their problems. There is a danger we will create a new class of feckless retirees who blow their pension pots and have to rely on meagre state pensions in their last days. In relation to the DCCs proposal, will there be enough employers prepared to band together to create pension funds with the clout to get better returns than the current annuity system? These funds will have to be managed by the financial whizz kids who were responsible for the mis-selling of financial products in the past.

Other measures in this surprisingly meaty Queen’s Speech included a continuing freeze on petrol duty and plans to elect the boards of our National Parks. A whiff of democracy in the Lake District and High Peak is no bad thing.

More controversial is the measure to make fracking easier. Battle will be joined from Blackpool to Salford and beyond.


I had the privilege at the weekend to go aboard the first Cunard liner to dock in Liverpool for nearly forty years. The Commodore and crew of Queen Victoria all expressed their delight at returning to their spiritual home virtually underneath the Cunard Building on the Pier Head.

Mayor Joe Anderson, who has done much to get the cruise business back to Liverpool, announced that a restaurant in the Cunard Building is to be named Aquitania. It’s in honour of the longest serving express liner in the company’s history. The Aquitania made its maiden voyage from the port a hundred years ago.

Many people at the event were looking forward as well as back. Max Steinberg, the captain of the International Festival of Business told me it is hard to keep up with the number of events that are being added daily to the global networking event about to get under way in the city.





Reynard The Fox was a mythical character in medieval Europe, always able to talk his way out of trouble. Whether Lib Dem peer Chris Rennard can do the same seems doubtful. The Master of Hounds, Nick Clegg, has set the dogs on him.


The reasons why the this sexual harassment controversy has reached such intensity aren’t hard to find. Rennard has been an active member of the Liberal/Liberal Democrat party since the age of 12 when he was at the Liverpool Blue Coat School.


Most Lib Dem MPs owe their seats to his campaigning genius learnt from Trevor Jones on Liverpool Council in the 1970s. The first was David Alton in Liverpool Edge Hill in 1979, he carried on by winning Tory strongholds like Christchurch in 1993 and doubled the number of Lib Dem MPs in 1997.


Many of those MPs now sit in the Lords and are determined to stick by their man. Nick Clegg seems equally determined to force Rennard out. Clegg has little time for historic figures in the party who remember the days when Liberal MPs could all get into one taxi. Clegg wants his party to be the permanent power brokers in endless coalitions. For that to happen he needs the party to be free of its image of being unfriendly to women. That impression is caused by the dearth of female Lib Dem MPs and the party’s unwillingness to embrace all women short lists to rectify this.


Prominent North West figures have waded into the argument with various degrees of success. Chris Davies, the region’s Lib Dem MEP, rapidly withdrew remarks seeking to minimise what Lord Rennard had done. On the other hand Lord Tony Greaves from Lancashire called for a reconciliation procedure rather than the Clegg inspired disciplinary committee which is bound to find that Rennard brought the party into disrepute for not apologising for something he claims he didn’t do. A recipe for endless court action.


Many have mocked the rules of the Lib Dems which have made it difficult for Clegg to act. But I think their democratic structure is to their credit.


The Tory and Labour parties have no such safeguards. Remember how the trap door opened for Peter Mandelson and even more outrageously for Peter Cruddas, the Treasurer of the Tory Party, who was forced to resign on charges that soon proved to be spurious.




As the General Election comes into view we need to keep our eye on our northern MPs, particularly the older ones, as they decide whether they are going to retire.


The excellent Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston Andrew Miller has decided to quit. That will be a loss to the business community as he takes a strong interest in promoting jobs particularly in the high end scientific area. He promoted a major event on that subject in the Commons this week that I will be reporting on in a future blog.


Whether the Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans will contest the next election depends on the outcome of the court case he faces, but he continues with his duties, attending the event for North West business that I referred to above. He currently sits as an Independent MP but he tells me the Tories have not moved to choose a new candidate. That leaves open the possibility of his return to the fold for next year.


In the neighbouring constituency of Blackburn there is to be an all woman shortlist to choose Jack Straw’s successor as Labour candidate. This is good news for Kate Hollern, the leader of the council who wants to be only the third MP to represent the seat since 1945.


Finally Labour are moving quickly to fill the vacancy in Wythenshawe and Sale East created by the death of Paul Goggins. Polling will be on Feb 13th with UKIP hoping to challenge for second place behind Labour. Mike Kane, former advisor to Cabinet Minister James Purnell is mentioned as a possible standard bearer for Labour.