The 1971 White Paper set out the case for the UK to join the European Economic Community. In that document people were left with the firm impression that little would change and the UK would stay in control of her own affairs. The White Paper stated
“Sovereign governments are represented around the table. On a question where a government considers that vital national interests are involved, it is established that the decision should be unanimous. …There is no question of any erosion of essential national sovereignty.”
“The common system rests on original consents, and ultimately on the continuing consents of member states and hence of national Parliaments. The English and Scottish legal systems will remain intact”.
These promises were soon broken. Majority voting was introduced on an ever wider range of issues, removing the UK veto over important policy areas. The English and Scottish legal systems came increasingly under the control of the European Court of Justice. The more EU law there is, the more matters have to be based on that EU law with ultimate appeal to a European court.
It is true the White Paper did say the aim of the EEC was ever closer union, did recognise it would be based on freedom of movement of people, and that the organisation would work towards a common foreign policy and other matters. The White Paper tried to allay fears over this by pointing out the 6 existing member states of the EEC were all relatively prosperous countries with similar high wages to the UK’s, and reminded readers that developments of more centralising policies would be partially fashioned by the UK view.
The document did begin the long standing confusion of power with sovereignty. It stated “Where the members reach common agreement to pool resources and authority, it is done because they consider it is in their interests to do it. At present the Community institutions are purely economic. But if the development of European policies in non economic fields calls for new institutions, then as a member Britain will play a full and equal part in devising whatever additions to the institutional framework are required”.
So was recorded the EU’s future long march to full economic, political and monetary union. So began the long series of rearguard actions by successive UK governments to avoid the transfer of too many powers, or to pretend no power was passing when large powers were being given away.
The British people were never given a vote on the transfer of their powers of self government to the EU. The first referendum was based on these principles, that the Uk could always veto anything it did not like and our own court system common law and much else remained unaffected. The forthcoming referendum is the first time UK people can express a view on their government having to get the agreement of many other EU governments before being allowed to make simple changes to welfare payments, certain taxes, our borders and much else besides.