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Ever closer union?

A new Europe
Britain shut out
Joining the
The Thatcher era
Backing away
from Union
Blair and euroland

Nov 1990: Europe undermines Thatcher's premiership

Delors sets out his vision of Europe to the TUC, 1988

The Thatcher era

Thatcher moved integration forward
Even though Britain had signed up as a member of the European Community its relations with its partners were far from smooth.

In opposition, Labour began calling for complete withdrawal, while Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher started to adopt what began as a robust, eventually becoming straightforwardly hostile, defence of what she saw as Britain's interests in Europe.

She demanded and succeeded in clawing back some of Britain's financial contributions to Europe and rejected out of hand plans sketched out by European Commission President Jacques Delors for Europe-wide social rights - what later became known as the social chapter.

Key Dates
1979European elections
1984UK budget rebate
1985Delors heads EC
1985Single market by 1992
1987Single European Act
1989Berlin Wall falls
1990UK joins ERM

So it was with much reluctance that she gave her consent for the UK to join the Exchange Rate Mechanism, which Britain finally did in October 1990.

Mrs Thatcher also heartily rejected federalist moves to create stronger political links which she feared would create "an identikit European personality" and weaken nation states.

Thatcher had initially refused to join the ERM, against the advice of her chancellor, Nigel Lawson - a refusal that played a part in his resignation.

When ERM membership was undertaken it was at an exchange rate against the Deutschmark which was later to prove ruinously high.

We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level, with a European super­state exercising a new dominance from Brussels Margaret Thatcher's Bruges speech

The ERM itself was designed to lead to currency stability across the continent and so pave the way for monetary union.

Delors was savaged by the UK's tabloid press
But when Mrs Thatcher delivered an uncompromising speech against political integration with Europe, she provoked the resignation of her deputy Geoffrey Howe.

Her strident and entrenched attitude on Europe and other issues had alienated a growing number of her own cabinet, leaving a majority concluding that she had to go.

Howe's resignation set off the chain of events that led within weeks to her being toppled from the leadership of her party and from Downing Street.

So it turned out that Europe, ultimately, was the rock which sank the Thatcher premiership.

But ironically it was Prime Minister Thatcher who in 1987 signed the Single European Act - the landmark treaty from which much of the EU's future integration has flown.

In later years she bitterly protested that she was misled as to its meaning.

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