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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

June 1995: Major faces Tory unrest over Europe

Major pleads with his own side not to "bind his hands" on Europe, 1997

Backing away from Union
Europe plagued Major's premiership

With Thatcher gone her successor, John Major, initially sought to mend fences with Europe.

But as divided attitudes on the issue caused a vicious civil war at home in his own Tory Party, it was impossible for him to seek to make Britain a leader on the continent, as he had wished.

I want us to be where we belong. Right at the very heart of Europe. John Major

As well as deepening conviction within his own party that power was steadily seeping from Westminster to Brussels, his troubles on Europe were further compounded when the UK crashed out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism when massive currency speculation saw the pound take a heavy battering.

Key Dates
1992Maastricht Treaty
1992UK leaves ERM
1993Passes Commons
1995Austria, Finland and Sweden join

The Maastricht Treaty also proved a long-running headache for the Major government as he struggled to have it ratified by Parliament.

The British had been given an opt-out from the provisions of the treaty most detested by anti-federalists - the single currency and the social chapter - but for many Tories this was not enough.

... a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe... The Maastricht Treaty

The constant in-fighting led Major to describe the chief Eurosceptics in his own cabinet as "the bastards" and in an attempt to stamp on the endless warfare and regain control of his party, he resigned the leadership and put himself up for re-election.

He won, beating off an unforeseen challenge from Eurosceptic cabinet minister John Redwood. But Major's hopes of silencing his anti-European Tory critics were in vain.
Maastricht paved the way for the euro

The prime minister attempted to forge a consensus around a "wait and see" policy on the euro and even promised to hold a referendum before joining, but his attempts at a holding position failed.

As the 1997 general election approached Tory splits on Europe dominated coverage in the press, TV newsrooms and radio studios across the country.

Whatever the public thought of Europe and the single currency, they comprehensively rejected the Tories at the polls, choosing instead a Labour Party that had by now largely healed its splits on Europe and was now broadly united in favour of both the European Union and the single currency.

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