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1975: UK embraces Europe in referendum
British voters have backed the UK's continued membership of the European Economic Community by a large majority in the country's first nationwide referendum.

Just over 67% of voters supported the Labour government's campaign to stay in the EEC, or Common Market, despite several cabinet ministers having come out in favour of British withdrawal.

The result was later hailed by Prime Minister Harold Wilson as a "historic decision".

For him the victory came after a long and bruising campaign against many in his own party, following Labour's promise to hold a vote in its general election manifesto last October.

Faced with the referendum question, "Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?" Britons voted "Yes" in most of the 68 administrative counties, regions and Northern Ireland. Only Shetland and the Western Isles voted against the EEC.

It puts the uncertainty behind us
Home Secretary Roy Jenkins
When the result was beyond doubt, the leaders of the pro-Europe camp emerged from private celebrations to thank campaign workers for their efforts.

Home Secretary Roy Jenkins said: "It puts the uncertainty behind us. It commits Britain to Europe; it commits us to playing an active, constructive and enthusiastic role in it."

The Conservatives were also campaigning to stay in the Common Market. Margaret Thatcher, elected Tory leader last February, said the "Yes" vote would not have happened without the Opposition's support for it.

Former Prime Minister Edward Heath said: "I've worked for this for 25 years, I was the prime minister who led Britain into the community and I'm naturally delighted that the referendum is working out as it is."

Members of the "No" campaign accepted their defeat and promised to work constructively within the EEC.

Industry Secretary Tony Benn, who had come under criticism from the prime minister during the campaign, said: "When the British people speak everyone, including members of Parliament, should tremble before their decision and that's certainly the spirit with which I accept the result of the referendum."

The trade union movement led by the TUC was also opposed to remaining in Europe and had boycotted key advisory positions in Brussels and Luxembourg since Britain joined in 1973.

TUC General-Secretary Len Murray said the boycott would be lifted but he remained adamantly opposed to the EEC. "Many of the most imprtant decisions about our future can only be taken here in Britain," he said.

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Former PM Edward Heath and Home Secretary Roy Jenkins
Pro-Europe campaigners Edward Heath and Roy Jenkins welcomed the result



In Context
Britain under Prime Minister Edward Heath had joined the EEC in January 1973 when the Treaty of Rome was signed.

Labour's general election manifesto of October 1974 committed Labour to allow people the opportunity to decide whether Britain should stay in the Common Market on renegotiated terms, or leave it entirely.

In the run-up to the referendum the prime minister announced that the government had decided to recommend a "yes" vote. But it emerged that the cabinet had split, with seven of its 23 members seeking withdrawal.

The "no" faction included Michael Foot, Secretary of State of Employment and Tony Benn, Industry Secretary.

In 1996 billionaire businessman Sir James Goldsmith, who was against the Maastricht Treaty, set up the Referendum Party to campaign for a referendum on the European Union.

He spent 20m on the 1997 general election campaign but only managed to achieve 3% of the vote.

In 2005 the state of the European Union reached a critical point in its history after referenda in France and the Netherlands saw voters reject the latest EU constitution.

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