The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1995Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech at the Cambridgeshire Euro-Constituency Business Lunch – 29 September 1995

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at the Cambridgeshire Euro-Constituency Business Lunch, held on Friday 29th September 1995.


Europe is a Jekyll and Hyde for most people. There are some things about Europe that are undeniably frightening. But there are things that are undeniably right, such as the single market. A single market is immensely important. Half our trade goes to Europe. Half our trade these days actually goes to Europe. But we shouldn’t forget the half that doesn’t. The single market is a great achievement, a great bonus to British business and British commerce and a great opportunity to British prosperity. Though it isn’t yet a proper single market. It is still closed to telecommunications where by and large we lead Europe.

We haven’t opened up the insurance and banking industries. The areas where we earn such huge invisibles and the City of London is still closed to much of Europe, that still needs to be overcome.

We still need to do a great deal to turn the embryo single market that we have that broadly exists for manufacturers into a proper single market right across Europe. When that happens it will be an enormous bonus for overseas earnings and overall prosperity in the United Kingdom. Don’t ever underestimate it. Don’t underestimate either the importance where it is appropriate of Europe working together politically as well as economically. It is a typical criticism of the most federalist of our partners in Europe that all the United Kingdom has ever been interested in is a free and open market, but we are interested in a free and open market and they aren’t and we’re winning and they’re going to have to give way and we’ll get there.

But that isn’t all we are interested in. We are interested in co-operation across Europe with our European partners. Co-operation on the basis of agreement and consensus. Not co-operation on the basis of a qualified majority vote against the interests of a nation state on matters of great importance.

One of the issues that comes before the Intergovernmental Conference in a year or so’s time will be whether our common foreign policy should be determined by unanimity with every nation state freely agreeing to a common policy or whether it should give the qualified majority vote with every country being bound by the qualified majority vote. It sounds very communitaire to have a qualified majority vote on foreign policy but we have not agreed, and I will tell you why we will not agree. It is not because we are anti-European but I think the absolute and total absurdity that a common vote in Europe can change a British policy for Hong Kong is as stated in those terms, self-evident. In any event it is impracticable. Can by common vote in Europe mean that Europe can decide that British and French troops could go to Bosnia against perhaps the opposition of the British Prime Minister and the French President? You only have to think to see that it may be an idealistic aspiration and it is desirable for us to work together but the concept of that being imposed is absolutely and totally unworkable and unacceptable to us and I believe unacceptable to others in Europe. But so many of the other nation states in Europe used as they are to Britain fighting the good fight while they stand on the sidelines and say “Tut tut, how anti-community you are” while privately agreeing with us. It is very convenient to have Britain fighting on those issues and we will.

That is one issue for the Intergovernmental Conference where the more federalist enthusiasts will argue that a common foreign policy – that is to say the present one – is not workable, whilst knowing in our hearts that there is not a snowball in hell’s chance that any British Conservative Prime Minister would agree to sacrifice the direct control of the British Cabinet and the British Parliament over foreign policy matters outside the United Kingdom. They might as well know that now, and I had the opportunity of mentioning it last weekend in Mallorca. But because we have these fears, do not get sucked into this feeling that everything that happens in Europe is against the British nation. It is not true.

Let me make a couple of points not often made. Some of the nations in Europe 10 years ago, some of the nations inside the European Community are now becoming a good market for this country and embryo industrial nations such as Spain and Portugal. Fifteen years ago before they joined the Community they were governed by men in dark glasses and epaulettes. In fifteen years they have been brought into the Western democratic family of nations and prepared for industrial status in a democratised Western Europe. Don’t underestimate the importance of that to our security.

Suppose we had, as we envisaged, extended the European Union some years ago further to the East across Europe beyond, for example, Italy. Imagine we had actually achieved the ambition of enlargement right across Europe. Suppose we had actually done it. Would Yugoslavia or Bosnia be such a mess today if it had been brought within a Western free trading area 15 or 20 years ago? Would we have hundreds of thousands of people brutally murdered? Would British, French, Greek, all sorts of other countries – though not the United States – have soldiers actually on the ground there in Yugoslavia if we had actually extended the concept of a free trade area and Western democracy further across Eastern Europe?

The objective that will deliver the certainty of security in Europe not just for this generation but for our great-grandchildren and our great-great-grandchildren is to take the opportunity of developing the European Union much further across Europe. Wars this century started in Western Europe. Western Europe and Central Europe like Sarajevo and Bosnia. That’s where they started. Inconceivable for that to happen now in Europe if you can spread the inter-relationship of trade and political interest and influence further across the European Community through the Balkans, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania. Let us think that will happen in our lifetime. There is not a shred of doubt in my mind that it will. And there is not a shred of doubt in my mind that when it happens there are future generations that will be more secure in their lifetime that ever we could be in ours. That is the long-term point of our aim in British foreign policy to secure the safety and security of the British nation. Despite the disagreeable views of our press about Europe that is our goal.

Let me talk about some of the issues. Why is the European Union that has helped safeguard democracy in Western Europe, that is helping to enhance the prosperity of security and democracy in Europe and has opened up the richest market, British business and commerce we have ever known, richer by far than the old Empire, why is it so unpopular? There are people whose ambitions are more visionary than most. I do not accept for one second that it would be sensible today or in 10 or 20 years time for us to have what many people feared we might have, a European Government taking most of the effective decisions involving Europe and taking them in Brussels and not taking them in Britain. For all its deficiencies and difficulties in Westminster where you can support the Government and your directly elected members and you can have direct contact with your MP. I do not believe we will ever accept such a transfer of fundamental authority but people fear and they see the changes that have been made and they say is there is a European government inevitable?

I remember in the 1960s the feeling that existed at the time. Socialism was inevitable. I remember the argument ran very strongly until people actually saw what socialism was like and it became anything but inevitable. It has found itself out of government for 16 years already and I hope please God for a long time. So we are not going further down that road but it is because people fear that they poke suspiciously at everything that emerges from Europe and ignore as a matter of right all the things that are of interest and worth in it, that is essentially the competitiveness of Europe.

How much more expensive it is to employ people in Europe. This is an argument I have repeated again and again. If you take the graph of unemployment across Europe for the last 25 years, it goes steadily down. For 25 years in good years and bad years, in boom and in dust, the underlying level of unemployment right across Europe and beyond is rising. There are 20 million European citizens unemployed, 20 million. In France, the country nearest and most comparable to us, there is just around 13 per cent unemployment and no sign of it decreasing. In the mighty German economy their unemployment is rising above us for the first time that most people can remember since the Marshall plan brought back prosperity to Germany. It is Britain that is bringing unemployment down in a changing world today. The labour skills of so many millions are no longer required in the way they were before. It is Britain that is providing them and the reason it is providing the new jobs is partly what Robert said earlier. It isn’t just the Social Chapter. Were we to sign the Social Chapter or were any future Government to sign it, all those social costs across Europe that at present lie outside the Social Chapter would rise. They would be brought into the Social Chapter and it would add something like 20-40 per cent to the average labour costs of more people in British industry.

At the moment we are taking markets in Germany, taking markets in France, taking markets as we should for this is a competitive European Union right the way across Europe and beyond. Because we are more positive and efficient than the other nations. We want to stay that way and that means no Social Chapter. It means no other extra artificial burdens on employers because the burden on an employer means more people unemployed and out of work and that is the principal, single, economic problem of Western Europe.

I despair sometimes when I sit around the European table and I hear my European partners talking about competition between France and Britain and Germany and Italy. Can they not understand that France and Germany and Britain and Italy must compete with the United States and Japan and the countries of the Pacific Rim? It is an argument we are determined that Europe accepts and wins. We understand it here and I have every intention of following policies here that will make Britain better, even if our European partners disagree with what we are doing and regard us as being very uncommunitaire for trying to keep our nation in work, while their coalition governments buy popularity for the majority of their people in work by giving them more benefits in work at the expense of the minority who are not in work who will be joined by others not in work and who will have less and less chance of getting work if they particularly go down that route.

And then there is the single currency. I know of no issue that has so torn apart the sinews of British politics. In all our long history there are about two illustrations of the sort of deeply damaging divisions in our Party. First the corn laws of the 1840s and the second example is tariff reforms at the turn of the century.

A single currency across the whole of the European Union will only work by changing the Union out of all recognition. So there is no question of a single currency across the whole of Europe. You may safely rule it out. All you would get is massive structural unemployment, social difficulty in for example Greece and a demand for huge transfers of money from the more wealthy Northern European nations straight to Greece to deal with that social difficulty and social unrest. Perhaps a small group of nations could go ahead with a single currency. They had ambition for 1997. I said I would not believe those ambitions would be realised. They had ambitions for 1999. I believe that when we get closer to 1999 they will increasingly see that is not safely achievable. In our discussions over the weekend at Mallorca, I believe I saw the dawnings of understanding of this. So perhaps 2001 or thereabouts might be possible? But only for a small minority.

But the European Union must weigh the arguments very carefully indeed. It would be the biggest economic and political change in the structure of Europe that Europe has ever seen. Do not be in any doubt about the scale of change. If a small group of say six go ahead with a single currency, what does that do to the whole of the European Community? What does it do to the other 21, for we will be 27 nations within 15 years time? What will it do to the other 21 who are outsiders? How do you run a single market? How do you deal with structural funds? What happens if the countries outside the single currency devalue competitively against the single currency? Do they really believe that Greece and Portugal and the others are going to enter a new rigid, unmoving exchange [indistinct]. It cannot be done. Those are the problems. A huge number of problems. I can stretch them to the door and back again and then up to the far corner but have not remotely begun to be understood by the people who passionately care for the best of reasons about building a single Europe whose slogan is “If you have a single market you must have a single currency”. Economic codswallop. But not because we are anti-Europe.

I think I can say in public and in private I have taken more pain because I am trying to take a middle road that I think is right for the long-term of this country on Europe than any other British politician in this country. So I think I have a right that almost nobody else has to lay out in crystal clear terms the problems that I actually see if they move down that road. It might one day be right. We would be mad to say it would never happen, one never knows what is going to happen in the future. We could not and should not rule it out for ever as some are urging us to do. But we should prod very cautiously at this beast with a very long stick, and we should not rush at it because of the impact it will have on every citizen in Europe.

What would be the feeling in Scotland if we were to abolish the Scottish pound and replace it only with pound sterling? And yet that we are familiar with that example and situation. The Scottish pound is acceptable in Manchester as it is Dundee. I must say I look forward to the sight of French farmers as they finally realise the franc has gone for ever and I must say I find that extremely amusing. And what about the gentlemen of the Bundesbank when they realise that the mark is no more?

We have got to discuss these things. They have been the undiscussable subjects of Europe. It has been politically correct not to say that the emperor just possibly may have no clothes. Or if he is not naked he is hardly dressed for a ball. And it was those matters that I was starting to put with delicacy and charm to my European colleagues in Mallorca. My arguments got more support there than many previously would have thought possible. For they know as I know. Is Belgium going to be in deficit and going for a single currency by the year 2000? It is no more enlightening than Old King Cole galloping out of his nursery rhyme to their rescue. And what about Italy? Or France?

They will have to change. I passionately believe that because I wish Europe to succeed. But when I continue to raise these problems in Europe it will not be because I want Europe to fail. It will be because I want Europe to succeed.