Chronicle of a Brexit Foretold?

Britain and Europe in the Thatcher Era, 1975-85

This event marks the launch of The Official History of Britain and the European Community, Volume III: The Tiger Unleashed, 1975-1985 by Sir Stephen Wall.

As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, this book is the story of the stresses, quarrels, compromises and ambitions which contributed to an unhappy relationship between the United Kingdom and her European partners. Immediately after the 1975 referendum, when the British people voted by a large majority to stay in the European Community, the divisions in the Labour Party over Europe, which had caused the referendum in the first place, resurfaced as if nothing had changed. They dogged the beleaguered Government of James Callaghan and contributed to the defeat of the Labour Party in the General Election of 1979.

Margaret Thatcher proclaimed herself a pro-European Prime Minister but her premiership, too, was governed by a succession of crises in Britain’s relations with her partners as Thatcher fought to redress the unfair budget deal Britain had been forced to accept on accession, and then to secure her vision of a reformed, outward-looking, economically liberal Europe. This is also the story of personal relationships between Thatcher and the successive leaders of Germany, France and the United States. It is told through the contemporary accounts of the period, in the words, ideas and emotions of politicians and officials at the heart of Government.

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Event recorded 26 March 2019.


Stephen Wall (@stephenwall34) was a member of the British Diplomatic Service for 35 years. He worked closely with five British Foreign Secretaries and was Foreign Policy Adviser to Prime Minister John Major. His European experience includes five years as Head of the Foreign Office European Department; two years as Britain's Ambassador to Portugal; five years as UK Permanent Representative to the EU and four years as EU adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair and Head of the European Secretariat in the Cabinet Office. His book on Britain's EU policy, A Stranger in Europe, was published in 2008. He wrote The Official History of Britain and the European Community, Volume II: From Rejection to Referendum, 1963-1975, published in July 2012. His latest book The Official History of Britain and the European Community, Volume III: The Tiger Unleashed, 1975-1985, was published in November 2018.

Piers Ludlow is Professor of International History and Deputy Head of Department, Department of International History, LSE.

Lindsay Aqui (@LindsayAqui) is a Research Associate in the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge. Her research concerns modern British political history, with an emphasis on the relationship between foreign policy and domestic debate. Her forthcoming monograph explores the diplomatic and domestic aspects of Britain's relationship with the European Community in the period from accession in 1973 to the referendum in 1975. 

Tony Travers is a Visiting Professor in LSE Department of Government and Director of LSE London. His key research interests include local and regional government, elections and public service reform.

LSE's Department of International History (@lsehistory) teaches and conducts research on the international history of Britain, Europe and the world from the early modern era up to the present day.

LSE IDEAS (@lseideas) is LSE's foreign policy think tank. We connect academic knowledge of diplomacy and strategy with the people who use it.

Twitter hashtag for this event: #BrexitForetold