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The road from Delors to Brexit

Summary:
In September 1988, Jacques Delors, then President of the EU, spoke to the UK Trade Union Conference in September and outlined a socialist future of the European project. He won the support of the TUC by pledging to use the EU to impose workers’ rights, collective bargaining, strengthened trade union power, and all the paraphernalia of a centrally directed, statist vision of Europe. He achieved his aim in the short term of winning TUC support for UK participation in the EU’s drive for “ever closer union.” But he also brought to the surface many of the fears that others were beginning to feel towards the new political dimension the EU was exhibiting. The UK had joined what it thought was a free trading bloc that was called at the time the “European Economic Community.” But the EU was by now

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In September 1988, Jacques Delors, then President of the EU, spoke to the UK Trade Union Conference in September and outlined a socialist future of the European project. He won the support of the TUC by pledging to use the EU to impose workers’ rights, collective bargaining, strengthened trade union power, and all the paraphernalia of a centrally directed, statist vision of Europe.

He achieved his aim in the short term of winning TUC support for UK participation in the EU’s drive for “ever closer union.” But he also brought to the surface many of the fears that others were beginning to feel towards the new political dimension the EU was exhibiting. The UK had joined what it thought was a free trading bloc that was called at the time the “European Economic Community.” But the EU was by now showing a self-aggrandizing movement towards concentration of power in its hands at the expense of those of its constituent members. It looked as though it was in the process of becoming a centralized authoritarian body that could override the wishes of European electorates.

Delors’ speech to the TUC confirmed this, and the response was not long in coming. Ten days later in Bruges, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made a speech that questioned the Delors agenda to “introduce collectivism and corporatism” and to “concentrate power at the centre of a European conglomerate.” She went on to assert opposition to the centralizing and collectivist programme that had moved on from its original “charter for economic liberty.” She set out her determination to oppose it.

“We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at European level, with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.”

Her speech lit a fuse that burned its way steadily and remorselessly towards the UK’s vote to leave the EU 28 years later. The Bruges Group was founded immediately after her speech, and campaigned over the years against the ever-growing powers of the EU bureaucracy. The growing electoral support for and success of Euroskeptic candidates finally forced the issue onto the political agenda.

The rest is history, and there is little doubt that many future historians will draw a straight line between the speech of Delors to the TUC, and the subsequent UK withdrawal from the EU. It is even possible that Jacques Delors himself, now aged 96, might reach the same conclusion.

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