THE BLOG

EU Referendum: 1975 vs 2016

21/02/2016 17:49 GMT | Updated 21/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Britain's last referendum on its membership with the EU was in June 1975. Back then, the country needed Europe. The '75 referendum, as with any vote of political significance, was largely focused on the economy following the UK's dire financial state. The common market shone as an escape from the nation's desperate socio-eco reality and opened up an alluring world of greater business enterprise. Ted Heath, the Conservative Prime Minister, had always been an EU man - critical of Britain's 'special relationship' with the U.S., he instead desired to shape Europe into becoming a third super-power.

The fear among the EU's other member states of Britain leaving Europe in '75 was far from what it is today. With the seventies being as dire as they were financially, Britain was known as the "sick man of Europe", a sidelined country that, stay or go, wouldn't have caused too much chaos among other EU heads. That was America's view of us, looking from the outside in. In 2016, however, the picture is very different. David Cameron was finally granted a reformed EU deal earlier this week largely due to the fact that Europe needs Britain, rather than vice versa. The employment opportunities that bring migrants over to the UK not only help the whole of Europe economically, but also provide a stability that wouldn't be there had Britain not joined the EU. Although Britain's prosperity inevitably means that the nation contributes more generously to the community's budget, the financial benefits end up being spread across Europe as a whole and without that support, other members would suffer.

Of course, the UK's economy is also a reason why some will choose to vote Out on June 23rd, given that the country finds itself in far better financial circumstances than it did 40 years ago. The argument to protect our boarders, limit migration and curb welfare opportunities to other EU workers has recently gained momentum, not least by some within Cameron's own Cabinet. An "emergency brake" on migrants' in-work benefits for four years when there are "exceptional" levels of migration, and eliminating Britain from the EU's quest for an "ever closer Union" are the key areas that Cameron has negotiated. The full deal may be more than what some expected he'd come back from Brussels with, but for some it's simply not enough.

Leader of the Commons, Chris Grayling, was one of the first to state that he would be supporting the Out campaign, and was soon followed by Iain Duncan-Smith, Theresa Villers, John Whittingdale, and the most high-profile, former education secretary Michael Gove. Slowly, more Eurosceptics are emerging. For Cameron, allied support from his Cabinet is essential for the smooth running of the In campaign. It's fitting to remember that despite her distrust of Europe during the 1980s, Thatcher voted Yes to Europe in '75, loyally on board Team Heath. She subsequently emerged as Tory Leader. Boris Johnson, however, has decided to turn his back on Team Dave. If Cameron loses, a challenge to his leadership would be inevitable. For the Mayor of London, it seems that he has spotted a convenient gamble with Europe that could work to his political advantage.