Seán Lemass tapes: Britain sought to ‘destroy’ Common Market

Seán Lemass on . . . the British, colleagues, world leaders . . .

Portrait of Seán Lemass in Leinster House.

Portrait of Seán Lemass in Leinster House.

Harold MacMillan and the United Kingdom’s EEC membership

“I do not think that either MacMillan or any member of the British government ever fully understood that they could not be half in and half out of the EEC. They had to make up their minds whether Britain was to be a part of a united Europe and, if so, they would have to resign themselves to the fact that they could not have a special relationship with the US which would give them rights and privileges against their Common Market partners or try to maintain the Commonwealth preferences. MacMillan did not realise that indication of vacillation on Britain’s part would discredits its application in the eyes of de Gaulle. As a result, I think he was surprised by the de Gaulle veto.”

British attitudes to Europe

“I do not think they had any other idea initially in relation to the Common Market, except to destroy it. Even when they recognised they were not going to succeed in breaking it up, their application for membership was probably inspired by the idea that they could slow down its development in some way and perhaps change its character. It is the only in the last few years that the British have realised that they are not going to succeed in these policies. They have come around – if their public declarations are indicative of their attitude – to accepting the whole idea of European economic integration. Yet they still have the imperial frame of mind as shown by their Commonwealth prime ministers’ conferences. Of what real importance is the Commonwealth? I do not think it has any significance whatsoever, but it certainly has prevented the British from thinking of themselves as a completely European country.”

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