Above: Margaret Thatcher, championing the ‘Remain’ cause in the 1975 Referendum on Britain’s membership.
Mrs Thatcher had been Secretary of State for Education and Science under Edward Heath’s premiership in 1973, when Britain joined the EEC, and became party leader some months before the referendum. Although she later successfully opposed the changes to the EC’s constitution proposed by Jacques Delores, in her speeches she made it clear that she was in favour of a wider Union, incorporating the central-European states which at that time were fighting for their freedom from the Soviet Union in 1989-90. As a result of this, and her tough but friendly negotiating style with President Gorbachev, the man she ‘could do business with’, the ‘Iron Lady’ was much admired in Hungary and elsewhere in the 1990s. Despite her pronounced Euroscepticism since losing power, the fact remains that the European Union as it is today owes much more to her vision of the EU than current Brexiteers are willing to admit. Her patriotism was fundamentally pro-European, regarding Britain’s role within the EU as setting the ‘bounds’ of British influence on the continent ‘wider still and wider’. She was certainly no ‘Little Englander’ like those who falsely lay claim to her inheritance today.
In this sense, Thatcher’s foreign policy was in the Churchillian tradition. Britain is greater when it engages with its neigbours and seeks to lead on the continent, rather than retreating into ‘splendid isolation’ and ‘appeasement’ of dictators. Of course, we will always feel physically detached as an island people, but, as John Donne wrote, ‘no man is an island’, and at the end of the day, Britain must take its place on the political map of Europe, or Europe will be ‘the lesser’, and so will we.