The French President, Charles de Gaulle, has for a second time said he will veto Britain’s application to join the Common Market.
He warned France’s five partners in the European Economic Community (EEC) that if they tried to impose British membership on France it would result in the break-up of the community.
All five – Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy and Germany – have said they would support negotiations towards British membership.
Only France remains opposed.
At a news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, attended by more than 1,000 diplomats, civil servants and ministers as well as journalists, General de Gaulle accused Britain of a “deep-seated hostility” towards European construction.
He said London showed a “lack of interest” in the Common Market and would require a “radical transformation” before joining the EEC.
“The present Common Market is incompatible with the economy, as it now stands, of Britain,” he said.
He went on to list a number of aspects of Britain’s economy, from working practices to agriculture, which he said made Britain incompatible with Europe.
Hopes that he might offer clear terms for associate membership were also dashed. He said France would back commercial exchanges with Britain – “be it called association or by any other name” – but that was all.
His remarks were greeted with dismay in Europe, where it is feared an open crisis within the EEC is now inevitable.
General de Gaulle’s position has hardly changed since he first vetoed Britain’s application to join in 1963.
He leaves the British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, with no realistic hope of taking Britain into Europe in the near future.
All three political parties are committed to joining the EEC, and the news of General de Gaulle’s continuing intransigence on the issue was met with gloom in Westminster.
The only group which was pleased with the General’s comments were anti-European campaigners.
They called on the prime minister to withdraw Britain’s application immediately.
Only then, they said, could a “humiliating” inquiry into the UK’s economic affairs be avoided when Common Market foreign ministers meet to consider Britain’s application formally next month.
Mr Wilson himself said he would not countenance what he called “peevish reactions” which might jeopardise Britain’s relations with France or the other five EEC countries.
Courtesy BBC News
Harold Wilson waited two days before replying to General de Gaulle’s statement.
He made a 16-point rebuttal of the French leader’s statement and ruled out any offers of associate membership.
He also said Britain would press ahead with its application for full membership of the Common Market.
After General de Gaulle fell from power in 1969, Britain applied a third time, and was accepted.
On 1 January 1973 the UK became a fully-fledged member of the EEC.