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Yes to Europe!
The 1975 Referendum and Seventies Britain

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  • Date Published: June 2019
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108442244


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About the Authors
  • On 5 June 1975, voters went to the polls in Britain's first national referendum to decide whether the UK should remain in the European Community. As in 2016, the campaign shattered old political allegiances and triggered a far-reaching debate on Britain's place in the world. The campaign to stay in stretched from the Conservative Party - under its new leader, Margaret Thatcher - to the Labour government, the farming unions and the Confederation of British Industry. Those fighting to 'Get Britain Out' ranged from Enoch Powell and Tony Benn to Scottish and Welsh nationalists. Footballers, actors and celebrities joined the campaign trail, as did clergymen, students, women's groups and paramilitaries. In a panoramic survey of 1970s Britain, this volume offers the first modern history of the referendum, asking why voters said 'Yes to Europe' and why the result did not, as some hoped, bring the European debate in Britain to a close.

    • Provides the first in-depth historical treatment of the 1975 referendum, linking it with the Brexit debate and how we got where we are today
    • Written in a lively and accessible style that moves away from the usual focus of British/European histories on summits, treaty changes and diplomacy
    • Reconnects the history of Britain and Europe to the broader social and cultural history of 1970s Britain
    Read more


    • Winner, 2019 Morris D. Forkosch Prize, American Historical Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    'A jaw-dislocating page-turner. If you care about contemporary politics, you really need to read it …' Andrew Marr, New Statesman

    'A captivating read, meticulously researched and exquisitely written … Saunders has a wry and gently amused prose style, with unhurried and uncontrived allusions and a fine eye for detail. His narrative carries you along as if you were reading a novel.' Daniel Hannan, The Spectator

    'Saunders writes with swagger … he demolishes many of the myths about Britain's relationship with the rest of Europe on which Brexiters and Remainers have long depended. … [A]s a study of a rare and seminal event, this book bursts with valuable details.' Andy Beckett, The Guardian

    'Saunders makes you feel you were in the room … And when you read how that first battle over whether we should stay in Europe was fought, it becomes a little easier to fathom what went wrong or right in 2016, and why.' Nick Comfort, Daily Telegraph

    'Saunders's new book provides us with a perfect opportunity to reflect on the long, turbulent story of Europe in British politics.' Alex Dean, Prospect

    'Beautifully written, and provides a thoroughly reliable and stimulating account of one of the most important events in Britain's post-war history.' Vernon Bogdanor, Times Higher Education

    'There is not only much to learn from Saunders's book about a fascinating historical episode: it also illuminates the issues we face today.' Michael Mosbacher, Standpoint

    'This is a timely book that will be read with great interest by commentators on recent events in Britain. It is also a hugely impressive work of scholarship that uses a single event to reconstruct a social and cultural world that now seems curiously distant. Most of all, it is a pleasure to read – clearly argued, full of vivid detail and illuminated by flashes of surreal wit.' Richard Vinen, author of Thatcher's Britain

    'I was actively involved in the 1975 referendum – on the losing side – and can attest that Dr Saunders' book thoroughly, brilliantly and objectively captures the context and the atmosphere of the 1975 campaign.' Neil Kinnock, former leader of the Labour party

    'This is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Britain's confused relationship with Europe, and how we got where we are today. It's also pleasurable reading: a beautifully written history, full of warmth and wisdom.' Alwyn W. Turner, author of Crisis? What Crisis? Britain in the 1970s

    'This is history at its best: an insightful, exhaustively researched and immensely readable book that captures the period as well as the vote.' Alwyn Turner, BBC History Magazine

    'This is a fascinating account of the 1975 referendum when Britain voted in favor of joining the (then) European Community. It is a timely book, appearing just as Britain is negotiating its exit from a crisis-ridden European Union. The relationship between Britain and Europe has always been a matter of intrigue, and Saunders grasps this relationship well. The book includes rigorous detail with political analysis that, for once, has not forgotten that Britain includes more than England and that issues in 1975 remain as relevant today. In fact, an analysis of the 1975 referendum shows how the tables turned within a generation. In 1975, the Conservative Party fervently supported Britain's joining the EC; by 2016, the party was profoundly divided over the issue. Summing Up: Recommended.' M. Clua Losada, Choice

    'Robert Saunders' thoroughly-researched and stylishly-written study … could not be timelier. … It is a riveting read full of eccentric characters and colourful anecdotes …' Mathias Haeussler, Reviews in History

    'Book of the Year 2019' New Statesman

    '… Yes to Europe! is an important book … the most convincing argument of this excellent book is that in order to understand the vote in 1975, one must see it as a product of its time.' Lindsay Aqui, Journal of Contemporary History

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    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2019
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108442244
    • length: 522 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 23 mm
    • weight: 0.85kg
    • contains: 34 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: 'a fanfare for Europe'
    Part I. Europe or Bust:
    1. 'Opportunities and illusions': the road to 1975
    2. 'A device of dictators and demagogues': renegotiation to referendum
    3. 'Support your local continent!' Britain in Europe
    4. 'Better out than in': the National referendum Campaign
    Part II. Themes and Issues:
    5. 'The boardroom must lead!' Employers, unions and the economy
    6. 'Women and children first'
    7. 'Come to pray on Referendum day'
    8. 'No use talking about sovereignty'
    9. 'The new British Empire'
    10. 'Think of it as the common super-market'
    Part III. The Unravelling of Britain?:
    11. 'Ulster says yes!'
    12. Cymru yn Iwrop/ Wales in Europe
    13. 'The Scottish time-bomb'
    Epilogue: we are all Europeans now.

  • Author

    Robert Saunders, Queen Mary University of London
    Robert Saunders is a Senior Lecturer at Queen Mary University of London. He is the author of Democracy and the Vote in British Politics, 1848–1867 (2011) and co-editor (with Ben Jackson) of Making Thatcher's Britain (Cambridge, 2012). He appeared in the BBC TV series The Victorian Slum (2016) and has given interviews and commentary on the BBC, CNN and a wide range of media outlets.


    • Winner, 2019 Morris D. Forkosch Prize, American Historical Association

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