Brexit Re-Visited: The Myth of Harold Wilson’s ‘Neutrality’ on Europe

A quick take on the claim that Harold Wilson was neutral in the 1974 EEC referendum taken from Twitter last November 
Wilson was not neutral in deciding Labour’s position on the EEC referendum.

He threatened to resign as Prime Minister if Labour’s official campaigning position was switched from Remain to Leave as the left hoped to do.

It came after Tony Benn wrote that if he could get ‘50% per cent of the PLP on board’ he could facilitate an emergency conference which with trade union and CLP backing, would enable him to ask the government to ‘change recommendation’ on remaining in
Barbara Castle wrote in her diary of the ‘venom’ coming from Wilson after he found out.

Foot was the one who u-turned and admitted that he ‘may have been wrong’ and cited the need to prevent ‘the collapse of the government’, preventing Benn from pursuing an official switch

Wilson also used Jim Callaghan to prevent the left from doing so:
During the campaign a leaflet was sent out to every household that recommended an ‘IN’ vote from Wilson

The pamphlet also said: ‘Now the time has come for you to decide. The Government will accept your decision — whichever way it goes.’

During the campaign Wilson made several speeches outlining the case for Remain.

However it was done in ambiguous terms. His biographer Ben Pimlott describes it as ‘aloof’ with ‘statesmanlike speeches’ whilst others did the ‘proselytising’

As @redhistorian has calculated in his book on the campaign, Wilson or Callaghan spoke at a meeting every night in the final fortnight.

Wilson featured on the news or in an interview 25 times during the campaign, a figure only exceeded by Roy Jenkins for the YES campaign

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: