Emmanuel Macron lays wreath at statue of Charles de Gaulle
French President Emmanuel Macron is being extremely stubborn with Brexit Britain and appears to be one of the biggest obstacles to EU and UK negotiators as they seek a deal. An agreement appeared in sight until Mr Macron, concerned the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier might compromise too much on fishing rights, intervened and raised doubts about the direction of talks. Mr Macron has also flirted with the idea of following in the footsteps of French World War 2 hero Charles de Gaulle with a veto on any “bad” deal – the General famously blocked Britain’s entry to the EU’s precursor, the EEC, twice.
But General de Gaulle always knew Britain joining the bloc would be to the detriment of the UK economy and made a series of points that may appear profoundly prophetic to Brexiteers today.
His comments are particularly noticeable given how terrified Mr Macron appears to be at the prospect of Britain trading as an independent coastal state outside Brussels’ control.
General de Gaulle – who served as President of France from 1959 to 1969 – issued a statement in May 1967 concluding that Britain is “not continental” and “tied to the United States”.
For good measure, he also suggested that the UK’s reasons for not joining the bloc were “understandable”.
Brexit pulls rug from under Macron as de Gaulle admitted France knew EU would cripple UK
Charles de Gaulle
It reads: “Compared with the motives that led the six [founder nations] to organise their unit, we understand for what reasons, why Britain – who is not continental, who remains, because of the Commonwealth and because she is an island, committed far beyond the seas, who is tied to the United States by all kinds of special agreements – did not merge into a Community with set dimensions and set rules.”
General de Gaulle went on to point out that Britain benefited from inexpensive imports from the Commonwealth and would be “forced to raise the price of her food” if the country “submitted to the rules of the six” EEC member states.
The statement continued: “Britain nourishes herself, to a great extent, on food-stuffs bought inexpensively throughout the world and, particularly, in the Commonwealth.
“If she submits to the rules of the six, then her balance of payments will be crushed by ‘levies’ and, on the other hand, she would then be forced to raise the price of her food to the price level adopted by the continental countries, consequently to increase the wages of her workers and, thereby, to sell her goods all the more at a higher price and with more difficulty.”
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As if this wasn’t enough, the leader of the French Resistance also pointed out that Britain would be “isolated” within the EEC’s “costly regime” and asked: “How can it not be seen that the very situation of the pound sterling prevents the common market from incorporating Britain?”
His comments came just six months before he was to say “non” to Britain’s EEC membership application for the second time, humiliating Prime Minister Harold Wilson in the process.
It came four years after his first veto, when it was Harold Macmillan he sent packing with repeated references to Britain’s insular and maritime status as his justification.
Britain, he said, was simply not European enough and had “in all her doings very marked and very original habits and traditions”.
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Charles de Gaulle addressing Britain’s EEC membership bid
Charles de Gaulle, flanked by Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt
He added: “In short, the nature, the structure, the very situation that are England’s differ profoundly from those of the continentals.”
The EEC was formed at the Treaty of Rome on March 24, 1957, with Belgium, West Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands making up the original six signatures.
Britain, of course, was notable by its absence.
The French Journal of British Studies notes that there were many on the other side of the Channel who agreed with General de Gaulle’s analysis.
Charles de Gaulle in London
Tony Benn agreed with General de Gaulle’s assessment
In 1951, the Labour Party’s “European Unity” pamphlet argued that: “In every respect except distance, we in Britain are closer to our kinsmen in Australia and New Zealand on the far side of the world, than we are to Europe.”
Nevertheless, Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath successfully negotiated Britain’s entry into the EEC in 1972 and, on January 1, 1973, Britain officially joined the bloc.
However, during the 1975 referendum on Britain’s entry, General de Gaulle’s comments were to resurface.
During a debate with fellow Labour MP Roy Jenkins, passionate eurosceptic Tony Benn argued that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was a “siege economy” designed to favour the French and harm Britain.
Regarding the surge in food prices, he added: “We have butter mountains and beef mountains because the Common Agricultural Policy was developed to benefit the French and if you read [Charles] de Gaulle’s famous veto speech, he said the CAP would be a crushing burden on the British economy.
“He never thought that Mr Heath would go on his knees and accept it.”