Why did the UK Government decide to renegotiate the UK's terms of EEC membership in 1974-75? What was the outcome of the negotiations and what did the Referendum Bill say? This briefing looks at the Labour Government's renegotiation and indicates where there are parallels with the present Government's renegotiation agenda.

The Labour general election manifestos in February and October 1974 promised a renegotiation of the UK’s terms of membership of the European Economic Community (EEC or Common Market), followed by a referendum on the UK’s continued membership.

Having won the elections first without a majority and then with a narrow majority, in 1974 and 1975 Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson and his government negotiated concessions for the UK from other European governments. The main areas of UK concern were:

  • the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP),
  • the UK contribution to the EEC Budget,
  • the goal of Economic and Monetary Union,
  • the harmonisation of VAT
  • Parliamentary sovereignty in pursuing regional, industrial and fiscal policies.

The 1975 referendum campaign was announced on 7 January 1975 and a White Paper on the referendum was published in February 1975, which was debated in Parliament in March 1975.

At the Paris Summit of Heads of State or Government in December 1974 and the Dublin European Council in spring 1975, the UK Government successfully negotiated with the other eight Member States the introduction of the Community’s regional policy, a budgetary correction mechanism and market access for New Zealand dairy products.

The Cabinet endorsed the results of the renegotiation on 18 March 1975. The House of Commons endorsed them on 9 April 1975.

The European Referendum Bill 1974-75 was introduced on 26 March 1975 and passed its Second Reading on 10 April (312 to 248 votes). It received Royal Assent on 8 May.

The referendum was on 5 June 1975. With a turnout of 64%, 67% voted in favour of staying in the EEC and 33% voted against.