Party Policies on Europe at General Elections Since 1970

This House of Lords Library Briefing provides extracts from political party manifestos since 1970 charting the various positions taken on Europe over the last five decades.

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The briefing includes manifesto commitments from the main UK political parties. It also includes extracts from the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) manifestos from the 2015 general election onwards. The SNP became the third largest party in the House of Commons at that election.

Following the establishment of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1958, both Conservative and Labour governments sought to open negotiations about possible membership. However, it was Edward Heath’s Conservative Government that led the UK into the then EEC, passing the European Communities Act in 1972, which passed its Commons third reading with the support of 69 Labour MPs (who defied their party whip), the Liberal Party and 20 abstentions.

During the period from 1970 to 2015, the manifestos of the Conservative, Labour and the Liberal/Liberal Democrat parties all contained a commitment to the UK’s continued membership of the EEC/European Union (EU)—with varying degrees of emphasis. The exception was the 1983 Labour manifesto which committed to withdrawal. Since the late 1980s, the SNP campaigned for an independent Scotland to be an EU member in its own right.

Following the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, in which a majority voted for the UK to leave, both the Conservative Government and the Labour Party in Opposition supported the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. In the 2017 general election, these two parties included commitments to negotiate this withdrawal in their manifestos. Both the Liberal Democrats and the SNP supported the UK’s continued membership.

Recently, there has been interest in what positions parties would take on Europe were there to be a general election before 2022. This briefing provides some historical context.

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