French leader Charles de Gaulle was a key player in the formative years of the European Economic Community (EEC) – the precursor to the EU – and he predicted that the UK would struggle to “merge into a community with set dimensions and set rules”. General de Gaulle led the French Resistance during World War 2, was chair of the provisional government after the liberation, and was later the French President from 1959-1969. When the EEC was first formed with the Treaty of Rome in March 1957 with the original six members – France, Italy, the Netherlands, West Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg – the UK was noticeably absent.
Britain first began talks to join in July 1961, but its application was vetoed by General de Gaulle twice – once in 1963 and once in 1967.
The then-French President believed that a pan-European project was not a good fit for the UK, citing aspects of the economy he saw as “incompatible with Europe”.
This made him opposed from a French standpoint, but he also pointed out that it would not be beneficial to Britain, listing a series of potential issues that Brexiteers will recognise as concerns today.
In a statement issued on behalf of the French government in May 1967, he said that the UK’s reasons for not joining the bloc were “understandable”.
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Charles de Gaulle outlined why the UK should not join the EEC (Image: GETTY)
Boris Johnson is leading the UK out of the EU on Friday (Image: GETTY)
He highlighted the fact that the UK, separated from the continent by a strip of water, is a sea-faring nation, and has close ties to both the US and the Commonwealth that arguably supercede ties to continental Europe.
It read: “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.”
He added that, because of the UK’s relationship with the Commonwealth, it benefited from inexpensive imports and may be “forced to raise the price of her food” if the country “submitted” to the rules cooked up by the original founders.
The war verteran wrote: “Britain nourishes herself, to a great extent, on food-stuffs bought inexpensively throughout the world and, particularly, in the Commonwealth.
Charles De Gaulle vetoed UK membership twice (Image: GETTY)
“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."
Indeed, when the UK eventually joined the EEC in 1973, the