THE six founding members of the European Economic Community – Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany – signed the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957.
It built on the pre-existing European Coal and Steel Community, which was founded in the aftermath of the Second World War as a project for peace. Its primary aim was to ensure that the European continent would never again suffer the blight of war that it had seen, generation after generation, in the run-up to that period.
In that regard, the legacy of the Treaty of Rome is one of great historical achievement, and its anniversary marks the longest period of peace in Europe’s written history.
The treaty was a major step in the journey of European integration. It was followed by the treaty of Maastricht, which established the European single market, and then the treaty of Lisbon, which established the European Union as we know it today – an organisation that is dramatically different from the European Economic Community, which the UK joined under a Conservative Government in 1973, against the opposition of the Scottish National Party.
It remains overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed both politically and economically. Let me be clear: as the Prime Minister has said, while we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving Europe. We are seeking a new, strong and constructive relationship with the European Union – a partnership of friends and allies, interests and values.
I made the case to remain in the European Union during the referendum, but I always committed to respect the result and I understand that we required the consent of the British people to remain a member of the EU. Now that we are focused on implementing the result of a UK-wide referendum, we should all focus on delivering the best possible deal for the whole of the UK.
Leaving the EU offers us an opportunity to forge a new role for ourselves in the world – not isolationism but negotiating new trade agreements and being a positive and powerful force for free trade. Britain’s economy is one of the strongest in the world and we are well placed to face the future. We will remain the bold, outward-looking nation that we have always been, and being a scientific superpower and a research leader in the world is an important part of that.
Global Britain will be more than just a trading nation; we will continue to play a significant role in defence and security, promoting and protecting the interests of our people around the world. The negotiation is not just about what is good for the UK; it is about what is good for the remaining European Union as well.
As the European Union considers its future and the UK builds its new role in the world, we will also redefine our relationship with the EU. We will approach the negotiations as friends. A constructive and optimistic approach to the negotiations is in the best interests of both the EU and the UK. The Prime Minister has now set out the Government’s plan to achieve a new positive and constructive partnership between the UK and the European Union. We have set out our objectives to give as much certainty as possible throughout the process. Now, the overwhelming majority of people, however they voted, want us to get on with it, so that is what we will do.
We will negotiate and leave as one United Kingdom, seeking the best possible deal for the whole of the UK as we do so. We are not trying to cherry-pick aspects of EU membership. The Prime Minister has been clear that she respects the position taken by European leaders that membership of the single market would mean accepting all four freedoms.
At this momentous time, it is more important than ever that we face the future together, taking forward our shared interest in the UK being an open, successful, global nation in future. As member states of the European Union meet this weekend to discuss the history and future of the European project, we wish our EU partners well. At the end of the negotiations, the UK will no longer be an EU member state, but it will be a close ally and friend. A strong partnership between the UK and the EU is in the interests of both, and we congratulate all the EU’s members on this important anniversary.
Robin Walker is a Brexit Minister who spoke in a Parliamentary debate this week on the Treaty of Rome ahead of the triggering of Article 50 next Wednesday. This is an edited version.