Bruges speech '˜not intended to be anti-European'

Margaret Thatcher's famous 'Bruges speech' on the future of Europe, in which she signalled that her government would dig in against any attempt to make Britain cede power to EEC institutions, was partly the work of a Europhile and never intended to be seen as anti-European speech, today's newly released documents suggest.

Margaret Thatcher giving her speech to an international audience at the College of Europe in the Belgian town of Bruges.

The September 1988 speech, delivered in the medieval Hall of Bruges, became a seminal text for Eurosceptics in the UK. But it was the reception, not its delivery, that determined its legacy, Chris Collins, of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, said.

The Foundation published a note to Mrs Thatcher from the Europhile Hugh Thomas, then chairman of the Centre for Policy Studies think-tank, setting out how the Prime Minister might approach her Europe speech.

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The document, from June 1988, noted that Britain was “doing well” within the European Community but sought to challenge federalist ideas.

“The implications of the present moves in Europe – towards ‘open frontiers’, a common European currency, even a European Central Bank – have not, it seems to me, been thought through,” Mr Thomas wrote.

“The people who have thought continually about Europe seem to be the federalists and they, I suspect, did their original thinking 30 years or more ago.

“Britain determined to enter the Community and make the best of the institutions which were there, and we are doing well.

“But is there not a case for a really deep consideration? The ‘Europe of Nations’ has never been carefully worked out, to my knowledge.

“We could be at a turning point in our history.

“Have we thought adequately about it?”

Mr Collins said Mr Thomas was a “profoundly Europhile person” and an inspiring force behind the Bruges speech.

“I think it is still true, as a historical fact, that this begins the trend towards a more Eurosceptical outcome,” he said.

“It’s not a predetermined outcome of course, no-one knows where this is going, and I think you can add to that that it’s partly the reception of the speech that determines this.

“When you give a speech, what you intend to do and how people take the speech are obviously different things and indeed the gap can grow over time.

“I think Bruges was taken as Thatcher bashing Europe and, actually, when you look at it, that’s a bit too simple.

“The story was more interesting and complicated than I first thought.”