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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Oct-18 > When the Tories turned on Europe

When the Tories turned on Europe

Britain’s Brexit fate was sealed in 1988—with just two speeches by Margaret Thatcher

DAVID WILLETTS AND ANTHGONY TEASDALE

Precisely 30 years ago this autumn, the Conservatives ceased to be the “party of Europe” and began to move fitfully—by lurches, lunges and sidesteps—to “Euroscepticism”, a term invented in the process. In her speech in Bruges on 20th September 1988, and then in her speech at the Conservative conference four weeks later, Margaret Thatcher spoke about Europe very differently than before.

Already in office for over nine years, with three election wins behind her, she was still riding high in the polls. She enjoyed widespread respect abroad—as soulmate of Ronald Reagan, and easily the most powerful woman in world politics. The pace of European integration was quickening and she challenged it with typical vigour and directness.

The 1988 conference was the first under Thatcher where Europe took centre-stage, as she started drawing the dividinglines across which bigger battles would later be fought. Now that her official and personal papers for that year have been released, we can see more clearly what happened during 1988, and why.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s October issue: Rafael Behr argues that politics has been poisoned by Twitter—the platform often drives the political news agenda, encourages people to descend deeper and deeper into echo chambers and sees MPs and their families regularly abused. Meanwhile, former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger explains how Oxford picks its students and says that more needs to be done for the colleges to be more inclusive. Also, Jasmin Mujanovic outlines how Bosnia’s elections this month could tip the country back into conflict. Elsewhere in the issue: Alex Dean highlights the alarming decline in the number of students studying a foreign language at GCSE and beyond. Will Self reviews a series of new books about liberalism, arguing that “we need more than just social freedoms and the free market.” Aimee Cliff charts the story of the dying dream that London would be a 24-hour city.