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Happy New Year

Richard North, 01/01/2013  


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To celebrate "the entry of the United Kingdom into the European Community" on 1 January 1973, the lawyer Lord Goodman, a former chairman of the Arts Council, was invited by his friend Mr Heath to organise a series of nation-wide events under the title "Fanfare for Europe".

At a gala evening at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, prosperous bankers were regaled with operatic hits and guffawed at snippets about foreigners read by actors, while a special arrangement of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" modulated into a piece of pseudo-jazz by Michael Tippet.

In a darkened room, the Victoria and Albert Museum put on show a tastefully lit selection of art-objects from each member state, such as a pair of Bronze Age wind instruments from a Danish bog. A concert was given in York Minster by the Great Universal Stores Footwear band. The Whitechapel Art Gallery staged an exhibition of sweet-wrappers. Gas and electricity showrooms across the country featured demonstrations of continental cookery.

For many, however, their first experience of "belonging" to the Common Market came with the arrival of VAT, possibly the most bureaucratic tax system ever devised.

Introduced by the EEC in 1967, its advantage to the state was that for the first time millions of businesses would have to act as unpaid tax collectors, charging their customers 10 percent on the cost of all goods and services supplied, then subtracting all the VAT paid to their own suppliers on items not "zero-rated" or exempt, and sending the difference to the government.

As a reflection of the new system of government the British people were now about to live under, it was a foretaste of much that was to come. This is what Booker and I wrote in The Great Deception, of that momentous event. And exactly forty years after we joined, we still have not come to terms with membership, and never will.

With a bit of luck (and a lot of hard work), we will never see 50 years of membership. For the first time since we joined, our withdrawal looks to be a realistic prospect. And that, if nothing else, makes it a Happy New Year.

But the year we actually leave will be even happier.

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