Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Dinner in the Presence of Baroness Thatcher

Norman Tebbit and the Czech President Speak Out Against EU Centralisation

President Václav Klaus
The Rt. Hon Lord Tebbit of Chingford, CH, PC
The Rt Hon. Baroness Thatcher LG, OM, FRS


On Monday, 27th October 2008 the Bruges Group held a major dinner to celebrate twenty years since Margaret Thatcher’s famous Bruges Speech.

In 1988 Lady Thatcher, as Prime Minister, famously said to the College of Europe in Bruges; “We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level, with a European super state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.” Shortly afterwards the Bruges Group was set up to campaign vigorously for the goals outlined in the Bruges Speech.

The event was attended by Lady Thatcher and addressed by Lord Tebbit and Václav Klaus, the President of the Czech Republic. President Klaus is Europe’s leading statesman opposing European integration and the Lisbon Treaty.

They argued that it is time for the principles so eloquently set out by Lady Thatcher 20 years ago to be embraced. Norman Tebbit called on the Conservative Party to take early action when in power and resolve the European question. Calling on a Conservative Government to show ‘Thatchertite courage and determination’.

Click here to listen online to Lord Tebbit


“I hope that the Conservative Party will set out a negotiating brief that the next Conservative Government will take to Brussels early in its next term, and that it would within two years of the next election, present to the British people the outcome of its negotiations.

“Then in a referendum the British people would decide whether to accept what was on offer - or simply to leave the Union. We cannot drift on as we have been. It is not fair either to the British people or to the European Union.

“We need to show Thatcherite courage and determination to lead the country along that path.”

Click here to read the full speech by Lord Tebbit

"Lady Thatcher’s speech in Bruges should be remembered as well. I share the ideas expressed in it fully. They still hold true today. The European Union has been increasingly evolving into a state-like entity. The inter-European opening-up and overall positive removal of barriers based on intergovernmental cooperation was replaced by excessive interventionism, standardization and harmonisation.

"The marching towards an ever-closer union must be reversed.

"It is evident that neither the Constitutional Treaty nor the Lisbon Treaty gained a unanimous approval by all the EU member states. Any repetition of the Irish referendum would be absurd… The vote of any member state and of its citizens must be respected.

"I am pleased that the Bruges Group has invited me together with all of you who refuse to look at the European Union uncritically and do not applaud everything that comes from Brussels. We need to continue fighting vigorously for the goals outlined in the Bruges Speech, just as Lady Thatcher always has."

Speech by Lord Tebbit

My Lords, ladies and gentlemen, Lady Thatcher, first I should say that it is a privilege to follow at a gathering such as this, a message from Václav Klaus one of the great men of Europe. I remember because of my age that we survived as a free nation in Europe to assist in the liberation of Europe. We survived in 1940 not least because of the Poles, the Czechs and the Slovaks that came here and were part of the decisive balance, which meant that the Battle of Britain was won by western democracy and not by continental autocracy. We on these islands owe so much to our friends in Europe just as much as we have suffered from the follies of our enemies on the continent.

”monetary incontinence will like other forms of incontinence give at moments a feeling of warmth and relief, they will inevitably be followed by feelings of embarrassment and difficulty”
I won’t this evening divert into contemplation of our present economic troubles, despite being tempted by Barry Legg, but let me just say one thing Barry, the rules of the game are the same as ever, monetary incontinence will like other forms of incontinence give at moments a feeling of warmth and relief, they will inevitably be followed by feelings of embarrassment and difficulty. Gordon Brown should know this by now. They didn’t call them the ‘Wets’ for nothing.

My Lords, it is 20 years since you Lady Thatcher made that famous speech on the future of Britain and of Europe in that great European city of Bruges. By then, as a result of one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make, one of choosing between conflicting loyalties, I was no longer a Member of your Cabinet but I cheered from the sidelines. What I didn’t realise, nor I think did you at that time, was that your Bruges Speech and your famous three ‘nos’ to Monsieur Jacques Delor’s proposed three steps, the hop, skip and the jump from the European community to the future European Republic, would lead to a coup in which the Euro fanatic conspirators would topple you from office. And that coup opened the way through Maastricht, Antwerp, Nice and Lisbon towards the United States of Europe.

But when I read the Bruges Speech, I wonder if today’s Euro fanatics, as they froth away at what they call its xenophobic anti-European rhetoric, have ever read it at all. They might be surprised to reach the end of the text of that speech without ever having found the words ‘better off out’. They might be even more surprised to find in it the words, ‘our destiny is in Europe as part of the community’ and you added, ‘the European community is the practical means by which Europe can ensure the future prosperity and security of its people in a world in which there are many other powerful nations and groups of nations’. And you went on to say that you wanted to set out some guiding principles for the future, which you believed would ensure that Europe would succeed. And it was in the setting out of those principles that you provoked the Euro fanatics to begin plotting to get rid of you.

But before I remind us all of those principles which so angered the Euro fanatics, the Euro republicans, the federalists or whatever they like to be called, not to mention their fellow travellers in the Foreign and Colonial Office and the BBC, let me say something of how it could be that Margaret Thatcher and I could use such words in declaring Britain’s destiny to be within the European community. European has a capital ‘E’, community has a small ‘c’.

Alas since then the European community has gone, the European Economic Community has come and gone, the European Union has arrived and if the fanatics have their way, it will soon give way to the Euro State, the Republic or the United States of Europe. But 20 years ago when you made that speech it was possible to believe, and let’s be frank, we wanted to believe, that the prospect which now looms over us of a European Republic was just a fanciful dream.

In 1988 we both still had hopes that despite what had been achieved in the first two Thatcher administrations, I knew that we were both having doubts and fears at the way in which the European establishment was heading.

I recollect saying in 1981 when I’d negotiated the European steel agreement under which all Member States agreed to end the subsidies, the excess capacities and the dumping, which were crippling the European steel industry, that if we hadn’t had the EEC we would have had to invent something like it to deal with those problems. Sadly of course before long the invention became the problem, the accession of Spain to the community led to the destruction of the agreement, an increase in subsidies, an increase in excess production and the decimation of the British industry, which at Ravenscraig had become not only the best in Europe but amongst the best in the world and our fishing industry was going the same way.

We should have seen the writing on the wall; we should have seen that the expansion of the European community had become the first priority of the European elite and that the benefit of the peoples of Europe had become a poor second. I hate to say it, perhaps we did see the writing on the wall but we still believed it could be changed. But as Fitzgerald wrote, ‘The moving finger writes and, having writ, moves on, nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy tears wash out a word of it’.

Instead we negotiated the single European Act, a very odd name for what I thought was the European Single Market Act and that Act was not contrary to what the dopier European fanatics claim, a huge transfer of sovereignty from the Member States to the EEC. Our law officers told us its powers were ring-fenced within the economic sector and couldn’t be used to achieve non-economic goals. I have no doubt they would have been right had that treaty been adjudicated according to English law in the English courts, but alas it was not. It is adjudicated by the aggressive judicial imperialists of the European courts. And looking back I can now see that Enoch Powell and that great Lord Chief Justice Denning were right.

For the European establishment English law is an obstacle to the European republican project, to us it has long been a protection against over-mighty monarchs or politicians and it should now be a protection against the authoritarianism of the Euro State in Brussels, but gradually in my many hours at ministerial meetings in Brussels, forgive me, let me confess I greatly enjoy the company of most of my colleagues. I began to realise that with the exception of the Scandinavians and to some extent the Germans, they all shared a quite different view from ours of the relationship between the State, the individual and the law and of the basis on which what we called our rights and they called human rights. In short over more than a thousand years we have built a constitution based on the concept that the people have rights which exist without any law to grant those rights and despite any law which purports to deny them and we believe that the State just as much as the people must obey the law. In Lord Denning’s words, ‘no matter how high you may be the law is above you’.

Here almost alone in Europe the Government has until the last decade at least stuck by those numerous conventions, which being unwritten are more flexible and more capable of adaption than written constitutions.

My European colleagues thought that our insistence that the State, the Government should obey the law and has no power to do what it has not been given by law, somewhat pedantic, even curious. They mostly took the traditional Roman law view that that which was not specifically permitted by law was by implication forbidden to individuals but the converse applied to the State. They mostly understood the importance in our law and constitution of Magna Carta, but I couldn’t blame them for falling into the same trap in which we find most British people including politicians and school teachers by believing that King John, in signing the Charter, had granted rights to the people whereas of course he signed an undertaking not to claim or to purport to have power to rob the people of the rights they possessed by nature, their nature of being English barons or freemen.

Few of my European colleagues shared those basic assumptions on which our law, our society, our constitution are based. Let me say at once, that doesn’t mean that France is less civilised or that Germany is less efficient or that I would find life in Italy unbearable. I might even be able to pass away a weekend in a villa in Corfu, but I hope that I would have the sense not to go onboard a yacht.

But for us here in Britain to fall into the mould of a European State would involve far deeper changes than it would for the mainland States and our present state in which we are governed mostly in the first instance by English law, but that that law is open to review and to be overridden by European law is the worst of all possible words.

The Bruges Speech was essentially a recognition of these differences and it was a series of proposals to construct a European family home in which we could live happily with our European friends. So what were Lady Thatcher’s guiding principles for the future?

The first was that willing and active cooperation between independent sovereign states is the best way to build a successful European community.

The second was that community policies must tackle present problems in a practical way and Margaret, you emphasised the need to reform the common agricultural policy. And 20 years on the need still exists.

Your third principle was the need for community policies which encourage enterprise. Oh dear God. It was a clarion call for deregulation, less government intervention and less state control and you brushed aside the proposed single currency in favour of the free movement of capital and a free market in financial services and investment.

And your fourth principle concerned the most fundamental issue, the European countries’ role in defence. You upheld the role of NATO and emphasised that we cannot rely forever on others for our defence but that each member of the alliance must shoulder a fair share of the burden, so true today. How true it is when we see that in the face of Russian aggression in Georgia the would be European State can neither agree a policy nor can it deploy the armed forces necessary to prevent further aggression potentially against the Baltic or the central European States.

The speech concluded with a rallying cry for Britain not to withdraw into isolation, not for new documents nor treaties, but for practical steps forward. It was a call that Europe should be a family of nations understanding each other better, appreciating each other more, doing more together but relishing our national identity no less than our common European endeavour.

That ladies and gentlemen was the speech which earned the unremitting hostility of the Brussels establishment and their fellow travellers on the train to the Euro republic. And they’re still there in Parliament, in the civil service, in the Tory Party and indeed in the Cabinet itself. In the 20 years since the Bruges Speech things have, in that ghastly phrase which I so hate, moved on. The Euro fanatics have emphatically rejected the Europe of free nations that the Bruges Speech envisaged and the European economic community for which Lady Thatcher and I voted in 1972 and which the British people endorsed in 1975, when the peoples of the States of Europe are allowed to express their view, they vote for Bruges not Brussels. So Brussels and Brown and Blair say don’t ask the people or if you do ignore what they say unless its yes, which had until recently left us with just three options.

First we could repudiate our history, our law, our constitution in favour of collectivism, stateism and corporatism of Germany, Spain, Italy and France.

Secondly, we could declare that we had come to a parting of the ways, a return to Winston Churchill’s policy of support for a Western European union, but a union which didn’t include this kingdom.

Or thirdly, we could try to persuade our partners to follow the Bruges agenda, but then what would have been our bottom line, a real permanent change or a few transient token gestures.

Our fourth option to negotiate a separate relationship, a permanent one not a transient one with the other 26, seemed to me to be more theoretical than likely to succeed. It had to be explored but it was more likely to be a stage in making our exit than a process leading to a long term new arrangement.

So I’d concluded that it became clear beyond argument, beyond self-deception that General de Gaulle was right in his assessment 40 years ago that the United Kingdom would not fit into the Europe of the six let alone the Europe which has evolved since then. Indeed I suspect that de Gaulle would be unhappy at the thought of France integrated into the European State of the 27.

But things have changed, Giscard d'Estaing has now like de Gaulle, reached the conclusion that Britain doesn’t fit into the European dream, that brings new hope.

When I talked to Giscard some 10 or 15 years ago about why Britain seemed so often to be the odd man out, the laggard on the road to ever closer union, I said I thought that we in Britain were the nationalist dog in the federalist manger and we ought to get out, we should return to our island kennel and let the federalists have their manger.

Things have changed, at the Global Vision/Daily Telegraph Conference seven weeks ago the former French President, the architect of the European constitution had something very interesting to say. I quote:

‘The European Union has already come too far with the project of closer integration to stop now, but that the integrationists have to accept that not all countries have the same vision’.

And he went on to say,
... ‘if the countries such a Britain do not want to move to the next stage, we should be prepared to agree with them a special status that would preserve close ties but avoid them acting as a brake on the progress of others’.

Here, here Giscard, son of de Gaulle.

That think tank global vision with the Daily Telegraph is thinking through what would be a new Bruges doctrine setting out the shape of the treaty between a fully independent United Kingdom within a single market, but over which the European court would have no jurisdiction nor the Commission any power.

Even more important, since Giscard made his comments, the world financial crisis has exposed a dangerous fault in European monetary union. When the chips went down, the EMU States acted each in its own national interest regardless of their mutual obligations. In short the Euro was exposed as a single currency with 15 Chancellors of the Exchequer and 15 Treasuries.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I explained to Ken Clarke many years ago, in the long run there can be only one Chancellor, one Treasury, one tax system, one economic policy for any one currency and that means one Government and one State. I doubt if all the EMU Members would be willing and able to make that step, to have their 1707 moment to create a union like that of the United Kingdom.

So if you put those two things together, Giscard’s words and the crisis in EMU, we can see the possibility of a new European community of sovereign independent States that cooperate willingly together. Most of us would be the existing nation States but one would be the European republic and its time that the Conservative Party alongside the Eurosceptics, alongside the ‘better off outers’, alongside UKIP if I may say so Mr Farage, began to think about the architecture of such a Bruges style Europe. To what extent would we be willing to bind ourselves to agree and implement policies with our fellow Europeans and in which areas?

The new nationalism of Russia makes necessary not only the continuing strength of NATO but some political common purpose in Europe. So do the long term problems of energy, of pollution, of the migration of people, the free movement of capital and of goods across borders. Something better and different than today’s European Union is needed.

We can conceive of something of the ever closer union of the six founding States that was envisaged half a century ago, combined with something more like you Lady Thatcher envisaged 20 years ago, a truly European compromise. There is much to play for.

I hope now that the Conservative Party will set out a negotiating brief that the next Conservative Government will take to Brussels early in its first term and that it would within two years of the next election present to the British people the outcome of those negotiations. I think that framework should be a framework of the West European Republic and of the rest of us the sovereign European States and we would have a relationship to deal with our common problems but we would not be governed by each other.

And then in a referendum the British people should be asked to decide whether to accept a new structure whatever it was, or perhaps that there was no such deal or offer and in that case, the British people would decide whether to accept what was there or simply to leave the Union. We can’t drift on as we have been drifting these last 20/30 years towards a European State which would not work and which could not conceivably be in the British interest. It isn’t fair to the British people, it is not fair to the other peoples of Europe, it’s not fair to the European Union.

We need now to show some Thatcherite courage, some determination to lead this country along a path which is not only in our interest but is in the interest of all the peoples of Europe. Its not just for Britain it is for Europe because our destinies are indeed linked that we need to get rid of this absurd idea that there can be a Western European State of 27 nations and get back to the reality of the friendship and the relationship that there should be between the nations of Western Europe, that is our ambition.

For further information please contact:
Robert Oulds, The Bruges Group, 227 Linen Hall, 162- 168 Regent Street, London W1B 5TB
Tel: 020 7287 4414
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Contact us

Director : Robert Oulds
Tel: 020 7287 4414
Chairman: Barry Legg
The Bruges Group
246 Linen Hall, 162-168 Regent Street
London W1B 5TB
United Kingdom
Founder President :
The Rt Hon. the Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven LG, OM, FRS 
Vice-President : The Rt Hon. the Lord Lamont of Lerwick,
Chairman: Barry Legg
Director : Robert Oulds MA, FRSA
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