I recently did a lunchtime meeting for the Institute of Economic Affairs. They had invited me to make the case for ‘Brexit’ — the departure of Britain from the European Union — which I now believe to be highly desirable. The room was packed and the discussion was refreshingly free of the fanatics, on both sides, who normally make debates on Europe so dreary.
My mind went back to an occasion exactly 50 years ago, when I was at a small private dinner in Chelsea at which the guest of honour was the then leader of the Labour party and leader of the opposition, Hugh Gaitskell. During the course of the dinner, I found myself in an increasingly heated argument with Gaitskell over whether the UK should join what was then the European Economic Community.
He was passionately opposed, and I was in favour of it. He became more and more exercised, his face got redder and redder, and I was afraid he was about to burst a blood vessel. Then, a few days later, and still only in his fifties, he dropped down dead. I was overcome with guilt, fearing that I may have precipitated his untimely end. Perhaps my present stance on the EU is some kind of penance.
This is an extract from Nigel Lawson’s diary in this week’s Spectator, out tomorrow.