At the end of the 1950s, Macmillan was still critical of closer political ties to the continent and was skeptical of the establishment of the European Economic Community (EEC; 1957) with the formation of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA; 1960). As early as 1961, however, the Macmillan government turned away from this policy and applied with other EFTA states to join the European Communities (EEC, EURATOM, ECSC); British accession failed in 1963 because of the French veto. Their reputation was weakened by the collapse of British European policy and their domestic political shock was shaken by the Profumos scandal (cabinet crisis that War Minister John Dennis Profumo [* 1915, † 2006] by misleading Parliament in connection with the alleged disclosure of secrets to a member of the Soviet embassy), the Macmillan government resigned in October 1963 in favor of a cabinet owned by Sir A. Douglas-Home (formerly Lord Home); this was v. a. confronted with the incipient conflict over (southern) Rhodesia.
In October 1964, according to Historyaah, the Labor Party achieved a narrow victory in the constitutionally necessary general election (317 MPs versus 304 Conservative MPs). Prime Minister was Harold Wilson (* 1916, † 1995), who after the death of H. Gaitskell (1963) had taken over the parliamentary leadership of the Labor MPs in the lower house. The new cabinet announced a socialist government program: Among other things, the nationalization of the steel industry, control of rents and the property market. Against the background of a balance of payments crisis, the Wilson administration saw the rehabilitation of the pound (1964 and 1965 foreign support actions), the elimination of the trade deficit and the general stabilization of the economy as its most urgent tasks. After the elections of 1966, in which Prime Minister Wilson was able to enlarge his parliamentary base, the government continued its deflationary policy (including freezing prices and wages, increasing taxes), albeit without positive long-term results.
After the outbreak of religious and socially motivated unrest in Northern Ireland (1968/69), the House of Commons exercised the right of intervention provided for in the Government of Ireland Act of 1920. In August 1969, the British Army took over police power there. From the 1970s onwards, the situation was similar to a civil war.
In its foreign policy, Great Britain and Northern Ireland continued its disarmament and detente policy efforts under the Wilson administration. Together with the USA and the USSR, it signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968. After the unilateral declaration of independence (South) Rhodesia (1965) Great Britain and Northern Ireland got into a serious conflict with this colony, which lasted until 1980. While the Wilson government – in continuation of the decolonization policy of its predecessors – announced the abandonment of all British bases “east of Suez” by 1971, it again intensified its turn to the European Communities; However, the admission failed again because of the French veto, which demanded a profound recovery of the British economy.
In the early elections of 1970, the Conservatives won, who had been in the House of Commons of E. Heath since 1965. His government took over a balanced balance of payments, but could not fundamentally change the situation characterized by economic stagnation and a high inflation rate. Given the numerous strikes crippling the country’s economy, Heath sought to regulate relations between employers and trade unions with the Industrial Relations Act (1971). The law, which i.a. a ban on closed shops (i.e., establishments in which only union members are employed), secret voting in strikes and the legal enforceability of collective bargaining agreements met with determined opposition from the unions and was sharply criticized by the Labor Party in the lower house. Borne by a strong personal commitment to integration into the European Communities, Heath achieved acceptance of his country on January 1, 1973 after long negotiations.
After the February 1974 election, which created a stalemate between the Conservatives and the Labor Party, Wilson formed with parliamentary support from Liberals and Regionalists (Scottish and Welsh direction) a minority government, which inter alia. With the repeal of the Industrial Relations Act and the confirmation of the closed shop principle, it met the demands of the trade unions. In a referendum held for the first time on June 5, 1975, the population voted 67.2% against 32.8% (63.4% participation) in favor of remaining in the EC. In negotiations with the organs of the EC, the Wilson administration had achieved improved British membership conditions since 1974. In the tradition of its détente and disarmament policies, Great Britain and Northern Ireland promoted the efforts of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and its successor conferences.
After Wilson’s surprising resignation (March 1976), his successor as Prime Minister, J. Callaghan (in office since April 1976), signed a social contract (Social Contract, 1976) with the trade unions in order to stabilize economic and socio-political developments. Nevertheless, this did not solve the general structural crisis of the British economy (symptoms: decline in the British pound, sharp bend in the general prosperity curve, rising inflation rate as a result of growing government spending). After another wave of strikes and the failure of the partial autonomy laws for Scotland and Wales The Callaghan government was overthrown on March 29, 1979 by a motion of no confidence tabled by the Conservatives in the House of Commons.