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When Mary Wilson voted “No”

John Rentoul

marywilson 300x223 When Mary Wilson voted NoI thought I had come across a sensational story when reading Lord Butler’s comments at a Foreign Office seminar in February – the one in which he repeated his disparaging views of Tony Blair’s decision-making before the Iraq invasion. As an aside, talking about how Harold Wilson managed his Cabinet in the European referendum of 1975, he said (page 30):

Incidentally, his wife, Mary Wilson, still alive, aged 96,* lives two blocks along from us, and she said to me the other day with a great glint in her eye, ‘You know, I voted no.’ She said it was the only time she ever voted against Harold. What he could do with his Cabinet he could not necessarily do inside his own household.

That story is not in Ben Pimlott’s biography of Wilson, but she did tell Roy Hattersley about it in a rare interview for the Mail on Sunday in 2007:

In 1975, she had the courage to follow her convictions and vote against one of her husband’s flagship policies.

His government had decided to let the people decide, through a referendum, if Britain should confirm its membership of the Common Market. After the Wilsons had returned to their ministerial car from the polling booth, Mary told her husband: “I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it.”

Wilson had voted for Britain to remain in Europe, and his wife had voted to come out. “He was very sweet about it,” says Mary.

Asked if she still holds the same view, the best she can say about Britain’s European destiny is: “You can’t unscramble eggs.”

Well, I think it is an extraordinary tale. I am amazed that there wasn’t more fuss made about it at the time.

Photograph: Mary and Harold Wilson with Zara and Harold Holt, Australian prime minister, in 1967.

*Actually, she was and is 97.

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  • greggf

    “I am amazed that there wasn’t more fuss made about it at the time.”

    Yes, it was kept very quiet.
    Her view may make the rest of us who “innocently” voted Yes in 1975 feel rather naïve. And to a large extent confirms the charge that duplicitous politics has infected the UK at least since then.

  • Pacificweather

    You are not married are you John? It rates as dog bites man not man bites dog. Many couples cancel out each others votes. Some because they told the truth to each other and some because they lied to each other.

  • Pacificweather

    Some of us are still proud to have voted “Yes” and still believe it was the right decision. That doesn’t mean we don’t think that Britain should give Spain a good smacking over Gibraltar. Where is that pirate, Drake when he’s needed.


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