Sir Stephen Wall spent 35 years in the British diplomatic service, the last 20 years of which were devoted to Europe. From 1993 he was Britain’s ambassador to Portugal, then for five years from 1995 he was the permanent representative to the EU, the most senior civil-service diplomatic position. Then he returned to London and served as Tony Blair’s advisor on Europe until 2004.
Now retired from the civil service, the 72-year-old has just published the third volume of the Official History of Britain and the European Community, covering the period from 1975 to 1985. It begins with the UK’s previous referendum, where a two-thirds majority voted to remain in the European Community, as it was called at the time, and ends just before the Single European Act 1986, which set the path for the Single Market. Incidentally, the official histories are part of a government program subjected to the current government’s austerity cuts, and so Britain’s relationship to the EU ends in 1985—according to the history books anyway.
Quartz spoke to Sir Stephen about Britain’s tumultuous relationship with the EU and what might happen next.