Former Home Secretary Alan Johnson delivered the Harold Wilson Lecture on the centenary of his birth.
In a speech entitled called The Reluctant European, the Hull West and Hessle MP described the Huddersfield-born political giant as his “hero.”
Mr Johnson said Harold was very much a “reluctant European” but that did not mean he wanted Britain isolated in Europe.
As the countdown begins to the European referendum in June, Mr Johnson told how Harold saw the opportunities in Europe and how he believed Britain needed to be at its heart.
Mr Johnson quoted Harold as Prime Minister saying to the House of Commons in 1967: “Whatever the economic arguments, as I have repeatedly made clear, the Government’s purpose derives above all from our recognition that Europe is now faced with the opportunity of a great move forward in political unity and that we can – and indeed must – play our full part in it.”
In 1975 Britain voted for Harold’s “great move forward” to join the so-called Common Market.
Mr Johnson said he had voted ‘yes’ and had never regretted the decision.
Now Britain was facing another referendum on June 23 and Mr Johnson said: “I’m pretty sure I know which way Harold Wilson would have voted.
“He may have been a reluctant European but he was never a narrow nationalist and he would never have taken his country into off-shore isolation.”
The fully-booked lecture at the University of Huddersfield was part of this year’s Huddersfield Literature Festival.