UK–EU: Historical Facts
It’s difficult to cover the 43 years of history of UK-EU relationship in one article but we will do the best we can to highlight the important stops of this long journey.
The European Union (EU) had its origins after 1945 and it was created in the aftermath of the Second World War to avoid conflict between Europe’s nations by fostering economic cooperation (i.e. trading with one another to become economically interdependent). The first step was creating the European Economic Community (EEC) which was created in 1958 and had only six countries: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
The United Kingdom (UK) first declined an invitation to join the six founding nations of the European Economic Community in signing the Treaty of Rome in 1957 but then managed to join the bloc in January 1, 1973 after a public referendum on whether the British government should put membership in the EEC took place in 1975.
UK–EU: 15 Years To Join
One must wonder why it took the UK all that time to join the EU especially when someone like Winston Churchill expressed his support for postwar European integration at the opening session of the Congress of Europe by saying, “We cannot aim at anything less than the Union of Europe as a whole, and we look forward with confidence to the day when that Union will be achieved.” Churchill fully supported this idea, proposing for some kind of United States of Europe.
The answer is simple; not everyone shared Churchill’s vision about the EU. Some people were skeptical while others were opposing it from the beginning. Everyone had his/her own reasons and here are a few of these reasons;
- In October 1962, Hugh Gaitskell was reported to say, “It is the end of a thousand years of history. You may say, alright, let it end, but my goodness, it is a decision that needs a little care and thought.” He was concerned that joining Europe would threaten Britain’s economic and political relationship with the Commonwealth.
- “Europe has been a toxic issue in British politics,” Prof Bogdanor says, not just because it caused division between parties, “but also deep divisions within the parties”.
- Some people looked at the long history of hostilities that clouds the British view of Europe with suspicion (e.g. Germany in the world wars, Russia in the Cold War, and France through most of modern history).
- For others it was just difficult to take orders after being used to giving them for so long. Handing powers to Brussels was faced with great objection.
Note: The UK applied to join the EEC in 1961, only for entry to be vetoed – twice – by French President Charles de Gaulle. The French leader vetoed British accession to the European Economic Community (EEC) for years, as he believed they wanted to join only out of necessity. He accused Britain of a “deep-seated hostility” towards European construction, and of being more interested in links with the US.
UK–EU: The Debate Is Not New
For five years Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had been demanding the U.K. be given a fair deal when it came to contributing to the EEC’s budget. She was able to renegotiate a permanent rebate for Britain on its EC contributions, because it received much less in agricultural subsidies than some other countries, notably France.
“I want my money back!” said Thatcher at Press Conference after Dublin European Council. Her speech on the 30th of November 1979 can be found here.
UK–EU: Sovereignty of Parliament
On February 7, 1992 Prime Minister John Major signed the Maastricht Treaty (i.e. creating a single European currency) which involved huge transfers of power to the new European Union. The treaty undermined the British tradition of the inviolable sovereignty of parliament.
“Now we’ve signed it, we had better read it” British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd joking about the Maastricht Treaty. Tory government had secured an opt-out affecting issues such as employer safety and pay which was being opposed by those on the right of the Conservative Party.
UK–EU: Important Dates
I have noticed that there were a lot of dates throughout the article. Therefore I decided to write them on a chronological order for those who are fascinated with numbers.
1957: The Treaty of Rome was signed by 6 European states
1973: Britain joined the European Community. Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath took Britain in
1975: Labor Prime Minister Harold Wilson had a referendum on Britain’s membership and 66% voted REMAIN
1991: The Maastricht Treaty was signed
1993: The European Union was formed
2002: The Euro was introduced
This concludes article two in out series of BrExit. We hope this was informative and we would like to thank you for reading.
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