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This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for her self
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in a silver sea
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,

Richard II
by William Shakespeare, William (1564 - 1616)
Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies
(London: Printed by Isaac Jaggard and Ed. Blount, 1623):
sig. C2v. STC (2nd ed.) 22273

The UK and the European Union

The European Union is a partnership of 27 countries. Britain has been a member of the EU since 1973. The importance of the Commonwealth and Britain's relationship with the US meant it approached supranational European cooperation with caution. In April 1951 Britain boycotted the Treaty of Paris that created the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). France, Germany, Italy and the three Benelux countries: Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (known as the 'Inner Six') signed. France issued a 24-hour ultimatum for Britain to attend ECSC talks but Britain opted out.

Britain sent a representative to the Messina Conference in June 1955, but withdrew. The British proposed a Free Trade Area around the customs union of the European Economic Community (EEC), but this was rejected. The 'Inner Six' (France, West Germany, Italy and the three Benelux countries: Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) signed the Treaty of Rome in March 1957, establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). The EEC was inaugurated in 1958.

Britain joined the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) in 1961 and worked towards the reduction of trade restrictions between members. Britain was suspicious of the French Schumann plan to establish a supranational body regulating the production and sale of coal and steel. In 1959 Britain signed the Stockholm Convention with other non-EEC European states (Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland) and created the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). However, EFTA was no competitor for the EEC and was ineffective in establishing a useful free trade area.

The Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, was alarmed at the rapid economic advances made by France and Germany and sought to join the EEC. Britain's commonwealth ties, domestic agricultural policy, and close links to the US were obstacles in joining and the French President, Charles de Gaulle, vetoed Britain's application in 1963. The Wilson government again failed to take Britain into the EEC in 1967.

Lord Gladwyn said 01 November 1972 in the Lords that "it makes no sense to contemplate a monetary union unless you have the firm intention here and now to begin to construct a political union of a democratic nature — at the same time, of course, implying that this is quite impossible—we Liberals would think that such construction is not only now inevitable, if there is to be any kind of monetary union, but that it is both possible and desirable also. It is indeed quite obvious, as I think everybody will be forced to admit, that one cannot have a monetary and economic union without a central authority of some kind which will take the necessary decisions, and that the only conceivable way in which such an authority can be democratic is to have some kind of European Parliament which, even if it does not itself constitute the authority, will at least be able to accept or reject its decisions in a general way."

Georges Pompidou, who succeeded de Gaulle, finally relented and Britain joined in January 1973 under the premiership of Edward Heath. The 1974 Wilson government was unhappy with the terms of EEC membership and held a referendum in June 1975. A substantial majority voted in favor of continued membership although Britain consistently resisted supranational industrial, scientific and social policies.

The British Government sought to be a positive participant in the European Union. Foreign Secretary William Hague summed this up saying that the British government would be ‘active and activist, positive and energetic’ from the beginning’. It meant that Briain would play a strong and positive role with EU partners, with the goal of ensuring that all the nations of Europe are equipped to face the challenges of the 21st century, in particular, global competitiveness, global warming and global poverty.

It also meant that the British Government wanted to be accountable to British people for what it does on their behalf in the EU. As William Hague mentioned when summing up his remarks during the European affairs debate, "We will play our role [in Europe] with enthusiasm while vigorously advancing our country’s interests." This means Britain would be firm in the defence of British interests. However, Britain doesn't believe there is a contradiction between championing the interests of the UK in the EU, and seeking to play a constructive role in making the EU work better.

Britan would be working together with the EU on trade, on the single market, on economic growth, delivering real benefits for Britain and British people. The top priority would be to boost economic growth. Working with European partners we want to equip the EU to compete globally in the 21st century keeping people in employment and creating new employment. First and foremost, that meant promoting the single market and developing trade links.

Her Majesty The Queen announced in the Queen’s speech on 25 May 2010 that her Government would introduce legislation to ensure that in future, Parliament and the British people would have their say on any proposed transfer of powers from the UK to the European Union. The European Union Act 2011 received Royal Assent on Tuesday 19 July 2011.

There was no question of this country ever agreeing to be part of a European army. There was absolutely no question of that. From time to time, various coun tries took part in successful EU military ventures — mostly small-scale— in which, for one reason or another, NATO chose not to operate. There is no question of a European army, navy or air force.

The British Government did not share the view that a European army would be helpful or necessary. The UK believed that NATO was and should remain the centrepiece of British collective defence and security arrangements. Were there to be any move towards establishing greater European military integration, it would first require consensus among member states, because such matters cannot be determined by a qualified majority vote under the treaty. Moreover, in passing the European Union Act 2011, the UK required that there would have to be both an Act of Parliament and a referendum of the British people before any British Prime Minister could give consent to a proposal for the establishment of an EU army or armed forces in some hypothetical future.

On January 23, 2013 Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the rest of Europe, and to hold a referendum on it within five years.

Cameron suffered an embarrassing blow in parliament on May 15, 2013 when a third of his Conservative lawmakers voted against his stance on Britain's EU membership. Dozens of his own party's lawmakers took the highly unusual step of voting against the government's legislative plans. The rebels were angered that the government's proposals did not include Cameron's promise to make the referendum on Britain's EU membership legally binding. The turmoil fuelled talk of Britain's EU exit and stirred memories of the Conservative Party infighting that contributed to the downfall of the Conservatie governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

On November 10, 2015 Cameron called for the European Union to make a number of reforms ahead of his country's referendum on whether to leave the 28-nation bloc. Among the demands were protections for the one-third of EU nations that did not use the euro currency. Cameron said if the EU became a "single currency club" then it would not be one for Britain. The prime minister said he supported the free movement of labor among EU members, but that he wanted a more fair system and for governments to have more power in controlling immigration.

The prime minister made his plan under pressure from anti-Europe members of his ruling Conservative Party, and from the growing UK Indepdence Party, a new party that wanted Britain out of the EU. To placate them, he was expected to seek to exempt Britain from some European Union rules on such things as workers’ rights, law enforcement and possibly some safety rules.

Continental leaders were reluctant to provide the kinds of changes he wanted. The continent’s other major powers were reluctant to let Britain opt out of any more aspects of EU membership. France’s minister for European Affairs Bernard Cazeneuve said in January 2013 that the European Union needed to be strong, coherent and cohesive, and that Britain cannot treat it like an “a la carte” menu.

The debate centered on one of the EU’s founding principles - the freedom of movement within the EU – particularly, the freedom of foreign workers to look for work in wealthier member states. Germany was far more committed to the stronger political dimension of the EU and the migration of EU workers and it wasn’t in the business of making concessions for one country. Germany remained committed to this principle but in Britain, public concern had been mounting – especially over immigration.

While much of Europe was moving toward closer integration, Britain has always been skeptical of that approach. Years ago, the UK opted out of the common euro currency and the open borders treaty. Many Britons resented regulations that came from EU headquarters in Brussels, and were concerned about giving the European Parliament and bureaucracy more power.

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Page last modified: 15-07-2016 19:24:55 ZULU