British Politics

Palgrave Foundations Series, second edition

by Robert Leach, Bill Coxall and Lynton Robins

Chapter 15 notes - Britain and Europe

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  • Britain initially failed to engage with the movement for European integration because of the continuing illusion of world power status, the special relationship with the USA and continuing ties with the Commonwealth.
  • Britain eventually joined in 1973, too late to help shape early institutions and policies, and did not seem to secure the same economic benefits as founder members and some later members enjoyed.
  • UK membership of the EC/EU has long been a divisive issue in British politics, leading to splits in old parties and the establishment of new ones. While enthusiasts have welcomed Britain’s closer engagement with Europe, Eurosceptics have been critical of the impact on national independence and parliamentary sovereignty.
  • UK membership has had a major impact on the process of government and on key areas of policy but implications for the British constitution and the principle of parliamentary sovereignty are contested.
  • The European Union is a complex organization. Some institutions represent the EU as a whole (European Commission, European Parliament, European Court of Justice) while others represent the interests of member states (European Council, Council of Ministers, COREPER).
  • There has been some tension between the further integration of policies within the EU (deepening) and enlargement of the EU to include new members (widening). Recent and proposed further enlargements cause some problems for EU institutions and policies, and raise questions over the nature of Europe itself.
  • Britain’s role in Europe remains an important issue in British politics. Following the Iraq war, a key question is how far Britain can engage fully with Europe and maintain its ‘special relationship’ with the USA.
  • Both public opinion and the Conservative party have become increasingly eurosceptic, raising the prospect of a partial or total disengagement from the European Union.
  • However, the formation of a Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition government considerably reduces the immediate threat of a crisis in UK–EU relations.