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Britain: Europe’s Awkward Partner – And Proud Of It 31 May 2006

Posted by David in Europe.

Ever since the early concept of the European Union after the Second World War, Union Flag wavingthe United Kingdom has been an awkward partner. “We are with Europe but not of it,” said Churchill, and the Labour administrations of Atlee shared this sentiment. Britain felt closer to her historic partners – the Commonwealth and the United States of America – where Churchill had fostered a close and strong special relationship. Churchill’s belief in an “alliance of the English speaking world” was far closer to the government and public opinion than any ideas of European unity.

Even the more pro-European leaders, such as Macmillan, viewed membership of the then EEC as building blocks to a Europe “like the city states of Ancient Greece”, contrasting with the federalist noises coming from the institutions. In power, even the pro-European Prime Ministers cooled the European rhetoric. Attempts to join the Common Market, blocked by De Gaulle, angered Britain, and it wasn’t until 1973 that membership was completed under Edward Heath admist a much divided party and nation.

Ever since joining however, the UK has been an awkward partner in the project. From the 1974 cancellation by Wilson of the Channel Tunnel project (not restarted until Margaret Thatcher), through the wide public division exposed in the 1975 referendum, and particularly the Thatcher era of the rebate, hand-bagging and provocative style. The policy of opposing federalism has continued since.

Today, even under Blair, the UK remains an awkward partner in the EU. Britain has not joined the single currency, nor rejoined the exchange rate mechanism (a prerequisite to EMU), and the “wait and see” policy of Major has simply been changed into Gordon Brown’s five un-passable tests. This is not to say that the Prime Minister Tony Blair wouldn’t like to see a more positive EU role, indeed he sees the Euro as “Britain’s destiny”, simply that the Chancellor is generally more Eurosceptic (at least in practice). Britain has also vetoed moves to qualified majority voting on issues of defence, security and taxation.

In other areas the UK has become more conciliatory with integration, notably the Rapid Reaction Force promoted by Blair, moves to greater qualified majority voting in some areas, the signing of the Social Chapter of the [Maastricht] Treaty of the EU, and moves to Europe wide initiatives in aid, counter terrorism, tackling organised crime and people trafficking. Although the rest is held out for full reform, Blair has surrendered part of the annual rebate to the tune of £1 billion annually in return for the promise of a Common Agriculture Policy review in 2009.

The UK is an awkward partner in more ways than one however. Britain has surely the most finely managed, efficiently run and Europe-hostile press in the World, a press which is greatly supported among the public, well known for their dislike of the EU. The regular EU funded Euro-barometer polls show huge mistrust, dislike and resistance to the project; for example just 33% of Britons see the EU as a good thing compared to the EU average of 49%. A recent YouGov poll shows 59% support for a free trading bloc only EU. Britons do not participate widely in European Parliament elections, and when they do, they overwhelmingly vote for Eurosceptic parties. The UK has one of the largest anti-EU parties in Europe, the UK Independence Party.

Only the Liberal Democrats have widespread pro-European views, views they tend to keep quiet about. So called ‘Orange Book Liberals’, modernising supporters of free trade, are also more Eurosceptic. The Conservatives are highly Eurosceptic, with many backing withdrawal, and most backing a free trade only solution, if only privately. The Scottish Nationalists and Plaid Cymru only support the EU for a federalist agenda involving greater powers to regions.

As a nation the most awkward partner imaginable. The public and press are very much against European integration, some 25% spontaneously told the Euro-barometer surveyors “I don’t want it” to EU Citizenship, despite that not being an option they were given. The majority back a trade bloc only, a Common Market as voted for in 1975. It is only the post-Thatcher governments that have shown weakness – the public attitude and press strength have held governments down. We can be grateful for that at least, but must not forget to keep up the pressure at all times.



1. Lincoln - 12 December 2006

Awkward partner? NO! We are slaves to the EU(SSR) Our leaders pretend to fight for our rights while selling us down the river. We should leave now and regain our independence.

2. blogger - 12 December 2006

I agree entirely, we must leave the EU now.

3. Come on EU!! - 2 January 2007

y leave the EU now just because you english have been fighting this battle for far too long! the benifits of the EU oversee the negatives. all you english who disagree with the EU are just worried that they are going to loose their jobs when migrants come into ‘their’ country, why should they live forever in poverty? they have the same rights as all of us!! I feel EU enlargement is one step closer to an equal and fair world!!

4. blogger - 2 January 2007

Come on EU @ #3, us ‘English’ have been fighting this battle for a reason, the reason being that we believe in free, democratic and independent nations. We have a long tradition of fighting battles for this belief that those overseas view as having gone on ‘for far too long’. We are not about to start listening to them.

You state the ‘benifits’ (sic) outweigh the negatives, but fail to state any of these benefits. What are they? And why can they only exist through the EU? Free trade doesn’t need the EU, just ask the Swiss. Neither does free movement of people. Neither does action for the environment.

Putting anti-EU sentiment down to opposition to migrants is a lazy and cheap slur, an attempt to cast the anti-EU movement as racists who rely on protectionism. Nothing is further from the truth. You talk of migrants, then ask why they should live in poverty. How are these two connected? Most of the anti-EU movement supports free trade, which is the only way out of poverty. The EU sadly blocks free trade with non-members, such as Africa, taxing their goods to make them uncompetitive. How does this fit your feeling that EU is ‘one step closer to an equal and fair world’? And is this ‘equal and fair world’ the same one envisioned by the USSR?

Our opposition to the EU has nothing to do with enlargement, but a belief in free, independent and democratic nations.

5. Lara - 28 February 2007

Go on then, leave. See what happens.
UK membership of the EEC was a reaction to decline. There was no persuasive alternative to it; the UK was simply unable to escape the pressures of interdependence. If a misguided sense of self-importance and a crushed national ego leads you to think that in a world that has globalized even more since ’73 you could manage without it, economically that is, than I would like to see you try.
It’s easy to proclaim the UK should ‘regain its independence’. If you really want change, think in terms of institutional reform. Don’t content yourself dreaming up scenario’s that are politically unlikely and economically infeasible.

6. The Bicycling Chameleon - 28 February 2007

Lara, firstly welcome to Chameleons on Bicycles. I would gladly leave the EU and “see what happens”, as the effects would be hugely possitive. I recommend you look into the subject (i.e. beyond EU propoganda).

In 1973 the EU was sold as the Common Market – basically a free trade area. Free trade is the economic benefit you talk of, but this is no longer what the EU is about. We could still trade freely without it, as Switzerland and Norway do, and so have all the economic benefit you talk of without the costs or political union. Just as Australia has free trade with the USA and Thailand, the USA also with Canada and Mexico (NAFTA).

It has nothing to do with “self-importance and a crushed national ego”, and I fail to see how globalisation means we cannot manage without the EU. Please explain.

Institutional reform? What has every government since 1973 been trying to do?

“Don’t content yourself dreaming up scenario’s that are politically unlikely and economically infeasible.”
Politically unlikely, economically feasible and beneficial. Sign free trade, save 6bln per year from EU funding. The free trade deal would be no problem, as we import more from Europe than we export to Europe (i.e. if they refused, they would suffer more, so won’t). Plus we could gain more economic benefit by signing free trade with other countries, creating a more prosperous UK and World. The EU currently blocks this.

Please explain why you feel it unfeasible?

7. Joe - 5 March 2007

Push come to shove if we had to choose between a Ferderal Europe and being 51st state, I vote for 51st state every time, if the argument we can’t go it alone.
But why can’t we?
Worlds fourth largest economy and sixth largest military power?

8. UKIP Boy - 7 March 2007

If you want to leave the EU come join UKIP. We’re the only serious party if you want to get our country back.

9. The Bicycling Chameleon - 10 March 2007

UKIP Boy, UKIP a serious party? Why do they contest marginals and attack Eurosceptic Conservatives, letting Europhile Lib Dems and Labourites to get elected?

10. Dom Gillan - 28 May 2009

so far in 2009, 51% of imports and 58% exports have gone to or from the EU as compared with the rest of the world

11. mercury in swine flu jabs kills - 30 November 2009

the eu tried to create regional assemblies they failed so instead centralised councils like Cheshire west to further the global agenda towards the eu controlling our councils.

“alliance of the English speaking world government” more like.
is it fair to say to that those of you who stood by while the federal cartel committed worse crimes then Hitler will one day detest your lack of action to the very core of your soul as you see a your grandchildren born into world hell bent on furthering the enslavement of the planets people
to federalism globalism an one world govermentism!

imagine ourselves in a world were unless you are in the high order of the clan your kept in the dark from the list of covert toxic products like MSG in soya without stating it on the label
google aspartame (cancer 😦 ) watch honest views
of long serving doctors,
also do the same with MSG (monosodium glutamate) (cancer 😦
an then watch the dentists views on fluoride (invented by the Nazi’s)
fluoridation of the water supply was an idea developed by the nazis to mass medicate the population into being docile an co-operative causing cancers an sterilisation in women
fluoride one of the worlds most deadliest mainstream chemicals in terms of toxicity carrys the warning on tooth paste if you swallow call poison control at your local hospital or seek medical advice immediately ,there is a pea sized amount in a 8oz glass of tap water!
yet that is deemed as safe?.

fluoride is the main ingredient in many rat poisons,
yet we let our children an grandchildren clean there teeth with this contaminated water an tooth soap.
These products are unfit for humanity
helping a world agenda reduce its peoples population an land needed for those people an there children
but at the same time build more golf courses
to carry on the traditional values of Scottish golf an freemasonry
lets face it most of the worlds fate is decide over a game of golf these days an have no doubt that despite what seems like free boarders you are a slave an always will be to
new world order politics

12. Andy - 12 January 2010

Joe just to let you know that the country you refere as “you” or Britain is no the 4th largest economy in the world.. the top 4 economies are: USA, Japan, China, Germany

13. Seawitch - 8 May 2010

We should leave the EU…it’s not the common market we joined…it’s becoming the Franco-German empire.

14. herald mankini - 22 June 2010

There is so much exaggeration when it comes to Britain being known as the ‘awkward partner’, it is so steriotypical. There is not such a deep reluctancy to the EU. It has brought us a lot of trade, however also a lot of problems. If it wasn’t for the immigration of workers and our increasing population maybe ‘Europe’ wouldn’t be seen as such a bad thing.

too late now.

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