UK’s never-ending struggle with the EU will continue as remarked by John Major
The integration of the United Kingdom into the European Union has always been one of the most powerful political issues surfacing time and again on the stage of European politics. The complex nature of the UK-EU relationship has long divided the British nation into Euro-enthusiasts and Eurosceptic, leaving deep splits between and within political parties. The result of the 2016 referendum was a perfect demonstration of this division representing 51.9 percent for Leave and 48.1 percent for Remain.
Brexit — short for British Exit — is the separation of UK from the European Union by invoking Article 50 of the treaty of European Union which states that “Any member state may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements”.
During the general election campaign of 2015, David Cameron committed himself to letting the electorate decide about the EU-UK future relationship if his Conservative Party came into power.
Since the first referendum took place on the UK’s membership with the EU from 1975 till 2015, some politicians had been voicing the demand for a fresh referendum on the subject. David Cameron’s decision to hold the referendum was intended to unite his divided Conservative Party on the EU-UK relations. Being pro-Europe, he was unable to foresee the result in favour of the Leavers.
But why does the United Kingdom have such an intensely divided reaction towards the EU?
Perhaps it’s the past rivalries with Europe, especially World War II or the glorious isolation in which the British people lived on an island or the historic supremacy of the UK as the largest empire that prevent its being comfortable with the EU bureaucracy in Brussels.
The evolution of this love-hate relationship between the UK and the EU is rooted in a series of events that occurred in the course of history.
Although, the horrible World Wars ruined the political idea of a United Europe or a United States of Europe put forward by visionaries like Victor Hugo before the 20th Century, their terrible aftermath gave Europe a renewed hope that paved the way for the foundation of the modern-day European Union.
Leading political leaders like Robert Schuman, Alicide De Gasperi, and Konrad Adenauer strived hard from 1945 till 1950 to establish a lasting unity among the European nations based on equality, rule of law and shared interests so that the victorious and the vanquished could live together in peace.
A European Steel and Coal Community that came into force in July 1952, was agreed upon among six countries: France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in April 1951 by the Treaty of Paris, which was envisaged by Jean Monnet and proposed by Robert Shuman.
Winston Churchill, British statesman, and listed among the founding fathers of European Union also upheld this idea, aiming for a Europe at “a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom... a kind of United States of Europe”.
But surprisingly, while the six founding nations became signatories to the Treaty of Rome in 1957 to establish a European Economic Community (EEC) and European Atomic Energy Community, Britain turned down the offer and didn’t join them.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, succeeding Theresa May, failed to present a better deal with the EU than his successor.
The UK applied to become a part of the EEC in 1963 and 1967 because its perception of Europe changed due to the incredible comeback of Germany and France after the devastating World War II and their establishment of a strong alliance. The applications from the UK were vetoed by French President Charles de Gaulle who thought that Britain’s view of European progress was based on a “deep-seated hostility” and that it was more inclined towards establishing relations with the United States.
Finally, the UK entered the EEC under the leadership of Prime Minister Edward Heath in 1973. After just two and a half years, its inclusion was put to test in the referendum of 1975. The referendum revealed that more than 67 percent of the people were in favour of continuing membership with the EEC, although it could not bring about immediate economic progress.
Michael Foot — a Labour Party leader — promised departure from the European Community through his election manifesto in 1983, which created division within the party, resulting in the formation of Social Democratic Party (SDP) by its pro-European wing.
Mrs Thatcher, remained strict regarding the federal supremacy of Europe and in one of her speeches in 1988 rejected “a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels”. However, John Major, who succeeded Mrs Thatcher, signed the Maastricht Treaty, leading Europe into a political union in 1992 that assigned great powers to the newly formed European Union.
The UK did not sign Schengen agreements which granted permission for free movement of people within 26 member states by abolishing border controls, nor did it join the member states to adopt a single currency in 1999. The Euro-sceptics thought that sovereignty of the UK parliament were undermined as a result of the EU gaining more political powers.
The UK always portrayed itself as a remote member of the European Union, not obeying the EU in its totality. This led to the 2016 referendum, leaving the parliament in a deadlock about how to deal with the EU in future.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, succeeding Theresa May, failed to present a better deal with the EU than his successor. His move to close the parliament and to get the UK out of the EU was rejected by the Supreme Court as unlawful.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, disagreed with Johnson on an early election call “till the danger of a No-deal Brexit is taken off the table”. But the EU delayed Brexit until January 31 and on December 12 the UK parliament agreed to a general election.
The election happened and Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party won an overall majority of 80 seats, resolving the deadlock after three extensions of the Article 50 process and the UK left the EU at the end of January 31, 2020.
The supremacy of the EU Court of Justice over British laws or its Supreme Court has ended but the never-ending struggle with the EU will continue as remarked by John Major, “One day, I confidently predict, the young ones will re-enter the EU or form a new alliance with them”.
The geographical distance of the British islands, the imperial mindset and an a resentment for taking orders will always bring Britain face to face with its own European character even after the Brexit.
The writer holds a master’s degree in European Studies from Hochschule Bremen City University of Applied Sciences, Germany. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org