The United Kingdom as an outsider to the EU

History, politics and ideological determinants

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007
27 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1 General Introduction
1.1 Introduction and approach of this paper

2 Britishness
2.1 Cultural identity
2.2 Britain and the EMU
2.3 Britain and the European Constitution

3 Special Relationship

4 The Euro-sceptic Press in Great Britain

5 The “Awkward Partner” enters the union

6 Margaret Thatcher: Alone against the Superstate
6.1 Margaret Thatcher and the BBQ
6.2 The Late 1980s – Struggle Over Europe

7 John Major: A phase of transition

8 New Labour: Old Wine in New Bottles?
8.1 Hopes for a pro-European approach
8.2 New Labour and the Euro

9 Evaluation and outlook

10 Works Cited

1 General Introduction

1.1 Introduction and approach of this paper

Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least five hundred years – to create a disunited Europe. ...It was necessary for us to break up the EEC,... . Now that we're in, we were able to make a pig's breakfast out of it. (The Complete Yes Minister, qtd. In Otte 1)

The essence that this sarcastic quotation transports, brushing away all party politics, great leaders and platform commitments, suggests that Euro-scepticism has always been in Great Britain's political culture and it is here to stay. Intrinsic motifs and reasons for the British Euroscepticism will be dealt with in part I of this paper and indeed, they constitute strong evidence that the rejection of Europe – not only of the EU as a political instrument – is firmly entrenched in major parts of the UK's society. To assume however that this sentiment has been equally present in all the political phases and parties in post WWII Great Britain is scientifically unsustainable. It becomes obvious especially if one considers the pro-European mood in the devolved Scottish Parliament and the parties represented in it, eg. The Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats (Watts/Pilkington 222, 243). Also on UK level the political approach towards the EU and its institutions has changed with the political personal in charge, intergovernmental relations and constellations; it is true especially in regard of the UK that the lines of approval and rejection of the EU are not congruent with party loyalities.

t is therefore the task of this paper to distil ideological determinants and mind-sets and the crucial phases in British policies towards the European Union after World War II. Focus in part one lies on Britishness and its surrounding ideological patterns; part two at its core examines the last three governments of the United Kingdom, that is the administrations of Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair. It will be one of the statements of this work that both of the subsequent governments in many respects can be seen in the tradition of the first mentioned, although it was then indicated in another way and hoped by many pro-Europeans that this would not be the case. Furthermore one aim will be to isolate a tendency that enables the percipients of this academic work to venture an outlook on the future relations between Europe and the UK, which is especially vital in regard of the sustainability of the Union: It has now enlarged to 27 members with some more countries in the waiting loop and its constitution is still on hold. It must be emphasized that the UK is a major player in European politics and by no means just a by-stander. To support the above-mentioned tendency this paper will repeatedly recur on figures of surveys among the UK's people and examine if Euroscepticism was shared on both levels, in the governments and in the population or if classical patterns of bottom up or top down politics can be established.

As Julie Smith and Mariana Tsatsas in their work The New Bilateralism point out, there are many factors that determine bilateral relations (5). This term paper is incorporating the points that are important in the examination of the topic; it names the treaties that shape the European interactions on a transnational level and provides the necessary terminology in the respective historical contexts. It is however also determined to not neglect the relations between the people who govern the countries; it is thus not only party platforms, bi- and multilateral treaties and assumed political alliances within the political left/right pattern that shape European relations, but also the chemistry between the leaders: “...good personal relations are extremely important in building effective bilateral relations between states (Smith/Tsatsas 7).

These relations often do not adjust to political affiliations; for example although Tony Blair was usually associated with a “catch-all” politics slightly tending to the left, however with the former conservative Prime Minister of Spain, Jose Maria Aznar, he got warmer than with many of “his fellow European Social Democrats” (Smith/Tsatsas 31). Margaret Thatcher however could not conceal her disliking for her conservative counterpart in Germany: “she thought (Helmut) Kohl boring, clumsy and provincial...: “My God, that man is so German” (Campbell 304). It has become common to declare Margaret Thatcher the greatest anti-European in British history after WWII - it is however necessary to take a look back into the early years of the community to understand that also the Iron Lady's policies were in some measure in line with those of her predecessors.

2 Britishness

2.1 Cultural identity

Britain's sense of itself is a strongly encouraged self-perception by its imperial past and its geographical and linguistic isolation of the rest of Europe. As in most western democracies, a strong sense of cultural identity and a concept of what Britain means is deeply rooted in Great Britain. Here Robbins offers a traditional view of cultural identification:“ identification is constructed on the back of a recognition of some common origin or shared characteristic with another person or group, or with an ideal, and with a natural closure of solidarity and allegiance established on this foundation" (Robbins 282). Thus there are two factors: identification - here clearly seen as a construct - is based on either some common origin and/or shared characteristics; this could be historical events from the shared imperial past or, as stated above, the geographical and linguistic isolation from continental Europe. The second and most likely more vital factor stated by Robbins is "the natural closure of solidarity". This concept of closure is strongly associated with the topic of cultural/group identity by many socialists. It describes the unconscious intention of a specific social group to not only form this group for reasons of shared origins and characteristics, but to then defend it and its perceived status from an external threat. This external threat is often referred to as "the Other", which shows that it can appear in various forms and always starts as an imagined or at least perceived threat, long before it can be grasped and named factually. In the beginning the only thing that the specific social group might be certain of, is that there is a difference between their supposedly homogenous group and the external other. The manifestation of this difference rapidly turns "the Other" into an external threat against which the shared traditions and values of the group have to be defended. Thus according to contemporary social theory, it could be plausibly argued, that one element at least of recent expressions of Euro-scepticism in Britain "stems from the presence of and perceived threat from an external "Other", namely continental Europe" (Robbins 285).

In consequence this would mean that Britain's cultural identity is not only based on a common an widely spread notion of what Britain is and what it means to be British, but also and maybe even more important: upon perceptions and convictions of what Britain in its essential domains - such as history, economy, traditions, culture etc. - is not, compared with the rest of Europe. „In other words, in addition to its alleged 'essence', its identity is further constituted negatively in response to the (external) presence of the 'Other'” (Robbins 287).

2.2 Britain and the EMU

A major difference between Britain and the other member states of the European Union is that Britain up until this day has not joined the single currency Euro. British Euro-sceptics repeatedly claim that to join a single currency would mean to under mine basic, proven British freedoms and the power to control and to determine Britain's economic future. In other words, they fear a loss of economic and thus political freedom and at the same time a loss of power through linking their economic fate to that of the European Union and its - mostly economically weaker - member states. "Britain's economy is strong but, if we join a single currency, it will be subsumed under the authority of a central bank directed by and located in Germany. The British taxpayer will subsidise the public expenditure of other governments whose economies are less efficient" (Anderson, Weymouth 38). Those voices of course fail to see that an EU single market without a corresponding single currency will probably never operate with full effectiveness.

Not joining the EMU is a clear factor of integration hindrance for Great Britain. Yet, the British government is well aware of its Euro-sceptic public; which became evident when neither the Lord's ECC, which issued a report assessing the consequences of EMU for the UK (compare Giddings; 2004), nor the Commons Treasury Committee (CTC) dared to address the issue whether the United Kingdom should join. Both agreed upon that "it is in the UK'S interests that a decision to 'wait and see' should be seen as a genuine postponement and not a disguised final rejection of economic and monetary union" (Giddings 162). Like many Britons they also feared financial dependence from weaker membership-economies, as was voiced by Lord Barnett in the ECC's report in 2000: „if the European Central Bank fails, so does economic and monetary union" (Giddings 163).

Also in the election campaign in 2000 the political might of the Euro-sceptic voices in Great Britain became evident. The Conservative Party adopted 'save the pound' as central issue into their programme for the next election. This again made it impossible for the various committees of the current government to directly answer the question of whether the UK was to join the EMU. The government, as well as the Conservative Party knew to well about the votes at stake; thus the committees decided to deliberately avoid this central issue and to support the well known 'wait and see' pattern.

So it can be concluded that "economic and monetary union, and especially joining the single currency, have been and are matters of high public and parliamentary controversy (...) the genuine difficulty of the issue of convergence and the problem of managing party and public opinion meant that the British Government's position under both political parties has remained one of ambiguity - 'wait and see'" (Giddings 169).

2.3 Britain and the European Constitution

It can be agreed upon, that the EU constitution is set to creating a political union. The European Union with its shared currency will have its own supreme court, its own president, its own parliament – shortly, through the constitution a federal state will be established in its completion. As President Chirac of France put it. “Europe today has more than ever the need and necessity to reinforce its unity: that is the goal of the constitution” (Redwood 16).

One of the greatest fears of Euro-sceptics in Great Britain is that the EU constitution will stand above their own. In consequence that would mean that the EU was placed above the UK if hierarchies were to be established. British Euro-sceptics do not believe that the constitution is a mere set of rules to govern friendship and cooperation amongst a series of sovereign nation states, as some who are in favour of the Constitution like to argue. Euro-sceptics like John Redwood state: “The Constitution demolishes that argument in its early paragraphs, through its strong assertion of the primacy of Union actions and law making, the appeal of citizenship of Europe, and the establishment of wide-ranging purposes similar to those of independent nation states” (Redwood 16).

He furthermore believes the EU-constitution to drive forward EU powers, especially in home

affairs, justice and foreign policy; and that this is a Constitution for a new state on the world stage. He, like many other Euro-sceptics is troubled by the thought, that the UK could suffer political and moral pressure from the EU, once it comes to any disagreement: “The Constitution makes it clear that member states have to support anything once agreed, and have to make a strong contribution to creating a common line on everything, including agreeing to things they do not want to agree to.” (Redwood 17).

Another cause of great scepticism within Britain towards the EU in general and its constitution in particular, is that commissioners are put into office lacks transparency and therefore fail to fully respect them for the offices they hold. “British eyes tend to view them as senior officials whilst most continental Europeans see them as important European politicians.” (Redwood 19).

Since the constitution was drawn up the polls have been very consistent, showing that there is something like a 3 to 1 majority against joining it (compare Redwood: 2005). Most political analysts and commentators believe there is no chance of turning British public opinion around to win a referendum on this issue – neither do we.

3 Special Relationship

Ever since there has been this very intense bond between the USA and the UK. This bond was strengthened and built on the base of a similar judicial system, the ideology of the Anglo-Saxon kinship and the shared language. Nevertheless can it be argued that the term 'special relationship' as it is used in the political discourse today was the creation of Winston Churchill. He, being half American half British, can be seen as its factual embodiment "and throughout his long life he saw the two nations as artificially severed halves of a single community which he worked - not only as a statesman but as a historian and a publicist - to reunite" (Sir Michael Howard in Louis, Bull 149). His emotional commitment to the UK-US-course was base to his belief that the friendship and support of the United States was essential to Britain's survival as a continental, as well as imperial power.

Churchill articulated his vision of a United Europe and the eventual formation of a union of English-speaking peoples in his essential speech in the year 1946. He wished for the US and the UK to stand against war, tyranny and famine united and set his focus on common tradition between the US and Great Britain, when he claimed at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri:

"we must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man which are the joint inheritance of the English-speaking world and which through Magna Charta, the Bill of Rights, the habeas corpus, trial by jury, and the English common law find their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence" (Redwood 71).

Furthermore he pledged: "all this means that the people of any country have the right, and should have power by constitutional action, by free unfettered elections, with secret ballot, to choose or change the character or form of government under which they dwell; that freedom of speech and thought should reign; the course of justice, independent of the Executive, unbiased by any party, should administer laws which have received the broad assent of large majorities or are consecrated by time and custom. Here are the title deeds of freedom which should lie in every cottage home; here is the message of the British and American peoples of mankind" (Redwood 71).

Churchill’s aim was common citizenship between the United Kingdom and the United States. He wished that the two nations should use each other's bases and provide military security: "for external association requires not only the growing friendship and mutual understanding between our two vats but kindred systems of society, but the continuance of the intimate relationship between our military advisers, leading to common study of potential dangers, similarity of weapons and manuals of instructions, and to the interchange of officers and cadets at technical college" (Redwood 73).

Churchill strongly believed that the only way to achieve security from the communist threat was a strong alliance between the US and the UK. He feared famine, tyranny and destruction for Europe and decided that the only way to avoid such horrible fate was "to recreate the European family, or as much of it as we can, and provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of united States of Europe" (Redwood 72). Winston Churchill was deeply convinced that Great Britain with its imperial history, its strong link to the US and its Commonwealth was destined to be a 'big player' within his vision of the United States of Europe. Moreover did he believe that a strong English-speaking union would be able to promote freedom and democracy around the world. Churchill's vision clearly still holds relevance today, even if according to John Redwood „the US begin to question its enthusiasm for a United Europe including the UK" (Redwood 73).


Excerpt out of 27 pages


The United Kingdom as an outsider to the EU
History, politics and ideological determinants
University of Potsdam  (Institut für Sozialwissenschaften)
Europa in der Krise – welche Krise
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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United, Kingdom, Europa, Krise
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Lisanne Dorn (Author)Lars Dittmer (Author), 2007, The United Kingdom as an outsider to the EU, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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