Britain and the Continent - from Isolation to Integration

Article excerpt

Abstract

Britain, with its insularity in location and once being the world's greatest empire, carried the isolation policy for most of history, separating itself from the continental Europe in foreign affairs. For a long time, it has secured prosperity and prestige with special relationship with America and the good terms with members of the Commonwealth. However, wars, constant emergence of new economic rivals, member countries' withdrawals from the Commonwealth, the unreliable ally, and the weakening national power have all obliged Britain to find a new partner to lean upon. Britain began to strengthen its ties with the continental Europe by joining the European Economic Community (EEC). But the path to EEC was not smooth although Britain finally accomplished its goal.

Key Words: Europe; Isolation policy; Special relationship; The commonwealth

INTRODUCTION

The Continent is used to refer to the mainland of Europe in the United Kingdom; however, "it is widespread practice in the media in the UK (and elsewhere) to use the word Europe to mean continental Europe; that is, 'Europe' excludes Britain, Iceland and Ireland." (Wikipedia, 2012) In order to highlight the difference between Britain and Europe, the term Continent is used throughout this paper.

British former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, wrote in his book: "Since we are real Europeans (in old times, our ancestors sailed from the Continent to settle in Britain), we should not distance ourselves from the Continent. Instead, we should take vigorous part in European affairs for that is the only way to strengthen our national power" (Blair, 1998, p. 329). Britain's foreign policy is constructed to correspond to its national interests. In 1973, Britain joined the EEC, but "membership of the EEC was a partial surrender of British sovereignty, even if few were prepared to recognize it or admit it." (Speck, 1993, p. 1) This paper is going to make a review of how Britain adjusted its political stand towards the Continent according to its domestic economic circumstances, political benefits, and the world situation.

1. THE ISOLATION POLICY

Being the oldest capitalist country, Britain once acquired its peak of development. In the second half of the 16th century, Spain was the dominant empire in the world. To clear its way to the world power, Spain started an attack at England in 1588 with the Invincible Armada, a fleet of more than 130 ships. England defeated Spanish fleet with the tactic of fire-ships, and Armada experienced severe damage from the storm which was considered as the intervention of God. The victory thus helped England become the unchallenged master of the seas by the end of the 16th century. Britain from then on relied on its great power to develop its economy It was the first country to accomplish the Industrial Revolution in the world, which made Britain become the workshop of the world and achieved a monopoly position in the international market. Waving the banner of trade, Britain continuously expanded its overseas colonies. It was too busy with control of the overseas colonies to spare any time to attend to European affairs. "The British Empire was the greatest - the biggest, at any rate - ever known. It was reputed to cover a quarter of the world's land area, and a fifth of its population (Cannon, 1997, p. 128)."

The isolation policy was aimed at maintaining equilibrium among European countries, that is, if equilibrium was well preserved, Britain would stay aloof from the Continent; if not, it would begin to interfere. "For most of the 19th century, Britain was diplomatically isolated (Cannon, 1997, p. 883)." She had no allies to be responsible for "except in circumstances where her interests were affected"; conversely, "no other country owed favours to her" (Cannon, 1997, p. 884). At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, British Minister of Foreign Affairs, Castlereagh, declared that Britain's obligation was to make effective intervention once balance of forces among European nations was broken; however, he emphasized that Britain wouldnot shoulder any responsibility on substantive matters. …