An Awkward Partner: Britain in the European Community

By Stephen George | Go to book overview

8. The Major Governments

THE Major Governments opened with an attempt to make a new start in relations with the rest of the EC, but drifted increasingly back towards the sort of hostile relations that had prevailed under Thatcher. In a context where many of the ideas of the British Conservatives about the nature of the EC were beginning to gain more widespread acceptance, the Government was in an ideal position to be at the centre of the European debate. That is the position that John Major tried to mark out for his Government in its first months. However, a combination of events in the EC itself and domestic political circumstances led to a retreat from that position to one of effective isolation and almost total lack of influence by the end of Major's premiership.


The International Context

Within months of John Major assuming office, hostilities finally broke out in the Gulf. Operation Desert Storm was a remarkably quick and, in military terms, a devastatingly successful campaign. The whole operation lasted less than six weeks from the first military action to the official declaration of the end of hostilities. The coalition led by the United States suffered less than 400 fatalities, of whom 44 were British. Iraqi fatalities were impossible to determine precisely, but ran into the tens of thousands.

The close co-operation between the United States and Britain in the Gulf temporarily breathed new life into the special relationship, but the renewed closeness did not survive the election in November 1992 of the Democrat Bill Clinton to the US presidency, particularly because Major appeared to give support to Bush during the election campaign. The Clinton administration was even more determined than Bush to concentrate on domestic issues and to insist that the Europeans sort out European problems. It also saw Germany as a more relevant partner than Britain in dealing with European problems.

In July 1994 Clinton visited Germany. Before leaving Washington

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