Britain and European Integration since 1945: On the Sidelines

Britain and European Integration since 1945: On the Sidelines

Britain and European Integration since 1945: On the Sidelines

Britain and European Integration since 1945: On the Sidelines

Synopsis

This book provides both a comprehensive introduction and a perceptive examination of Britain's relations with the European Community and the European Union since 1945, combining an historical account with political analysis to illustrate the changing and multifaceted nature of British and European politics.

Few issues in British politics since 1945 have generated such heated controversy as Britain's approach to the process of European integration associated with the European Union. The long-running debate on the subject has not only played a major part in the downfall of prime ministers and other leading political figures but has also exposed major fault-lines within governments and caused deep and rancorous divisions within and between the major political parties. This highly contested issue has given rise to bitter campaigning in the press and between pressure groups, and it has bemused, confused and divided the public at large.

Key questions addressed include:

  • Why has Europe had such an explosive impact on British politics?
  • What impelled British policymakers to join the European Community and to undertake one of the radical, if not the most radical, changes in modern British history?
  • What have been the perceived advantages and disadvantages of British membership of the European Union?
  • Why has British membership of the European Union rarely attracted a national consensus?

Engaging with both academic and public debates about Britain and the European Union, this volume is essential reading for all students of British history, British politics, and European politics.

Excerpt

This book provides a study of British policy and attitudes towards the process of European integration associated with the European Union (EU), formerly European Communities (EC). It covers the period from the end of the Second World War in 1945 down to the present day.

Few aspects of British politics during the past sixty years have attracted as much continuing attention and intense debate as British involvement in European integration. This highly contested issue has frequently exposed major faultlines within governments; it has wreaked havoc with the political careers and reputations of prime ministers and other government ministers; it has caused rancorous disputes within and between the major political parties and their leaderships; it has given rise to bitter polemics in the press and between pressure groups; it has produced different explanations from historians, political scientists and a variety of commentators; and it has bemused, confused and divided the public at large. The subject has also given rise to some colourful journalese. The British press is often thick with martial language, Churchillian rhetoric, and banner headlines proclaiming victory, surrender, defeat or unwarranted interference whenever Brussels and EU matters are in the news. A sample of the views of politicians and commentators conveys similar high drama. For example, Britain’s involvement in European integration has been variously portrayed as the end of a thousand years of history, as a thorn in the side of British politics, as a matter triggering the most visceral reactions in the British psyche, as the cause of a nervous breakdown in the political class, as a suitable case for treatment by psychotherapists as much as by historians and political scientists, and as an issue guaranteed to reduce politicians and the press to a pantomime routine of foot-stamping, finger wagging and name-calling.

There is little disputing, then, that Britain’s strange relationship with European integration is one of the persistently neuralgic issues in the country’s politics. The often heated controversy is understandable, if only because the decisions taken by British governments on this subject over the past fifty years amount to one of the radical, if not the most radical, changes in the country’s domestic and foreign affairs during this period. Why involvement in European integration has caused such an uproar and has often appeared as a . . .

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