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Britain is widely regarded as the ‘awkward partner’ in Europe: How accurate is this assessment?

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Non involvement 1945 to 1972.
    1. From 1945 to 1958: GB did not share the integration project.
    2. From 1958 to 1973: Why did Britain change its mind at this point?
  3. Membership: Anglo Euro relations 1972 to 2000.
    1. Half-hearted Europeans 1973-94: Awkwardness and semi-detachment.
    2. Labour Government from 1997-present: The appearance of being European.
  4. Conclusion.
  5. References.

The Second World War gave impetus to the idea of European unity. A view developed that only by the creation of some form of European federation would Europe enjoys a permanent peace. After WW2, European states focussed on national reconstruction, whereas Britain had a globalist perspective. This difference of interests produced a discrepancy between Great Britain and the other countries in the idea of integration in an institutionalized Europe. Winston Churchill characterized British international interest in terms of three interconnected circles: Empire and Commonwealth, Europe, and the United States. The US generally came first, Europe always last. The awkward partner thesis is a widespread theoretical framework which explains why Britain has been called a semi-detached member of the European Union. The argument advanced here is that the awkward partner thesis presupposes a negative behaviour by UK governments in relation to their European counterparts. How accurate is this thesis?

[...] Churchill's enumeration of the four pillars of this compartmented reality (USA, URSS, Europe and the British Empire) portrayed well how Britain detached itself as a potential European power. Insular Britain, despite its active role in the war, did not witness the conflict as directly as the continent did and so never quite shared this integration project that wanted to go beyond economical and commercial affairs. In 1954, the British were invited to the post-Messina discussions, but they saw no convincing reasons to alter their position. [...]


[...] This is a classic example of Britain not understanding the integrationalist imperative. The point of the single market programme was to foster increased economic activity and free trade, but also linked to this was the political integration and EMU (Single Currency). The Single European Act of 1985 was about creating a closer Europe. This was an exercise in functional integration; Mrs Thatcher had said afterwards that she would not have signed had she understood this. She started becoming anti-European towards the end of her tenure in office and was increasing vocal about the dangers of European Federalism, epitomised in her No speech. [...]


[...] Then, came the Thatcher period. (1979 1990) Mrs Thatcher's first Foreign Secretaries Carrington and Pym were pro-European. However Mrs Thatcher always saw the US relationship as more as her first concern. It is possible to cite three major reasons for her stance on the budgetary contributions: Linked to the history of Britain's entry methods, Britain has joined under inherited rules. They are to benefit other member states, which have a very different economic profile to the UK. A second problem is CAP. [...]

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