From the start, Britain's feelings towards European integration were complex; and when Britain finally joined the ‘common market’ in 1973, its reasons were predominantly of an economic nature. Its profound doubts of any ‘federal’ or ‘political’ union would become a recurring theme throughout its membership; and, in later years, Britain's critical attitude towards transfers of legislative powers to the European Union found numerous expressions in a wide range of ‘opt-outs’. They gave the United Kingdom, in the words of the British government, a unique place within the Union. However, even this halfway house ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ the European Union could not prevent a British referendum in which the majority of British citizens decided to opt out of Union membership altogether. This article offers a very short historical overview of British membership in the Union. Six key moments in the story of British membership will illustrate the complex relationship between Britain and the European Union.
Photo by Markus Spiske