UK in EU: A Timeline from Membership to Brexit
The United Kingdom has come a long way before it became an official member of the European Union. The UK was not involved in the initial creation of the united European community. It was only in 1973 when authorities approved UK’s third application to join the union. Since then, the United Kingdom has become a key player, actively taking part in the creation of policies which helped the growth and development of all 28 active EU members.
However, in June 2016, a very crucial question was asked of the people in the UK:
“Should we remain a member of the European Union?”
The concept of Brexit started – derived from Britain and Exit – noting the withdrawal of United Kingdom’s membership with the European Union.
Before we discuss further what Brexit means, let us tackle how the United Kingdom became part of the European Union.
The Beginning of the European Communities
In 1951, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands signed the Treaty of Paris which established the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The United Kingdom was invited to take part but they declined. After the ESCS, the European Economic Community (EEC) and European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) were formed.
In 1960, the United Kingdom, together with Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland established the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). This is their response to the creation of the European Economic Community. The EFTA seeks to establish free trade but it avoids to create supranational governing bodies.
UK’s Failed Applications
In 1961, the United Kingdom, under Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, submitted their application to join the European Economic Community. However, French President Charles de Gaulle vetoed their application in 1963. For Gaulle, certain British policies, including those under Britain’s labor, agriculture, and economy made the country incompatible to join EEC.
In 1967, UK tried again to apply as a member of the EEC. For the second time, Gaulle blocked the British application. In 1969, Gaulle relinquished his presidency. With this, the United Kingdom, under Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath successfully became an official member of the EEC in 1971.
The Initial Movement to Leave the Community
In 1974, Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson renegotiated Britain’s membership in the European Communities. Basically, Britain was a small agricultural producer. It only depended on imports. With this, Wilson discussed Britain’s net budgetary contribution to the EC. According to him, Britain suffered greatly from agricultural spending and agricultural import taxes. With this, the EEC members agreed to establish the European Regional Development Fund, a major advantage for Britain.
In June 1975, the United Kingdom conducted the first ever national referendum which asked the people whether the UK should remain as a member or leave the EC. The members of the government were given the chance to present their views. After the deliberation, the electorate decided for a continued membership on EC by a substantial majority. Further, the British people voted to stay in the EC by 67% by 33%.
After the referendum, the United Kingdom continued to become a member of the EEC. In 1979, the Exchange Rate Mechanism was launched which aimed to standardize exchange rates across the EEC. It is also a preparation for the adoption of a single currency. On the other hand, The UK opted out of the monetary system. Moreover, another call by the Labour party for the UK to leave the EU was made, this time without a referendum. The Conservative party also went back to function with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
In 1985, the UK supported the Single European Act. In 1987, it was officially signed which created an internal market. The single market promotes free movement of goods, services, labor, and money. In 1990, the UK also joined again the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.
The Birth of the Official European Union
Thatcher resigned as the Prime Minister in 1990. The UK was also forced to opt out again from the ERM in 1992. As a result, the Maastricht Treaty was signed. This resulted in the official creation of the European Union. Instead of just an economic union, it evolved into a political-economic union.
On the other hand, another movement for the UK’s membership of the EU was formed. In 1994, Anglo-French multi-millionaire Sir Hames Goldsmith founded the Referendum Party. It aimed to ask the British people whether the UK should remain as part of the federal European state or revert to being an independent nation practicing free trade. However, it failed again.
In 1997, the Amsterdam Treaty was signed to strengthen security policy. The Nice Treaty was also signed in 2001 to reinforce defense and judicial policies.
After the decades of continued ties with the European Union, the United Kingdom has decided to call it quits. In June 2016, a referendum was initiated to ask again the British people whether to stay in EU or leave. The majority decided to leave the EU with a turnout of 71% by 29% or over 30 million people voting.
The Prime Minister that time, David Cameron was against the referendum. In fact, he rejected a previous call for a referendum regarding UK’s EU membership last 2012. Because of the results, Cameron decided to resign and quit as a Prime Minister. He was replaced by Prime Minister Theresa May.
There are huge changes after the declaration of the referendum’s result. Basically, the pound value fell to its lowest level since 1985. Cameron also predicted major economic downfall. However, according to experts, the UK economy has grown 1.8% after the referendum. On the other hand, PM Theresa May is working on negotiations. The first official Brexit talks started last June 2017. Another consideration was the Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon which spells out the policies if a member state decides to quit EU. Based on the article, United Kingdom may officially leave the EU on March 29, 2019, Friday.
Today, there have been continued special hearings and talks in the European Parliament Committees. EU member states, political parties, and British people are varied in views about Britain’s exit from the European Union.