In recent times, it proves virtually impossible to avoid the phenomenon that is Brexit. Each day we are reminded that this country’s future draws closer to an uncertainty as our closest neighbour plans to bid farewell to their EU Membership. One thing we can be certain about, however, is the Britain’s history with the Union. For many, the result of Britain’s 2016 referendum favouring to leave the Union with a 51.89% majority seemed to come as quite a surprise, [however, this was not the country’s first referendum on the matter]. After a brief examination of Britain’s history with the Union, this result could have been foreshadowed since the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, to which British government rejected.
The idea of European political integration has always been a controversial topic in British parliament. This did not stop British Membership to the then, European Communities, on 1 January 1973, succeeding in their third application. Just one year later British Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson promised a total renegotiation of the terms of their membership, particularly in areas of Community Budget, CAP, unemployment and retention of internal political powers. The Referendum Act 1975 was shortly enacted which, for the first time, empowered the British people to decide whether or not they should remain in the Union. With an over two-thirds majority in favour of remaining, British membership was democratically reinforced.
Only four years later, the rise of theThatcher’s Conservative Party reinstated public European scepticism. Large budgetary contributions grew as an area of concern, with Thatcher aiming to significantly reduce them, famously asking for Britain’s ‘own money back.’ By 1984, the Council reached an agreement to grant a rebate of approximately 66%. Satisfaction was short lived as negotiation towards European political integration horrified the British Conservative Party. In 1988 Thatcher referred to the EC as a ‘European super state exercising a new dominance from Brussels,’ which planted a seed of Euroscepticism within the party, only to be further cultivated with further political integration.
The 1992 Treaty on the European Union marked a milestone in European Integration, creating an ‘Economic and Monetary Union,’ to which Britain successfully opted-out of. The 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam acted as another opportunity for Britain to opt-out of the Schengen Agreement. Reluctance in satisfying ‘full’ membership obligations prevailed in 2007, with the United Kingdom partially opting-out from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and
The United Kingdom is undergoing final preparations to leave a Union which they have only been a partial member of for decades. While the aforementioned history confirms Brexit was not an entirely unpredictable outcome, it will still be difficult for both parties, the EU, especially Ireland, and the UK to deal with the repercussions of this final farewell.
Robert Behan – Law Editor