What do you consider to be the most significant factors that have shaped Britain's approach to the European Union (EU) since its inception in the early 1950's?.
"We have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked, but not combined. We are interested and associated, but not absorbed." Winston Churchill.
Winston Churchill's famous quote aptly describes Britain's approach to European integration since the inception of the EU in the 1950's. Churchill emphasised that although he was "not opposed to a European Federation", he "never thought that Britain or the British Commonwealth should become an integral part." As he later put it, "I meant it for them, not for us." (May; 1991 pp.21) Churchill's attitude towards the EU has been imitated by many of the Prime Ministers that followed him. Britain's relationship towards European integration has generally been one of a reluctant union, supporting free trade and mutually beneficial cooperation, while attempting to distance itself from economic and cultural "unity" with Europe.
In this essay it shall be argued that the most significant factors in shaping Britain's approach to the EU since its inception have been two-fold. Firstly Britain's relationship with the wider world, most specifically the Commonwealth and the United States (US) has been extremely significant in shaping Britain's approach. In relation to this and to the question of loss of sovereignty the power that Britain has been able to exercise in influencing EU policy in terms of whether it has been reactive or proactive to EU policy will also be explored. The second significant factor to be analysed is how the question of sovereignty, and loss of it has affected Britain's approach to European integration. There are of course many other factors which have played a significant role in shaping Britain's approach to the EU, including notions of British exceptionalism, geographical factors, an inherent fear of federalism and the influence of people such as Margaret Thatcher who has been extremely instrumental in shaping Britain's approach and attitudes towards the EU.