Britain and the European Union: A Laggard Leader?




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Numerous studies have portrayed Britain as an ‘awkward’, ‘reluctant’ and ‘semi-detached’ European Union (EU) member state that has been ‘at odds with Europe’ (George, 1998; Gowland and Turner, 2000; Wallace, 1997). It has even been suggested that Britain is an ‘allergic European’ (Aspinwall, 2004). Such views have been shaped by Britain’s unwillingness to participate in the initial steps towards European integration in the 1950s and its inability to offer wholehearted commitment to the European project since its accession in 1973. A review of British ‘awkwardness’ since 1973 includes the 1974 renegotiation of terms of membership, the 1975 referendum on the renegotiated terms, the debate over the budget contributions that was eventually settled at the 1984 Fontainebleau European Council, hostility towards the development of a European social policy and Economic and Monetary Union, the 1996 policy of non-cooperation over the ban on British beef, and the inability of the Labour government led by Tony Blair to fully endorse the single currency. A direct implication of these developments is that Britain has often been perceived to be on the sidelines of key policy developments at the European level. This chapter explores a particular dimension of Britain’s European policy by focusing on government behaviour in the intergovernmental conference (IGC) negotiations that have resulted in the Single European Act (SEA), Treaty on European Union, Treaty of Amsterdam, Treaty of Nice, and finally the Constitutional Treaty. The chapter argues that despite the hesitancy of British governments to offer a wholehearted commitment to European integration, Britain has achieved considerable success in obtaining satisfactory outcomes in IGC negotiations. In taking this approach, the chapter emphasises Britain’s unique position within the EU and focuses on the extent to which it can be considered ‘a laggard leader.’



Britain and Europe, IGC negotiations


Blair A. (2006) Britain and the European Union: A Laggard Leader? In: Derek Beach and Colette Mazzucelli (eds) Leadership in the Big Bangs of European Integration, Palgrave, pp.178-200


Research Institute