The United Kingdom and European Union




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Oxford University Press


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Peer reviewed


Since the end of the Second World War a key question that successive United Kingdom (UK) governments have faced is the position that the country should occupy in global affairs. Such a question stemmed from the legacy of Empire, which both offered global connections and at the same time financial demands in terms of the need to maintain a global footing. These issues came to a head when the UK applied (unsuccessfully) to join the European Community (the forerunner of the European Union (EU)) in the 1960s when the country was reappraising its position in the world. And while the UK eventually joined the Community in 1973, there remained an underlying scepticism about membership within the public at large as well as within sections of the Conservative and Labour Party. This suspicion gained more traction from the 1990s onwards as the then EU appeared to be moving to a deeper level of integration in the wake of the Maastricht Treaty. This spurred on Eurosceptics in the UK to campaign for independence. To put a lid on this pressure for reform, David Cameron held a referendum on UK membership in 2016. His gamble was that this would once and for all seal the UK within the EU by closing down the issue of withdrawal did not actually materialise as the electorate voted to leave, which in turn set the country on a path to depart the EU in 2020. Yet, despite these developments, just as was the case in 1945, the UK is in many ways still searching for a role in the world in 2020.



Brexit, Conservative Party, European Union, Euroscepticism, Government, Parliament, Referendum, Renegotiation, United Kingdom, European Union Politics


Blair, A. (2020) The United Kingdom and European Union. In: Thompson, W.R. (Ed.) Oxford Research Encyclopedia in Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press


Research Institute