Britain’s journey to the EU: When Churchill called for European unity
LONDON – Britain officially withdrew from the European Union on 31 January, following a weak political period that has sharply divided the nation since the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Establishing new relations between Britain and its Europeans is a difficult negotiation
Europe seems to be the source of controversy in Britain forever. This is probably why there was never a consensus on the benefits of being a member of the European Union and why the country was so divided in the run-up to Brexit Day.
While there may be no greater lover of the horrors of Scandinavian or Greek beaches than the British, sentiment towards the European Union was much warmer in the country’s 47-year membership. One of the ironies of Brexit is that Britain now has some of the most pro-EU supporters anywhere in the bloc.
Many reasons for the complex relationship have been mentioned. Perhaps, an imperial past has clouded Britain’s membership. Maybe it’s just the fact that there’s a strip of water that separates the country from what is often referred to as a “continent.” Britain has always been wary of the changing alliances in Europe since the Norman conquest of 1066.
Whatever the primary implications behind the Brexit vote in 2016, Britain has always considered itself as a landlocked country.
Ironically, it was Winston Churchill who called for a “United States of Europe” in the aftermath of World War II.
In a speech in Zurich in 1946, one year after the end of the war and after he was forcibly ousted as British Prime Minister in a general election, Churchill outlined his vision for post-war Europe.
He said that peace and prosperity could come only if France and Germany removed their centuries-old mistrust and started working as partners.
“The structure of the United States in Europe, if built in a good and genuine sense, would be like making the material strength of a single state less important,” he said. “Small nations will count as adults and earn their respect through their contributions to the common good.”
Churchill did not imagine Britain as part of this great endeavor. Its role, like that of “strong America” and even Soviet Russia, will be to act as “friend and patron of the new Europe.”
This notion of Britain’s role provides an explanation for its decades-long obscure relationship with Europe. It was late joining the club, the rules were written 16 years later, in fact. As a member, it often mumbles about all the integration suggestions that came up. Words like “awkward” or “semi-isolated” were not unusual descriptions of Britain’s membership.
Despite a narrow 52% -48% majority in favor of leaving the club, probably inevitably, that vote ended in June 2016.
After all, perhaps Brexit was inevitable.
Follow the full coverage of Brexit and British Politics AP here: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit
Pan Pilas, Associated Press
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