The EU: Impact on British politics

The EU: Impact on British politics

The EU’s Influence on British Politics

  • Early skepticism towards the EU resulted in delayed UK entry – until 1973 – which yielded a peripheral role for Britain within the EU.
  • Margaret Thatcher’s rebate negotiation in 1984 has been an ongoing source of contention between the UK and the EU. She successfully reduced the UK’s financial contribution, influencing perceptions of the EU within the UK.
  • EU legislation has had broad impacts on British law. For instance, worker’s rights, health and safety regulations, and environmental protections have been primarily shaped by EU directives.
  • Human Rights Laws, as encompassed in the European Convention on Human Rights and embedded in UK law through the Human Rights Act 1998, are often contested but have a profound influence on the justice system.
  • Freedom of Movement, as part of the EU’s four freedoms, impacted immigration patterns with diverse societal and economic impacts.
  • Brexit constitutes the most influential episode in the UK-EU relationship. It has significantly influenced national political discourse and realigned party politics. The process of leaving the EU has resulted in ongoing disputes over UK-EU trade and Northern Ireland’s status.

Political Dimensions of EU Membership

  • Three-party politics are partially attributable to EU membership, with the Liberal Democrats traditionally representing the pro-EU political voice.
  • Historically, both Labour and Conservative parties have been internally divided over EU membership, contributing to political turbulence and leadership changes.
  • The Brexit vote and subsequent negotiations sparked a surge in nationalist sentiment, contributing to Scottish and Northern Irish debates on independence and reunification respectively.
  • Brexit arguably strengthened Euroscepticism across Europe, with numerous European countries witnessing growth in Eurosceptic political movements.

Economic Dimensions of EU Membership

  • The UK was part of the EU single market, which allowed tariff-free trading between member states. This brought economic benefits but also contributed to dependency on European markets.
  • EU membership affected UK industry, agriculture and fisheries, shaping national economic landscapes and influencing regional political sentiments.
  • The controversial Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) disproportionately benefited other member states at the UK’s expense.
  • The budgetary contributions to the EU have long been a contentious issue, with perspectives on the net financial outcome of EU membership differing significantly.

Legal and Constitutional Implications

  • The incorporation of the principle of supremacy of EU law over national law into the British legal system marked a significant constitutional development.
  • The European Court of Justice (ECJ)’s ruling was binding in the UK, marking a limit to parliamentary sovereignty.
  • EU membership accelerated the devolution process and subsequently, the development of an asymmetrical quasi-federal state structure.

Key Point: The EU has consistently influenced British politics by shaping party dynamics, national discourse, regulatory frameworks and constitutional structures. Even though the UK has left the EU, its impact remains through the political, societal and economic changes it instigated.