British-EU Relations: From membership to Brexit in terms of governance and transnationalism

British EU European Union skepticism

The relationship between the British and the European Union has been very complex and steep since its inception.

Besides the historical components and Anglo-Saxon pride that caused the country to never lower itself to the level of the European Union, the attitude of various governments, the British media and public opinion towards the European Union, and even the lack of knowledge and information about the mechanisms of the European Union, led to the emergence of a label called European reluctance or European skepticism.

Britain was reluctant to join the coal and steel community in the early 1950s. After joining the European community in 1973, Britain openly expressed its reluctance to comply with common policies (such as common agricultural, trade, fisheries, defense, and security policies).

British people voting in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
British people voting in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Besides, the country's non-accession to the most important symbols of the union's convergence, such as the Eurozone and Schengen, showed its reluctance.

Now, governmentalism and transnationalism raise the hypothesis that the greater transatlantic tendencies of Britain, which has manifested itself into a special relations with the United States, and also, the excessive concentration of power in the institutions of the union, which led to transferring more and more power, were the most important factor in the eventual withdrawal of the country via a referendum on June 23, 2016.

Explaining the relationship between the EU and Britain and why the British oppose most of the components of convergence and even EU integration, transnationalism plays an important and fundamental role as a theory that is accepted by most of the members of the European Union, and they govern many of its institutions in this way.

Relying on this hypothesis, we can examine two different views of Britain and the members of the European Union from different perspectives. In this context, principles such as Europeanism, Europeanization, and European unity are more based on transnationalism.

According to these principles, parts of the government should be transferred to a higher institution, which is completely in contrast with the principles of national sovereignty, which includes European skepticism, Atlanticism, and anti-mythology.

By explaining and analyzing these two reciprocal principles, it can be said that opponents of the EU see the transnationalism approach as a loss of British national sovereignty.

And they also consider the establishment of supranational institutions, including the common currency of the euro within the framework of EU standards, contrary to the national interests of this country.

Transatlanticism and the Transformation of Relationships

One of the most important principles of Britain's political and economic approach to the European Union is its transatlantic attitude. Besides US economic support and military commitments, London has always sought to increase its influence in White House policies by establishing a special relationship with the United States.

The Atlantic Union has had a dual function for Britain, facilitating its membership in European cooperation and a deterrent to British membership in any European organization that questions British identity.

But in the meantime, Europeanization is literally the opposite of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Atlanticism. It was a time when Atlanticism became more and more prominent, and Thatcher adopted her policies more toward the Atlanticist process, and her focus was more on the United States than on Europe.

Thatcher always believed that the best way to secure the British national interest was to play a role between the United States and Europe. We can say she never had a complete desire to integrate Britain into the European Union.

European integration, a threat to sovereignty and national interests 

The main issue between the UK and the EU is sovereignty. In the UK, the parliamentary rule has always been a symbol of freedom and Britishness.

It is clear that Europeanization will not only drive Britain away from its influence in the United States, but that membership in the European Union will bring obedience to European policies and, ultimately, the end of national independence.

Sovereignty is not limited to the political federation and military convergence, it also includes European economic organizations. Besides, the UK's national political executive system has never fully committed itself to European integration and has always been considered a heterogeneous and skeptical member by other members of the Green Continent.

In other words, it was mostly an observer rather than a member. National identity and British identity are among the concepts that have always been used by European politicians against European identity.

National identity is a belief in the realization of goals independently, not collectively, and a belief that contrasts nationalism with internationalism and equates the unification of borders with the loss of the true meaning of the country.

But looking at other European countries, it can be said that the acceptance of European identity has always taken precedence over national identity and has marginalized nationalism, and it was only the United Kingdom that firmly asserted its British national identity and considered living in the European Union to be contrary to this principle.

Brexit, national sovereignty and the realization of the intergovernmental approach

The British people voted in a referendum on June 23 to stay or leave the European Union. This referendum, called Brexit, has been widely reported among European nations.

The people of Scotland also voted to secede or stay in Britain in a referendum, and the people of Northern Ireland are at a crossroads on whether to stay in the United Kingdom or join the independent Republic of Ireland.

But will these separatists spread to the whole of Europe and revive nationalism in the eyes of the people of the European Union?

In the current situation, Brexit will change the trend of this European convergence and it can be a new beginning for the divergence and growth of nationalism in European countries.

Forty-three years ago, when European leaders called for tensions in Europe, the British people demanded something else. They wanted their country to belong to other countries, to not share them.

Today, Brexit shows that conservatism is deeply ingrained in the hearts of the people, especially in richer and more developed countries. This is because they do not want to share their privileges and interests.

Nationalism, as an ideology that seeks to determine political destiny and independence, determines a nation and separates nations from each other.

Therefore, the conflict between regionalism or nationalism in Europe will depend on the decision of the other twenty-seven European countries, which will either continue to strengthen convergence and stay in the Union or they will vote for nationalism and secession and make other Brexit.

If European leaders cannot provide their people with interesting reasons to stay in the Union, nationalism could spread to other countries in the region.

In conclusion, the European Union is a combination of governance and transnationalism.

However, there are examples of both attitudes in this union.

But a look at the policies of this union shows that the tendency of the union is more towards transnationalism. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, as a member of the union, has always wanted the intergovernmental aspects and has always shown its opposition to transnationalism.

The Intergovernmental attitude of Europe which has always been welcomed by the United Kingdom, shows that Britain, as an independent state in international politics, has always sought to negotiate with other governments to protect its national interests and any EU decision that has been contrary to its interests has been vetoed by Britain.

In a situation that the British government and the people of this country, who gradually felt that the European Union was demanding the transfer of more sovereignty from this country, by highlighting the enormous costs of union membership, British identity and sovereignty, the strengthening of the transatlantic approach ended its membership of the European Union.

The views of the author do not necessarily reflect those of Greek City Times.

Amin Bagheri is an Iranian research fellow at the International Studies Association .His primary research interest lies in the international relations, political science and conflicts in the Middle East. You can see more of his work on Twitter.


Guest Contributor

This piece was written for Greek City Times by a Guest Contributor