‘The UK’s opposition to European integration is still framed around the legacy of its past’ | O. Daddow- LSE

‘The UK’s opposition to European integration is still framed around the legacy of its past’ | O. Daddow- LSE

Despite sudden and chaotic decolonisation, along with Washington nudging Britain in a European direction, memories of Britain’s global pre-eminence were never very far from the surface of British political debate or cultural repertoire. Contemperaneous takes on Britain’s nostalgia for former glories indicate the impact ‘History lessons patriotic in design’ had on holding the British back from carving out a niche in the European circle. Britain’s ‘semi-detached’ continental role was confirmed when it stayed out of the EEC, only to be pushed into trying to board the bus in the 1960s by a combination of economic forces and reluctant recognition of its post-Suez crisis fall from the top rank of global powers. The aspiration to remain seated at the top table, however, was never scotched. It was evident, for example, in Labour prime minister’s Harold Wilson’s judgement that the UK should join the EEC ‘not for the economic benefits…but to preserve Britain’s position as an important international power, and keep it involved in the inner circle of diplomatic and strategic affairs’. In this view, Britain’s global strategy remained intact, but new tactics were needed to realise it. ‘Interfering’ in Europe might be necessary after all.

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