Assess the reasons why Britain's reactions to European co-operation changed in the period 1945-63.

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Ian Chandler

Assess the reasons why Britain’s reactions to European co-operation changed in the period 1945-63

In the years after WW2 there was strong opposition in Britain toward possible European integration.  Britain had not faced Nazi occupation and still retained her Empire unlike her European ‘ cousins’. However, by 1961, she was deeply involved in European affairs and organisations.  This shift in policy was not a sudden change of thought but a gradual adherence towards European opinion. How did this change come about?

Initially, Britain’s main resistance to any form of integration within Europe stemmed from two concerns, firstly that it would require power to be handed over to a supra-national organisation, resulting in the loss of her prized national sovereignty. Secondly, fear that such integration had the potential to cut across her economic and political ties with its Empire. The British Empire still stretched across the world and Imperialistic attitudes still remained. At the end of WW2 many still held the view that Britain, and its Empire, could become the ‘Third World Power’ behind the U.S. and U.S.S.R, whilst at the same time guiding the revival of Europe from ruins to riches in order to contend with the rising force of Communism. As Bevin argued: “Provided we can organize a Western European system … it should be possible to develop our own power and influence equal to that of the United States of America and USSR. We have the material resources in the Colonial Empire, if we develop them”.

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The above attitudes, viewed by many as symptoms of national arrogance, inevitably caused political tension between an increasingly isolated Britain and its European neighbours. In 1951, Churchill’s view was that Britain was “a separate, closely – and specially – related ally and friend” of Europe. This “aloofness” had already become evident in 1948 when the U.S. initiated the Marshall Aid Plan. Britain took a leading role in its distribution across Europe, but she was always “with Europe, but not of Europe” (Churchill). This was also illustrated by the determination to give the newly formed Council of Europe mere advisory powers. ...

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