UK Parliament and the EU: Contemporary context

This page sets out some background information about the UK Parliament's relationship with the EU in the 21st century. It highlights the progress of peace and stability since the end of World War II as well as the evolving relationship between the UK and the EU.

Peace in Europe

Europe has had an almost unprecedented period of peace and stability since the end of World War II. It has been argued that the European Communities (EC), the predecessor to the European Union (EU), helped bring about the end of the Cold War in the 1980s and the prospect of EU membership has also encouraged aspirant members in less stable areas to settle their political differences.

There are still unresolved political divisions (e.g. Cyprus and the Balkans), but it is now virtually unthinkable that these could lead to the kind of conflict that arose last century.

The new security threat from global terrorism is being tackled by the EU as a whole, with cooperative efforts to protect citizens and share intelligence and resources.

EU membership issues

The UK’s membership of the EC/EU has resulted in a loss of sovereignty in so far as the Government has been obliged to fulfil the requirements of the EU Treaties and law, which have primacy in UK law. While many find benefits in cooperation and the ‘pooling’ of sovereignty, others are against further EU political and economic integration.

EU laws have resulted in higher standards in many areas (e.g. employment and environment), but over-implementation has also tended to impose a burden on business and industry.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has tried to eliminate inequalities among Member States, make better use of land and raise animal welfare standards, but farmers have found it uneconomical and burdensome, and it has also been susceptible to fraud and the misuse of EU funds.

An estimated 3.5 million UK jobs are linked directly and indirectly to the export of goods and services to the EU.

As a net contributor to the EU Budget, the UK receives no direct financial gain from EU membership, but both Labour and Conservative-led governments believe the trade and employment benefits of being in the single market outweigh the cost incurred through the EU Budget.

It is arguable that EU membership results in lower prices for goods imported from the EU and higher employment in those sectors which export to the single market.

However, many also argue that the cost of UK membership is negative, based on estimates of the costs of regulation, the CAP and the EU Budget. Some find there are neither costs nor benefits with respect to inward investment and the single market.

A new UK relationship with the EU?

In December 2011 the UK Government’s failure to secure certain guarantees for the UK in exchange for UK agreement on an EU ‘fiscal compact’ marked a significant moment for the UK’s relationship with the EU.

In a speech delivered on 23 January 2013, former Prime Minister David Cameron said he wanted the UK to be part of a different EU. He reiterated his intention to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s EU membership and pledged to follow the renegotiation with a national referendum.

A referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the EU was held on 23 June 2016. Results revealed that 51.89 percent of voters opted for the UK to leave the European Union.

 

Brexit: the next steps

Read analysis of how leaving the EU will affect different policy areas in the UK