The EEC and the Single European Act

The Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath, took the UK into the EEC in January 1973 after President de Gaulle of France had blocked UK membership twice in the 1960s. This brought EEC membership to nine.  In a referendum in 1975 the UK electorate voted to stay in the EEC under renegotiated terms of entry.

The first major Treaty change was the Single European Act, which created an internal market with voting by qualified majority (QMV) rather than unanimity. The Single Market was established at the end of 1992. It allowed over 280 pieces of legislation to be passed, paving the way for common EU laws based on the principle of mutual recognition among Member States.

Britain and the EEC

In 1961 Britain applied for membership of the EEC. This was vetoed by French President Charles de Gaulle, who was concerned that British membership would weaken the French voice within Europe. He also feared that close Anglo-American relations would lead to the United States increasing its influence in Europe. Charles de Gaulle also vetoed a second application from Britain in1969.

Britain joins the EEC

Denmark, Ireland and Britain joined the EEC in 1973, after Charles de Gaulle’s resignation in 1969.

Under the Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, there was a UK referendum on continued membership of the EEC in 1975. The electorate voted ‘Yes’ by 67.2% to 32.8% to stay in Europe.

European Monetary System

The European Monetary System (EMS) was created in 1979 to try and bring about currency stability throughout Europe by encouraging countries to co-ordinate their monetary policies. It used an Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) to create stable exchange rates in order to improve trade between Member States and thus help the development of the single market. This laid the foundations for a single European currency. Britain was the only EEC Member State not to join the ERM.

Budget Rebate

Britain, under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, negotiated an EU budget rebate in 1984 after threatening to halt payments to the EU budget. Britain felt it was being unfairly treated as, despite being the third poorest EC Member State, it was set to become the biggest net contributor. This was largely due to farming subsidies, to which Britain was eligible for very little. The Fontainebleau Summit agreed that this was unfair and granted Britain a rebate.

Single European Act

The Single European Act  (SEA) 1987 amended the Treaty of Rome. Its aim was to create a single internal market, which had been proving difficult under the existing Treaties. The SEA replaced many unanimous decision-making processes with Qualified Majority Voting (QMV), in order to facilitate the adoption of a raft of EU legislation by the end of 1992.

Page last updated April 2013

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