So, Britain is in a process of negotiating its exit from the EU. I'm trying to understand what the effect of leaving the EU is likely to be, irrespective of the negotiations process, but supposing it does happen.

To do so, I think I need to know what happened during "Brenter" - when Britain actually joined the EU, or the EEC as it was called in 1972.

Please focus on formal differences - effects of legislation and law from both sides of the channel in Britain; but you can talk about policies in practice as well.

As comments correctly suggest, leaving the EU will not be the reverse of entering it, since the EU has changed/developed since the UK entered it. Still, I'm sure understanding what joining meant would give me the basic idea of what's to be expected.

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    @einpoklum: The problem is a bit deeper. The assumption that "Brexit" is the mirror process of "Brenter" implicitly assumes that there weren't any changes to the EU between the two events. For instance, the "free travel" dates back to 1992, and Brexit will probably reverse that, but free travel was not an effect of Brenter.
    – MSalters
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 13:43
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    Hm, I always thought that the "exit" in "Brexit" was a noun, not a verb.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 13:51
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    I mean, it's not like states became EU members automatically as EEC members, right? – Oh yes, that’s exactly what happened. Also, there is no EEC anymore (and no EC either), so theoretically it might find itself out of the EEC as well doesn’t make any sense.
    – chirlu
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 17:30
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    Well, of course; these things don’t just happen by themselves. But, in the public perception (not in the legal details), it was a decision “we will now call our club EU, not EEC anymore” taken jointly by the member states. There was no separate membership in two entities.
    – chirlu
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 18:07
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    This is a good question, but you are mistaking in thinking that the EEC is a distinct organisation from the EU. The point of "Entrance" was in 1972, not at the formation of the EU. I've been bold and edited the question to ask explicity about the 1972 "Brentry". This doesn't invalidate existing answers, which already focus on 1972.
    – James K
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 19:34

1 Answer 1


The relationship between the EU and the UK has been rocky from the get go.

Prior to joining, the UK had initially passed on joining the EEC in 1957. It reconsidered shortly after but de Gaulle, anticipating a mismatch, vetoed their joining twice; his departure cleared the way to the UK finally joining in 1973.

De Gaulle had good foresight: the UK negotiated a permanent rebate to its budget contribution in short order, opted out of the Schengen zone, opted out from the Euro, and has had a long tradition of resisting anything that resembled deeper integration within a European Superstate or expanding consumer protection or social welfare. In the UK mindset the EU has always been about a common market and that only.

In terms of practical changes, entering the EU meant accepting past agreements, the existing (and future) body of European law, European institutions including the EC and the ECJ, and financial contributions. It also meant some loss of sovereignty.

The loss of sovereignty was most visible in the sense that European national parliaments spend quite a bit of time transcribing Directives passed in Brussels (and Strasbourg) into local law. An (in my opinion) unfortunate side effect of this reality is European governments periodically haggling with each other at the EU level in order to push desirable reforms forward, having Brussels write and pass Directives to their effect, and then claiming at home that it's all Brussel's fault as they dutifully transcribe them into local law without taking too much heat. Leaving aside that this makes the EC a very convenient scapegoat, it feeds into the notion that the EU is undemocratic, when in reality the member States do have have - if only informal - influence on what's going on in the EC, and the EP can and does rebuke EU laws it doesn't like. Lobbying and lack of EU news coverage further exacerbate the sentiments of lack of scrutiny and loss of control.

The other visible aspect of the loss of sovereignty revolved around foreign policy. Since the treaty of Rome (a few years earlier, in fact), European member states have had representatives in charge of doing some common diplomatic missions on their behalf - chiefly to negotiate their commercial interests as a single block. The exact nature of the Union's diplomacy boss changed over time. To the UK this has been a distasteful loss of control from the get go.

With respect to foreign policy, the EU also has traditionally striven to speak as a single voice on the international scene, and the UK hasn't always played along. In the UK's defense, it's not alone in doing so. France in particular also mourns its past grandeur and likes playing Great Power too. But their coping mechanisms differ. In some sense, France pumps its chest on the international scene, fantasizing as it may that its own views and interests are in fact those of Europe at large. They get a vitriolic rebuttal from time to time. And to the extent that they coordinate with Berlin one could also suggest that they're inter-mediating Germany's diplomacy to some degree. The UK, by contrast, has traditionally been somewhat more confrontational and aligned with US interests. The contrast between the two attitudes was painfully visible during the run up to the second Iraq War. The UK aligned with the US in a heart beat. France led the EU's old guard at the side of Germany and denounced US warmongering at the UN. And EU's newer members ended up supporting the US provided it got UN approval. Illustrating France's tendency to conflate its own diplomacy with that of Europe, Jacques Chirac let go of a scathing: "It is not well brought up behavior. They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet."

  • Can you link to, or expand on, significant aspects of incompatibility between pre-EU-membership (or even pre-EEC-membership) UK law and European law? (And I mean law in the wider sense of the word)
    – einpoklum
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 11:28
  • @einpoklum: The most notable one, I think, would be that the EU enshrines the supremacy of European law over National law. EU law is sometimes jokingly described in law circles as an unidentified legal object. The reason is that traditional law hierarchy holds that constitutional laws trumps treaties in case of conflicts; by contrast, the ECJ holds that that EU treaties and EU laws trump national law without exception. Insofar as I'm aware the Constitutional Courts where this view has been challenged (for instance France) have all sided with the ECJ's interpretation. Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 11:50
  • (cont.) This led Alfred Denning, an English jurist, to write in 1974 that "The Treaty [of Rome] does not touch any of the matters which concern solely England and the people in it. These are still governed by English law. They are not affected by the Treaty. But when we come to matters with a European element, the Treaty is like an incoming tide. It flows into the estuaries and up the rivers. It cannot be held back, Parliament has decreed that the Treaty is henceforward to be part of our law. It is equal in force to any statute." Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 11:54
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    Regarding the points you ask specifically about, see for instance this piece. "Equal pay between men and women has been enshrined in EU law since 1957. It was also part of UK law before Britain joined the EU but in a more minimal way." But keep in mind that there has been a significant number of directives and regulations since 1973, plus new treaties. Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 12:52
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    @einpoklum: Determining those "concrete effects" would require determining the difference between UK law in 1972 and the aggregate EU law as it was defined in 1972, including retrospective explanation by the ECJ. That is a Herculean task.
    – MSalters
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 13:49

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