Britain is fairly heavily "Eurosceptic":

Within Europe overall, a positive to neutral opinion of the EU dominated, with about 46% of citizens having a positive opinion and only 16% having a negative opinion; about 36% had a neutral opinion. In Britain, only 22% had a positive opinion, 33% had a negative opinion, and 38% had a neutral opinion.

On the other hand the justifications on the Wikipedia page I linked are very generic: presumed corruption and democratic deficit.

Both these topics may or may not be strong reasons in general terms - fair enough. However Britain is much more sceptical of the EU than most other countries. Certainly those reasons are not Britain-specific and do not explain the differences.

What are the underlying causes of such strong isolationism?

  • 3
    Because the continent is still isolated (as said in weather forecasts in case of fogs, but also when the continent still does things differently from Britain) ;). Seriously, I do believe the fact that Britain is an island is a significant contributing factor.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 22:29
  • 1
    @gerrit Counterpoint: Ireland is just as much an island and is not Eurosceptic... :-)
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 22:32
  • @MartinSchroder (re your edits): "Britain" is commonly used to mean the same as "the UK". In particular, "Britain" is NOT the same as "Great Britain". (See, for example, here.) Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 23:42
  • @Martin I rolled back because Britain is not the same as the UK. In fact, Scotland is pro-Europe and a significant part of the UK. I'd rather use England if than UK.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 23:53
  • 4
    @Sklivvz: "Britain" is commonly used as a synonym for "the UK". I think "Britain" (or UK) is more appropriate for this question than "England" because it's Britain that's a member of the EU, not Scotland or England (or indeed Wales or Northern Ireland). Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 11:17

2 Answers 2


Great Britain has always played a role that is "in Europe but not of it."

Historically, ever since the Henry's gave up their Norman lands, Britain's foreign policy always saw Europe as a market - not a source of its identity. The Channel is a moat that has never been breached since 1066. Territorially, England doesn't have the same border concerns that France, Germany, or Italy do.

During the Age of Empire, its holdings outside of Europe were far bigger than that within. This concentrated its ambitions well beyond the scope of Europe - in contrast to France, which saw its possessions in North Africa as extensions of France, and Germany, which had relatively little going on in the way of colonies. (Yes, I know somebody is going to bring up Namibia, but come on - its not like we're talking all of India and the Nile valley!)

Afterwards, Britain's "Special Relationship" with the United States turned it into a fence sitter - somewhere between "Europe" (meaning France and Germany) and America. This special role, along with its role as the world's financial center, has always been pretty sufficient for mercentile England. Even from an intelligence perspective, England is the only European member of the "Five Eyes" - the English speaking countries with which the United States shares the highest level of intelligence.

The UK cares thus about Europe, but not in the same way Germany, Poland, France, or Italy does. The UK is clearly not an extension of America, but it is the closest thing in Europe to it. Europe is a place to make wealth for England - but a potentially loss of soverignity for everyone else. As such, the UK thinks it really can just look in.


The current euroskeptism is mostly due to decades of British newspapers blaming everything on the EU, and the EU having no real voice to defend itself.

Originally the political right was heavily in favour of joining the EU, campaigning for it in the 1970s. The left was more skeptical, particularly because it was seen as a potential loss of rights that might negatively affect workers. Of course, in time the EU proved to be a huge benefit to worker's right, so the left came to broadly support it.

However, in the 1980s British newspapers realised that they could easily blame pretty much anything on the EU, because the EU had no representation in the UK and rarely even noticed those articles, let along responded to them. This proved to be a big seller, offering the public and government ministers someone else to blame for all their problems and failings.

Things got worse during the 90s, when Boris Johnson (then a journalist) realized that it wasn't even necessary to distort EU stories to portray Europe in a negative light; he could simply make up complete fabrications and they would mostly go unchallenged.

For example, one of the oldest Euro Myths dates from this era. The "straight bananas" story was actually about the EU adopting British rules on banana quality standards, but was depicted as the EU imposing crazy, nonsensical and overly bureaucratic laws on the UK.

In the 2000s new countries from Eastern Europe joined the EU, and their citizens gained freedom of movement rights. The Labour government of the day opted not to adopt any limitations on migration from those countries, unlike other EU states that put temporary measures in place. The later Troy/LibDem coalition government made the same choice a decade later.

The influx of migrants allowed nationalists and racists to build up political capital. The emergency of UKIP put a semi-respectable face on xenophobia, and mainstreamed blame of foreigners to a degree not seen in Britain for decades.

And so we end up were we are today, where many members of the public know less than nothing about the EU (because what they think they know is mostly made up, ancient Euro Myths) and everything the EU says or does is perceived as malicious.

  • So even in Europe, when people oppose unbridled immigration because it causes lower wages, higher unemployment for those already present and brings huge additional taxpayer costs they are called racists. Or it could just be that those doing the accusing are the real racists because they are incapable of seeing anything other than race in any and all issues.
    – Dunk
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 23:28
  • The idea that immigration causes lower wages and unemployment was debunked a long time ago, and most people in Europe recognize the benefits of freedom of movement. They also generally support efforts to help refugees. The debate is over how they should be helped, not if. The UK is the exception.
    – user
    Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 8:34
  • It was never debunked. Simply saying it was debunked doesn't make it true. In fact, this is the consensus position on the topic "Economists disagree whether or how much an influx of immigrants depresses wages." IOW, since no data can be found to prove that an influx of immigrants doesn't depress wages, the most economists are willing to claim is "disagree". Given this is such a political issue and most people who do these types of studies are in academia and disagreeing with the liberal viewpoint can destroy an academics career, I'd say the real answer is they depress wages.
    – Dunk
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 20:55
  • Argument by paranoid delusion is a logical fallacy.
    – user
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 8:51
  • Once again you make an unsupported claim and think you said something meaningful. Well, you haven't.
    – Dunk
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 20:59

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