pp. 578-580

Continental Drift: Britain and Europe from the End of Empire to the Rise of Euroscepticism, Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon

Reviewed by George Ross

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As we face the consequences of the United Kingdom’s 2016 referendum decision to leave the European Union, Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon’s recounting of Great Britain’s troubled relationship with European integration could not be more timely. Continental Drift is traditional diplomatic history that is also a source for understanding things to come. The story told is complicated. After 1945, caught up with domestic reforms, austerity, and imperial uncertainty, Labourite Britain refused to join the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). In the 1950s, Conservative governments then proposed a free trade zone—the European Free Trade Association (EFTA)—to rival, and subvert, the European Union (EU) but lost.

Next, faced with rapid domestic economic decline and a rapidly changing Commonwealth, Conservatives tried to join the European Economic Community, only to be refused twice by Charles de Gaulle for being a Trojan horse for excessive economic liberalism and American domination. After de Gaulle resigned, Europhile Tory prime minister Edward Heath was able to negotiate British membership in 1973 just before his government fell to a miners’ strike. Labour, which held a referendum to confirm the membership, was then in its turn defeated by strikes, after which the party was taken over by nationalist Eurosceptics.

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