Why did the United Kingdom not join the European Union when it started?

The United Kingdom was invited to participate in talks which led to the European Union’s predecessors: the Treaty of Paris (1951) which established the European Coal and Steel Community and the Treaty of Rome (1957) which established the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. The British did not engage in a significant way with these talks and signed neither treaty at the time.

They disliked many of the supranational and technocratic elements in the treaties. They were worried about damaging links with the Commonwealth, and they wished to pursue a ‘one-world economic system’ policy in which sterling was a central currency. The United Kingdom’s non-participation in the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community at the beginning meant than when Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973 it had to accept many elements that have proved controversial with British voters: its supranationalism, common agricultural policy, and budget. These were all established before the British joined.

Find out more – read our explainer on the history of the UK’s EU membership.

View all facts

Subscribe to our fortnightly newsletter

Get a round-up of The UK in a Changing Europe’s latest analysis pieces, videos, explainers, podcasts, reports, events, infographics and more, written by the organisation’s director Anand Menon. PS his mum says it’s "quite good".

Sign up to our newsletter

View our latest newsletter