United Kingdom–European Union relations

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European Union–United Kingdom relations
Map indicating locations of European Union and United Kingdom


United Kingdom
Diplomatic mission
European Union Delegation, LondonUnited Kingdom Mission, Brussels
Ambassador João Vale de AlmeidaAmbassador Lindsay Croisdale-Appleby

Relations between the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) date back to the foundation of the European Communities, the European Union's predecessor, in 1957. The United Kingdom was a member state of the European Communities after joining it in 1973. It was a member state of the European Union until it became the first country to voluntarily end its membership on 31 January 2020 after a referendum was held in 2016 which resulted in 51.9% of voters opting to leave. The Brexit withdrawal agreement now plays a significant role in relations between the two entities, especially for Northern Ireland (which continues to apply EU rules relating to goods, VAT in respect of goods, excise, agricultural and fisheries product and electricity, as well as applying the EU customs code and effectively acting as the EU customs border with Great Britain while legally remaining in the UK's customs territory), and during the transition period which lasted until 31 December 2020. Since 1 January 2021 the relations have been mainly governed by the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. The United Kingdom borders one European Union member state: Ireland.


 European Union  United Kingdom
Population 447,206,135[1] 67,886,004 (2020 estimate)[2]
Area 4,324,782 km2 (1,669,808 sq mi)[3] 242,495 km2 (93,628 sq mi)[4]
Population Density 115/km2 (300/sq mi) 270.7/km2 (701.1/sq mi)
Capital Brussels (de facto)[citation needed] London
Global cities[5] Paris, Amsterdam, Milan, Frankfurt, Madrid, Brussels, Warsaw, Stockholm, Vienna, Dublin, Luxembourg, Munich, Lisbon, Prague London
Government Supranational parliamentary democracy based on the European treaties[6] Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
Current Leader Council President Charles Michel

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

Monarch Elizabeth II

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Official languages 24 official languages, of which 3 considered "procedural" (English, French and German)[7] English (Regional and minority languages: Scots, Ulster Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Scottish Gaelic, Irish)
Main Religions 72% Christianity (48% Roman Catholicism, 12% Protestantism,

8% Eastern Orthodoxy, 4% Other Christianity), 23% non-Religious, 3% Other, 2% Islam

59.5% Christianity, 25.7% No religion, 4.4% Islam, 1.3% Hinduism, 0.7% Sikhism, 0.4% Judaism, 0.4% Buddhism, 0.4% Other, 7.2% No answer[8][9]
Ethnic groups Germans (ca. 83 million),[10] French (ca. 67 million),

Italians (ca. 60 million), Spanish (ca. 47 million), Poles (ca. 46 million), Romanians (ca. 16 million), Dutch (ca. 13 million), Greeks (ca. 11 million), Portuguese (ca. 11 million), and others

87.1% White,[note 1] 7.0% Asian, 3.0% Black, 2.0% Mixed, 0.9% Other
GDP (nominal) $16.477 trillion, $31,801 per capita[citation needed] $2.638 trillion, $39,229 per capita[citation needed]


UK Prime Minister Theresa May meets with President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker with in Brussels, Belgium, 21 October 2016

The United Kingdom's applications to join in 1963 and 1967 were vetoed by the president of France, Charles de Gaulle, who said that "a number of aspects of Britain's economy, from working practices to agriculture" had "made Britain incompatible with Europe" and that Britain harboured a "deep-seated hostility" to any pan-European project.[11] Once de Gaulle had relinquished the French presidency in 1969, the UK made a third and successful application for membership.

Since 1977, both pro- and anti-European views have had majority support at different times, with some dramatic swings between the two camps.[12] In the United Kingdom European Communities membership referendum of 1975, two-thirds of British voters favoured continued EC membership. The highest-ever rejection of membership was in 1980, the first full year of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's term of office, with 65% opposed to and 26% in favour of membership.[12] As a member of European Union, the United Kingdom never adopted the use of the euro or joined the Schengen Area. The Schengen agreements allowed citizens of countries in the European Union to travel without border controls.[13]

Following the result of the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, when 52 percent of those who voted supported Brexit, the United Kingdom negotiated its withdrawal from the European Union. After the vote, British Prime Minister David Cameron, who supported staying in the EU, resigned. Theresa May became the prime minister after his formal resignation. Although she also supported remaining in the EU, she committed to negotiating Britain's exit.[14] The United Kingdom formally left the bloc on 31 January 2020.

Scotland independence and EU membership[edit]

The Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014 was the first occasion the EU was faced with the potential breakup of a member state, and one where a potential newly independent state wished to retain its EU membership. While the UK's withdrawal from the EU also took Scotland out of the EU, the debates in the referendum campaign may inform other future scenarios.

The UK Government's legal advice on the issue was that 'Since the [remainder of the UK] would be the same state as the UK, its EU membership would continue',[15] while speculating that 'On the face of it, Scotland would be required to accede to the EU as a new state, which would require negotiations on the terms of its membership ...', but that 'Scotland's position within the EU is likely to be shaped more by any agreements between the parties than by pre-existing principles of EU law.'[16] Without any formal process for handling the breakup of any member state, the European Commission offered, if requested by a member state, to provide an official view on the EU's position on Scottish EU membership in the event of its independence from the UK. The Scottish Government requested that UK Prime Minister David Cameron place this request, but such a request was not made.[17] Nicola Sturgeon, the then Deputy First Minister of Scotland, said that the Scottish Cabinet did not agree an independent Scotland would have to reapply for EU membership.[18]

The referendum campaigns had differing views:

  • Yes Scotland: The "Yes" campaign, led by Blair Jenkins, argued that Scotland would continue as a member state following a Yes vote as Scotland would remain compliant with all EU Principles as outlined in TEU Article 2 and there are no provisions to exclude a state in the existing EU agreements.[19] During the period between a Yes vote and formal independence, the Scottish Government could engage in negotiations, from within the EU, on the terms of their continuing membership in the EU. Several EU heads of state expressed their opinion that this position was reasonable, as did James Crawford, co-author of the UK government's legal advice on the issue.[20] In an interview on BBC Radio, asked if the timescale of 18 months for EU and other treaty organisation was possible, Crawford replied that he felt the timescale was reasonable.[21] However, there was no official comment on this view from the EU Commission. The Scottish Government and the Yes Campaign both declared that continuation of membership in the EU is their preference.
  • Better Together: The "No" campaign, led by Alistair Darling, argued that any vote for independence would have automatically placed Scotland out of the EU as a new state, and Scotland would have had to renegotiate entry.[22]


In 2017, exports to the European Union amounted to £274 billion out of £616 billion in total exports for the UK. The proportion of UK export to the European Union has been noted to be in decline, since exports to non-EU countries have increased at a faster rate.[23]

On the European side, according to Eurostat, exports from the EU 27 to the UK have increased from 316 euro billions in 2015 to 319 euro billions in 2019. In the same time, according to Eurostat, imports from the UK to the EU-27 have increased from 184 euro billions in 2015 to 194 euro billions in 2019.[24]

United Kingdom's foreign relations with EU member states (EU27)[edit]

Country British embassy Reciprocal embassy Notes
 Austria Vienna London British Mission to OSCE and UN Office in Vienna
 Belgium Brussels London British Mission to EU and NATO in Brussels
 Bulgaria Sofia London
 Croatia Zagreb
Consulate General: Split
 Cyprus High Commissions: Nicosia High Commissions: London
 Czech Republic Prague London
Consulate General: Manchester
 Denmark Copenhagen London
 Estonia Tallinn London
 Finland Helsinki London
 France Paris
Consulate General: Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille
Consulate General: Edinburgh
British Mission to OECD and UNESCO in Paris. and in Council of Europe in Strasbourg
 Germany Berlin
Consulate General: Düsseldorf, Munich
Consulate General: Edinburgh
 Greece Athens
Consulate General: Heraklion, Thessaloniki
 Hungary Budapest London
Consulate General: Manchester
 Ireland Dublin London
Consulate General: Cardiff,
499 km of common border
 Italy Rome
Consulate General: Milan,
Consulate General: Edinburgh
 Latvia Riga London.
 Lithuania Vilnius London
 Luxembourg Luxembourg London
 Malta High Commissions: Valletta High Commissions: London
 Netherlands The Hague
Consulate General: Amsterdam
London British Mission to OPCW in The Hague
 Poland Warsaw London
Consulate General: Belfast,
Edinburgh, Manchester
 Portugal Lisbon
Consulate General: Portimão
Consulate General: Manchester
 Romania Bucharest London
Consulate General: Edinburgh
 Slovakia Bratislava London
 Slovenia Ljubljana London
 Spain Madrid
Consulate General: Barcelona,
Las Palmas,
Palma de Mallorca,
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Consulate General: Edinburgh,
 Sweden Stockholm London

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "1967: De Gaulle says 'non' to Britain – again". BBC News. 27 November 1976. Retrieved 9 March 2016.


  1. ^ "Population on 1 January". Eurostat. European Commission. Archived from the original on 7 August 2015. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  2. ^ "World Population Prospects - Population Division - United Nations". population.un.org.
  3. ^ "Field Listing – Area". The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. Archived from the original on 20 October 2018. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  4. ^ http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/products/dyb/dyb2012/Table03.pdf
  5. ^ Cities ranked "alpha" in 2020 by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network. http://www.lboro.ac.uk/gawc/world2020t.html
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 21, 2015. Retrieved 2015-01-21.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ "European Commission - PRESS RELEASES - Press release - Frequently asked questions on languages in Europe". europa.eu. Retrieved 2017-06-24.
  8. ^ "UNdata | record view | Population by religion, sex and urban/rural residence". data.un.org. Retrieved 2021-01-05.
  9. ^ "Less religious and more ethnically diverse: Census reveals a picture". The Independent. 2012-12-12. Retrieved 2021-01-05.
  10. ^ "Population by sex and citizenship". Federal Statistical Office. Retrieved 2020-07-22.
  11. ^ "Bulgaria Blocks North Macedonia's EU Accession Negotiations - Novinite.com - Sofia News Agency". novinite.com.
  12. ^ a b Mortimore, Roger. "Polling history: 40 years of British views on 'in or out' of Europe". The Conversation. Retrieved 25 October 2016.
  13. ^ "It's Complicated: From the Roman Empire to Brexit, Britain Has Always Struggled to Define Its Relationship With Europe". Time. Retrieved 2020-03-04.
  14. ^ "United Kingdom - The "Brexit" referendum". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-03-04.
  15. ^ Crawford, James; Boyle, Alan (10 December 2012). "Annex A - Opinion: Referendumon the Independence of Scotland – International Law Aspects" (PDF). p. 67. Retrieved 19 February 2013. Part I: Executive summary ... 6.1 Since the rUK would be the same state as the UK, its EU membership would continue. Indeed, the EU treaties implicitly preclude ‘automatic’ withdrawal by a state. There might have to be an adjustment to the UK’s terms of membership to reflect its reduction in territory and population, but this could be done without the UK ceasing to be an EU Member State.
  16. ^ Crawford, James; Boyle, Alan (10 December 2012). "Annex A - Opinion: Referendum on the Independence of Scotland – International Law Aspects" (PDF). p. 67. Retrieved 19 February 2013. Part I: Executive summary ...6. Within the EU, there is no precedent for what happens when a metropolitan part of a current Member State becomes independent, so it is necessary to speculate. ... 6.2 On the face of it, if Scotland had voted for independence it would have been required to accede to the EU as a new state, which would require negotiations on the terms of its membership, including on the subjects of the UK’s current opt-outs. The EU treaties make no provision for succession to membership. Certain provisions of the EU treaties would require amendment. If Scotland were somehow to become an EU member in its own right automatically, it is not clear how adjustments to the relative positions of Member States could be willed into being without negotiations. Nor would it be clear on what terms it would be a member. 6.3 Some have argued that the rights conferred on individuals by EU citizenship might influence the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to somehow resist this outcome. But this is a matter for speculation and does not have a clear precedent in EU law. It would also require the issue to somehow come before the ECJ, which may be unlikely. 7. In any event, Scotland’s position within the EU is likely to be shaped more by any agreements between the parties than by pre-existing principles of EU law.
  17. ^ "Unionists urged to sign EU letter". Glasgow: The Herald. 31 January 2013. Retrieved 21 November 2019.
  18. ^ Scottish independence: EC's Barroso says new states need 'apply to join EU', BBC News, 10 December 2012
  19. ^ "Scottish Independence: Blair Jenkins answers your questions". BBC. 18 January 2013. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  20. ^ Crawford, James; Boyle, Alan (10 December 2012). "Annex A - Opinion: Referendumon the Independence of Scotland – International Law Aspects" (PDF). Retrieved 19 February 2013.
  21. ^ "Sturgeon: UK 'arrogant' over Scottish independence". BBC. 11 February 2013. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
  22. ^ "'Better Together' - Alistair Darling delivers the John P Mackintosh lecture". 10 November 2012. Archived from the original on 14 October 2013. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  23. ^ "Everything you might want to know about the UK's trade with the EU". 28 August 2018. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  24. ^ Eurostat, EU trade since 1988 by CN8 [DS-016890]