Britain’s place in Europe has been controversial for centuries. When, in the 1950s, the six original member countries established the European Community, the United Kingdom first participated in the conference of Messina in 1956 which drew up the founding documents. Soon, however, it withdrew its delegates and decided to establish a rival free trade area (the European Free Trade Association, EFTA) with an awkward mix of members. Six years later, the British government realized it had made a mistake and applied for admission to the EU only to be vetoed by French President de Gaulle. Only after another veto in 1967 and after de Gaulle’s death, did Britain finally gain admission in 1973. However, it remained an awkward member, as illustrated by the British rebate on contributions to the EU’s budget that was negotiated by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984 and its decision to stay out of the euro in 1992.
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