The highs and lows of Britain's 47 years in the EEC and EU

The key moments since the signing of the accession treaty in 1972

The European parliament sets the seal on Britain’s departure from the EU on Friday by formally voting to ratify the withdrawal agreement paving the way for the UK to leave the bloc after 47 tumultuous years.

A sad day for many, a moment for celebration for others.

Here, we look back at some of the highs and lows of the UK’s membership.

1972 – Ted Heath signs UK in

Sir Edward Heath, the then prime minister, signs the accession treaty to the European Economic Community, which takes effect on 1 January 1973.

“What dictators have failed to do by force, democracies are undertaking by peaceful consent … and the voice of European civilisation so muted since the second world war will be able to speak in a united way,” said the British commissioner, George Thomson.

1975 – Margaret Thatcher says ‘yes’

Margaret Thatcher urges the UK to vote yes to stay in Europe in referendum … before saying “no, no, no” to the European commission president Jacques Delors in 1990 over plans to extend Europe’s powers and competence into national political matters.

The seeds of Euroscepticism had been sown years earlier when the iron lady marched into the former French royal palace at Fontainebleau to demand, as she had put it earlier, “our money back” from the European community.

1999 – Nigel Farage’s maiden speech

“Our interests are best served by not being a member of this club,” Farage says. “The level playing field is about as level as the decks of the Titanic after it hit an iceberg.”

2010 – Farage fined

The leader of Ukip was fined 10 days’ MEP allowances – about £2,700 – after refusing to apologise to the the Belgian president of the European parliament, Herman Van Rompuy. “I don’t want to be rude, but you have the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low grade bank clerk,” said Farage.

2017 – Farage branded a liar in parliament

MEP Seb Dance holds up placard that reads: “He’s lying to you,” behind Nigel Farage as the then Ukip leader defends Trump’s ban on Muslims entering the US.

2019 SNP MEP – ‘Please leave a light on for Scotland’

In what he thought could have been his last speech, two days before the original Brexit day, on 27 March, Alyn Smith apologised for some of his colleagues’ behaviour over the years, and said: “I’m not asking you to solve our domestic discussions. I am asking you to leave a light on so that we can find our way home.”

SNP MEP ‘Please leave a light on for Scotland.’

June 2019 – Brexit party snubs opening of parliament

Brexit party MEPs turn their backs as the European anthem, Ode to Joy, is played after being elected in a European election they thought would never happen.

And finally …

The classic BBC TV comedy Yes Minister had it right all along.

Minister: “Surely you are committed to the European ideal?“

Sir Humphrey: “Reaaaaaally minister, ha, ha, ha. We had to break the whole thing up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn’t work. Now that we are inside we can make a complete pig’s breakfast of the whole thing again.”


Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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