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Britain's Rocky History With the European Union

Britain's new Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks toward the lectern to speak outside 10 Downing Street, London, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Frank Augstein
The Associated Press

A Western Michigan University Political Science Professor says Great Britain has always been somewhat “aloof” from the rest of Europe. However, Gunther Hega, who studies European politics, says British attitudes toward the European Union have changed over the last 45 years.

The UK joined what was then called the European Communities in 1973. In 1975, the first nationwide referendum in Great Britain was held over that membership. Two-thirds voted to remain in the European Communities.

Hega says over time, Britain became frustrated with bureaucracy and cost of the EU. He says one journalist who became well-known for criticizing the European Union in the 1990’s was Boris Johnson, who on Wednesday became the UK’s new Prime Minister.

Extended interview with Gunther Hega in WMUK's WestSouthwest podcast

Hega says there are big differences among British voters by age and geography. Older voters supported the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union, while younger voters wanted to stay in the EU. Hega says majorities of voters in England and Wales cast their ballots to leave, while large majorities of voters in Ireland and Scotland wanted to remain. He says that makes it hard to make broad generalizations about changing attitudes in the UK. 

Gordon Evans became WMUK's Content Director in 2019 after more than 20 years as an anchor, host and reporter. A 1990 graduate of Michigan State, he began work at WMUK in 1996.
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