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Britain after 1945


After World War Two Britain was in an unusual position. Yes, it had won the war, but with help from the U.S.A. The empire was still strong but America was starting to overtake them. This instigated what came to be known as the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States. The former colonies were now the power partner, and the Empire and Commonwealth still lived on. However, at the end of the war their remained a few questions. Britain had just put forth all of this time and effort to battle with the Europeans it had for so long sought to divide itself from. Now, in a state of financial troubles and political shifts, Britain realized that their best option to maintain world power was to keep their fingers involved in European affairs.


The British Commonwealth


In 1947, India was granted independence and was integrated into the Commonwealth. This action was required due to the 1935 Government of India Act, when the British agreed to grant Indian independence after the war. This agreement was made in order to keep the Indian people happy and supportive of the empire during World War Two. Now, in 1947 the addition of India to the commonwealth forever changed the face of the once mainly white British Commonwealth, consisting of Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. India’s addition started a new chapter in the workings and definition of the commonwealth and a new wave of British global influence.[1]


As Europe began forming unifying organizations that would pull together countries in order to collaborate and provide communal aid, Britain remained supportive but not directly involved. The ECSC, or the European Coal and Steel Coalition, formed in 1951 and headed by France was a way for participating states to pull together all of there coal and steel resources, which were two of the major economic drivers, and share the prosperity of the market together.[2]


In this stage of European integration, Britain preferred to stand on the sidelines. Rather than involve itself, British politicians decided to guide and support the integration, but keep itself, the commonwealth, America, and even Soviet Russia out of the way. These nations were still the world powers and did not need a coalition with the rest of Europe to succeed They instead, like with their empire, felt a duty to help the Europeans become a stronger and more peaceful team.[3]


In the early 1960’s Britain was forced to rethink its situation in the world. For one, issues of independence in African colonies were become more prevalent by the day, and the original plan for slow, progressive independence was challenged. Also the benefits of joining into the European integration group, now called the EEC, (The European Economic Community) was looking more attractive, especially if Britain could convince the rest of Europe to agree to a system of free trade. Unfortunately, Charles De Gaulle of France would not hear of this. It wasn’t until 1972, under the ministry of Heath that Britain was able to pass a very close vote in favor of joining the now EC (European Community) and were also accepted by the member states.[4] 


 Progressively over the years Britain has moved into a position of being at “the heart of Europe,” and working at the head, of the now EU (European Union as of 1993) instigating projects and idea such as the European army. However, in other ways Britain has also made efforts to keep a distance between them and full integration into Europe. For example, Britain to this day has maintained its own currency in the pound, rather than adopt the Euro.[5]


After 1945 and the subsequent expansion of the Commonwealth, Britain slowly began to lose it’s position as a global influence. For although Britain still had a hand in the Commonwealth nations, their power was increasingly restricted compared their power in the colonies. Therefore, the best choice to maintain a global stance was to not only continue special relations with the Untied States, but to also work as a part of the collectivization of Europe into a unified community.[6]


[1] Jonathan Hollowell, “From Commonwealth to European Integration,” in Britain Since 1945,  ed. Jonathan Hollowell (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2003), 61-62.

[2] Hollowell, “From Commonwealth to European Integration,” 63.

[3] Hollowell, “From Commonwealth to European Integration,” 64-66.

[4]  Hollowell, “From Commonwealth to European Integration,” 70, 79.

[5] Hollowell, “From Commonwealth to European Integration,” 92-93.

[6]  Hollowell, “From Commonwealth to European Integration,” 96-97.