Britain and Europe: That old chestnut

Margaret Thatcher, with William Whitelaw and Peter Kirk, at a referendum conference in June 1975

Britain's relationship with Europe is back in the headlines - as hot a political topic as it has been in decades.

With the UK Independence Party targeting the European elections in May, and leader Nigel Farage's In/Out debates against Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (the second of which takes place on the BBC tomorrow), Eurosceptics have succeeded in bringing the issue back centre stage.

But why does Britain have a particularly rocky relationship with the EU? Is it our island mentality? Our history of wars on the continent? Or the different political traditions? We have looked back over the key moments and themes to try to offer some clues.

The British have never been avid participants in European elections. Only around a third of the electorate typically vote. This is much less than the European average (though the gap is closing).

Will it be different this time? Well, opinion polls and the comments on this blog indicate that many people feel very divorced from Europe - not represented and dished an unwelcome diet of euro-legislation. So perhaps not.

But it will be interesting to watch the turnout this time: will it reflect heightened interest in Britain's own EU future, ahead of a possible referendum on membership?

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