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European Communities Act 1972
Act of Parliament
"Long title An Act to make provision in connection with the enlargement of the European Communities to include the United Kingdom, together with (for certain purposes) the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and Gibraltar.
"Citation 1972 c. 68
Introduced by "Geoffrey Rippon, "Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Territorial extent United Kingdom
(England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland)
Indirectly also affects (not part of the territorial extent):
The Isle of Man
[The Bailiwick of] Jersey
The Bailiwick of Guernsey
"Royal assent 17 October 1972
"Commencement 1 January 1973[1] [a]
Other legislation
Relates to "European Communities (Amendment) Act 1986
"European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993
"European Economic Area Act 1993
"European Communities (Amendment) Act 1998
"European Communities (Amendment) Act 2002
"European Union (Amendment) Act 2008
"European Union Act 2011
Status: Amended
Text of statute as originally enacted
Revised text of statute as amended
"European Union
Flag of the European Union

This article is part of a series on the
"politics and government
of the European Union

The European Communities Act 1972 (c. 68) is an "Act of the "Parliament of the United Kingdom which legislated for the accession of the United Kingdom to the "European Communities (EC) (which was the collective term for the "European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the "European Economic Community (EEC) (also known at the time as the "Common Market") and the "European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC) (also known as Euratom). All three of these institutions would later form part of what is now known as the "European Union. The act also legislated for the incorporation of "European Union law (then Community law) along with the jurisdiction and judgements from the "European Court of Justice into the domestic law of the United Kingdom. It is one of the most significant constitutional pieces of legislation ever passed by the "Parliament of the United Kingdom. The act has been amended several times to give legal effect to the "Single European Act, the "Maastricht Treaty which formed the European Union, the "Amsterdam Treaty, the "Nice Treaty, and most recently the "Treaty of Lisbon.

In an interview with "BBC News on 2 October 2016, "Theresa May promised that the Government would introduce a bill to repeal the Act.[2]


Origin and background[edit]

On 28 October 1971, after a year of negotiations between the "UK Government led by the "Conservative "Prime Minister "Edward Heath, the "European Communities and various European leaders (particularly the French President "Georges Pompidou), Members of Parliament after six days of debate in the "House of Commons voted 356-244 in favour of the principle of the United Kingdom becoming a member state of the European Communities (the Common Market) on the terms which had been provisionally agreed. This led to Edward Heath signing the "Treaty of Accession in "Brussels on behalf of the United Kingdom on 22 January 1972, with the treaty having full legal effect from 1 January 1973.

For the Treaty to have full legal effect upon entry into the Communities on 1 January 1973, and for the United Kingdom to incorporate the European Institutions and the laws of the Communities, a subsequent Act of Parliament was required to give this effect and on January 25 – three days after the signing of the Treaty – a European Communities Bill was presented to the House of Commons by "Geoffrey Rippon for its first reading. The Bill itself contained just 12 clauses and was criticised by some in the opposition who had initially demanded a one thousand clause Bill at the time as it would be much harder to admend.

Second Reading (House of Commons)[edit]

On 17 February 1972, the House of Commons voted narrowly by 309-301 in favour of the Bill at its second reading after three days of intense debate. Just before the vote the Prime Minister Edward Heath argued his case in the debate with the following words.

The Bill then passed on to Committee Stage before its third reading.

Third Reading (House of Commons)[edit]

On 13 July 1972 the House of Commons voted 301-284 in favour of the Bill in its third and final reading before passing on to the House of Lords. Before the vote took place, "Geoffrey Rippon (who had drafted the Bill) argued in the House of Commons immediately before the vote:

The Bill then passed to the "House of Lords.

The Act[edit]

"Lord Rippon was responsible for drafting the necessary domestic legislation that took the "United Kingdom into the then "European Communities (EC) principally the "European Economic Community (EEC) otherwise known at the time as the "Common Market" which would later become the "European Union.

The European Communities Act was the instrument whereby the UK was able to join the "European Union (then known as the "European Communities). It enables, under section 2(2), UK government ministers to lay regulations before Parliament to "transpose "EU Directives (then Community law) and rulings of the "European Court of Justice into UK law. It also provides, in section 2(4), that all UK legislation, including primary legislation (Acts of Parliament) have effect "subject to" "directly applicable EU law. This has been interpreted by UK courts as granting EU law primacy over domestic UK legislation.

European Treaties[edit]

The Act incorporated the following treaties into the domestic law of the United Kingdom.

The following treaties were also added to the act though subsequent amendments.

Common Agricultural Policy[edit]

The Act legislated for the full participation of the United Kingdom in the Common Agricultural Policy and fully incorporates the policy into UK domestic law and repealed previous pieces of UK domestic legislation to allow for this.

Customs Union[edit]

The Act legislated for the incorporation and full participation of the United Kingdom within the "European Union Customs Union (then European Communites Customs Union) into domestic law as well as the application of the European Common external tariff to all goods which comes into the UK from outside the European Communites which repealed large sections of previous UK domestic legislation to allow for this.


The primacy and direct effect of EU law has no formal basis in the founding treaties of the union but was developed by the "European Court of Justice (ECJ), long before UK accession, on the grounds that the purpose of the treaties would be thwarted if EU law were subordinate to national law. The view of the ECJ is that any norm of EU law takes precedence over national law, including national constitutions. Most national courts, including the United Kingdom's, do not accept this "monist perspective.[3] The British constitution is based on Parliamentary sovereignty and has a "dualist view of international law: international treaties do not become part of UK domestic law unless they are incorporated into UK law by an Act of Parliament.[4] The primacy of EU law in the United Kingdom derives from the European Communities Act. This means that if the Act were repealed, any EU law (unless it has been transposed into British legislation) would, in practice, become unenforceable in the United Kingdom and Gibraltar, and the powers delegated by the Act to the EU institutions would return to the "Parliament of the United Kingdom.[5] This was made clear to be the law in the United Kingdom by the inclusion of the ""sovereignty clause" in the EU Act 2011 passed by the British Parliament.

The question of sovereignty had been discussed in an official document (FCO 30/1048) that became available to the public in January 2002 under the "Thirty-year rule. It listed among "Areas of policy in which parliamentary freedom to legislate will be affected by entry into the European Communities": Customs duties, Agriculture, Free movement of labour, services and capital, Transport, and Social Security for migrant workers. The document concluded (paragraph 26) that it was advisable to put the considerations of influence and power before those of formal sovereignty.[6]


In the "Factortame case, the "House of Lords ("Lord Bridge) has interpreted section 2(4) as effectively inserting an implied clause into all UK statutes that they shall not apply where they conflict with European law. This is seen by some as a departure from the British constitutional doctrine of "parliamentary sovereignty, as traditionally understood.[7]


The United Kingdom voted for "British withdrawal from the EU in the "2016 EU referendum held on 23 June 2016, and afterwards there was speculation that the act would be either repealed or amended.[8] In October 2016 the prime minister, "Theresa May, promised a "Great Repeal Bill" which would repeal the 1972 act and import its regulations into UK law, with effect from the date of British withdrawal; the regulations could then be amended or repealed on a case-by-case basis.[9] The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in July 2017.

The "Supreme Court "ruled in January 2017 that an "act of Parliament was needed before the government could "invoke Article 50 to give notice to leave the European Union.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 1 January 1973 is the date on which the accession treaty came into force.


  1. ^ Turpin, Colin; Tomkins, Adam (2007). British Government and the Constitution: Text and Materials. Cambridge University Press. "ISBN "9781139465366. So Parliament exercised its sovereignty and the European Communities Act 1972 came into force on 1 January 1973 
  2. ^ May, Theresa (2 October 2016). "Brexit: PM to trigger Article 50 by end of March". BBC News. 
  3. ^ Craig, Paul; De Burca, Grainne (2015). EU Law: Text, Cases and Materials (6th ed.). "Oxford University Press. p. 266. "ISBN "978-0-19-871492-7. 
  4. ^ Craig, Paul; De Burca, Grainne (2015). EU Law: Text, Cases and Materials (6th ed.). "Oxford University Press. p. 365. "ISBN "978-0-19-871492-7. 
  5. ^ Akehurst, Michael; Malanczuk, Peter (1997). Akehurst's Modern Introduction to International Law. London: Routledge. pp. 65–66. "ISBN "978-0-415-11120-1. 
  6. ^ FCO 30/1048, Legal and constitutional implications of UK entry into EEC (open from 1 January 2002).[1]
  7. ^ Elliott, M. "United Kingdom: Parliamentary sovereignty under pressure". International Journal of Constitutional Law. 2 (3): 545–627. "doi:10.1093/icon/2.3.545. 
  8. ^ Allen Green, David (11 July 2016). "Is an Act of Parliament required for Brexit?". Financial Times. Retrieved 11 July 2016. 
  9. ^ Mason, Rowena (2 October 2016). "Theresa May's 'great repeal bill': what's going to happen and when?". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 October 2016. 
  10. ^ "Article 50 'Brexit' Appeal". The Supreme Court. 24 January 2017. Retrieved 28 January 2017. 
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