English nationalism, Brexit and the Anglosphere is the first sustained research that examines the inter-relationships between English nationalism, Brexit and the Anglosphere. Much initial analysis of Brexit concentrated on the revolt of those ‘left behind’ by globalisation. English nationalism, Brexit and the Anglosphere analyses the elite project behind Brexit. This project was framed within the political traditions of an expansive English nationalism. Far from being parochial ‘Little Englanders’, elite Brexiteers sought to lessen the rupture of leaving the European Union by suggesting a return to trade and security alliances with ‘true friends’ and ‘traditional allies’ in the Anglosphere. Brexit was thus reassuringly presented as a giant leap into the known. Legitimising this far-reaching change in British and European politics required the re-articulation of a globally oriented Englishness. This politicised Englishness was underpinned by arguments about the United Kingdom’s imperial past and its global future advanced as a critique of its European present. When framing the UK’s EU membership as a European interregnum followed by a global restoration, Brexiteers both invoked and occluded England by asserting the wider categories of belonging that inform contemporary English nationalism.
are surely less contemptuous of their European neighbors than they were when Italian journalist Luigi Barzini in 1983 colorfully characterized their view of the continentals. But are they? The 2016 referendum forcing the UK to begin negotiations to leave the European Union – a process known as “Brexit” – suggests that many Brits still see a wide cultural, political and economic channel between themselves and “the Europeans.”
The 2016 referendum favoring by a close margin British departure from the European Union was a shock to British politics and to the European
Brexit was a significant moment of political Englishness, with consequences for the rest of the United Kingdom, the European Union and beyond. This book developed existing arguments about the links between English nationalism and Euroscepticism by showing how understandings of the ‘wider categories of belonging’ that inform political Englishness shaped responses to the dilemma posed by the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union. When viewed in this light, with Brexit seen as a protracted event that pre- and post-dated the 2016 referendum, we
Regicide, rump Parliament and independence, 2016
As the United Kingdom recovered from the shock or elation of Brexit and as its political parties tried to deal with the aftermath, the blue and gold stars of the European Union fluttered from a bronze equestrian statue of Charles I, barely 100 metres from Canada House. Perhaps the person who put it there saw it only as a convenient mast during one of the large demonstrations in support of the UK’s membership of the EU that snaked their way through central London in July 2016
properties that interest us before we even begin to examine [them]’ (Geertz 1973 : 17). Inspired by this approach, this chapter takes a ‘thick description’ look at the Brexit referendum campaign.
The end of the campaign
It was rather unexpected. That, perhaps, was why David Cameron’s voice broke ever so slightly when he announced his resignation in the morning of 24 June 2016. The night before, the Conservative Prime Minister had hosted an informal champagne party for friends in 10 Downing Street. The mood was optimistic, jubilant even. Campaigners were handing out
English nationalism, Euroscepticism and the Anglosphere
. Until recently, the English were a people from whom you sought independence, not a people seeking to regain their own nationhood by rising up against the inequities of foreign rule.
Yet this is how Brexit was portrayed in Nigel Farage’s victory speech at 4 a.m. on 24 June 2016: with the important caveat that Farage was ostensibly speaking for the United Kingdom, not for England. But the disparity in support for leaving the European Union in the four nations of the United Kingdom raised the question of which nation might be seeking its independence and from
The Anglosphere, England and the Brexit referendum
Thames and Tiber, 2015 and 2018
If two politicians’ ideas enjoyed a retrospective and posthumous success as a result of Brexit, it was those of Winston Churchill and Enoch Powell. The fiftieth anniversary of Churchill’s funeral took place in January 2015 with a re-enactment of his funereal trip along the Thames. Three years later, Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech was dramatised on BBC radio.
The dominant memory of Churchill remained that of his leadership during Britain’s ‘finest hour’ in 1940, even if
was not present at the Treaty of Rome commemorations – or rather it was conspicuous by its absence. For sure, there were the official celebrations, including a Declaration, a white paper on the future of the EU and some sombre speeches from heads of state and government. But the ghost at the banquet was Brexit. If there had been a growing sense of distance between citizens and the European project in its forties, and the Eurozone and migration crises had not been bad enough in its fifties, Brexit really was la cerise sur le gâteau as the EU turned sixty
highlighting national differences over the value of that Union. Instead it sought to commemorate a version of what we might now call ‘global Britain’. As Englishness became politicised, the UK Government offered up a memory of Empire to paper over the emerging cracks in the Union state.
The years leading up to the Brexit referendum were also years of debates about Britain’s imperial past. The conclusions made about this topic were fairly one-sided: in 2014 59 per cent of respondents to a YouGov poll said that the British Empire was something to be proud of
nationalism: that all our intellectual firepower is facing in the wrong direction and is over-concentrated on the UK-context alone when it should be alive to a wider set of possibilities; a point reinforced by Michael Kenny (Aughey, 2013 : 115; Kenny, 2014 : 132).
National traditions and the legitimisation of British sovereignty
If the ideas of absence and abnormality are only partially helpful in explaining English nationalism (and indeed fell away in the years preceding Brexit), this section argues that examining the political traditions that animate