Brexit and the Myth of British National Identity

R.T. Ashcroft*, M. Bevir

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Web of Science)


In this paper we analyse Brexit in relation to changes in British national identity since World War II. We begin by analysing how the concept of “tradition” relates to “nation”, and then examine current discourses surrounding Brexit and national identity. We trace the ways in which British national identity has been renegotiated since World War II through contests over nationality, citizenship, cultural diversity, and Europe. Finally, we ask why British political actors have struggled to negotiate the dilemmas of post-Imperial British identity, and what lessons can be learned. We look at changing coalitions within British political parties, which we connect to philosophical tensions in their underlying intellectual traditions, and to changes brought about by globalisation. We conclude that Brexit and the broader crisis of liberal democracy of which it is a part have deep historical and philosophical roots, and that attempts to unite our policy through a single national identity will be unsuccessful.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-132
Number of pages16
JournalBritish Politics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

JEL classifications

  • f59 - International Relations and International Political Economy: Other


  • Brexit
  • Decolonization
  • European Union
  • Globalisation
  • Multiculturalism
  • Nationalism
  • Populism
  • Tradition

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