Arguing About Britain and Europe in Parliamentary Discourse

Imagined Communities in Liberal Democrat Leaders’ Debate Contributions (1997–2010)

by Marlene Herrschaft-Iden (Author)
©2019 Thesis 304 Pages


Since the fateful referendum in 2016, Brexit dominates British politics. This book focuses on the parliamentary discourse of the allegedly most pro-European British political party, the Liberal Democrats. Combining a political discourse analysis with a Cultural Studies perspective, it scrutinises the party leaders’ contributions to parliamentary debates on European integration regarding the arguments they advanced to justify their position from 1997–2010 and the verbal images they used to describe both Europe and Britain. The study’s results contribute to understanding the current dynamics in British politics: sending mixed messages at best, the pro-European actors failed to make a convincing and coherent case for a common European future in the past.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Acknowledgements
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • List of Abbreviations
  • 1. Introduction
  • 1.1 Research Interest and Questions
  • 1.2 State of Research
  • 1.3 Outline
  • 2. Theoretical Framework and Definitions
  • 2.1 Discourse Theory
  • 2.2 Imagined Communities
  • 2.3 Othering and Identity
  • 2.4 Euroscepticism
  • 3. Historical Background: Britain and Europe
  • 3.1 After 1945
  • 3.2 New Labour, New Dawn? British Political Parties and European Policy 1997–2010
  • 3.3 2010 and Beyond – Brexit Ahead
  • 4. Text Selection: Parliamentary Discourse
  • 4.1 The Importance of Parliament in the British Political System
  • 4.2 Parties and Parliament
  • 4.3 Parliamentary Speeches
  • 4.4 Summary: Relevant Actors and Selected Speeches
  • 5. Data Analysis Methodology
  • 5.1 Preparation of the Corpora
  • 5.2 Content Analysis
  • 5.3 Political Discourse Analysis
  • 5.4 Metaphors and Word Choice
  • 5.5 Summary
  • 6. Quantitative Results
  • 6.1 The Lib Dem Leaders Addressing Europe
  • 6.1.1 Paddy Ashdown
  • 6.1.2 Charles Kennedy
  • 6.1.3 Menzies Campbell
  • 6.1.4 Vince Cable
  • 6.1.5 Nick Clegg
  • 6.2 Types of Debates in Corpus Two
  • 6.3 Topics Addressed by Lib Dem Party Leaders
  • 7. Qualitative Results
  • 7.1 A Tale of Two Currencies: Economic and Monetary Union
  • 7.1.1 Paddy Ashdown
  • “Engagements” (04.06.1997)
  • “European Council (Amsterdam)” (18.06.1997)
  • “Engagements” (29.10.1997)
  • “European Council” (15.12.1997)
  • “Engagements” (21.01.1998)
  • “Engagements” (28.01.1998)
  • “Amendment of the Law” (17.03.1998)
  • “Engagements” (29.04.1998)
  • “Economic and Monetary Union” (05.05.1998)
  • “G8 Summit” (20.05.1998)
  • “European Council (Cardiff)” (17.06.1998)
  • “Engagements” (08.07.1998)
  • “Engagements” (21.10.1998)
  • “Engagements” (04.11.1998)
  • “Debate on the Address” (24.11.1998)
  • “Economic and Monetary Union” (23.02.1999)
  • “Amendment of the Law” (09.03.1999)
  • 7.1.2 Charles Kennedy
  • “Food and Farming” (20.10.1999)
  • “Debate on the Address” (17.11.1999)
  • “Helsinki European Council” (13.12.1999)
  • “Engagements” (16.02.2000)
  • “Amendment of the Law” (21.03.2000)
  • “European Council (Lisbon)” (27.03.2000)
  • “Engagements” (17.05.2000)
  • “European Council” (21.06.2000)
  • “Engagements” (05.07.2000)
  • “Engagements” (12.07.2000)
  • “G8 Summit” (24.07.2000)
  • “Nice European Council” (11.12.2000)
  • “First Day” (20.06.2001)
  • “European Council (Laeken)” (17.12.2001)
  • “European Council (Barcelona)” (18.03.2002)
  • “Amendment of the Law” (17.04.2002)
  • “Engagements” (22.05.2002)
  • “European Council (Seville)” (24.06.2002)
  • “Engagements” (03.07.2002)
  • “European Council” (28.10.2002)
  • “Engagements” (27.11.2002)
  • “European Council (Copenhagen)” (16.12.2002)
  • “Amendment of the Law” (09.04.2003)
  • “Engagements” (21.05.2003)
  • “European Council, Brussels Summit (EC)” (08.11.2004)
  • “Budget March 2005” (16.03.2005)
  • 7.1.3 Menzies Campbell
  • 7.1.4 Nick Clegg
  • “European Council” (20.10.2008)
  • “G8 Summit” (17.11.2008)
  • “EU Council/Afghanistan, India and Pakistan” (15.12.2008)
  • “European Council” (29.03.2010)
  • 7.1.5 Summary
  • 7.2 “Bandying about a Euro-Army”: Foreign and Security Policy
  • 7.2.1 Paddy Ashdown
  • “European Council Amsterdam” (18.06.1997)
  • “NATO Summit” (09.07.1999)
  • “Debate on the Address” (09.07.1999)
  • “Engagements” (10.02.1999)
  • “Kosovo/Cologne European Summit” (08.06.1999)
  • 7.2.2 Charles Kennedy
  • “Helsinki European Council” (13.12.1999)
  • “European Council (Lisbon)” (27.3.2000)
  • “NATO Summit (Prague)” (25.11.2002)
  • “European Council (Copenhagen)” (16.12.2002)
  • “Iraq and European Council” (24.03.2003)
  • “G8 Summit” (04.06.2003)
  • “European Council” (23.06.2003)
  • “European Council” (15.12.2003)
  • “G8 Summit” (14.06.2004)
  • “NATO Summit/Special EU Council” (30.06.2004)
  • “European Council/Brussels Summit” (08.11.2004)
  • “European Council” (20.12.2004)
  • “European Council, Brussels Summit” (24.03.2005)
  • “EC Budget” (20.06.2005)
  • 7.2.3 Menzies Campbell
  • “Brussels Summit (EC)” (19.06.2006)
  • “European Council” (12.03.2007)
  • 7.2.4 Vince Cable
  • “European Council (Brussels)” (17.12.2007)
  • 7.2.5 Nick Clegg
  • “European Council” (17.03.2008)
  • “National Security Strategy” (19.05.2008)
  • “Engagements” (21.05.2008)
  • “European Council” (23.06.2008)
  • “EU Council: Afghanistan, India and Pakistan” (15.12.2008)
  • “Engagements” (11.03.2009)
  • “Spring European Council” (23.03.2009)
  • “European Council” (23.06.2009)
  • 7.2.6 Summary
  • 7.3 EU Treaties and the EU Constitution
  • 7.3.1 Paddy Ashdown
  • “European Council Amsterdam” (18.06.1997)
  • “European Council (Cardiff)” (17.06.1998)
  • 7.3.2 Charles Kennedy
  • “Nice European Council” (11.12.2000)
  • “European Council (Laeken)” (17.12.2001)
  • “European Council” (23.06.2003)
  • “Engagements” (05.11.2003)
  • “European Council” (15.12.2003)
  • “Europe” (20.04.2004)
  • “European Council” (21.06.2004)
  • “Convention on the Future of Europe” (03.11.2004)
  • “European Council/Brussels Summit” (08.11.2004)
  • “Queen’s Speech” (23.11.2004)
  • “Queen’s Speech” (17.05.2005)
  • “European Constitution” (15.06.2005)
  • “EC Budget” (20.06.2005)
  • “Proportional Representation” (22.06.2005)
  • 7.3.3 Menzies Campbell
  • “Brussels Summit (EC)” (19.06.2006)
  • “Constitutional Reform” (03.07.2007)
  • 7.3.4 Vince Cable
  • “Intergovernmental Conference (Lisbon)” (22.10.2007)
  • “Debate on the Address” (06.11.2007)
  • “European Council (Brussels)” (17.12.2007)
  • 7.3.5 Nick Clegg
  • “Engagements” (27.02.2008)
  • “European Council” (17.03.2008)
  • “European Council” (23.06.2008)
  • “European Council” (23.06.2009)
  • 7.3.6 Summary
  • 7.4 “A Long-Running Source of Frustration”: The Common Agricultural Policy
  • 7.4.1 Paddy Ashdown
  • “European Council” (15.12.1997)
  • “European Council (Cardiff)” (17.06.1998)
  • “Engagements (PMQs)” (21.10.1998)
  • 7.4.2 Charles Kennedy
  • “Food and Farming” (20 October 1999)
  • “Amendment of the Law” (21.03.2000)
  • “European Council (Seville)” (24.06.2002)
  • “European Council” (28.10.2002)
  • “First Day” (13.11.2002)
  • “European Council (Copenhagen)” (16.12.2002)
  • “G8 Summit” (04.06.2003)
  • “European Council” (21.06.2004)
  • “European Council, Brussels Summit” (24.03.2005)
  • “EC Budget” (20.06.2005)
  • “EC Budget” (19.12.2005)
  • 7.4.3 Menzies Campbell
  • “Questions” (10.05.2006)
  • “European Council” (25.06.2007)
  • 7.4.4 Vince Cable
  • “Intergovernmental Conference (Lisbon)” (22.10.2007)
  • 7.4.5 Summary
  • 7.5 Bigger Is Better: EU Enlargement
  • 7.5.1 Paddy Ashdown
  • “European Council Amsterdam” (18.06.1997)
  • “Engagements” (15.12.1997)
  • 7.5.2 Charles Kennedy
  • “Helsinki European Council” (13.12.1999)
  • “Nice European Council” (11.12.2000)
  • “European Council (Laeken)” (17.12.2001)
  • “European Council (Seville)” (24.06.2002)
  • “European Council” (28.10.2002)
  • “First Day” (13.11.2002)
  • “NATO Summit (Prague)” (25.11.2002)
  • “European Council (Copenhagen)” (16.12.2002)
  • “European Council” (23.06.2003)
  • “European Council” (15.12.2003)
  • “European Council” (21.06.2004)
  • “European Council” (20.12.2004)
  • “EC Budget” (20.06.2005)
  • “European Council (Brussels)” (19.12.2005)
  • 7.5.3 Menzies Campbell
  • “Brussels Summit (EC)” (19.06.2006)
  • 7.5.4 Summary
  • 8. Conclusions
  • 8.1 Evaluation
  • 8.2 Lib Dem Discourse on Europe after New Labour
  • Appendix
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Works Cited

List of Abbreviations



Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy



Critical Discourse Analysis


Common Agricultural Policy


Common Foreign and Security Policy


Conservative and Unionist Party



European Communities


European Economic Community


European Coal and Steel Community


European Free Trade Association


European Atomic Energy Community


Economic and Monetary Union


European Union



House of Commons


Her Majesty’s Government


Her Majesty’s Opposition



Labour Party

Lib Dem

Liberal Democrat

Lib Dems

Liberal Democrats



Member of the European Parliament


Member of Parliament



North Atlantic Treaty Organisation



Prime Minister


Prime Minister’s Questions



Qualified majority voting



Single European Act



The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland


United Kingdom Independence Party



Western European Union

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1. Introduction

The result of the Brexit referendum on 23 June 2016 in the UK put a spotlight on the difficulties in British-European relations. But even long before this, to misquote Jane Austen, it was “a truth universally acknowledged” that European policy was and still is one of the most controversial issues in British politics:

There are thus two key dimensions to the Westminster-and-Europe syndrome. First, it is deeply controversial – controversial between the United Kingdom and its partner Member States; controversial between Government and Opposition; controversial within the major political parties as well as between them. (Giddings 2005b: “Westminster” 217)

Indeed, ever since the inception of the European institutions, questions like ‘to join or not to join’ (be it the common market or the common currency) and to ‘opt out or not to opt out’ (or indeed whether to opt back in) have divided opinions. Disagreement over European issues has split governing and opposition parties alike, caused parliamentary rebellions as well as nationwide pro- and anti-campaigns, toppled ministers and whole governments and has arguably even given rise to wholly new parties whose raison d’être is linked to British-European relations, like the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). The absence of a general consensus on European policy in the UK thus represents the backdrop against which discursive struggles between Eurosceptics and pro-Europeans have been played out for a long time.

Hugo Young summarises the dominance of Eurosceptic discourse in the UK at the beginning of the Labour government period in 1997:

By far the greatest portion of the belonging had been spent under the hand of ministries, culminating in Major’s, that never – not too strong a word – found a single thing to exalt about membership of ‘Europe’. Destiny had dragged Britain there, but the British discourse seldom moved beyond the narrow modes of complaint, lecture and demand. (1999: 472)

In line with this assessment, Daddow postulates that “the British were kept in a permanent state of discursive war with the continent, in which a hegemonic Eurosceptical [sic] discourse acted as both frame and limit on the way the British people called Europe to mind” (Daddow 2011b: New Labour 65). As a result, as former diplomat Stephen Wall reports, the other EU members worried already in 1997 that “British Eurosceptic opinion might drive Britain to leave the EU altogether” (Wall 2008: 165). This shows how thin the ice has been for a long time and how important the British discourse on Europe can be judged in this context.

←19 | 20→

How British political parties have positioned themselves in this political minefield has indeed been the subject of many studies. Yet while Blair and his proclamation of a new pro-European agenda in a bid to overcome this powerful discursive formation that framed the EU as negative attracted large media and academic coverage, the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) have been starkly neglected. Third-largest party from 1997 to 2010, they are consistently described as pro-European, yet their contribution to the discourse on Europe and EU policy has not been comprehensively studied yet. Given that as a third party, they had only slim chances of having to prove the viability of their policy proposals in government, they can be expected to have challenged the existing Eurosceptic discourse even more confidently than New Labour. This study will argue that the Lib Dem position on European policy during the 13 years of Labour governments from 1997 to 2010 constitutes an important part of the puzzle that is the difficult relationship between Britain and Europe, and that it, therefore, merits scholarly attention.

1.1 Research Interest and Questions

As mentioned above, the Lib Dems are invariably described as “Europhile” or “pro-European” both in academic works and journalistic publications; Russell and Cutts even see them as the “most Europhile of all British parties” (2009: 75). Very often, however, this claim is only substantiated by recounting the Lib Dem MPs’ voting behaviour. The way they talk about Europe has been completely neglected so far. Jones and Norton claim that

[t];he UK’s relationship with the European Union (EU) has been marked by a mixture of antipathy and disinterest. […] It suggests that British attitudes to Europe reflect a deep-rooted distrust of all things European, which have not been challenged by British political leaders regardless of party affiliation. (2010: 615)

I will seek to rebut this verdict in the following, addressing the ensuing questions: how often did Lib Dem party leaders refer to Europe in parliamentary debates, i.e. how important did they rate this issue? Did the Lib Dems as an allegedly pro-European party really leave the Eurosceptic discourse unchallenged? This dissertation will delve deep into parliamentary discourse on European policy and uncover the self-image of the UK in relation with the EU or “Europe” offered by the Lib Dems in order to close this research gap.

British foreign policy is almost invariably said to be of a pragmatic nature, focused on the ‘national interest’ in any given situation (Black 2006: 3) and thus not influenced by a certain ideology. Ultimately, however, Heindrichs claims that Euroscepticism cannot be explained by economic interests alone and suggests that other factors have to be taken into account:

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Das britische Verhalten in der Europapolitik liegt vielmehr auch in unverwechselbaren, identitätsstiftenden Normen begründet, die politisch, historisch und kulturell bedingt sind und die integrationsskeptische Rolle Großbritanniens in der Europäischen Union bedingen. (Heindrichs 2005: 19)

He thus argues that there must be other, less tangible reasons for the distinct British role in European integration, anchored in norms that form an important part or indeed the basis of British identity. Based on this understanding, I postulate the hypothesis that behind the dispute and political debate surrounding European integration lies the fear of many Britons that they might lose their identity (or that it may at least be eroded) through a progressing Europeanisation. The ambivalent relations between the United Kingdom and ‘Europe’ could then be traced back to a self-understanding which is constituted against (a continental) ‘Europe’ as its ‘Other’. This specific identity concept would then, of course, stand in the way of a hard-headed ‘rational’ debate based on factual arguments since discussing Europe and the relation with it simultaneously calls British identity itself into question. The rejection of further engagement in and with ‘Europe’ would then become a crucial part of how British politicians define ‘Britishness’ and thus an essential question of survival. The Lib Dems can be expected to counter these fears by a discourse that frames the UK as part of Europe, and the European Union as a non-threatening entity.

Following this line of argumentation, such a self-understanding must certainly manifest itself in political discourse on Europe and influence both the choice of words, i.e. the selection on the paradigmatic axis, and the structure of arguments advanced. The most important actors exercising influence in this discourse are the political leaders (Jones and Norton 2010: 615; Geddes 2004: 1). Their speeches and contributions to the debate on European policy thus seem the most promising place to start and shall, therefore, be investigated to chart the development in context and to see if the hypotheses set out above can be confirmed by empirical evidence. In a nutshell, this study aims at shedding light on which cultural, identity-shaping norms can be discovered in Lib Dem contributions to parliamentary debates.

The following research questions will, therefore, be addressed:

How important is the topic of ‘European policy’ in the New Labour years? How often is it addressed in parliamentary discourse?

How are Britain and Europe portrayed in Lib Dem party leader’s speeches during the Blair and Brown governments?


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (November)
Political Parties Political Discourse Euroscepticism UK Parliament Discourse Analysis British Identity
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 304 pp., 8 img. b/w, 9 tables.

Biographical notes

Marlene Herrschaft-Iden (Author)

Marlene Herrschaft-Iden studied in Passau, Sheffield and Oxford and worked as an adjunct lecturer in Passau and Tübingen. She is the author of articles on the British Conservative Party leaders debating European policies and developments in the UK’s cultural sector in the wake of the Brexit referendum.


Title: Arguing About Britain and Europe in Parliamentary Discourse
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306 pages