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English Nationalism and Euroscepticism

Losing the Peace


Ben Wellings

This book seeks out the origins of contemporary English nationalism. Whilst much academic and political attention has been given to England’s place within the United Kingdom since devolution, the author argues that recent English nationalism actually derives from Britain’s troubled relationship with European integration. Drawing on political evidence from the former Empire, the debates surrounding EEC accession and the United Kingdom’s ongoing membership in the European Union, the author identifies the foundations of contemporary English nationalism. In doing so, he adds an important corrective to the debate about nationalism in England, pulling our gaze out from the United Kingdom itself and onto a wider field. Far from being ‘absent’, English nationalism as we know it today has been driven by resistance to European integration since the end of Empire in the 1960s.


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Chapter 2 - The Idea of Europe 43


Chapter 2 The Idea of Europe One important structure which helps condition contemporary English nationalism is ‘Europe’. However, this structure receives less attention than Britain and Empire in some of the major works on English nationalism. This is a dimension underplayed in Kumar’s account of English nationalism which privileges the Empire and Britain as the most important structures organising conceptions of the English self.1 Robert Colls gives some space to England’s relationship with Europe, arguing that European integration introduced a new set of spatial and economic relations in Europe in which England was only one corner of a wider European structure, but the place of Europe in shaping English identity is under-developed.2 Arthur Aughey devotes a chapter to Europe, describing it as ‘a necessary context’ and one in which a European identity plays a distinct but subordinate part in English national mythologising.3 This book seeks to examine the links between resistance to European integration and contemporary English nationalism. The European Union is the most advanced political expression of such integration. Attempts to legitimise the multiple locations of the European Union’s sovereignty play a large part in generating the narrative of contemporary Europe. Political crises since the early 1990s in particular have driven these legitimising attempts, which in turn impacted on the narratives deployed and their reception in England. As the EU experienced crises of legitimacy over the 1 K. Kumar, The Making of English National Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). 2 R. Colls, Identity of England (Oxford: Oxford University...

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