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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 3 - European Integration and the Demise of Britishness 79


Chapter 3 European Integration and the Demise of Britishness It may seem odd to begin an enquiry into the relationship between English nationalism and opposition to European integration in parts of the world far removed from either England or Europe. However such an approach is not as unusual as it might at first appear. Nationalisms are not formed in isolation from one another, however much nationalists might stress the particularity of any given nation. It is impossible to understand the development and content of English nationalism, today or in years gone by, without reference to other nationalisms in Britain, Europe, the Empire, Commonwealth and beyond. Nationalism in one place has an ef fect on nationalism in others. Narratives of the English nation have had an impact in Britain and the former Empire in particular. Conversely, nationalisms in Britain and the former Empire have had an impact on the form and content of nationalism in England. Structural changes in the polities of which England was and is a part have forced the English to develop new national narratives, or re-work old ones to align with new realities. This chapter examines the historical ‘moment’ when the United Kingdom’s relationship with the Empire and Commonwealth altered fun- damentally when it appeared that joining ‘Europe’ was the progressive and economically sound thing to do. Despite the common struggles of the first half of the twentieth century, after 1961 successive British governments made the case for becoming a signatory to the Treaty of Rome; a...

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