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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 4 - Accession and the 1975 Referendum 117


Chapter 4 Accession and the 1975 Referendum This chapter sets out to demonstrate the ways in which debates during the 1970s about the United Kingdom’s membership of the EEC laid impor- tant foundations for contemporary English nationalism. Building on the developments of the 1960s, it did so in three main ways. The first of these was the realisation in government, diplomatic and popular minds that there was little alternative other than to ‘go into Europe’. As we have seen above, the initial decision to seek membership of the European Communities slowly eroded the unity of the Old Commonwealth countries. In an era when the nation-state was seen to be limited in its ef fectiveness, and with no other viable international political community on of fer, Europe seemed to many politicians the only way to restore Britain’s place on the world stage. However, the idea that Europe could restore British greatness was in itself an admission of national decline. ‘Europe’ became an expression of Britain’s diminished place in the world. Secondly, arguments about accession broadened the understanding of the importance of sovereignty as a distinctive and crucial element of British and English nationalism (even if these arguments tended to conf late the two categories) and broadened them on the left of politics as well as on the right. Most importantly, the debates of the first half of the 1970s – culminating in the referendum of June 1975 – shaped English nationalism by invoking popular sovereignty in the defence of parliamentary sovereignty, thus laying...

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