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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 7 - Conclusion 225


Chapter 7 Conclusion This book has attempted to outline the origins and ideological con- tent of contemporary English nationalism. In so doing, it has identified Euroscepticism as the most important expression of such nationalism. Opposition to European integration provides the most cogent ideologi- cal content and the best organised outlet for nationalism in present-day England, even if Eurosceptics themselves often seek to defend Britain’s sovereignty. For in the end, contemporary English nationalism is best characterised as an ideology legitimising British sovereignty. Of course this does not mean that there are not other non-political or cultural expressions of Englishness and English nationalism. But we should not draw too great a distinction between cultural and political nationalism, since nationalism politicises culture. In this way, nationalism functions as an ideology which situates individuals as part of a group and situates this group in relation to others. It is the legitimisation of British sovereignty that has given English nationalism much of its content and character. Since the end of the War it is the defence of British sovereignty in relation to European integration that has generated English nationalism as we recog- nise it today: populist, yet conservative and individualist, and underpinned by a narrative of the past which saw the War as its ‘finest hour’. Much of this argument rests on the understanding of nationalism – and England’s historical relationship to it – outlined in Chapter 1. Here we need to strike a delicate balance between analysing the commonalities shared by all nations and nationalisms and...

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