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  • 1 Jason deCaires Taylor, quoted in Stuart Jeffries, “Three lions on a beach: a sculpture for the age (...)
  • 2 Patrick Cockburn, “Brexiteers like Boris Johnson must realise that past British successes were base (...)

1At the end of 2019, sculptures of emaciated lions were installed beneath the White Cliffs of Dover and along the Thames in London by British artist Jason deCaires Taylor: they were part of a series called “Pride of Brexit”, and, in the words of the sculptor, were to be understood as “a monument to one of the most unpatriotic events Britain has ever seen”.1 The lions that crouch across the Thames and Westminster have been graffitied with pro-Brexit slogans such as “Take back control” or “Brexit means Brexit” – some of the phrases that resonated in and outside of the UK from the moment when David Cameron announced the holding of the referendum in 2016 to the actual day when the UK finally left the European Union on January 31st, 2020. Yet uncertainty and chaos still prevail in a country that, as The Independent put it, “once seemed to possess the secret of stability [but] has become permanently self-absorbed in its own divisions.”2 The tensions that Northern Ireland is experiencing in the spring of 2021, as well as Scotland’s potential bid for a second independence referendum in the near future, are direct consequences of the 2016 Brexit referendum.

  • 3 Danny Dorling and Sally Tomlinson, Rule Britannia, Brexit and the End of Empire, London: Biteback (...)
  • 4 David Goodhart, The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-War Immigration, London: Atlanti (...)
  • 5 Quoted in Steven Erlanger, “No One Knows What Britain is Anymore”, The New York Times, November 4, (...)
  • 6 Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit and Authoritarian Populism, Cam (...)
  • 7 Danny Dorling and Sally Tomlinson, op. cit., p. 324.

2Brexit is about more than “just” leaving the EU, and to paraphrase Theresa May, if “Brexit means Brexit”, we may indeed wonder what it means exactly. Is Brexit a desperate fight to regain national and international prestige in a country which is still haunted by the vestiges of the Empire and the legacy of Thatcherism? The “national narcissism”3 we observed as the Brexit negotiations lingered on is sign of the ongoing questionings on Britain’s identity. As a nation, Britain seems to have lost track of what holds it together. The four nations no longer adhere to London’s domination, multiculturalism is now perceived as a failure, as are the country’s European ambitions. What is left then of the “British dream”?4 Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform, expressed Britain’s plight in those words: “Confused and divided, Britain no longer has an agreed-upon national narrative”.5 Leaving the European Union is a last attempt to regain confidence and control in a world of constant fluidity and changing paradigms. Thus, the appeals to sovereignty and white Anglo-Saxon identity had a particular echo on a population left vulnerable by years of globalisation, mass immigration and cultural liberalism.6 Condensed in the appealing slogan “Take back control” created by Dominic Cummings, mastermind of the Leave campaign, Brexiteers promised a better, brighter ‘Global Britain’. As the EU was the scapegoat for all British evils, Brexit was marketed as the panacea to resolve all problems: more sovereignty, more democracy and less immigration. One reason that has often been put forward to explain the disillusions on Europe is that it failed to deliver the successes promised. Surely the same can be said of Brexit. Lies, deceits, broken promises and thwarted hopes is all that Brexit could deliver to the British nation so far. What kind of inclusive national narrative can Britain find in this context? Considering the many different fractures affecting British society, how will Britain be able to redress the situation? What gold can there be at the end of the Brexit rainbow?7

  • 8 Three issues of the Revue française de civilisation britannique can be mentioned here: “The Brexit (...)
  • 9 Kenneth A. Armstrong, Brexit Time: Leaving the EU: Why, How and When?, Cambridge: Cambridge Univers (...)
  • 10 David Goodhart, The Road to Somewhere, The New Tribes Shaping British Politics, Saint Ives: Penguin (...)
  • 11 Sylvia de Mars, Colin Murray, et. al., Bordering Two Unions: Northern Ireland and Brexit, Bristol: (...)
  • 12 See for instance “Le Brexit dans tous ses états”, Politique étrangère, vol. hiver, no. 4, 2018; see (...)
  • 13 Robert Saunders, “Brexit and Empire: ‘Global Britain’ and the Myth of Imperial Nostalgia”, Journal (...)

3Brexit has generated considerable literature by academics, journalists and artists since 2015. In the aftermath of the initial shock of the 2016 results and until the end of 2019, much has been written about the way Brexit had been an earthquake for British political parties and the political life of what was (and still is) often referred to as a (dis)United Kingdom. Brexit also cast a long shadow over the 2017 and 2019 General Elections.8 A wealth of academic literature has been produced to explain the many different dynamics that have led British people to vote in favour of leaving the European Union9 but also to highlight the momentous challenges posed by Brexit to Britain’s identity and unity.10 As this sceptic isle decided to put an end to her union with Europe, many authors have also pondered on the future of the United Kingdom as one nation.11 Considering that Scotland and Northern Ireland have expressed different views on Europe from England and Wales, how can the four nations work together in post-Brexit Britain? Other publications have focused on the way Brexit was going to redefine Britain’s place on the geopolitical stage, conjuring up the notions of “splendid isolation”.12 Many articles have reflected on the way a certain fantasied imperial past had been mobilised by Brexit champions, therefore starting a conversation on the way Brexit could be a turning point in the great national narrative of Britain’s exceptionalism.13

  • 14 On the study of Brexit and political discourses more specifically, see for instance Steve Buckledee (...)

4In order to sketch out a few answers as to what Brexit means for Britain and British people, this issue of Revue LISA/LISA e-journal focuses on the analysis of discourses14 and representations – both political and cultural – that will help us understand how Brexit-related issues have given British politicians and artists the opportunity to question the ever-changing nature of British identity. In the first section, contributors are questioning the historical resonances and the political implications of Brexit on the domestic and international levels. The first contribution by Thomas Williams invites us to look at how the Old Continent – and more specifically Germany – has been a point of reference since the 2010s by British Eurosceptics, therefore questioning yet again how the British political class took the opportunity of Brexit to forge a certain definition of British identity against a continental “hostile Other”, to paraphrase Linda Colley’s words from Britons: Forging the Nation (1992). Two essays then dig into the political, ideological and economic ties that seem to bind the UK and its “special” friend the USA: Laëtitia Langlois traces the echoes that have resonated between the pro-Brexit campaign in the UK and Trump’s election across the Atlantic, stressing the political and social similarities of those two seismic events. Louise Dalingwater explores the making of and the consequences of trade deals between Britain and the US, especially when those would come to affect the NHS, a beloved British totem and emblem of British identity.

  • 15 Jonathan Coe, quoted in Dan Alexe’s interview with the author, New Europe, 27 October 2017. https:/ (...)

5In the second section of the issue, contributors look at how Brexit has affected artists and their productions – in the same way it has inspired Jason deCaires Taylor to take a “sculptural” statement against it in 2019. Guillaume Clément uses Jonathan Coe’s 2018 novel Middle England as a starting point in order to reflect upon the way the author, who has described Brexit as “an assault on British identity”,15 describes the contradictions that run through a multicultural British society in the 2010s. In her contribution, Nicole Cloarec looks at how the context of Brexit and its concomitant political instrumentalisation of the notion of “the people’s voice” has skewed the reception of post-Brexit films as diverse as Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour (2017), Mike Leigh’s Peterloo (2018) and Toby Haynes’s Brexit: the Uncivil War (2019), which all, albeit in very different ways, actually interrogate the very notion of representation, namely what representing a nation and its “people” means. In the final contribution, Mathilde Bertrand looks at how six photographers have captured – and sometimes fought against – the very spirit of Brexit, sometimes digging into their own personal experience as British and/or European citizens.

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Bibliographie

ARMSTRONG Kenneth A., Brexit Time: Leaving the EU: Why, How and When?, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

BUCKLEDEE Steve, The Language of Brexit: How Britain Talked Its Way Out of the European Union, London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.

CLARKE Harold D., Matthew GOODWIN and Paul WHITELEY, Brexit: Why Britain Voted to Leave the European Union, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

COCKBURN Patrick, “Brexiteers like Boris Johnson must realise that past British successes were based on creating alliances, not breaking them up”, The Independent, 20 July 2018. <https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/boris-johnson-brexit-churchill-ww1-napoleon-british-history-a8456916.html>, accessed on October 24, 2019.

COE Jonathan, quoted in Dan Alexe’s interview with the author, New Europe, 27 October 2017. <https://www.neweurope.eu/article/brexit-assault-british-identity/>, accessed on April 14, 2021.

COLLEY Linda, Britons: Forging the Nation, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

De MARS Sylvia, Colin MURRAY, et. al., Bordering Two Unions: Northern Ireland and Brexit, Bristol: Policy Press, 2018.

DORLING Danny and Sally TOMLINSON, Rule Britannia, Brexit and the End of Empire, London: Biteback Publishing, 2019.

ERLANGER Steven, “No One Knows What Britain is Anymore”, The New York Times, November 4, 2017. <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/04/sunday-review/britain-identity-crisis.html>, accessed on October 30, 2019.

ESLER Gavin, How Britain Ends: English Nationalism and the Rebirth of Four, New York: Apollo, 2021

EVANS Geoffrey and Anand MENON, Brexit and British Politics, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017.

GOODHART David, The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-War Immigration, London: Atlantic Books, 2013.

GOODHART David, The Road to Somewhere, The New Tribes Shaping British Politics, Saint Ives: Penguin Books, 2017.

HASELER Stephen, England Alone: Brexit and the Crisis of English Identity, Santa Ana: Forumpress, 2017.

HASSAN Gerry and Russell GUNSON (eds.), Scotland, the UK and Brexit: A Guide to the Future, Edinburgh: Luath Press Ltd, 2017.

JEFFRIES, Stuart, “Three lions on a beach: a sculpture for the age of Brexit”, The Guardian, 17 November 2019. <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/nov/17/three-lions-pride-of-brexit-sculptor-jason-decaires-taylor-protest>, accessed on April 14, 2021.

Journal of Postcolonial Writing, “Writing Brexit: Colonial Remains”, vol. 56, 5, 2020.

KOLLER Veronika, Susanne KOPF and Marlène MIGLBAUER, Discourses of Brexit, London & New York: Routledge, 2019.

« Le Brexit dans tous ses états », Politique étrangère, vol. hiver, 4, 2018.

L’Observatoire de la société britannique: “Brexit and Its Discontents”, n°25, décembre 2020. <https://doi.org/10.4000/osb.4604>, accessed on May 1, 2021.

NORRIS Pippa and Ronald INGLEHART, Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit and Authoritarian Populism, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Revue française de civilisation britannique, “The Brexit Referendum of 23 June 2016”, XXII-2, 2017. <https://doi.org/10.4000/rfcb.1240>, accessed on April 27, 2021.

Revue française de civilisation britannique, “Moving Toward Brexit: the UK 2017 General Election”, XXIII-2, 2018. <https://doi.org/10.4000/rfcb.1896>, accessed on April 27, 2021.

Revue française de civilisation britannique, “‘Get Brexit Done!’: The 2019 General Elections in the UK”, XIV-3, 2020. <https://doi.org/10.4000/rfcb.5683>, accessed on April 27, 2021.

SAUNDERS Robert, “Brexit and Empire: ‘Global Britain’ and the Myth of Imperial Nostalgia”, Journal of imperial and Commonwealth History, 48(6):1140-1174, 2020.

SOBOLEWSKA Maria and Robert FORD, Brexitland: Identity, Diversity and the Reshaping of British Politics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.

WELLINGS, Benedick, English Nationalism, Brexit and the Anglosphere: Wider Still and Wider, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019.

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Notes

1 Jason deCaires Taylor, quoted in Stuart Jeffries, “Three lions on a beach: a sculpture for the age of Brexit”, The Guardian, 17 November 2019. <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/nov/17/three-lions-pride-of-brexit-sculptor-jason-decaires-taylor-protest>, accessed on April 14, 2021. The whole series of sculptures can be looked up on Jason deCaires Taylor’s website: <https://www.underwatersculpture.com/works/tidal-terrestrial/>

2 Patrick Cockburn, “Brexiteers like Boris Johnson must realise that past British successes were based on creating alliances, not breaking them up”, The Independent, 20 July 2018. <https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/boris-johnson-brexit-churchill-ww1-napoleon-british-history-a8456916.html>, accessed on October 24, 2019.

3 Danny Dorling and Sally Tomlinson, Rule Britannia, Brexit and the End of Empire, London: Biteback Publishing, 2019. See also Michael Kenny and Nick Pearce, The Anglosphere. Shadows of Empire, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2018.

4 David Goodhart, The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-War Immigration, London: Atlantic Books, 2013.

5 Quoted in Steven Erlanger, “No One Knows What Britain is Anymore”, The New York Times, November 4, 2017. <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/04/sunday-review/britain-identity-crisis.html>, accessed on October 30, 2019.

6 Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit and Authoritarian Populism, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

7 Danny Dorling and Sally Tomlinson, op. cit., p. 324.

8 Three issues of the Revue française de civilisation britannique can be mentioned here: “The Brexit Referendum of 23 June 2016”, XXII-2, 2017. https://doi.org/10.4000/rfcb.1240, accessed on April 27, 2021; “Moving Toward Brexit: the UK 2017 General Election”, XXIII-2, 2018. <https://doi.org/10.4000/rfcb.1896>, accessed on April 27, 2021; “‘Get Brexit Done!’: The 2019 General Elections in the UK”, XIV-3, 2020. <https://doi.org/10.4000/rfcb.5683>, accessed on April 27, 2021.We can also mention the latest issue of L’Observatoire de la société britannique: “Brexit and Its Discontents”, n°25, décembre 2020. <https://doi.org/10.4000/osb.4604>, accessed on May 1, 2021.

9 Kenneth A. Armstrong, Brexit Time: Leaving the EU: Why, How and When?, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017; Harold D. Clarke, Matthew Goodwin and Paul Whiteley, Brexit: Why Britain Voted to Leave the European Union, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017; Geoffrey Evans and Anand Menon, Brexit and British Politics, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017.

10 David Goodhart, The Road to Somewhere, The New Tribes Shaping British Politics, Saint Ives: Penguin Books, 2017; Stephen Haseler, England Alone: Brexit and the Crisis of English Identity, Santa Ana: Forumpress, 2017; Maria Sobolewska and Robert Ford, Brexitland: Identity, Diversity and the Reshaping of British Politics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.

11 Sylvia de Mars, Colin Murray, et. al., Bordering Two Unions: Northern Ireland and Brexit, Bristol: Policy Press, 2018; Gavin Esler, How Britain Ends: English Nationalism and the Rebirth of Four, New York: Apollo, 2021; Gerry Hassan and Russell Gunson (eds.), Scotland, the UK and Brexit: A Guide to the Future, Edinburgh: Luath Press Ltd, 2017.

12 See for instance “Le Brexit dans tous ses états”, Politique étrangère, vol. hiver, no. 4, 2018; see also B. Wellings, English Nationalism, Brexit and the Anglosphere: Wider Still and Wider. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019.

13 Robert Saunders, “Brexit and Empire: ‘Global Britain’ and the Myth of Imperial Nostalgia”, Journal of imperial and Commonwealth History, 48(6):1140-1174, 2020. See also the special issue of the Journal of Postcolonial Writing, “Writing Brexit: Colonial Remains”, vol. 56, 5, 2020.

14 On the study of Brexit and political discourses more specifically, see for instance Steve Buckledee, The Language of Brexit: How Britain Talked Its Way Out of the European Union, London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2018; Veronika Koller, Susanne Kopf, Marlène Miglbauer, Discourses of Brexit, London & New York, Routledge, 2019.

15 Jonathan Coe, quoted in Dan Alexe’s interview with the author, New Europe, 27 October 2017. https://www.neweurope.eu/article/brexit-assault-british-identity/, accessed on April 14, 2021.

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Laëtitia Langlois et Maud Michaud, « Introduction »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. 19-n°51 | 2021, document 1, mis en ligne le 15 juillet 2021, consulté le 23 juillet 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/13008 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lisa.13008

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Auteurs

Laëtitia Langlois

Laëtitia Langlois est maître de conférences à l’Université d’Angers où elle enseigne l’histoire et la civilisation britannique. Ses recherches portent sur l’euroscepticisme au Royaume-Uni ainsi que sur les droites populistes au Royaume-Uni et aux États-Unis.

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Maud Michaud

Maud Michaud est maître de conférences à l’Université du Mans où elle enseigne l’histoire et la civilisation britannique, ainsi que l’histoire coloniale. Ses recherches portent sur l’histoire religieuse et coloniale britannique aux XIXe et XXe siècles.

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Les contenus de la Revue LISA / LISA e-journal sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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