European but not European enough: An explanation for Brexit

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Series Details Volume 20, Number 2, Pages 282-304
Publication Date June 2019
ISSN 1465-1165 (print) | 1741-2757 (online)
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To date, most accounts of the UK’s vote to leave the EU have focussed on explaining variation across individuals and constituencies within the UK. In this article, we attempt to answer a different question, namely ‘Why was it the UK that voted to leave, rather than any other member state?’.

We show that the UK has long been one of the most Eurosceptic countries in the EU, which we argue can be partly explained by Britons’ comparatively weak sense of European identity. We also show that existing explanations of the UK’s vote to leave cannot account for Britons’ long-standing Euroscepticism: the UK scores lower than many other member states on measures of inequality/austerity, the ‘losers of globalisation’ and authoritarian values, and some of these measures are not even correlated with Euroscepticism across member states. In addition, we show that the positive association between national identity and Euroscepticism is stronger in the UK than in most other EU countries. Overall, we conclude that Britons’ weak sense of European identity was a key contributor to the Brexit vote.

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