The Impact of British Political Culture on its ‎Withdrawal from the European Union

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Professor, Department of Regional Studies, Faculty of Law & Political ‎Science, University of Tehran, Iran. ‎

2 PhD‏ ‏in Regional Studies, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of ‎Tehran, Iran.‎



War weariness and destruction caused by the intensity of the two World Wars persuaded the Europeans to search for an immediate and lasting solution to bring together the allies and adversaries among the countries of Europe in a regional security arrangement. The European Union (EU) as a symbol of regional unity, cooperation and integration has faced uncertainties and instability over the years. Indeed, Brexit can be seen as the culmination of a wave of secessionist and nationalist tendencies that have challenged European integration now more than ever. The result of the referendum of 23 June of the United Kingdom (UK) sent a great shockwave across the territory covered by the EU. It was predicted that the proposal of Britain''''s withdrawal from the EU would be dismissed by an agreement based on David Cameron''''s four-point plan to renegotiate the terms of Great Britain''''s EU membership, but 52 percent of British voters agreed to the Brexit, and thus ended their country''''s 42-year membership of the European Union.
The assumption is that political culture as a part of a shared national identity of a state shape its views on national interest which in turn guide its policy preferences, policymaking, and policy implementation in the various foreign policy issue areas. In this context, our research questions are: How has British political culture influenced its orientations and policies towards the European Union? 2. To what extent will the Brexit affect the UK foreign policy towards the EU in the future? In the research hypothesis, the authors claim that British political culture with its peculiar conservative attribute has adversely affected its European foreign policy, culminating in its withdrawal from the EU. Using the theoretical framework of constructivism, they rely on the method of conceptual content analysis to examine official statements ade by the British leadership and discuss the findings of referendum and public opinion surveys related to Brexit to find answers to the research questions.
Britain is one of the victorious countries in the Second World War, has an imperial background and is an island-state located on the periphery of the European continent— all these factors have influenced British politics to this day. The perception of being a powerful country with a rich history has had a significant impact on the foreign policy behaviors of the UK, and consequently has contributed to the unwillingness of British policymakers to commit their country to the ideas and actions which might diminish its role and standing in the international system. Today, as an island nation cut off from the continental Europe, England together with its much smaller overseas territories around the world, represents only a small fragment of a former empire that disintegrated a long time ago, but most British people evidently are unwilling to forget the glory of its past. Accordingly, the UK has not yet completed its process of full decline and has aspiration of somehow regaining its hold on its vast former colonies and dependent territories. It is a contradiction that needs to be examined closely. Its national identity is muddled because of how the British political elites and ordinary citizens view their country’s standing in the world today. They perceive the UK as a greater power than it really is.
The results of Brexit referendum indicated that most British public and political elites believed that their country would be in a more favorable position if it were to be less involved in the mainland Europe. As a result, they accepted the Brexit which reflected some kind of self-interested isolationism and a desire to leave Europe''''s problems to the rest of the EU members. Here, selective isolationism refers to a preference to disassociate the UK from the EU crises which might require coordinated policies to deal with unusual situations. Interestingly, this type of isolationism does not include issues related to the Britain’s interests in the Middle East and similar non-European issues which do not impose disproportionate financial burden on the country. Therefore, the UK continues to increase its political power by walking alongside the powerful European players if the collective security arrangement does not limit its freedom of action to pursue its own foreign policy objectives and priorities. British political culture has had a significant impact on the formulation of this country''''s foreign policy towards the EU. However, Brexit does not mean that this former imperial power has abandoned its efforts to reach the position of a great power with the ability to influence world politics.


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