Brexit’s Contested European Pasts

Thursday, July 13, 2017
John McIntyre - Room 201 (University of Glasgow)
Rieke Trimçev , Universität Greifswald
Félix Krawatzek , Nuffield College, University of Oxford
In the wake of the Brexit vote, the Independent warned about the short institutional memory which contributed to forgetting the EU’s “staggering achievements”. The referendum on Britain’s future relationship with the EU exposed domestic as well as continental audiences to a politics of contingency: before and after the vote, ‘Brexit’ signified a future beyond political imagination, a rupture in time. “Brexit means Brexit” is only the most prominent attempt to cover this great unknown. References to a shared past became an important means in negotiating the meaning of and response to the referendum. However, Brexit is itself part of a gradual divide between Britain and the EU and diverging narratives about the idea and memory of Europe.

This paper builds on a larger research which compares the role of ‘Europe’ in memory discourses in six different European countries between 2004 and 2016. Our corpus consists of articles from major daily newspapers and is analysed through a combination of qualitative content analysis and quantitative text analysis. The combination of these methods allows for an analysis of continuous and changing discursive patterns. Studying this corpus allows us to shed light on three questions in particular: How does the image of Europe presented in Britain differ from that in other EU countries? Which other memory strategies became visible in the UK? How can a comparison with the discourses around the earlier EU referenda of 2005 in France and the Netherlands contribute to our understanding of Brexit?