Whatever the result of the referendum on Europe’s Schicksalstag on 23 June, two striking features of Brexit discourse will keep haunting the United Kingdom and Europe at large.
Firstly, even if a Brexit is narrowly avoided, fierce, categorical Euroscepticism will remain strong. Support for ending the United Kingdom’s EU membership, having joined the bloc together with Ireland and Denmark in 1973, has surged in the lead-up to the referendum, at many times taking the lead in various polls. Secondly, an aspect that we argue deserves as much attention, is the largely ahistorical and decontextualized nature of many of the arguments, on both sides of the campaign. National (and constitutional) identity is not just a British issue, but concerns first and foremost the different nations within this “country of countries”.
The diminutive term “Little England” has been used by David Cameron in the Remain campaign as an argument for a stronger Britain within the European Union. However, it is fair to say that for the non-English parts of the United Kingdom, after leaving the EU, a more self-assertive England will be perceived as anything but “little”. After all, it represents 84 percent of the total UK population. Instead, less than two years after the first Scottish referendum on independence and in the year of the centennial of the Easter Rising in Ireland, the prospect of the United Kingdom outside of the EU is bound to send political shockwaves throughout the British Isles.
These would set in motion centrifugal forces tearing at the seams of what holds the UK together and raise questions about both the identify and future direction of its constituent parts. A ‘velvet divorce’, then, appears as one of the more optimistic scenarios. Whatever the fate of the henceforth UK-deprived EU, it may well be the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom as we know it, and give rise to what could be called “Euro-Celtic emancipation”.