The Brexit vote – England’s identity crisis (Opinion Piece)

When David Cameron called the referendum in 2016, he did it to shut up the Brexiteers. It was supposed to be a democratic solution that would eliminate scepticism of the desire of the people to leave the EU. David Cameron, and a lot of the remain campaign, didn’t see Brexit coming and in a lot of cases, didn’t anticipate having to act on it. To many on the remain side (myself included) it came as a shock. However, it got me thinking why we, as a nation feel this disdain for the European Union. I believe you can make a compelling argument for a national crisis of identity, in England, which reduces our overall willingness to affiliate with the EU as European.

What country do you live in? The UK, Great Britain or England? In a geographical sense, we live in England, but it is a taboo to proclaim you are English as it comes with racist stigma. The traditional English national holiday has been borderline scrapped because of the racist associations with St George’s flag. But all around us, in the UK, we see national and cultural identity thriving. St Patrick’s Day is even celebrated as much here as it is in Ireland and St Andrew’s Day in Scotland is held dear to the nations people.Even in places like Wales and Cornwall, there is a clear social fabric unity with a common identity. England does not have that luxury. I believe this is a fundamental consequence of the actions of the EDL and far right groups in Europe.

The St George’s cross was eagerly adopted by far-right groups (like the EDL and the League of St George) and was predominantly used as a symbol of white nationalism by these groups. Similarly, the use of these flags became predominantly used as a symbol of international firms during heinous football hooliganism era of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. 

People at the 2018 World Cup (and other events) were advised not to fly the St George’s flag. Could Brexit have come as a result of a craving for a sense of belonging?

When you’re national flag polarises the nation on the grounds of race and white nationalism whilst simultaneously being your national symbol of national identification, you get a flag that (whether people like it or not) speaks badly of your nation. So, why do I think this is a cause to vote for people to vote for Brexit?

On a social level, people need an identity and a purpose. The psychologist, Maslow, cites this in his ‘Hierarchy of needs’ as one of the upper-echelon mental requirements for satisfaction. When we are a nation surrounded by patriotic countries with a clean symbol of identification, extensive historical celebrations and a clear, frequently championed lineage, they are bestowed with a sense of belonging, on a national level, that England simply doesn’t get. This is sure to inculcate a sense of jealousy in the social fabric when you can visibly see the sense of national pride that bordering in the UK can enjoy.When you go to places like Ireland and Scotland, there is an overwhelming sense of patriotism. Particularly Scotland, Their support for the SNP unparalleled and when you ask them who they are, they get back you with one answer, SCOTTISH.

England is different. In order to disassociate ourselves from the public perception of far-right white nationalists, we often use the flag of the United Kingdom with reference to being British or a part of Britain. You can argue that Brexit has lifted the lid on the identity issue.Through many news outlets and media coverage, there is seemingly a wave a passion that disseminated across the UK and demonstrating a desire to regain a sense of national identity. I think there is a compelling argument to suggest that the average Brexiteer’s quest for a self-governing nation is, in part, an attempt to reclaim national identity and eradicate the stigma associated with being a nation independent of a prior collective. 

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