As the ongoing Brexit debate brings up questions of constitution and identity in the UK, a volume published today by the British Academy concludes that the traditional conflation of ‘England’ and ‘Britain’ is getting harder to maintain.
‘England’ and ‘Britain’ have been used almost interchangeably in discussions of political institutions of the UK, but the book concludes that this conflation has become harder to maintain in recent times, in part because of Brexit. Questions of national identity now have additional political weight, as English voters were more likely to have voted to leave the EU than the devolved nations, and within England, those identifying as English over British were more likely to vote Leave.
Governing England: English identity and institutions in a changing United Kingdom sheds greater light on questions of English identity and how it affects how people feel about separate English political institutions.
It brings together contributions from some of the UK’s leading political scientists and historians, including polling expert Sir John Curtice and former Cabinet Minister Professor John Denham.
The volume is edited by Professor Michael Kenny, Professor of Public Policy at the University of Cambridge, Akash Paun, Senior Fellow of the Institute for Government, and Professor Iain McLean, a Fellow of the British Academy and Fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford.
It is the culmination of Governing England, a two-year British Academy project exploring governance and identity in England.
Professor Iain McLean FBA FRSE said: “We know from polling that those who feel more strongly English were more likely to support leaving the EU. Some say that the lack of an institutional expression of English identity contributed to the desire to leave the European Union. This volume set out to explore who the English are, how they want to be governed, and their feelings towards political institutions. It is essential to bring research to bear on these questions at a time when, as we leave the EU, we could face a great change to the UK constitution.”
Professor Mike Kenny said: “England is the only nation of the UK not to have had a national conversation about its place in the UK post-devolution. Our analysis shows that the English are not content with how they are presently governed, but neither is there consensus on the way forward.
“As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it is important that the academic community and politicians alike consider the governance of England, as well as the UK.”
Akash Paun, said : “The governance of England has been a relatively unexplored theme, but one which has become even more important following the EU Referendum.
"The volume published today is the culmination of more than two years of research and engagement by the British Academy, which we hope will add to ongoing debate about how England and the UK will be governed.”