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National identity in the context of Brexit

The United Kingdom is the first country to leave the European Union. Since the issue of Brexit has generated a great deal of debate and has been one of the most dominant topics in the British media, the aim of this paper is to investigate how the European Union and European identity are portrayed in the British news coverage about Brexit in comparison to the British national identity. Although the concept of identity has been regarded as stable, fixed, and coherent system, more recent approaches tend to emphasize the fact that ‘identity’ can be seen as “socially constituted, a reflexive, dynamic product of the social, historical and political contexts of an individual’s lived experiences” (Hall, 2011, p. 31). Moreover, the concept of national identity can be seen as a highly complex and abstract concept (Smith, 1992, p. 60). Although the concept of identity should be observed as a “relational and sociocultural phenomenon” (Bucholtz & Hall, 2005, p. 585), we tend to consider our national identity as a “part of our essential natures” (Hall et al., 1996, p. 612). Furthermore, the concept of a modern nation is constructed through the use of different discursive strategies, Hall et al. (1996) highlight the following five aspects that should be taken into consideration in this context: narrative of the nation; origins, continuity, tradition and timelessness; the invention of tradition; foundational myth; pure, original people or ‘folk’. Taking into account the aforementioned discursive strategies, the question of the plausibility of the idea of the unified European identity arises (Smith, 1992). Moreover, in the light of the revival of nationalism and the presence of globalization, it is reasonable to question the possibility of creating a unified European identity. This problem is especially prominent in the United Kingdom since Britain can be regarded as “the home of the term Euroscepticism” (Spiering, 2004, p. 127). This is further exemplified in the media portrayal of EU and EU citizens. In the British print media, especially the tabloids, the aforementioned Eurosceptical narrative has been further encouraged and promoted (Daddow, 2012; Spiering, 2004; Walter, 2019).
Apart from the theoretical part, this paper is based on empirical research. In particular, discourse analysis is used to analyse six newspaper articles from British newspapers. Moreover, newspaper texts are analysed in terms of lexical analysis, that being the analysis of the meaning and choice of words. According to Richardson (2007), words “convey the imprint of society and of value judgments in particular” (p. 47).
After the research, two main observations can be made. Firstly, the European Union was deliberately depicted in a dehumanized and objectified way, by emphasizing its political and economic role. Secondly, authors of the analysed articles have intentionally underlined the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ dichotomy, thus creating a biased and partisan description of the issue. It can be argued that they have purposefully played on the ‘nationalist card’ through the use of various national symbols and concepts that are closely related to the British national identity.

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