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Brexit fury: EU tactics unveiled as bloc 'threatened and made people fear' feeling English

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Lisa Nandy discusses Union Jack and patriotism

The EU this week again refused to set a date to ratify its Brexit trade deal amid concerns about whether the UK is implementing it properly. While party group leaders had been expected to announce that the deal would be ratified at a sitting in late April, they instead said they would wait until receiving reassurances from Prime Minister Boris Johnson. It is just one instance in a string of distrust between either side.

A number of political skirmishes have played-out between the EU and the UK since the 2016 vote, and even more since the UK officially left the bloc in January 2020.

Many have cited the conflicts, like with the most recent coronavirus vaccine crisis, as reasons for why they no longer want to be a part of the European project.

One instance that is often overlooked, however, is the role of national identity.

In their new book, ‘Englishness: The Political Force Transforming Britain’, political scientists Richard Wyn Jones and Ailsa Henderson chronicle the rise of England’s national identity, which has up until now been tightly woven with Britain and Britishness.

Brexit news: The EU made people fear their English identity was at threat, it has been claimed

Brexit news: The EU made people fear their English identity was at threat, it has been claimed (Image: GETTY)

EU: Brussels again stalled over their setting a date to ratify the Brexit deal

EU: Brussels again stalled over their setting a date to ratify the Brexit deal (Image: GETTY)

In their comprehensive study the authors found that while Englishness has remained relatively quiet and under the surface, it has, and currently is emerging as a force to be reckoned with.

Professor Wyn Jones said Brexit was a symptom of this reawakening.

When asked if people feared their English national identity being at threat from the EU, Prof Wyn Jones said: “The short answer is yes.

“This is a slightly nuanced point but it’s central to the book’s argument.

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England: The authors found that people in England feared their identity being undermined

England: The authors found that people in England feared their identity being undermined (Image: GETTY)

“We tend to think about English nationalism through the lens of Scottish, Welsh or Irish nationalism, which is a rejection of Britishness – but that’s wrong.

“English nationalism is both a sense that England is important and is being unfairly treated within England, but also a kind of an acute profound sense of loyalty to a particular sense of Britain’s history, and a sense that Britain should be playing a leading role in the world.

“The EU threatened the latter, or came to be seen as threatening the latter by 2016.

“There was a sense that the EU rather than magnifying British influence – which is what people like Ted Heath and David Cameron thought it would do – actually undermined Britain’s rightful role in the world.”

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Britain: Englishness and Britain had long been interwoven

Britain: Englishness and Britain had long been interwoven (Image: GETTY)

St George's flag: People also fear their English national identity being at risk from the UK

St George’s flag: People also fear their English national identity being at risk from the UK (Image: GETTY)

Interestingly, Prof Wyn Jones added that their study found that the people who felt that England was being treated unfairly by the EU felt the same way about the UK.

He added: “There’s a sense that England, as a result of devolution and the Barnett formula, is being unfairly treated within the UK.

“So that with the EU go hand in hand – it’s the people who felt and still are eurosceptic who tend to feel that England is unfairly treated within the domestic union.”

Since leaving the EU, political parties in the UK have upped their efforts to present themselves as appealing exclusively to Britons and British things.

Keir Starmer: The Labour leader is trying to win back voters who left the party in 2019

Keir Starmer: The Labour leader is trying to win back voters who left the party in 2019 (Image: Express Newspapers)

This has especially been obvious of Mr Johnson’s Government who, in recent months, has been criticised for flooding public broadcasts with the Union Jack.

Last month, he announced that all Government buildings should fly the flag every day rather than only on special occasions.

The Labour Party has also found itself tangled in a saga of pushing the Union Jack in what many have linked to Britain’s wider culture wars.

Sir Keir Starmer, on becoming leader last year, promised to make Labour the “patriotic party”.

Patriotism: Starmer is rarely seen without a Union Jack during public speeches

Patriotism: Starmer is rarely seen without a Union Jack during public speeches (Image: Twitter/@Keir_Starmer)

This is after the party suffered an identity crisis – which continues to rage – under former leader Jeremy Corbyn, who shied away from mention of national and patriotic pride.

Paul Embery, a leading trade unionist and Labour member, said while Sir Keir’s efforts may be obvious, they are a move in the right direction to winning back the party’s former working class heartlands in the Midlands and North of England.

He told Express.co.uk: “I think he’s clever enough to know that Labour has been perceived by millions of working class voters as an unpatriotic party that looks down on its own country.

“He knows if there’s any chance at all of winning those voters back, one of the first things he has to do is to convince them that the Labour Party is a proudly British party, is a patriotic party, and that it understands why those communities feel the sense of patriotism they do.”



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