How to be Great (Britain)? Discourses of greatness in the United Kingdom’s referendums on Europe

Adrian Rogstad, Benjamin Martill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This article analyses the discursive constitution and contestation of British ‘greatness’ during the campaigns for the 1975 referendum on UK membership of the European Communities and the 2016 referendum on its membership of the European Union. It finds that ideas about British greatness formed a central part of the discourse on Britain’s role in the world on both sides in each campaign, thereby joining recent literature on Brexit challenging the view that greatness has been primarily a right-wing preoccupation. By demonstrating the existence of distinct yet overlapping discourses of greatness, the article also adds nuance to accounts of the centrality of greatness to British foreign policy identity. The article employs a discourse-theoretical approach to uncover the central discursive ‘nodal points’ and the ‘floating signifiers’ of greatness claimed by each side. Empirically, it draws on a collection of campaign materials from both referendums.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210-239
Number of pages30
JournalEuropean Review of International Studies
Issue number2
Early online date24 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • British foreign policy
  • Brexit
  • greatness
  • discourse
  • identity


Dive into the research topics of 'How to be Great (Britain)? Discourses of greatness in the United Kingdom’s referendums on Europe'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this