The end of consensus? Folk theory and the politics of foreign policy in the Brexit referendum

Benjamin Martill*, Adrian Rogstad

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

While it is well-known that Brexit will have consequences for the UK’s role in the world, foreign affairs is not thought to have featured prominently in the referendum campaign itself. This apparent lack of foreign policy salience is surprising given the broader challenge to liberal international order provided by other anti-elite campaigns across Europe. In this article we analyse mentions of foreign affairs made by the Remain and Leave camps in the Brexit referendum campaign. We find that both campaigns articulated distinct views of Britain’s role in the world with regards to security, international organization, trade, morality, and regime-type. We argue these distinct perspectives represent “folk theories” of liberal internationalism and realism, respectively, given their correspondence with the core claims of these theoretical traditions. Our findings suggest that the goals of British foreign policy itself are likely to be increasingly subject of political division in the years after Brexit.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-367
Number of pages21
JournalGlobal Affairs
Issue number4-5
Early online date14 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Brexit
  • British foreign policy
  • realism
  • liberal internationalism
  • folk theories
  • global Britain


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