In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Brexit, British Politics, and European Integration

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Prior to Brexit
  • The Brexit Negotiations
  • Brexit, International Relations, and Security
  • Brexit as Part of Larger Trend of Populism and Antiglobalism

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Political Science Brexit, British Politics, and European Integration
Matthias Matthijs, Christina Toenshoff
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 February 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0267


The June 2016 referendum vote in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union was both the result of a perfect storm and a long time in the making. On the one hand, many events had to occur in the lead-up to the vote for it to end with this particular outcome. These included Cameron’s decision in January 2013 to call a referendum if his party were to win the next general election, the unexpected victory of the Conservatives in the May 2015 election, and the coincidence of the vote with a continent-wide refugee and migration crisis while the aftershocks of the euro crisis had still not been fully digested. On the other hand, from the very beginning of its membership in the European Community in 1973, the United Kingdom has featured as an awkward and reluctant partner while a uniquely Euroskeptic tabloid press has been systematically critical of anything coming out of “Brussels.” The reasons why 52 percent of the United Kingdom electorate voted “leave” were therefore complex and multifaceted. The pro-leave coalition constituted of strange bedfellows, including people who yearned for Britain’s imperial greatness and favored low regulation and free trade as well as voters who wanted to put a halt to the country’s openness to immigration and hoped leaving the European Union would allow the UK government to protect British industry and jobs. Prime Minister David Cameron’s resignation the day after the vote and succession by Theresa May, who made implementing Brexit the main goal of her new government, have set in motion various dynamics. They will have far-reaching consequences for British politics, and the constitutional balance between England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Brexit has reignited fears in Ireland of a return to “the troubles” in Ulster that had been put to rest by the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. It also brought back the thorny issue of Scottish independence. Furthermore, the referendum result has laid bare divisions that cut across political party lines, and exposed deep societal cleavages between young and old, North and South, urban and rural areas, educated elites and less educated citizens, and the winners and losers of globalization. Brexit is also part of larger phenomena in European and world politics. It is only one symptom of a deeper malaise in European integration, in addition to intractable problems regarding Eurozone reform in the North, migration in the South, security in the East, and the backsliding of liberal democracy in the center. Finally, Brexit is also a peculiarly British (or English) expression of rising populism and anti-elite politics that have swept the globe since 2016.

General Overviews

Given the fact that Brexit is a relatively recent event, only a few general overviews on its many aspects and consequences, either as edited volumes or as special journal issues, have been published thus far. Diamond, et al. 2018 constitutes the most important reference work that deals with both the sources and implications of Brexit published to date. Ramiro Troitiño, et al. 2018 takes a very long-term view, outlining Brexit in broader historical terms. Meanwhile, Fabbrini 2017 analyzes the legal and political implications of Brexit. Wincott 2017 draws on classical social science insights and provides a short and comprehensive general overview of the main Brexit debates, as it concludes one of the first special journal issues on the topic. Bulmer and Quaglia 2018 brings together scholars of British politics and European integration in a special journal issue that examines both the politics and economics of Brexit. Outhwaite 2017 studies the sociological responses to Brexit, including its causes, its politics, and its prospects for and after Brexit. Finally, Oliver 2018 is the first textbook analysis of Brexit, which puts the vote in historical context, and looks at the implications of the vote and negotiations for the future both of the United Kingdom and of European integration.

  • Bulmer, Simon, and Lucia Quaglia, eds. Special Issue: The Politics and Economics of Brexit. Journal of European Public Policy 25.8 (2018).

    DOI: 10.1080/13501763.2018.1467957

    This special issue brings together scholars from various disciplines in an effort to try to investigate the implications of Brexit for the European Union and the United Kingdom by placing their assessment in the context of the long-term evolution of UK-EU relations. The collection also aims to draw lessons from Brexit, relating its findings to debates within the literature on EU policymaking, comparative politics, and political economy. The special issue includes contributions on regulatory alignment, financial services, migration, EU differentiation, the prospects of a renewal of the Franco-German engine of European integration, Euroskepticism, and the political implications of “taking back control.”

  • Diamond, Patrick, Peter Nedergaard, and Ben Rosamond. Routledge Handbook of the Politics of Brexit. London: Routledge, 2018.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315169613

    This edited volume gives a general overview of what social science knows about Brexit so far. Instead of focusing on one aspect of Brexit, it covers a wide range of topics relating to both the internal and the external implications of Brexit. The volume thereby provides an insightful overview of the background, content, and potential implications of the Brexit referendum.

  • Fabbrini, Federico. The Law & Politics of Brexit. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198811763.001.0001

    Edited volume that analyzes the legal and political implications of Brexit. It focuses on the potential effects of Brexit on the constitutional structure of the United Kingdom, the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the constitutional makeup of the European Union, and the long-term prospects for European integration.

  • Oliver, Tim. Understanding Brexit: A Concise Introduction. Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2018.

    Textbook that provides a concise introduction to the past, present, and future of Brexit. It is written both for those familiar with the topic and for those new to it, including how to study Brexit, a brief history of UK-EU relations, an overview of the renegotiation and referendum campaign, and an analysis of the referendum result, as well as the Brexit negotiations and the impact on both the United Kingdom and Europe.

  • Outhwaite, William, ed. Brexit: Sociological Responses. London: Anthem Press, 2017.

    Edited volume that brings together prominent European sociologists who examine Brexit using a broader historical and sociological lens. The book is divided up in three sections. The first section, “How Did It Happen?,” looks at the causes of Brexit, and section 2 studies the politics of Brexit, while the last section confronts the prospects both “for” and “after” Brexit.

  • Ramiro Troitiño, David, Tanel Kerikmäe, and Archil Chochia. Brexit: History, Reasoning and Perspectives. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-73414-9

    Edited volume that takes a long-term historical view of European integration to put Brexit into context and provide a more holistic account of the referendum. It spans from the first attempts at European integration after the First World War to Britain’s contemporary role in the European Union, and the possible future effects of Brexit.

  • Wincott, Daniel. “Brexit Dilemmas: New Opportunities and Tough Choices in Unsettled Times.” In Special Issue: Brexit’s Causes and Consequences. Edited by Daniel Wincott, John Peterson, and Alan Convery. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations 19.4 (2017): 680–695.

    DOI: 10.1177/1369148117725316

    This article concludes a special issue on Brexit and attempts to put Britain’s exit from the European Union into a broader historical context, as well as evaluate the actual prospects of a bespoke exit agreement. It does so by drawing on classical works of social science history and investigating the three central dilemmas that are at the heart of Brexit.

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