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All things to all people? Discursive patterns on UK–EU relationship in David Cameron’s speeches

Abstract

The article is based on a core assumption that talking about the relationship between the UK and the EU does not merely describe a given (or envisioned) reality; it also constructs it. As such, it identifies, classifies and examines prevailing discourses used by the former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, in his speeches from 2010 to 2016, to construct the UK–EU bilateral relationship. Based on a detailed analysis of 60 official speeches, three distinct sub-discourses are identified: (1) integration; (2) differentiation and (3) reform. The article shows that Cameron’s discursive identities and rhetorical positions vis-à-vis the UK–EU relationship differed widely in their assessment of mutual ties/interactions and displayed profound incompatibilities. These largely competing discourses and rival imaginings on the UK–EU bilateral relationship help explain the high degree of ambivalence, paradox and misunderstanding associated with Cameron’s EU policy.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The article builds on my previous research on Cameron’s discursive portrayal of UK-EU relationship (see, especially Brusenbauch Meislová 2017a).

  2. 2.

    Delivered on 23 January 2013 at Bloomberg’s headquarters in London, this address is considered to be one of Cameron’s most important speeches (Startin 2015, 2016), and one that marked ‘the most radical change in Conservative policy towards the EU since the referendum of 1975’ (Copsey and Haughton 2014, p. 75).

  3. 3.

    Van Dijk’s definition of political discourse analysis has been widely applied by scholars in the field (as a prominent example, see, for instance, Fairclough and Fairclough 2016).

  4. 4.

    Theoretical inspiration was especially drawn from the work by Nik Hynek and Vit Střítecký on the Czech discourse on missile defence and national interest (Hynek and Střítecký 2010) and articles by Lukáš Tichý which discuss the Russian discourse on energy relations with the EU (Tichý 2016; Kratochvíl and Tichý 2013) and the European discourse on energy relations between the EU and Ukraine (Tichý 2013).

  5. 5.

    In terms of specifying the reasons for speech selection, the procedure applied in this manuscript is similar to the one applied in other discourse analysis studies, such as, for instance, Carreon and Svetanant (2017), Didriksen and Gjesdal (2013), Fløttum and Stenvoll (2009), Gjerstad (2013), Kelso (2017), McAnulla and Crines (2017).

  6. 6.

    Intriguingly, Cameron often used the term ‘Europe’ when referring to the European Union (very rarely vice versa) which opens up the debate about the deeper, discursive meaning behind this substitution.

  7. 7.

    This is epitomised, for instance, in his statement of May 2015: ‘As a member of the EU we can get things done on issues that we care about—a greener environment, tackling poverty and standing up for democracy and the values we cherish’ (Cameron 2015b, similarly also Cameron 2014d, 2014e).

  8. 8.

    Interestingly, within this sub-discourse Cameron used the term ‘Brussels’ when referring to the EU much more often than in case of other two sub-discourses.

  9. 9.

    In his view, the principal challenges faced by the EU included the euro, low level of global economic competitiveness, excessive bureaucracy and regulation, the lack of democratic accountability and the dramatically growing gap between the EU and its citizens. Cameron was adamant that the EU, portrayed as an interventionist bulwark, was neither competitive enough, nor open or flexible (Cameron 2013b). Also, he was categorically against EU’s centralisation policy, refusing to be part of an ever-closer political union (for instance, Cameron 2013b, 2014a, 2015b, 2015d, 2016e). Furthermore, he disagreed with the idea of a ‘single European demos’, putting national parliaments at the forefront of European policy-making (for example, Cameron 2013b, 2014c), thereby privileging the national self. Simultaneously, he also criticised excessive intra-EU immigration (see, for example, Cameron 2011g, 2013a, 2014f, 2015b, 2015d, 2015f, 2016e).

  10. 10.

    This is not to say that Cameron could be labelled as pro-EU or even Europhile, far from it. In fact, expressions of his integration sub-discourse were usually promptly surrounded by elements of other, less EU-friendly, sub-discourses. It merely suggests that despite being less pronounced than the other two, the integration sub-discourse was not fully absent, as it might be perhaps stereotypically assumed.

  11. 11.

    Here, ranging from pro-European declarations to arguments of hard-line Eurosceptics (Copsey and Haughton 2014, p. 87), Cameron seemed to oscillate between two extremes: trying, on the one hand, to keep as far as possible from the EU and, on the other hand, to ensure maximum closeness to its economic policies.

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Brusenbauch Meislova, M. All things to all people? Discursive patterns on UK–EU relationship in David Cameron’s speeches. Br Polit 14, 223–249 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41293-018-0088-6

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Keywords

  • David Cameron
  • United Kingdom
  • European Union
  • Political discourse analysis
  • Speeches