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Brexit and the Labour Party: Europe, cosmopolitanism and the narrowing of traditions


The phenomenon of Brexit is reordering British politics. Its effects have led to political and cultural shock, disruption and rifts. This article explores how the phenomenon of Brexit has decentered the Labour Party’s ideational traditions. The article utilises a mixed methodology which combines qualitative and quantitative data in the form of scholarly literature on Labour history, Labour Party manifestoes, speeches and media interviews by front-line politicians as well as polling data. In particular, the article analyses how Labour politicians are reimagining the two main traditions of thought: the euro-enthusiast tradition and the euro-sceptic tradition. The article argues that Labour’s euro-enthusiasts are reimagining the tradition as a full blooded cosmopolitanism and this is simultaneously controversial and high risk because it has refashioned Labour’s interests into a narrower social and cultural electoral offering.

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  1. For a reasoned account of epistemology see Plantinga (1990) God and Other Minds (Ithaca: Cornell University Press) and for a dependable account of ontology see Plantinga (2000) Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford: Oxford University Press). For a robust counter to post-modernism see Hicks (2014) Explaining Post-modernism: Scepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (Ockham’s Razor Publishing) and for a strong disquisition of Foucault’s thought see chapter 4 of Scruton (2016) Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left (London: Bloomsbury).

  2. In his typology, Bulpitt identified five positions: Euro-unionist, Euro-enthusiasts, Euro-pragmatists, Euro-sceptics and those who ‘dislike the European Community’ namely anti-Europeans. In this article I utilise the second, third and fourth descriptors. These descriptors are contested and other scholars may apply different designations.

  3. In August 2018 Field resigned the Labour whip over anti-Semitism and a culture of intolerance at grassroots level and sat as an Independent Labour MP until losing his seat in December 2019.


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Correspondence to Matt Beech.

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A version of this article was presented at the British Politics Group Panel of the 2019 American Political Science Association Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. I am grateful to BPG colleagues for feedback. Any errors are of course my own.

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Beech, M. Brexit and the Labour Party: Europe, cosmopolitanism and the narrowing of traditions. Br Polit 16, 152–169 (2021).

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  • Labour Party
  • Brexit
  • Political traditions
  • Cosmopolitanism