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Written on 25 Apr 2018

‘Shadows of Empire’: uncovering the roots of Euroscepticism

Shadows of Empire

Professor Michael Kenny, Director of the Bennett Institute, has collaborated with Professor Nick Pearce, Director of the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath, to co-author a new book ‘Shadows of Empire’.

“This is an important book for anyone interested in the intellectual roots of Euroscepticism and the Brexit referendum, and is particularly interesting on the role played by Enoch Powell in this history.”
Gordon Brown, Former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister

The idea of an alliance between Britain and its old Commonwealth colonies has recently made a remarkable comeback in the context of Brexit. Based on belief in a special bond between the English-speaking peoples of the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, it has been dubbed the ‘Anglosphere’.

In their new book, Michael Kenny and Nick Pearce trace the historical origins of this idea back to the shadow cast by the British Empire in the late Victorian era. They show how leading British political figures, from Churchill to Thatcher, consistently reworked it and how it was revived by a group of right-wing politicians, historians and pamphleteers to support the case for Brexit. They argue that, while the contemporary idea of the ‘Anglosphere’ as an alternative to European Union membership is seriously flawed, it nonetheless represents an enduring account of Britain’s role in the world that runs through the heart of political life over the last century. 

“The idea of the 'Anglosphere' played an important role in the intellectual and political pre-history of the Brexit vote, particularly in supplying a horizon of possibility to eurosceptics determined to forge an alternative geo-political account of the UK's place in the world to her membership of the European Union,” comments Nick Pearce. “But the idea also has deeper roots in modern British history, stretching back to late Victorian discourses of 'Greater Britain'. Our book examines this lineage, in the context of important political projects with which it has been associated, from Imperial Federation and tariff reform to Brexit, as well as long run changes in the political economy of the UK and the wider world.

I am very pleased to have co-authored this book with Professor Kenny, whose work on the politics of English nationhood has been particularly influential on my thinking, and with whom I have had the pleasure of collaborating on a number of research interests in recent years.”

Michael Kenny said: “Our book explores a subject of major importance at a critical time in British politics. This collaboration, with senior academic and policy-maker, Professor Nick Pearce, has yielded some important insights into the longevity and diversity of the tradition of thinking from which the idea of the 'Anglosphere' has emanated, and the influence it has had upon public policy and elite politics in the UK. This is the kind of research partnership which we will be housing at the newly launched Bennett Institute, combining a focus on national and global politics, political economy and the challenges of contemporary policy-making.”