Contextualising the EU referendum in the U.K. through socio-historic rhetoric

Justin S. Origen

Student thesis: Master thesis


The U.K.’s withdrawal from the EU, also known as ‘Brexit’, was a historical moment for EU & U.K. relations. It represented the culmination of many underlying narratives within the U.K. that resulted in a referendum and the exit from the EU. The thesis seeks to demonstrate that the outcome of the referendum vote was not capricious, but rather a response to a recurring historical narrative within the U.K., which was successfully harnessed by the Leave campaign in order to secure the public’s vote. In order to demonstrate the underlying narrative within the U.K. several selected key speeches by key figures in British politics were chosen for the analysis with the purpose of providing a perspective to the vote. The speeches represent periods in which the U.K. have had significant relations to Europe and the analysis begins in 1946 after WWII, with Winston Churchill. Europe was in ruins after WWII and the British felt that they had saved the continent from total domination. Therefore, the two speeches by Churchill were chosen to demonstrate the mind-set with which the British viewed the outcome of the war and their role in the rebuilding of Europe. The analysis focuses on the rhetoric employed by the selected political figures and seeks to prove that the narrative regarding the EEC/EU and the U.K.’s position, is a recurring theme throughout the speeches thereby contributing to a historical and social mind-set concerning the EU. The hypothesis stipulated that the thesis would try to demonstrate the links between the historical development of Euroscepticism and the rhetoric employed leading up to the referendum. The findings demonstrate that there are certain key topics that each of the political figures analysed address, these included British sovereignty, identity and economy. These topics recur throughout the speeches analysed and therefore support the hypothesis that the outcome of the vote was greatly influenced by the socio-historic rhetoric articulated by key figures in British politics. Therefore the vote to withdraw from the EU can be traced back to an ambivalent history between Europe and the U.K. which essentially ingrained itself within the British cultural narrative, thereby influencing the public upon their vote. Due to the scope of political rhetoric and the vast number of speeches only a small slice were selected for the analysis. They represented key figures within British politics which reflected the U.K.’s relationship to the EU. Further investigation into the outcome of the referendum vote could include a larger scope of political rhetoric in conjunction with an analysis of the demographics of the vote in order to present further perspective

EducationsMA in International Business Communication (Intercultural Marketing), (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2017
Number of pages79