Annual conference

GCfE 11th Annual Conference

Reassessing Britain’s relations with Europe: From role-model to enfant terrible?

11-12 May 2017, University of Birmingham

The Brexit referendum on 23 June 2016 has dealt a heavy blow to British-EU relations. Fifty-two percent of participating voters did not want to see their country as part of the European Union anymore. The referendum result comes as the latest evidence of the UK’s ambivalence towards the continent. But does this mean that Britain’s cultural, economic and political ties with the continent will unravel, or can we regard Brexit as a continuation of historical developments, which have always oscillated between exceptionalism - married with a vision of Britain more connected to the Commonwealth than to the continent - and partnership?

When Winston Churchill called for the formation of a United States of Europe, he did not consider Britain a part of that project. Yet today, Brexit is seen by some as heralding European disintegration. Historically, British parliamentarianism and liberalism have been role models for other European countries – but nowadays the UK’s first-past-the-post election system, lack of a written constitution, and Euroskeptic tabloid press are regarded with scepticism on the continent. Has Britain thus turned from a pace-setter to a foot-dragger of progressive development in Europe?

Cultural exchange between Britain and the continent has been fostered by the de-facto adoption of English as a lingua franca in Europe, making British cultural products accessible to other Europeans. The reputation of British universities and its relative economic strength have attracted many students and immigrants from the continent. What has been the impact of this (often one-sided) exchange on Britain and other European countries, both culturally and economically?

Almost a year after the Brexit vote, the conference explores the wider context of Britain’s relations with Europe from various disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives.