Brexit and Questions of 'National Inheritance': The Colonial Conditions of our Present Crises

Room 715 Muirhead Tower
Wednesday 20 November 2019 (14:30-16:00)

Speaker: Professor Gurminder K Bhambra, University of Sussex

The last few years have seen an intensification in the debates around reclaiming our ‘national sovereignty’ and identifying those who are deemed to have a ‘legitimate’ claim to the benefits of British citizenship. These debates are predicated on the idea of Britain having been a nation and that national assets have been built up endogenously to be passed on as an ‘inheritance’ to future citizens.

The boundaries of who should have access to these assets – particularly in terms of welfare and citizenship – are increasingly policed. Indeed, in broader debates on migration, many scholars argue that if migration is to be allowed then those who come should not have access to full citizenship as this would be viewed as unfair by local citizens. This is because, as Branko Milanovic argues, rich countries accumulate wealth and transmit it, along with other advantages, to subsequent generations of citizens and, specifically, for the enjoyment of its national citizens. But, if, as I’ve long argued, Britain has always been an imperial state, not a national one – collecting taxes from across the empire and not just the nation – then questions both of ‘national sovereignty’ and ‘national inheritance’ require further interrogation. Brexit, I suggest, has illuminated unresolved issues of who constitutes the body politic and whose concerns should legitimately constitute the basis for public policy initiatives.


Gurminder K Bhambra is Professor of Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies at the University of Sussex. She is author of Connected Sociologies and the award-winning Rethinking Modernity: Postcolonialism and the Sociological Imagination. She recently co-edited a volume on Decolonising the University. She set up the Global Social Theory website ( and is co-editor of Discover Society (