Speaking for ‘our precious Union’: unionist claims in the time of Brexit, 2016–20

Daniel Cetrà*, Coree Brown Swan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Brexit and its implications pose the latest challenge to the Union as a political project and to unionism as the doctrine of state legitimacy. How did key unionist actors articulate the legitimizing foundations of the Union in the critical period 2016–20? And to what extent did they set out a renewed case for its continuation? Drawing on an extensive database including parliamentary debates, party documents and conference notes, we find that, despite the profound nature of the challenges posed by Brexit, dominant legitimizing claims continued to be instrumentalist defences of the Union rooted in economics and welfare. These were underpinned by ideas of social union around shared solidarity and belonging and supplemented by an invocation of common British values. Overall, while we identify a plurality of competing and often conflicting unionist themes, we conclude that key unionist actors struggled to adapt the legitimizing foundations of their political project to the realities of a post-Brexit UK.

Original languageEnglish
JournalTerritory, Politics, Governance
Early online date19 Jul 2021
Publication statusEarly online date - 19 Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors are grateful for the support of the project team and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for funding. They are also grateful to Michael Keating and Karlo Basta for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Brexit
  • nationalism
  • Scottish independence
  • UK
  • Union
  • unionism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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