Theorizing Brexit: UK/EU Relations and International Relations Theory

Proceedings of ‏The International Virtual Conference on Social Sciences

Year: 2020


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Theorizing Brexit: UK/EU Relations and International Relations Theory

Justin Gibbins



Brexit, the UK withdrawal from the European Union, provides quite a challenge for theorists of international relations. Causes, effects as well as systemic, nation-state and individual analyses have yet to capture its essence which will inevitably have major regional repercussions. This presentation focuses on explaining the nation-level nature of the withdraw by utilizing international relations theories. Neorealist analysis alludes to state interests and great power behaviour with the EU distribution of power a threat to UK national interests. Liberalism points to how free trade and democratic values have effectively been weakened by the perception of an overly centralized EU which has historically impacted on a UK reluctant to embed itself more in institutions such as the Euro and the Schengen zone. Marxist approaches examine the capitalist nature of the union and the withdraw as a reaction to globalism. Constructivism articulates how UK nation-state identities produce a Self in opposition to an EU Other and how after nearly 50 years of membership, the UK remained heavily resistant to Europeanization. How does each theory provide an explanatory framework for understanding the event? How relevant is the nation-state unit of analysis for examining an action which was initiated by the domestic vote of citizens but also shaped by the systemic roles of the EU? Which theoretical approach most leads itself to further research in examining Brexit and also scrutinizing whether its impacts will produce a more unified or more fragmented Europe?

Keywords: Brexit; UK; European Union; International Relations Theory.