From Brexit to the break-up of Britain?
From Brexit to the break-up of Britain?

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From Brexit to the Break-up of Britain?


This free course, From Brexit to the Break-up of Britain?, is focused on the 2016 referendum vote on membership of the European Union. It aims to do so in ways that go beyond the familiar debates over whether the outcome was right or wrong. Instead it focuses on what the vote has to tell us about the United Kingdom and its future.

In the 23 June 2016 referendum, London recorded the largest pro-EU majority among English regions (59.9%) and the South-East the smallest pro-Brexit majority (51.8%). Every other English region, plus Wales, recorded solid pro-Brexit majorities. Only Scotland (62%), Northern Ireland (55.8%), and a few English and Welsh sub-regions (including South Cambridgeshire and St Albans) and several big cities (including Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle) voted to Remain.

The vote for Brexit can only be understood in the context of the UK’s reshaping and redefinition over recent decades. The course begins by analysing Brexit as a symptom of the political, economic and social geography of the UK, particularly its uneven development in a set of arrangements still dominated by London and South East England. The divisions within the UK (within England as well as between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) were reflected in the voting patterns of the 2016 referendum. The course reflects on the implications of this for the UK’s future as a multinational state.

The course will explore the key factors that underlay the geographical patterns of voting in the 2016 referendum and consider their significance for the politics of the UK. It aims to highlight the importance of uneven development in generating significant political outcomes and embedding social difference in place. It draws on geographical concepts to understand the changing nature of the UK as a political and economic entity. The course reflects on a range of possible futures for the UK and its associated nations and regions.

The course lasts four weeks, with approximately three hours’ study time each week. You can work through the course at your own pace, so if you have more time one week there is no problem with pushing on to complete another week’s study. You will get plenty of opportunities as the course progresses to reflect on the arguments and examples that are presented and there are weekly quizzes to help bring your learning together.

After completing this course, you will be able to:

  • identify the geographical patterns of voting expressed in the 2016 referendum, particularly as reflected in regional outcomes within England and differences across the territories and nations of the UK (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales)
  • understand the underlying processes of uneven development that helped to shape those patterns and, in particular, understand how the development of the London city region affects patterns of development elsewhere in the UK
  • understand how the UK is constituted as a state, and how this has been affected by the referendum vote and the move towards Brexit
  • assess the role of nationalism and national identity in the context of the nations and territories that make up the UK
  • use and interpret a range of statistical data, including survey data. Interpret maps and understand the significance of the different ways in which they may be put together

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