A Sovereign People? Political Fantasy and Governmental Time in the Pursuit of Brexit.

Clarke, John (2020). A Sovereign People? Political Fantasy and Governmental Time in the Pursuit of Brexit. In: Guderjan, Marius; Mackay, Hugh and Stedman, Gesa eds. Contested Britain: Brexit, Austerity and Agency. Bristol: Bristol University Press, pp. 117–130.

Abstract

The political conflict over the United Kingdom’s relationship to Europe was dominated by projections of sovereignty, particularly the ‘restoration’ of political sovereignty from Brussels to Westminster. This chapter explores two different aspects of this projection of sovereignty as a desire to take back control and regain ‘people’s agency’. The first aspect concerns its role as collective fantasy in which the chapter traces the ways in which the image of sovereignty was constructed and deployed in the campaign to Vote Leave. In particular, it considers how the conception of the nation as a sovereign people was central to the political mobilisation of Brexit and has persisted as a key reference point for continuing conflicts over Brexit. The second aspect concerns the emergent disjuncture between the political temporality implied in the Leave campaign and the return of governmental temporality. In doing so, the chapter draws on and develops Taguieff’s insight that populist political discourse suspends time in favour of a continuous present. In the process, the fantasy of the sovereign people has continued to play a central role in the denunciation of delay, doubt and dissent.

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