Divided culture and constitutional tensions: Brexit and the collision of direct and representative democracy

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This article considers connections between two aspects of Brexit: the cultural divide exposed and amplified by the European Union (EU) referendum of 23 June 2016 and the prolonged and intense period of multiple and overlapping constitutional tensions that followed the referendum. The referendum revealed the existence of two contrasting cultural groupings. Each was defined by a cluster of values that extended beyond attitudes towards the particular question of EU membership, and to which issues of citizenship were central. The manifestation and crystallisation of this cultural divide through the direct democracy of the referendum led directly to constitutional turmoil. Parliamentarians as a group found themselves misaligned with those who voted in the referendum producing a conflict between the principles of direct and representative democracy. Brexit has generated tensions between and within different institutions of the constitution and arguments about what the rules were, and what they should be. Areas on which these conflicts and disagreements have focused included the Civil Service, the courts, the Cabinet, Parliament and even the monarchy. The political shock of Brexit, therefore, had inherently constitutional characteristics. They are likely to continue to manifest themselves, shaping the way the constitution operates and changes in future.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbergsz049
JournalParliamentary Affairs
Early online date3 Jan 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Jan 2020


  • Brexit
  • Constitution
  • Political culture
  • Democracy


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