Brexit as ‘politics of division’: social media campaigning after the referendum

Verena K. Brändle, Charlotte Galpin*, Hans-Jörg Trenz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

288 Downloads (Pure)


The UK’s referendum on EU membership that resulted in a narrow minority in favour of leave was followed by a leadership vacuum and intense debate about the implementation of the result. The politicization over Brexit resulted in the development of ‘Brexit identities’ of Remainers and Leavers that superseded party identities. We argue that in order to understand how this politicization took place despite a leadership vacuum we firstly need to look beyond the arena of formal party politics to more informal arenas of political contestation on social media, especially Facebook, and secondly understand the linkages between EU and national level politicization that polarised the country around new British-specific identities. Through this, we analyse the ‘politics of division’ not simply as a form of contentious politics driven by political parties, but as a social conflict driven by non-institutionalised groups, grassroots campaigns and ordinary citizens. We find evidence of significant mobilisation that extends beyond the realm of party politics but argue that this mobilisation cannot necessarily be considered entirely ‘grassroots’. Rather, it is driven not just by citizens but also shaped by mainstream and alternative media platforms. The debates cannot, however, be considered purely a form of EU politicization, rather, analysis of Facebook comments shows that politicization over Brexit through these campaigns is primarily contestation over the nature and legitimacy of British democracy. Because of this, we argue that social media is an essential site for the study of EU politicization and political campaigns in general.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)234-253
Number of pages20
JournalSocial Movement Studies
Issue number1-2
Early online date7 Jun 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

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


  • Brexit
  • European union
  • Euroscepticism
  • campaigns
  • politicization
  • social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Brexit as ‘politics of division’: social media campaigning after the referendum'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this