The Brexit religion and the Holy Grail of the NHS

Steven Kettell, Peter Kerr

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The role of populism in mobilising support for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union has been well noted. But a key feature of populist politics – the use of religious discourses – has been largely overlooked. This article addresses this gap by exploring the way in which the Leave campaign framed Brexit in quasi-religious and mythological terms. Three core themes are identified: (1) That the British ‘people’ had a unique role to play in global affairs. (2) That the sanctity of this special status was threatened by elites and migrants. (3) That the referendum gave voice to the sacred ‘will of the people’. These narratives were underpinned by a strategic discourse centring on claims that EU membership was exacerbating a crisis in health and social care. This myth was encapsulated by the so-called ‘Brexit bus’ campaign.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)282-295
JournalSocial Policy and Society
Issue number2
Early online date22 Jan 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Jan 2021


  • Brexit
  • NHS
  • Populism
  • political myth
  • religion
  • social policy


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