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

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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 The politicisation over Brexit resulted in the development of ‘Brexit identities’ of Remainers and Leavers that superseded party identities.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 politicisation 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 politization 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 politicisation and political campaigns in general.

Bibliographic note

Not yet published as of 04/05/2021.


Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Movement Studies
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 25 Jan 2021