No Country is an Island Chatham House (
Graphic visualising the response, when British people were asked to finish the sentence: "The UK's closest ties should be to..." (results in %).

The growth of ‘euroscepticism’ may be conterminous with this idea that Britain has always been ‘the odd man out’ and ‘awkward partner’ of the EU due to special relations with the US. However, judging by the recent opinion polls conducted by Chatham House, the preponderance of people is inclined to believe that the UK’s closest ties should be to the EU rather than to the US [1]. Consequently, by exploring the dimensions of the British identity, this article will try to argue why it is not fanciful to prove it. 

Identity and policy-making go hand in hand when it comes to international relations. Its importance should not be underestimated as it corresponds to the way a country is viewed by “other actors” as well as reflects “community interests” and “the sense of belonging” [2]. Identity may have different dimensions one of which is “a spatial identity” that refers to “geography and material structures” [2]. Therefore, it underpins the distinction between the inhabitants of the island and ‘the continent’. 

The first spatial aspect of the British identity is “the island identity’” [2]. If one thinks of a peninsular characteristic, the words like isolation, disconnection, separation, segregation, detachment and, as a result, disunion can come to mind. As the balance of power matters, being in isolation is precarious. Consequently, maintaining an island position pushes Britain to build coalitions with other member states, bargain as well as mediate [3]. In this respect, the EU is an important actor on the world stage. In the EU Britain has its voice. For instance, Britain has the power of veto that is meshed up with the right to build collations, bargain and compromise due to the qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers [3]. Being out of the EU will deprive Britain of its closets and a very significant geopolitical ally. It will deprive Britain of many other international contacts that the members of the EU maintain. 

Another important aspect is “the trading identity” [2]. Brown highlighted that “Britain has always looked outwards, been engaged in worldwide trade and been open to new influences [2]. John Major, who wrote the principle of subsidiarity into the Maastricht Treaty almost 20 years ago, sees Britain as “an island with a trading tradition”[4]. In his recent speech in Berlin he highlighted that nowadays, “a European market of 500 million is far more attractive to investors than the British market of a mere 70 million” [4]. Therefore, further economic cooperation also lies in working together rather than being apart. 

The metaphor of an island is commonly deployed to represent British political and cultural distance that many people in Europe feel and vice versa. With the in-out referendum round the corner, one can be surprised that Britain’s public opinion poll has “a noticeable movement towards more positive attitudes about the EU since the previous edition” [1].


It may imply that the British still show their willingness to cooperate with the rest of the EU. While their positive attitudes towards to the US and India show a downward trend. Moreover, there is “the attitudinal overlap” that lies in their views on “the individual, the state, the religion” that bring them closer together [5]. Furthermore, according to other statistics poll conducted by Chatham House–YouGov Survey, the same trend can be found with respect to the UK closest ties in the world. 

Therefore, no country is an island. Though Britain’s “island identity” may imply the opposite at first glance, in reality it shows the reverse. This identity inclines Britain to build coalitions, negotiate and mediate. Meanwhile, its “trading identity” reveals Britain’s global economic interests. Moreover, while thinking of allies, British public opinion reflects a shift in perceptions. As a result, the cooperation with the EU, the closets geopolitical ally with common attitudes, comes to the fore. One cannot deny that the Union has positive and negative ramifications for Britain. On the one hand, Britain has to surrender some British governmental power. On the other hand, it has a powerful geopolitical ally that helps to maintain a competitive edge right across the Union. One should definitely weigh all the pros and cons one more time before saying a No in the referendum. 


[1] Raines, Thomas (2015) Internationalism or Isolationism? Chatham House–YouGov Survey British Attitudes Towards the UK’s International Priorities. Europe Programme: Research Paper. Chatham House
2] Gaskarth, Jamie (2014) British Foreign Policy. Cambridge: Policy Press.
[3] Moran, Michael (2011) Chapter 6: The European Political System. In: Politics and Governance in the UK. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
[4] Major, John (2014) “John Major's Berlin Speech: the full text”. The Guardian online. <>
[5]Bagehot “The physiology of a peninsular” (2015). The Economist. Volume 413 Number 8948