THE concept of Britishness has becoming increasingly fragile after Brexit and the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the prospect of the UK remaining united is “pretty poor”, according to an academic.

Dr Nick Whittaker, who specialises in international relations and geopolitics at the University of Sussex, said historians and scholars have suggested that the Empire was the “glue” that held the UK together.

He said the country’s already “fragile” identity following the collapse of British rule has become even more so in the wake of Brexit and the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

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The UK Tory government has also shown a “pretty cavalier” attitude towards the union, despite claiming to prioritise it, and the long-term prospects of the UK staying united are “pretty poor”, he argued.

Whittaker, subject lead in social sciences and law at the University of Sussex, has examined the question of how Britain’s island identity has shaped its politics in a newly published book ‘Geopolitics and Identity in British Foreign Policy Discourse: the Island Race’.

He said the “imperial island identity” has long relied on the idea of Britain being a place apart from Europe, that enjoyed mobility and had global links.

But he said the growth of the SNP at Westminster had resulted in a different vision being put forward.

“I analysed a series of parliamentary debates around Brexit and around this idea of global Britain, and what I found was that SNP members of the Westminster parliament were really articulating this quite different geopolitical vision,” he said.

“So they were very much emphasising how in terms of identity, in terms of outlook, in terms of values, Scotland is thoroughly European rather than being British.

“Part of how they were doing this was the emphasis that Scotland exists in the North Atlantic space, which can include the Arctic and Scandinavia and so on. Scotland is Celtic, rather than Scotland being British.

“So these articulations of Scottish identity, these geopolitical articulations are a real challenge to this dominant island identity which is mostly a Tory identity - but the Labour party being a unionist party very much conforms to some of these trappings historically as well.”

Whittaker said the SNP’s vision was a “profound challenge” to a consensus around British island identify which had been around for at least “many, many” decades.

He said: “I think that does have a real power and it has implications that goes beyond just Scottish independence.

“Because what it does is it exposes that the links between Britishness and Empire are so profound I don’t think that we as British people have fully begun to reckon with that in its totality.

“The fact the Empire is long gone, the fact that we have Brexit, the fact in Northern Ireland I think there is going to be border poll within the next decade or so, the fact that all these things are happening really shows the fragility of Britishness without the Empire."

He added: “Britishnesss is pretty fragile and without the Empire and without Queen Elizabeth II as well – that I think is a bit of a coincidence, but a really profound one, the fact she has passed away in the time period she has."

Whittaker also argued the long-term prospects for the UK staying united are “pretty poor”, including that it was not unreasonable to expect for support for Plaid Cymru to grow incrementally in Wales.

He said despite the Conservatives claiming to be the most proudly Unionist party, in reality it has been “pretty cavalier” about the Union.

“They have this public persona almost of the Union is the most important thing, we are a UK party, Britishness is what is really important,” he said.

“But the insouciance with which they have treated particularly Northern Ireland is revelatory of a deeper attitude which is actually that these Westminster parties – although Labour have a bit more of a cosmopolitan attitude in general.

"But particularly the Conservatives are an English party, they are a party of English nationalism.”

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Whittaker said while the “high watermark” for having another independence referendum appeared to have passed in Scotland, he would not be surprised it if came back.

He said the emergence of younger generations who want to get back into the EU would be a difficult issue for politicians from Unionist parties to ignore.

“I think constituencies for rejoining the EU are going to emerge all across the UK, but I think it is a far easier sell in Scotland than it is in England,” he said.

“And there is the massive economic pressures and cost of living and so on.

"I think it’s probably fair to say a lot of people in Scotland in the 70s and 80s perhaps felt being in the UK, for all of the problems there were in those decades, it is probably not such a bad deal overall.

“At the moment, what’s the positive case, what is the advantage for staying in the UK, other than just maintenance of the status quo - which seems thoroughly unsatisfactory to a lot of people.”