Discerning a New National Identity After Brexit

With Britain’s vote to exit the European Union, a stream of questions have sprung to life. What will the separation process involve? What will be the economic and political consequences? Who will become the next leader of Britain?

Many of these details will be decided in the weeks and months following Thursday’s tumultuous vote. Yet a larger question emerges, one that Britain will reckon with in the years following its departure from the European Union: what will Britain’s new national identity be?

“It’s ironic that a country that built its empire with global trade and the free flow of goods, services and labor decided to restrict the flow in the name of sovereignty,” said Tridib Mazumdar, Whitman professor of marketing and director of the Earl V. Snyder Innovation Management Center.

Mazumdar spent the 2016 spring semester in London teaching marketing research to Whitman students. He describes the city as a hub of European and international products.

“The first thing that struck me about London and other major cities in the U.K. is the incredible diversity, not just in the population but in the products and services that come from all over the world, including most EU countries,” said Mazumdar.

Mazumdar witnessed floors of exotic teas and troves of international goods meticulously chosen for Chinese, Japanese, Middle Eastern and African customers—all housed within British department stores. While fish and chips may be top of mind when thinking of British food, dishes such as Chicken tikka masala and Japanese noodle soup were just as common.

“That’s the Brand Britain I could discern—not the closed door tiny island that is fearful of global trade and migration,” said Mazumdar.

Consequently, while the British vote may suggest a desire for national autonomy among the majority of citizens, Britain’s current identity is anything but constricted. As the separation from the European Union begins, Britain may have to sacrifice some of the multiculturalism that currently defines its national brand.

Weighing the marketing consequences of Britain’s decision, Mazumdar concludes, “I don’t think British people will allow the country to be isolated—but for now, the Brexit will add a significant cost to free trade that British customers will have to bear.”

Catie Jones