Rural Brexit? The ambivalent politics of rural community, migration and dependency

Sarah Neal , Anna Gawlewicz, Jesse Heley, Rhys Dafydd Jones

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This paper investigates the relationship between rural space and Brexit. It uses the 2016 UK Referendum outcome and the ongoing processes of Brexit as an optic though which to explore the changing configurations of rural communities and the ways in which they both reinforce and problematise the politics and geographies of Brexit. Taking as its starting point the ‘take our country back’ nationalism of the 2016 Referendum the paper considers how the anti-migrant, defensive Brexit positions folded into dominant rural imaginaries. Arguing that these imaginaries have always been fractured, the paper shows how this has intensified through the ruralisation of migration in the 2000s. In this context Brexit can be understood as rupture more than a confirmation of nationalist or exclusionary rural imaginaries and the complex intra-rural Leave/Remain geography is indicative of this. Drawing on a small set of in-depth interviews with expert ‘policy actors’ from rural community and migrant organisations in rural regions in of Wales, England, and Scotland the paper reflects on the rural-Brexit relationship by exploring rural diversity, perceptions of the impacts of Brexit on rural places and rural-migrant dependencies that are social as well as economic. It identifies the interconnected precarity of rural communities' well-being as the decisions of (and constraints on) rural migrants in the post Brexit, re-bordered UK disrupt and affect rural livability. In doing so, it emphasises the ambivalence in the everyday ‘rural Brexit’ and calls for closer attention to the ways in which rural communities are constitutive of and respond to political turbulence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)176-183
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
Early online date16 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 01 Feb 2021


  • Brexit
  • Community
  • Dependency
  • Diversity
  • Migration
  • National identity
  • Rural


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