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"A Sea of Opportunity” - The Maritime Dimension of Brexit Narratives

"A Sea of Opportunity” - The Maritime Dimension of Brexit Narratives


British Academy (BA)/Leverhulme Small Research Grant

Value to Coventry University


Project Team

Dr Robert McCabe


May 2023 - September 2024

Project overview

Brexit was a seismic event that magnified the importance of the ocean as both an economic lifeline, but also a fraught and contested political space. Despite this, to date no study has attempted to understand how Brexit was shaped by narratives linked to the maritime domain. Specifically, how these narratives link to ideas of security, identity, and socio-cultural perceptions and how these perceptions shaped the campaign and referendum result. This project aims to address this gap in scholarly knowledge through new data and outputs that will, for the first time, reveal the maritime dimension of Brexit narratives, why this mattered, and how it continues to create impasses in UK-ROI-EU relations. This will establish the foundation for the development of a larger bid that will map the prevailing and evolving narratives around what it means to feel secure, and the changing ways people ascribe meaning and socio-cultural significance to the ocean.

Project objectives

  1. Investigate the role maritime narratives and phraseology had in influencing and shaping the outcome of the Brexit referendum over a particular period of time (2012-2022).
  2. Provide a new lens in which to unpack some of the sensitivities among coastal communities as to how and why they perceived hitherto neglected areas of security, identity and socio-cultural significance as they pertain to Brexit and how this led to a particular political choice.
  3. Trace the evolution of how politicians used the maritime space to shape the narrative and campaigning on both sides of the divide and highlight how this knowledge helps scholars and policymakers better understand communities’ relationship with the sea in terms of security and identity.

Impact statement

The project will provide a new lens in which to unpack some of the narratives and perceptions of security and identity linked to Brexit and the impact this had in terms of the referendum outcome. Firstly, through the creation of an innovative dataset, this project will provide academics and policymakers a new tool for assessing, analysing and investigating how maritime narratives shaped the Brexit referendum outcome, and the prevailing and evolving political choices people make in coastal regions, and how they perceive ideas of security and identity in this context. Secondly, through the publication of a first of its kind journal article, the idea of security is reimagined (specifically maritime security and human security in this context) beyond the traditional referent object approach espoused in securitisation theory. This project and its outputs will situate ‘security’ in a sociocultural context specifically related to the maritime domain through the lens of Brexit – a major political event with significant maritime dimensions.


  1. New digital dataset that maps occurrences of maritime phraseology using governmental, survey, and social media data. This dataset will utilise for the first time key maritime terms and phrases and demonstrate how this helped shape the outcome of the Brexit referendum and beyond (between 2012 and 2022).
  2. Journal Article: ‘“A Sea of Opportunity” - The Maritime Dimension of Brexit Narratives’ for Marine Policy (Q1 Journal).
  3. Primer Report for the development of a larger bid on reimagining the socio-cultural significance of the ocean for human security in the UK and Ireland post-Brexit.
  4. A paper on the project findings and future outputs will be presented at the BISA conference in 2024.
 Queen’s Award for Enterprise Logo
University of the year shortlisted
QS Five Star Rating 2023