Duelling Commonwealth Family of Nations Metaphors and Britain’s Post-Brexit Global Identity

  • Mark Ølholm EatonEmail author


This study examines the communication of conceptual metaphors in contemporary narratives of British politics, and specifically, the competitive communication of a Commonwealth ‘family of nations’ metaphor in the context of ongoing Brexit debates. This line of inquiry has been pursued through an analysis of parliamentary speeches made in the House of Commons and the House of Lords in the period from 23 June 2015 (1 year before the EU Referendum) through October 2018, facilitated by the use of computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software. Although multiple ‘family of nations’ metaphors were identified, British parliamentarians made more references to the Commonwealth as a family unit than other multi-national groupings, and two prominent variants of this family metaphor have been defined. Speakers competed for control over the meaning of the base metaphor, with mainly English Conservative speakers communicating a positive aspirational variant (framing the Commonwealth as a historically rooted, harmonious and prosperous alternative to the EU), while speakers from the other main parties communicated a competing critical judgmental variant (framing the Commonwealth as discriminatory, unequal and failing to defend shared human rights principles). It is argued that this metaphor, and particularly its positive aspirational variant, contributes to a broader communicative effort to encourage the imagination of a transnational and global British orientation and identity outside Europe.


Britain Politics Brexit Commonwealth family Metaphor Digital humanities 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Statement on the Welfare of Animals

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

No individuals participated in this study and therefore informed consent is not relevant.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of English, School of Communication and CultureAarhus UniversityAarhus CDenmark

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