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‘They need us more than we need them’: British exceptionalism, Brexit, and justice and home affairs

Leonard, Sarah; Kaunert, Christian; MacKenzie, Alex

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Sarah Leonard
Professor of International Security

Christian Kaunert

Alex MacKenzie


This article analyses the EU-UK Future Relationship negotiations on Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) through the lenses of ‘exceptionalism’. This concept refers to a given state’s self-understanding as being not only fundamentally different from other states, but also morally superior. In its exemptionalist variant, exceptionalism also calls attention to the belief that one is entitled to exemptions from ordinary rules. This article argues that, whilst exemptionalist exceptionalism can be said to characterise the UK’s position in relation to European integration in general, it has been particularly pronounced in the JHA policy area. This is shown through an analysis of the various exemptions from ordinary rules and arrangements obtained by the UK over the years. The existence of those also demonstrates a broad acceptance by the rest of the EU of this self-perception of the UK as being an exceptional state. Furthermore, this article shows that, perhaps unsurprisingly, the UK government has retained this stance in the Future Relationship negotiations with the EU. It has set its expectations of negotiating agreements with the EU that would set it apart from all the other partners of the EU. It has attempted to justify such an exceptional treatment on the basis of the remarkable quality of the contribution that it has been able to make to EU internal security as encapsulated in the idea that ‘the EU needs us more than we need them’. However, recent developments suggest that the EU is no longer as favourably disposed to grant exceptional treatment to the UK in the field of JHA now as it was when the UK was a Member State.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 4, 2020
Online Publication Date Dec 1, 2020
Publication Date Dec 1, 2020
Deposit Date Oct 15, 2020
Publicly Available Date Jun 2, 2021
Print ISSN 1384-6299
Publisher Kluwer Law International
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 25
Issue 4
Pages 573-588
Keywords United Kingdom; exceptionalism; Justice and Home Affairs; internal security; Brexit
Public URL
Publisher URL


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