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Keywords:

  • Britishness;
  • national identity;
  • Victorian morality;
  • political rhetoric;
  • national values;
  • devolution

Modern Britishness is widely seen to be based on shared values like ‘fair play’, ‘tolerance’, and respect for ‘diversity’. Can such a ‘values-based Britishness’ be effective as a national binding agent in an era of devolution and globalisation? The idea that a uniquely ‘British’ character is based on shared values of some kind is not new. The contemporary debate is framed by decisions made over a century ago in the Victorian era—when the decisive shift occurred from a British identity based on religious difference to one based on shared moral values. Through political rhetoric, legislation, and the courts, Victorian governments shaped and changed the character of Britishness. The same tools remain available to contemporary lawmakers in shaping a twenty-first century Britishness that embraces modern universal values, but also defines some more uniquely British emotional connection points around which national identity can be built.