2016 is likely to be recalled – in Europe, at least – as a temporal bordering, after a majority in the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. The ‘Brexit’ referendum result has been pinned on the rise of populist politics and the revenge of so-called ‘left behind’ places. Regardless of reasons, the referendum left the UK with fraught politics and protracted negotiations, especially over how to re-border with a Europe that has held the dismantling of borders at the heart of its philosophical project. While Brexit has already become a byword, an earlier referendum on British borders has long slipped from international note. In 1997, a majority in Wales (one of the four constituent countries of the UK), voted for devolution from central government in Westminster. Like the Brexit referendum twenty years later, the majority in favour of devolution was slight, exposing uneasy fractures and internal cleavages as it opened fresh questions of governance and geography. In this article, we take 1997 and 2016 as temporal touchstones for a discussion of re-bordering practices – that is, the political, spatial, and cultural re-assertion of seemingly porous borders. Following Anssi Paasi’s (2009, 215) insistence that borders are “‘all over’ territories”, re-bordering is less a matter of marking lines than the slow saturation of space with territoriality. Hence, we situate 1997 in a legislative chain of Welsh distinction, manifesting in civil society and enabling Wales’ self-assertion as a ‘state-like’ (Cole & Palmer 2011) territory within Europe; we then investigate the post-2016 re-bordering of Wales without Europe. Drawing from qualitative and documentary research conducted for the Horizon 2020 IMAJINE project, we flavour our analysis with reflections from Welsh policymakers, for whom 1997 has inaugurated an era of consciously ‘Made in Wales’ identity, and German migrants to Wales, for whom 2016 has challenged the security of European citizenship. By attending to a small country at the periphery of Europe, we seek to destabilise the assumption of shared markers of global bordering (1989, 2001), revealing instead the palimpsests of identity and territoriality across which re-made borders run ‘all over’.
- Borders, Wales, devolution, Brexit