Britain’s constitutional evolution falls within the mainstream of European constitutional traditions, but the gulf between its governing practices and those adopted in the European mainstream has grown progressively wider. While most European nation-states have adopted written constitutions at critical moments of modern history, Britain continues to adhere to the traditional conception of a constitution as a set of laws, customs and practices that continuously evolve in response to social, economic, and political change. This is one reason why Britain’s involvement in the venture of creating a European Union has always been rather awkward. In this paper, I sketch the main constitutional tropes that have emerged in British thought and show how they express a constitutional identity antithetical to the assumptions driving the project of continuing European integration. I first introduce a series of constitutional stories through which the English have sought to explain themselves as a nation and a state and then consider how these accounts have evolved with the expansion of the English state into a British imperial state. Finally, I will indicate how these legacies ensured that Britain could never become an active participant in the European federal project.

You can download the working paper at the SSRN.