Disentangling norms, morality, and principles: the September 2019 Brexit rebellion

Anette Stimmer*, Jess Gliserman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


Despite morality’s important role in international relations, we still lack a compelling way to study it. Some scholars define norms as moral in nature but fail to define morality or conceptualize it too narrowly. We address this problem by defining morality subjectively, allowing us to differentiate it from norms and study its impact on decisions of international significance. To do so, we adapt the moral convictions concept developed by psychologists to qualitative, elite-focused political research. Actors with moral convictions rely upon their individually held beliefs about fundamental right and wrong, whereas norm-followers look outward to community expectations. Morality requires sincere belief and weakens social influences.
The September 2019 Brexit rebellion is an ideal case because it endangered rebels’ careers, rendering material self-interest an unlikely motive. This allows us to investigate the role of norms and moral principles. Based on interviews with British Members of Parliament (MPs) and text analysis, we find that community norms and personal moral principles interact: when existing norms give unclear guidance and identification with their in-group weakens, actors are likely to rely on their own principles to interpret norms. Morality can affect which norms matter but does not negate their influence altogether: pre-existing norms channel and constrain morality and its consequences. Many MPs moralized existing norms related to democratic decision-making, which mitigated some consequences of moralization, such as intolerance toward those with opposing views. This new conceptual and methodological approach thus helps to disentangle ideational factors and understand their influence on decisions of international significance.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Issue number4
Early online date6 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


Dive into the research topics of 'Disentangling norms, morality, and principles: the September 2019 Brexit rebellion'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this