A year away from Brexit, Britons’ views still as entrenched as ever – UK to leave EU in March 2019

Britain split over whether to exit; Polls suggest little change in views

BIRMINGHAM: A campaigner wears a T-shirt bearing the slogan “I’m Turning My Back On The EU” as he attends an Anti-EU (European Union) United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) pro-Brexit campaign event in Birmingham, central England. —AFP

GREAT YARMOUTH: Leaning over the counter of his seafood stall in the English seaside town of Great Yarmouth, Darran Nichols-George says those still moaning about the British vote to leave the European Union need to stop complaining. “At the end of the day we live in a democracy and therefore they’ve had the vote,” said 51-year-old Nichols-George, peering over cartons of prawns, crabs, mussels and jellied eels. “We voted out so we’re going to go out.”

The fishmonger was one of the 17.4 million Britons who voted to quit the EU in a 2016 referendum, giving the Brexit campaign victory over the 16.1 million voters who wanted to stay. Since then, Brexit has never been far from the headlines, from difficult talks with the EU and leaks of government forecasts that Britain will be worse off, to fish dumped into the River Thames by fishermen angry at European quotas. A year before Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019, allegations that the main campaign for leaving the EU broke the law have revived memories of the bitter referendum battle.

Despite the issue dominating discussions in parliament and the pages of newspapers, voters’ views seem entrenched as ever. “People now think of themselves as Leavers or Remainers and see developments from that perspective,” Sara Hobolt, a professor of politics at the London School of Economics, told Reuters. She estimates that 80 to 90 percent of Britons have not changed their minds since 2016. Some senior figures, such as former Prime Minister Tony Blair, have demanded a second referendum on the final deal agreed with the EU, so people could have a say in full knowledge of the possible outcome. But polls and research suggest there is no overwhelming support for another vote.

Even if there was another plebiscite, the surveys show Britons are still deeply divided and most would probably vote the same way. “Tony Blair-he should keep his snout out,” said retired 68-year-old Michael Cutting, who voted Leave and has lived in Great Yarmouth his whole life. His view is shared by many in the rundown holiday resort, a once bustling fishing port some 140 miles (200 km) northeast of London, where paint peels off windswept ferris wheels and mainly elderly visitors wander past its “Golden Mile” sandy beach and drab amusement arcades.

‘No messing around’
Great Yarmouth has the country’s lowest percentage of college graduates – 14.2 percent-and a high rate of unemployment. In 2016, 71.5 percent of votes cast here were for Leave, putting it in one of the top 10 Brexit-supporting areas in the country. “I think we should all get out of [the EU] now, straight away, no messing around,” said Philip Blake, 60, between chopping cuts of prime British beef for display at his family-run butchers. “They’re taking too long over it now. Just go. Hard Brexit, whatever, I don’t mind.”

While an EU flag flies in tatters beside Great Yarmouth’s seaside promenade, in the affluent university city of Norwich just 21 miles (34 km) away, the sentiment about Europe could hardly be more different but the intransigence is the same. “I hate it, I really do,” said Gaye Sorah, 59, who was close to tears at the thought of Brexit. “One year to go, it’s a disaster. I just wish we could rewind the clock.” Norwich, where tourists wander between the market’s stalls, chattering in a variety of tongues while students cycle down medieval cobbled streets, bucked the trend for the region with 56 percent of voters backing staying in the EU.

Pro-EU posters adorn the whole foods stall owned by Gareth Butcher, 69, and his 66-year-old wife Jane Wirgman, who proudly wears a “We are Europe” badge. “I could see no advantage in leaving, particularly not on a dream of empires past,” Butcher said. “I’ve not changed my mind at all and it’s a source of some amusement to me that as the ramifications become clear … that a lot of other people’s minds are being concentrated.” Expressions of such regret are hard to find, but dishing out bags of chunky fries from his van in Great Yarmouth, Robin Platten thinks he was wrong to vote to leave.

“I’ve been thinking maybe I might have made a mistake,” Platten, 60, whose family have run the Brewer Chip Saloon takeaway stall in the town’s market since 1902. “It’s a great big tunnel with no light at the end of it, as far as I’m concerned,” he told Reuters. “I think maybe everybody should be given a second chance for the mistakes that they’ve made. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.” Even some voters who backed remain have no desire to see the process dragging on, however-despite their continued misgivings. “I think we may as well get on with it now,” said Kathryn Fabian, 20, a student in Norwich. “I feel like we had our say back then, it’s been decided. Let’s just move on.”- Reuters

This article was published on 28/03/2018