Regret takes hold in Brexit bastion
Grays, a town near London, voted overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit. But three years after severing ties with the EU, some are feeling remorse as the country lurches from one crisis to another.
42-year-old Maria Yvars, a counsellor in Grays, argued that she felt cheated by politicians:
They didn’t give us the full facts… they told us things that were not true.
I did vote Brexit, but I regret it.
Now, this country is like a ship without a captain.
In the 2016 vote, 72.3% voted for Brexit in the Essex constituency of Thurrock, of which Grays is the largest town with around 75,000 people. That was the fourth highest pro-Brexit vote out of 382 voting areas in Britain that backed the split. Arch-eurosceptic Nigel Farage chose Thurrock as the backdrop to unveil his anti-EU manifesto for the general election of May 2015.
The post-industrial area, which has taken in many migrants from eastern Europe, also includes Tilbury, one of the country’s main container ports. Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported from there in 2017, finding Brexiteers had little regret about their vote a year later. However, the departure only took full effect at the end of January 2020. Boris Johnson had promised “sunlit uplands” for Britain. Instead it got Covid, and now a cost-of-living crisis resulting from sky-high inflation.
Thurrock Council, the local authority, effectively went bankrupt in December after a series of disastrous investments. In Grays’ pedestrianised town centre, one abandoned shop window reads “closed forever”. Like many other high streets in Britain, the shops left are dominated by discount retailers offering £1 items, charity stores, and bookmakers.
Support for Brexit across the nation has never been so low, according to a YouGov poll released in November. Fewer than a third of Britons believe it was a good decision, with one in five Brexiteers changing their minds, according to the poll. An NHS employee from Grays who wanted to remain in the EU said:
What did the Brexiteers expect? We lost EU funding.
Saving the NHS was a hallmark of Johnson’s Brexit campaign. Famously emblazoned on his red campaign bus was the message:
We send the EU £350 million a week. Let’s fund the NHS instead.
Today, NHS workers – including, for the first time, nurses – have been striking in protest at government pay offers.
While the government attributes Britain’s economic malaise to the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, Brexit is increasingly being blamed for setting the country back after it cut off access to Europe’s single market across the Channel from Essex.
A woman in her 50s who wished to remain anonymous said:
Yes I voted for Brexit and I wish I hadn’t.
She explained that most people she knows regret their Brexit vote, adding:
Look at the country, it’s a disaster isn’t it?
The UK is the only G7 economy that has not yet returned to its pre-pandemic size in gross domestic product. The UK government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that leaving the EU will reduce the size of the British economy by about 4% in the long run.
Featured image by Unsplash/Rocco Dipoppa
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
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