Voters in Sunderland in northeast England voiced hope on Monday that the Brexit Party‘s strong showing in European elections would trigger a quick break with the EU, expressing anger and disbelief at Britain’s two main parties.
The polls delivered major losses for both the ruling Conservatives — who have twice delayed Britain’s scheduled departure from the EU — and the main opposition Labour, which has remained deeply ambiguous over Brexit.
In the North East region, where Sunderland is located, the Brexit Party won 38.7 percent of the vote in last week’s election — its highest result in the country.
“The sooner we get out the better,” said Stephen James, a 55-year-old council worker in the former shipbuilding city, a traditional stronghold for the Labour Party.
“I’m Labour through and through but you can’t trust Labour or Conservatives any more now. They’re just backstabbing each other,” he said — a comment on the months of bickering in the British parliament over Brexit.
The Brexit Party has said it will seek a better deal with Brussels than the one negotiated by outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May but will embrace no-deal if it does not get one.
Several contenders to replace May have the same position.
– ‘They haven’t got a clue’ –
Sunderland played a starring role in Britain’s seismic decision to leave the European Union in 2016.
The city’s 61-percent vote in favour of Brexit during the referendum signalled early on where the nation was heading on the night of June 23 and celebrations at the count were beamed worldwide.
The years of wrangling since the referendum over how, or even if, Britain leaves have certainly dampened the high spirits of that 2016 June night.
“I think Farage should have won more myself because the Conservatives were lying to us and Labour don’t know what they want to do,” said Brian Welsh, a 66-year-old retiree.
“If they haven’t got a deal, go for no deal. Simple. They haven’t got a clue basically,” he said, adding that the EU was trying to keep Britain because it was a “cash cow”.
Business leaders have warned of severe disruption if Britain leaves the EU with no deal in place and finance minister Philip Hammond warned he could vote down his government in order to prevent this from happening.
Welsh admitted that a no-deal Brexit “might be hard for a year or two” but said Britain had been through worse.
Alan Bell, 67, a former chef, agreed, pointing out that EU leaders have ruled out a renegotiation of the Brexit deal agreed by May with the other EU leaders last year.
“It’s not going to kill us if we come out without a deal,” he said.
“The Europeans have already said there’s no more negotiating. What you’ve got is what you’ve got.”
Bell scoffed at the prospect of a second referendum advocated by the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, which also made major gains in the elections.
“What would another referendum bring? I know exactly what the result will be in Sunderland. It would be to come out again. All my mates would vote to come out again.”
“We’ve been paying money into this club of theirs since the common market and getting nothing back. That’s why I voted to come out,” he said.
– ‘One hell of a country’ –
Sunderland was a coal trading port, had its own collieries, was a glassmaking centre and boasted a major brewery.
The heavy industry has largely evaporated, though the docks are still going and ships’ horns echo amongst the cranes.
Its economic lifeblood is now a massive car plant, Britain’s biggest, owned by Japanese carmaker Nissan.
Some 55 percent of the cars it produces are exported tariff-free to the EU, meaning a no-deal Brexit could have devastating consequences if tariffs are suddenly imposed.
But many voters in Sunderland appeared unconcerned, casting their minds back to a nostalgic past of economic glory.
James said he could remember when Britain was not a member of the European Economic Community, a precursor to the European Union.
“This country was a hell of a country — Great Britain. I think we should never have gone in,” he said.