CHESTERFIELD, England (Reuters) – As Britain grapples with whether to leave the European Union, some voters in an ancient English town have a message for the politicians in London: Do not betray Brexit.
FLE PHOTO: British and EU flags flutter outside the Houses of Parliament during a pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit demonstration, ahead of a vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal, in London, Britain, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
The United Kingdom’s labyrinthine crisis over EU membership is approaching its finale with an extraordinary array of options including no-deal Brexit, a last-minute deal, a snap election, or a delay and new referendum.
In Chesterfield, a leave-supporting northern town which could take an economic hit if Britain dropped out of the EU, some voters were clear they would prefer to leave without a deal and would turn away from politics if Brexit was thwarted.
“It’s got to be no deal – and we are not all going to die and crumble. We are Great Britain remember!” said Valerie Quigley, 70, a leave supporter who traditionally votes for the Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister Theresa May.
Quigley, who has owned a womenswear shop for 26 years, said May was doing a good job in tough circumstances.
“If somebody else thinks that they can do better than Theresa May then let them get on with it,” Quigley said.
“I think in Brussels and the EU they are scared to death that we are going.”
While an unscientifically small sample, responses in Chesterfield show the divide between the 17.4 million leave voters and an elite in London that mainly views Brexit as damaging.
May, once a reluctant supporter of EU membership who won the top job in the turmoil following the 2016 Brexit referendum, has warned thwarting that vote will threaten social cohesion by undermining belief in British democracy.
In a step that could overturn centuries of constitutional convention, some lawmakers want to grab control of Brexit from the government to prevent what they say would be an economically disastrous no-deal departure.
In 2016, 51.9 percent of voters backed leaving the EU while 48.1 percent favoured staying.
Polling shows the United Kingdom remains deeply divided, though a slim majority now favours staying.
Research indicates very few leave voters have changed their minds and that while some polls seem to indicate growing support for another referendum, results vary depending on the question’s wording.
In Chesterfield, a market town 150 miles (240 km) north of London which traces its history to Roman times and is famous for a crooked church, leave voters were clear about wanting a clean break with the club the United Kingdom joined in 1973.
“We voted to either stay in the European Union or leave the European Union. There wasn’t a box to tick for a deal. I voted to leave,” said David Mawson, 51, who runs a mobility business.
No deal means there would be no transition so the exit would be abrupt – the nightmare scenario for international businesses and the dream of ‘hard’ Brexiteers who want a decisive split.
Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said leaving the EU with no transition could be akin to the 1970s oil shock, though some Brexiteers say such forecasts are scare tactics.
Chesterfield’s member of parliament, Toby Perkins of the opposition Labour Party, warned last year at a nearby Toyota factory that a no-deal Brexit would have a devastating impact on the car industry.
Nearly 80 people from Chesterfield are employed at the plant, Perkins said. Toyota has said a no-deal Brexit could temporarily halt output at the plant.
DEMOCRACY AT STAKE
Perkins, whose constituency has been controlled by Labour for much of the 20th century, voted to stay in the 2016 referendum, but voted against May’s deal on Jan. 15.
Deborah Chattaway, a 52-year-old seamstress, voted Labour in the 2017 election but said she would not vote for them again. She voted to stay in the EU but fears a no-deal Brexit and so thinks Labour and other parties should rally around May.
“I think all the parties, Labour and the rest, they need to get behind Theresa May and get us a good deal for the country and let’s get it pushed through, best for everybody,” she said.
But fears of “betrayal” are acute.
“If they go back on this vote, how can we ever have another vote about anything?” said Mawson, who voted Conservative at the last election.
Jesse Lilley, 66, a former factory worker, used to vote Labour but feels it no longer represents the working classes.
He wants to leave without a deal and is worried politicians will halt Brexit.
“They are going to undo that Pandora’s box and they don’t know what is going to come out,” Lilley said.
“Betray them and then say we are going to have another election or another vote? People will just not bother. It will cause problems for the next twenty years.”
Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne