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No change for leavers
04 May, 2018

Most Leave voters may not be changing their minds any time soon

All are agreed that the 2016 referendum divided the country; the divisions were generational, metropolitan v small towns & rural areas, well & less-well educated, and, as Remainers would have it, realists v the deluded and the gullible. Don’t worry we thought; as soon as the promises of the Leave campaign turn to so much flannel, when the complexities and sheer absurdity of unravelling  over 40 years of collaboration & legislation become clear, and once applying to leave under a time constrained (two years) Article 50 without first having agreed an end-game is recognised as a disaster, people would change their minds.

It hasn’t happened; polls showing a marginal shift in favour of Remain haven’t moved since last autumn; no one in their right mind would bet big money on a decisive result from a re-run. Why?

Over a recent long week-end in North Yorkshire, I was constantly reminded of a friend who, defending her strong, but largely instinctive pro-Leave position, pleaded ‘you need to understand, down here in deepest Sussex things are seen differently’. In North Yorkshire too; London and its concerns seem far away, those of Brussels even further. This is strong Conservative country, with prosperous towns, well-heeled farmers, and beautiful countryside which attracts many visitors. It seemed rude to even broach the subject of whether the UK should be leaving the EU. The issues that Remainers think should change minds don’t figure in North Yorks; what do they know or care about unemployment and immigration or about customs unions and single markets. And as you take in the view up Wensleydale, it’s difficult to feel concerned about security and the control of international organised crime, let alone pollution and climate change.  And it would be impolite to remind them that without the surpluses generated by the cities, none of their idyllic rural existences would be possible.

In these Brexit heartlands, it seems clear that the overarching divide is cultural, not political. Communities, which never embraced the ideals of the EU, which are socially conservative, economically secure, and with an instinctive, visceral sense that the UK is different; better on its own as it always has been. Yes, there is an element of nostalgia for some mythical past, and a rather guiltily wary attitude to foreigners, but all that’s less important.  

Whatever, these people are not for turning, and across the country there are an awful lot of them.

Robert McFarland

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