BREXIT: ‘We all live in the same world’

Brexit campaigners in Boston saying thank you to the voters who supported them. ANL-190216-195618001
Brexit campaigners in Boston saying thank you to the voters who supported them. ANL-190216-195618001

A young Polish mum seemed hesitant to speak at first. She and her Polish husband had bought a home on the coast on the day of the Brexit vote - they had hoped the aggression they had witnessed towards foreigners immediately after the decision would go away. Now they are not sure.

“We are very worried,” she confided. “When I came to Britain 15 years ago it was just for a year to earn enough to go to university, but I met my Polish husband and ended up staying. We both have jobs and a home in Skegness, we pay our taxes and have now two children in primary school. This is our home.

Brexit campaigners used scaffolding on the Clock Tower in Skegness to get their message across. Photo: Barry Robinson. ANL-190216-195056001

Brexit campaigners used scaffolding on the Clock Tower in Skegness to get their message across. Photo: Barry Robinson. ANL-190216-195056001

“Now we worry what the future holds. My mother still lives in Europe and we planned to visit her in April, but we don’t even know how we will be able to do that.”

On June 23, 2016, Lincolnshire voters were among the most Eurosceptic in the UK, with more than 75 per cent in Boston voting to leave.

There was also a high proportion of ‘Leave’ voters in East Lindsey, posting figures of more than 70 per cent.

As Brexit campaigners turned out the following day to shake the hands of the members of the public who supported them, more bizarre reactions were happening. One drunken Skegness man found himself in court for headbutting a driver who refused to show his passport at a border control he had made out of wheelie bins.

Boston More in Common are celebrating the district's multi-cultural communities by bring them together for social events. ANL-190216-195244001

Boston More in Common are celebrating the district's multi-cultural communities by bring them together for social events. ANL-190216-195244001

Elsewhere, life just seemed to go on as usual.

Having covered reaction to the Brexit vote in Skegness, Boston and Spalding, I wanted to know how communities and the politicians who led the campaign were feeling two years later, with just 37 days to go before we are due to leave the EU.

‘Remain’ Conservative MP for Boston and Skegness, Matt Warman, said since the vote has had to respect the decision.

“The vote was against the pressure on services,” he said. “I can understand why the European communities are concerned - it won’t seem real that they can stay until they get that bit of paper.

“But, those who have made their homes here will get that right by applying to the Settled Status Scheme. if they meet the criteria.”

Pressure on services was the tip of the iceberg, though, when exploring the reason so many voted ‘Out’. Drinking in the streets and anti-social behaviour in large EU population areas such as Boston and Spalding had riled the British communities.

Police did much to dispel the problem in Spalding - moving street drinkers out of the town centre and raising awareness that one reason Europeans were hanging around in groups was quite possibly due to tripple bedding in houses of multiple occupancy. “They probably had nowhere else to go until their bed became free,” one officer had explained to me.

In spite of attempts by the European churchgoing families to bridge the divisions at social events, communities became more divided. New shops offering imported European goods continued to open across the district.

But with the growing uncertainty, there are already signs of change. Some shops in the Midlands are already closing, with the owners packing up and going home, explained a Polish resident who set up in business in Skegness and also does book-keeping for businesses in the Midlands. He said: “The value of the pound is an issue. I started my business in Skegness two years ago because it was worth the risk as the vote was so close. I’m waiting to see what happens. I’d like to stay but we’ll see.”

Incidents of anti-social behaviour in Boston continue to trouble not only the British residents but also the newest settlers. I met a 25-year-old Lithuanian girl who is working in a European supermarket in Boston. She was struggling to explain to a BT representative in a call centre what the problem was with a telephone bill, and seemed surprised when I offered to help make the person understand.

She explained: “I came to the UK because I can earn in a week what it would take a month in my country.

“I rent a room and haven’t really had time to make friends. But I am happy to work and have enough to pay my bills.

“I saw police put a Lithuanian in the back of a van and it troubles me there is violence in the town. We are not all like that. I just hope everything will be OK and I can stay.”

Jonathan Noble, former UKIP Brexit campaigner and now continuing as a Conservative councillor on Boston Borough, believes European workers have nothing to worry about. “Police statistics show there has been no increase of race hate in Boston,” he said.

“The mood is a frustration with the process.

“If we leave with no deal the migrant labour will be able to get a short-term visa, so I don’t think there will be any problem.”

The majority of EU workers have been drawn to the area’s agricultural industry, working on the land and in packing factories.

David Pridgeon, who runs a family fruit farm in Chapel St Leonards, believes the industry couldn’t cope without European workers.

He employs between 15 and 20 Europeans during the growing season and said: “Before they came I struggled to find people who wanted to do the work.

“I can’t say enough good things about them. We employ two full-timers now - they are well-educated and hardworking and some have even settled here and gone on to start their own businesses.

”Without them I think the economy would collapse.”

However, one Polish man who was born of Polish parents in Wales but retired to the coast, says he has heard of many foreigners who are selling up and moving back to Europe, The Saturday language school he helped start up in the town also closed recently because of the number of people attending it has dropped.

“I can understand why British people voted as they did after many years of austerity, but people have forgotten that Europe was formed to unite us and end conflict and hardship after the war,” he said.

“For a few years the countries across Europe that had experienced their own border troubles and conflicts and had watched Winston Churchill and the patriotism in Britain during the Second World War felt they, too, as a member of Europe, had a flag to fly.

“Now that is changing, and I fear for the future.

“This area especially has relied on a European workforce on the land, in factories, and in tourism and I worry how it will cope if they leave - and there are signs of them selling up now.

“There is also a concern about a rise in hate crime. I was born in Wales so my accent is more Welsh but I have been called ‘dirty foreigner’ in the past.

“In the 70s and 80s there was a change and it became unacceptable to make insults on people’s race or national origin.

“But since the Brexit vote that has all been dredged up.

”Communities are now split with people wanting to hold onto the past when Britain was for the British, instead of celebrating the country’s multi-culturalism.

“The damage that has been done will take years to repair.”

That process has already begun in Boston. Julian Thompson is the leader of the group Boston More in Common, which now has more than 2,500 members.

“I voted ‘Out’ because Boston can’t cope with the influx of immigrants,” he said.

“The group was formed in 2016 because we realised we had to make the best of things and bring people together.

“We have Lithuanians and Polish in the group as well as members of other organisations in the town, such as the Scouts.

“Our most successful event so far was Christmas in Boston, where 60 per cent of the families who came were from Europe. The Lithuanians were making us get up and dance - it was a huge success.”

Their work is now spreading beyond Lincolnshire, with the people of Brixton with the highest Remain vote recently reaching out to the community in Boston, via the More In Common group in Lambeth and Brixton Come Together.

“The lovely people of Lambeth has much that they can teach us, to help us integrate more and make Boston a great place to be,” said Julian.

In Skegness, former Mayor and UKIP campaigner Coun Danny Brookes is looking for a different kind of independence after forming a new political party - Skegness Urban District - which is aiming to gain more control of the town’s assets from East Lindsey District Council.

He said: “I campaigned for Brexit and voted to leave because doctors’ surgeries, hospitals, schools and housing are at breaking point.

“Would I vote the same way now?

“I am pretty disappointed in our parliament and believe they have let the country down.

“My vote would depend on if I could trust them to get it right - that is the biggest question.”

Communities can only hope the final outcome will not be the disaster for the country many are fearing. The Polish mum in Skegness hopes that, whatever happens, we can all be a little kinder to each other. She said: “I just hope there is not the hate for foreigners we saw after the Brexit vote. We all have to live in the same world.”