My encounter with the Brexit Party has left me even more unconvinced about leaving the EU
- Credit: Archant
Sebastian Reichel, who has grown up, studied and worked in the North East of England could not vote in the EU referendum. His encounter with the Brexit Party left him even more uncertain about the UK leaving the EU.
I have lived in the North East of England for most of my life. I grew up here, worked here and studied here, this is my home. As an EU national, I was not permitted to vote in the 2016 referendum and thus I am not strictly speaking a Remainer or Leaver.
With Brexit coming up on the 31st October and with 'No Deal' still being a likely outcome, I have been concerned about what will happen to the UK and to the North East in particular. Even though the North East receives some of the largest EU funding per head in the UK, we are still the poorest region per household in Great Britain. On top of this, according to the government's leaked Cross Whitehall Briefing, the North East is set to experience a 16% loss in GVA (Gross Value Added) in the case of a No Deal exit, by far the largest hit of all UK regions. Add to this the fact that 60% of our regional exports go to the EU, which is the joint second highest figure of any region in the UK, are now under threat from a No Deal Brexit. Nissan, of the region's largest employers, has given a warning that WTO (World Trade Organisation) rules "will have serious implications for British industry," and that their business staying in the UK is dependent on physical disruption to trade that would likely be brought about in a No Deal scenario.
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I found my chance to see whether my concerns could be assuaged when I stumbled across campaigners of the Brexit Party on a walk near Seaham harbour. One of these campaigners claimed to be standing as a parliamentary candidate for the local area. I began by asking how the North East will continue making as much money as at present after No Deal. To this I received a three-pronged answer; "we will re-open the ports … we will trade tariff-free with the Commonwealth … we will re-invest in our fisheries". I remained baffled at the first point even after they tried to explain to me that apparently the rest of the World is discouraged from entering northern English ports and that they were somehow closed. These arguments came despite the existence of such huge working ports as Port of Tyne and Teesport. I pointed out that we already trade with the Commonwealth and that many of those nations were successfully trading within other blocs (e.g. AANZFTA), regardless of the fact that less than 10% of our exports go to the Commonwealth compared with over 40% to the EU. Furthermore, Indian officials, for example, set out that a free trade deal must come with free movement of people for its citizens, so it didn't seem like the Commonwealth was eagerly awaiting some increased form of free trade with the UK. Regarding fisheries, I said that I'd read about the Common Fisheries Policy having its issues, but that it seemed far more complicated than simply "re-investing in our fisheries" - the UK government sells much of the UK's fishing quotas to large foreign vessels for example, a reality that was brought on by the UK government and is not influenced by the EU.
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During our discussion, I found that anytime I quoted a fact or figure, the topic was either changed or the figure dismissed as "Project Fear" fabricated by "biased politicians and businesses". Eventually, after 45 minutes of toing and froing, I was taken aside by one of the campaigners. They told me that "it'll all be fine" as "British Spirit" and "Commonwealth Spirit" will prevail, that I am young and "shouldn't be so pessimistic". I pointed at a nearby Union Jack, flying above the seafront and asked whether the Scots or a majority of Northern Irish would see it that simply, given the recent increase in appetite for Scottish independence and Irish unification respectively. I got a radical response; "...it's worth it if Scotland becomes independent and if Northern Ireland unifies with the Republic of Ireland if that is the price to pay". They followed up with "Once you've had a sniff of freedom you don't forget it, we will be free!". Despite the imminent freedom the UK is about to obtain, the campaigner admitted that "we will probably suffer for five to 10 years". I asked them if they believed in that statement how could they proudly support the Brexit Party. "I'm happy to suffer five to 10 years, we will get through this, we always have," I asked them if they would say the same to my potentially soon to be unemployed friends working for Nissan and my ex-logistics colleagues who delivered parts for Nissan who have young families to feed and bills to pay. To this, they replied the same repeated line "yes, they will suffer, but they will be fine". Only then the parliamentary candidate overheard this and nervously added that they believe we will not suffer.
While our conversation remained civil, and we were able to shake hands by the end of it, I was not left feeling confident that Brexit is something that will benefit the North East. Especially if the Brexit Party continues to gain traction and could possibly represent my constituency after the next general election.