Pro-Brexit town keen to leave E.U. after Conservative win
TORONTO -- Residents of a seaside town that voted overwhelmingly for the U.K. to leave the E.U. in 2016 have expressed mixed feelings about the state of Brexit even after Boris Johnson’s electoral sweep.
Residents of Ramsgate, which is known for its tourism and fisheries industry, voted overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit by a margin of 64 per cent – one of the highest recorded in the referendum. Now that Johnson and his Conservative party have won a majority, the Brexit mandate looks poised to deliver after three years of upheaval and tense cross-negotiations with Brussels.
However, even for the staunch Brexiteer residents of Ramsgate, there is bitterness over the government’s past infighting over process and trade deals -- and concerns over what the future will bring.
Fisherman Steve Barratt said he missed out on tens of thousands of dollars every year due to E.U. quotas that he said forced him to throw already-caught fish back into the ocean. He said the past three years could’ve been spent regaining control of British waters.
“We have to return (the fish) to the sea, and they’re dead. And there’s no conservation anywhere in the world in putting dead fish back,” he told CTV News.
A strong supporter of Brexit, Barratt said he is happy with the election results but still worried that, in the future, fishermen like him could be used as a “bargaining chip” in trade deal negotiations.
Craig Mackinlay, the Conservative MP candidate for South Thanet, which includes Ramsgate, believes that the country was “always going to leave” the E.U. but expressed frustration with the process.
“Why on earth can’t we have a free trade agreement with the E.U., just as the E.U. has managed to do with Canada, Japan, South Korea, eminently possible, tariff free?” MacKinlay said.
It’s not just trade deals and tariffs that drove the Brexit vote in Ramsgate. Concerns over migrants and the automatic “right to live and work” of E.U. citizens in the U.K. has been a talking point for many.
“If people [have] got skills the country needs, then fine bring them in, but to let people who have skills whatsoever in is ridiculous [and the] country can’t afford it,” one resident said.
Ramsgate is one of 50 towns to benefit from a $1-billion fund for infrastructure Johnson pledged to minimize potential economic fallout from Brexit.
The seaport is a known destination for migrant smuggling as well. Eleven migrants were found in a small boat off the shores of Ramsgate in March, and two men plead guilty to conspiring to smuggle four migrants in January.
Ramsgate was also the designated seaport to be in the government-promised “no-deal Brexit ferry service,” which then-Transport Secretary Christ Grayling signed with a company that did not actually have any ships in its fleet. The arrangement fell through shortly afterwards and cost at least six million pounds, and caused an uproar in Parliament, according to Sky News.
The Conservative Party won a majority in Thursday’s general election with 365 seats, up 47 from the previous election in 2017.