Dining across the divide: ‘She thinks people come to Britain for a free house’

They disagreed on newspapers, immigration and Black Lives Matter. Can two strangers see eye to eye over dinner?

Amanda, 52, West Yorkshire


Occupation Amanda has long-term renal and heart failure, so is unable to work
Voting record Has voted Labour, Lib Dem and Green. Voted for Nick Clegg. Would probably vote Green if there was an election tomorrow
Amuse bouche She met her husband on Guardian Soulmates in 1995

Yolanta, 54, Bradford


Occupation Freelance accountant
Voting record Used to vote Labour; switched to Lib Dem in 2019
Amuse bouche She also speaks Lithuanian and Russian

For starters

Amanda I arrived first and chatted to the owners, who were lovely people.
Yolanta I thought she was a nice lady – that we would get along.
Amanda She was quite closed. I think she was ready for a confrontation.
Yolanta I ordered an orange juice, then chicken with a mushroom sauce.
Amanda I ordered gamberoni, then penne piccante.

Yolanta and Amanda

The big beef

Amanda We both read lots of papers, but I don’t read the Sun or the Mail. She said, “I read the Sun, but it’s not an intelligent paper.” Well, don’t read it then, would be my answer to that. She talked about the refugees arriving on the coast. My whole feeling is one of compassion. What a horrendous way to arrive in a country, desperate and alone. What have you left, to make that journey?

Yolanta All the people who come, they’re all young – 18, 20, 25 years old. They come here just to live on benefits. People come without documents, and why? Western countries cannot solve all the world’s problems. It is not a leftwing opinion, but it is my opinion.

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Amanda She thinks people come here for a free house, to live for free. I said, “But they only get £39 a week” and she replied, “Well they could buy a loaf of bread.” She was very fixed against people arriving. The day we met [which was before 27 people died in the Channel’s worst mass drowning], crossings from France were getting a lot of coverage. But I look at the big picture. I read about Calais and the horrendous things people go through, the violence there. I don’t see people arriving in dinghies as a threat. I just see them being kicked from country to country.

Yolanta They come here and they do not want to work, and they do not behave or dress as if they want to integrate.

Amanda I think if you read the Sun, you’re going to read a lot of bile.

Yolanta and Amanda

Sharing plate

Amanda She assumed I’d voted for Brexit. So it took the wind out of her sails, because I’m very pro-European and I voted to stay in. She said she had a whole speech ready to challenge my Brexit views. That was good in a way, because it broke the ice.

Yolanta Let’s say for travelling, I am very pro-European. But if you want to work here, or if you want to live here, or if you want to get benefits, that has to be controlled. A strict control.

Amanda I knew she’d been in the UK 15 years, and I was ready to think, “You’ve had freedom of movement, you’ve come here, and now I haven’t got freedom of movement.” But that’s not the kind of freedom of movement she minds.

Yolanta We agreed that it is very nice to travel in the EU. But she told me that it would be difficult to get medical treatment in EU countries now.

Yolanta and Amanda

For afters

Yolanta We disagreed on Black Lives Matter. That police officer, of course he was guilty. But I do not think that he wanted to kill George Floyd. The most important thing was that Floyd had a criminal record.

Amanda I thought, “Oh right, so you think he deserved to have a knee on his neck and die in that way?” I hate this term woke, but I am woke and I am aware of injustice in the world, and I find it really difficult not to have compassion. The way he died was abhorrent and wrong. You can’t take away someone’s right to justice because they’ve got a colourful background.

Yolanta and Amanda


Yolanta I think we agreed on many things and everything was very nice.

Amanda We’re so far apart that we couldn’t find any common ground. But it was really interesting, and, because of my health now, I’m just grateful for the experience. I’ve had four kidney transplants, bowel surgery, heart surgery, and I’m running on empty. But I’ve had a very rich, full, lovely life, and I do my very best to live day to day.

Yolanta and Amanda

Additional reporting: Naomi Larsson

• Amanda and Yolanta ate at Ristorante da Vito, Leeds

Want to meet someone from across the divide? Click here to find out more


Zoe Williams

The GuardianTramp

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