Blackpool's Brexit voters revel in 'giving the metropolitan elite a kicking'

Voters in pro-Brexit Blackpool, where 67.5% wanted to leave the EU, tell Helen Pidd how they feel four days on from the referendum earthquake

Inspecting the odds for the England game outside a betting shop in central Blackpool, Eric Tomlinson was in fine spirits. At the age of 74, the retired weaver had finally experienced an election result he liked. “Why have we been paying these bureaucrats so many billions in Europe?” he asked, sucking hard on the end of his cigarette. “All this cash we’ve been handing over and we’ve had to blimmin’ do what they say.”

He was on a roll: “All these migrants have been coming from abroad and we can’t stop them because of the EU. It’s a load of muck. I don’t know why Edward Heath took us in there in the 1970s. Aneurin Bevan gave us the welfare state, but that was when everyone was British. Why should we keep the foreigners? I saw in the paper about a woman in London with nine kids: they knocked two houses together for them. What’s that about? England is for the English. To hell with foreigners.”

‘Why should we keep the foreigners?’ asked Eric Tomlinson.
‘England is for the English. To hell with foreigners,’ said Eric Tomlinson. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Tomlinson was among the 67.5% of voters in Blackpool who voted to leave the EU last week, making it the most Eurosceptic place in the north-west of England. Ian Atkinson was another. But the managing director of Coronation Rock, which makes the resort’s famous confectionery, had very different reasons. Immigration wasn’t a problem, he insisted. “Half of our workers are probably Polish. They’re great employees, really nice people.”

Instead, he believes his business will prosper outside the EU. “We import sugar to make our products. Typically we pay £420 a tonne … Of that, £256 goes to the EU to subsidise farmers and so forth. We could buy it much cheaper from elsewhere.” The pound weakening would help exports, he said. Plus, he said: “It was nice to give the metropolitan elite a bit of a kicking. There’s more to the UK than just central London.”

Atkinson’s only concern now was about a lack of political leadership. A former Labour voter who admired Tony Blair, Atkinson said he’d rather see Boris Johnson run Britain than Jeremy Corbyn. “You couldn’t trust him to run a garden centre. Today he’s put in a dozen new shadow ministers and I hadn’t heard of one of them. Where’s he scraped them up from? Diane Abbott is one of the only ones who stayed and she was literally in bed with him a few years back.”

James Cross at the Palma chip shop in Blackpool.
James Cross at the Palma chip shop in Blackpool. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Behind the counter in the Palma chip shop, James Cross, another leave voter, seemed quietly amused that the result had shocked Westminster. “They just didn’t see it coming. David Cameron got everyone on board, even Barack Obama, and thought that everyone would follow suit. Everyone’s shocked.” Now that the result is in, the government should roll their sleeves up and make the best of it, said the 39-year-old. “They will have to rally around and get together. There’s no point moaning. They powers-that-be will have to just get it sorted and crack on.”

In Blackpool younger voters had also plumped to leave. A few days on, 19-year-olds Matthew Hodgkinson and Josie Crooks seemed bemused at the chaos the country appeared to be in. Hodgkinson, a chef and trainee aerospace engineer, said he voted out for economic reasons: “It was because of the money we pay to stay in the EU, which I thought should stay in Britain. We could spend it on housing and healthcare – the NHS is close to collapsing.” Crooks, a student and waitress, said she thought Brexit was worth the risk. “I wasn’t sure which way to vote, even though I read a lot about it. In the end I thought: if we leave it’s not going to be the end of the world. You’ve got to take the chance.”

But was it worth it? Four days on, neither was sure; the fall-out had taken them both by surprise. “Have you seen that petition about London declaring independence so they can stay in the EU?” asked Crooks. “Sometimes I think they think they’re better than us down there.”


Helen Pidd North of England editor

The GuardianTramp

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