In a remote, eurosceptic English town, locals applauded the shooting-down of the prime minister’s Brexit plan. Now they want to bring on a “no deal” departure.
They will be angry if they do not get it, as scheduled, on March 29 — despite dire warnings from the government about the economic fallout.
In Berwick-upon-Tweed, a historic battleground town near the Scottish border, local councillor Karin Graham, 54, held a party on Tuesday night for locals to watch Theresa May’s Brexit plan being voted down.
But even with May’s plan in tatters, the Brexiteers feared their views could yet be ignored. MPs are now due to vote on no deal or a postponement of Britain’s departure.
Any further delay to Brexit could spark “rioting on the streets”, said Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the local Conservative MP.
The cosy living room in this wind-swept spot — the most northern town in England — seemed a world away from the parliament in London, 350 miles (560 kilometres) to the south.
“I’m pleased that this deal has been rejected,” said Colin Hardy, a retired oil industry executive of 68, after watching the vote.
“I hope that our elected members of parliament have the integrity to honour the will of the people which was to leave on the 29th of this month,” he added.
“If we fail to do that, we have given away democracy.”
Voters in Berwick-on-Tweed — population 12,500 — backed leaving the EU by 54 to 46 percent in the 2016 referendum.
Berwick is well versed in wrangling between distant powers over sovereignty — as UK eurosceptics have sparred with Brussels over Brexit.
The town has changed hands between English and Scottish rulers at least 13 times over the centuries.
This history of conflict and uneasy peacetime oozes from its old stone streets, with remnants of its castle and the town’s defences still visible among its elegant facades.
Locals proclaim a long-held sense of independence, exhibited today in a distrust of both Brussels and London, and an eagerness to get on with Brexit.
To that end, guests at the viewing party said May must step down after her defeat.
“She should resign and just do the honourable thing,” said Ian Dods, 62, who runs a local bed-and-breakfast.
But they feared that May — who supported staying in the EU in the referendum — could undermine the result.
With a majority of British lawmakers appearing opposed to a no-deal scenario, these eurosceptics doubted such a departure would happen.
They suspected a plot by MPs to postpone Brexit and hold a second referendum that could keep Britain in the EU.
“We need a new driving force,” party host Graham said. “And that’s got to be a Brexiteer.”
Brexit in hard times
Berwick’s pro-EU minority remained hopeful about the possibility of another popular vote on Brexit.
“I’d like to see it go back to another referendum… because I think we were totally misled” about the consequences, said Brian Douglas, 71, the town’s ceremonial mayor.
He said Brexit would only worsen the region’s economic deprivation.
Once one of the most prosperous merchant towns in Britain, Berwick has hit hard times.
It has some of the country’s lowest wages and among its highest unemployment and ratios of elderly people.
It is perhaps most famous now for its grand 28-arch viaduct over the River Tweed on the main railway between London and Edinburgh.
But signs of economic hardship afflict the town centre, with numerous used goods stores and vacant businesses.
“We’ve felt let down and left out,” Douglas said. “Remain is the best thing for… the long term future.”
For others, Brexit represents an opportunity for the run-down town.
“You get that feeling you’re forgotten about,” said Derek Sharman, 68, a local historian and tour guide.
He supports leaving the EU and said he would have liked lawmakers to approve May’s deal.
“We’ve all had enough,” he said. “Business needs to get on with things and you can’t go on with the nonsense of extending it for a year… what is that going to do?”
The eurosceptics in Graham’s living room meanwhile had their sights set on leaving the EU without a deal.
“In any negotiation, there has to be a point when you walk away,” said Hardy.
Like many of the staunchest Brexiteers, he brushed off doubts about the chaos that businesses and officials have warned could come from a no-deal exit.
“We, as individuals, will probably not notice any significant difference.”