Why many British voters are having Brexit regrets – PBS NewsHour
JUDY WOODRUFF: In what was perhaps the most consequential decision in Britain this century, voters are now having second thoughts about their choice to leave the European Union.
A new opinion poll shows a majority of British people now want to stay, and business leaders are warning their once flourishing economy will flounder unless the right compromise is reached with the E.U. during exit negotiations.
Add to that a deeply divided government after the recent election has left a hung Parliament, and it has become harder for many to keep calm and carry on.
Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.
MALCOLM BRABANT: Aldeburgh in Eastern England, this is Brexit beach. The town’s centuries’ old fishing tradition is on its deathbed. In common with kindred coastal communities around the country, fishermen voted to leave the European Union. They believe excessive regulation from Brussels is killing their industry.
One year after Britain’s so-called independence day, Mark Foreman is worried that the country’s commitment to Brexit is wavering.
MARK FOREMAN, Fisherman: I thought that would improve the fishing situation, but now I have got my doubts. I would have still come out anyway for anything else. I want the country to be run by British people, not by the E.U. I think there’s too many people who are in power who are against Brexit, and I think there are so many people with money tied up in Europe. They just don’t want to come out.
MALCOLM BRABANT: The government has promised to revitalize the fishing industry post-Brexit, but, in the current climate, Kirk Stripling fears betrayal.
KIRK STRIPLING, Fisherman: I’m really afraid that we will be sold down the river. They will do a deal over something else and sacrifice us fishermen. We’re in a ludicrous situation, where we only catch what is in season at the time and which is on our doorstep. And quite often, we can have loads of the fish in the sea right here and we have got no quota to catch it. So we sit here and starve to death, while the fish swim by.
MALCOLM BRABANT: Polar opposite views about Europe prevail 80 miles away in Cambridge, a historic seat of learning and innovation.
This is Britain’s Silicon Valley, whose ethos is that science is collaborative and requires an international, frontier-free mentality. But campus director Professor Michael Wakelam fears its cutting-edge biotech research and development could be jeopardized by what some perceive as the xenophobic nature of Brexit.
MICHAEL WAKELAM, Barbraham Institute: We will have a reduced access to the talent pool within Europe. And, secondly, what Brexit says about our approach as a country is that people no longer want to work with us. There is a perception that Britain is no longer a welcoming place for talented people to come.
MALCOLM BRABANT: Cambridge-based entrepreneur David Cleevely specializes in turning great ideas into profitable businesses. A self-proclaimed angel investor, he disputes the Brexit mantra that leaving the E.U. would enable British companies to exploit untapped markets in the rest of the world.
DAVID CLEEVELY, Entrepreneur: We do business in some of the most difficult countries, in Pakistan, or in Nigeria or other countries, for example, in South America. And the amount of extra margin there is there for increasing those exports is, quite frankly, limited.
My concern about Brexit is that we have a big market just a few miles away, and we’re not going to be able to access it as freely as we could before.
MALCOLM BRABANT: According to a new opinion poll, the result of the Brexit referendum would be reversed if it was held today. The survey showed that a clear majority, 54 percent, would vote to remain within the European Union, and 46 percent would decide to leave.
It’s quite clear that many Britons regret the decision they made last year, and perhaps wish that the Brexit mechanism could be reversed. According to experts, that’s technically possible, but it’s unlikely to happen.
At Trinity College, professor Catherine Barnard believes the recent election, which left Britain with a minority government, has further undermined its hand during protracted talks to withdraw from Europe.
CATHERINE BARNARD, Cambridge University: In reality, the U.K. is in a somewhat weak bargaining position. The famous phrase is to have your cake and eat it, that it would be possible both to leave the European Union, but have the best bits of membership.
And it’s always been clear that the E.U. wasn’t going to allow this, because why would they? It’s not in the E.U.’s interests for a country to do what the U.K. did. And so it’s in the E.U.’s interests, as Chancellor Merkel has said, is to look after the E.U. 27, which means being tough on the U.K.
MALCOLM BRABANT: This monument commemorates the Great Fire of London, which wiped out much of England’s capital in 1666. Many economists fear that Brexit will have a similar impact on the city of London, Europe’s biggest financial services center.
The Japanese bank Nomura has said it will move some of its operations to Germany after Brexit. Others may join the exodus. This week, a city of London delegation is heading to Brussels to appeal for a free trade deal to preserve a sector that generates 12 percent of Britain’s income.
Jens Torpe is the Danish publisher of a daily business newspaper.
JENS TORPE, Publisher: I think, inevitably, that a number of bankers and institutions would have to move over to the continent. It’s about half-a-million people working here. I think you would see at least some 50,000 moving out. So, I think it’s going to have quite dramatic implications for the city.
The latest growth figures for Britain put us down on the same par as Italy. We used to be number one in the E.U., so everybody agrees that there is a crisis coming.
MALCOLM BRABANT: London’s cosmopolitan Borough Market is flourishing again after last month’s Islamist terror attack in which eight people were murdered. Some traders favor a so-called soft Brexit, which would permit the continued free movement of goods and people from the continent.
A hard Brexit would mean the reimposition of import tariffs and restrict the migration of E.U. citizens.
Marianna Kolookotroni from southern Greece has been running this stall for seven years.
MARIANNA KOLOOKOTRONI, Vendor: It is a little bit scary, I have to say. But I am trying to remain positive, and I really hope that nothing is going to change, because it’s not in the interests of anyone, really.
MALCOLM BRABANT: Thea Wunder is from Italy’s border with Austria, and she fears customs duty resulting from a hard Brexit would compound price increases on her meat products, caused by the British currency dropping in value after the referendum.
THEA WUNDER, Vendor: So the exchange rate, it has already affected it, so the euro has much more value than it used to be. So, I already — the business already loses money on that. And there’s only so much we can put our prices up to be still fair and competitive.
MALCOLM BRABANT: Britain’s tourism and hospitality industry generates 10 percent of the nation’s income. It relies heavily on foreign workers; 25 percent of the three million people in this field comes from the European Union.
The duty manager Bashir Issa is originally from Somalia.
BASHIR ISSA, Hotel Manager: British people are not working in the industry, and we need to have the European community or anywhere else in the world coming to us with their expertise, helping us and the industry to grow.
MALCOLM BRABANT: The industry wants to preserve freedom of movement, and is lobbying the government hard.
Spokesman Vernon Hunte:
VERNON HUNTE, British Hospitality Association: We believe that the economy must be put first, that the British industry, especially, of course, from our perspective, hospitality businesses, their needs and requirements are put first.
NICK WARD, Pro-Brexit Voter: Independent doesn’t mean isolated. It’s an interactive independence. Where do people get this idea that, when you’re independent, you’re closing your doors? They’re mad.
MALCOLM BRABANT: Nick Ward relishes the freedom of motorcycling. Independence and national sovereignty drive his continued support for Brexit.
NICK WARD: There’s more to it than economics. What Brexit actually means is that you want to control your own borders and you want to make your own laws. And that is your starting point for negotiations.
Why do so many people want to come here in the first place? Britain is probably the least racist or xenophobic country in all of Europe. Try being black and playing football in Poland. We want to interact and we want to maintain this beautiful island for everybody and generations to come.
MALCOLM BRABANT: British attitudes towards Europe are turning, as people belatedly agree with the so-called remainers that pre-referendum, pro-Brexit rhetoric was flawed.
Business leaders hope the prospect of economic trouble will convince the government to compromise with Brussels. On Brexit beach, Britain’s schisms are as deep as ever.
For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Malcolm Brabant in Aldeburgh.