Monday, July 6, 2020

In the "capital of Brexit", the departure from the EU has become a non-event

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Keith in front of his kiosk selling The Sentinel, in Stoke-on-Trent, the morning of January 31. PHILIP HATCHER-MOORE FOR "THE WORLD"

The shops in the center of the Longton district in Stoke-on-Trent, in the center of England, are more empty than usual. "Usually, Friday is the busiest day, but this is calm …", Kiki Locker, a 25-year-old esthetician, is surprised when he nervously pulls out his cigarette on the porch of his living room as an icy drizzle falls. For the young woman with the cutthroat face and the long orange nails, the explanation can only be the coronavirus which prevails for a few weeks in China. "We only talk about that. "

The departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, which will be formalized Friday, January 31 at 11 p.m. London time, is no longer an event in the city which had voted for the "Leave" at almost 70% in the 2016 referendum. A record for an urban area in the country, which earned Stoke-on-Trent the nickname "capital of Brexit". But, three years later, while the national media make their headlines on "D-Day", the local newspaper The Sentinel does not even mention it, preferring to focus on the juicy profits of a parking lot near hospitals in the town.

"I just want it to end"

"I'm just sick of it. It took forever, now I just want it to end "breathes Kiki Locker, who nevertheless remains in favor of a divorce between London and Brussels. Many Stoke-on-Trent residents share this finding today. The city, the merger of six municipalities, carries the stigma of deindustrialization. This ancient historic basin of coal mining and the steel industry, of which ceramic factories were the pride, became one of the most underprivileged regions of England. The average income of its residents is significantly lower than the national average and its unemployment rate is 5.3%, while it reaches 3.8% across the United Kingdom. Many historic buildings are now abandoned, "for sale" signs are blossoming on charming little red brick houses, while traditional shops have given way to betting and gambling establishments.

Alan Shakespeare, butcher in Stoke-on-Trent, January 31.
Alan Shakespeare, butcher in Stoke-on-Trent, January 31. PHILIP HATCHER-MOORE FOR "THE WORLD"

"We cannot blame Europe for the industrial decline", however, tempers Allan Shakespeare, a slender 67-year-old butcher who has lived in the Longton district since 1995. For him, support for the "Leave" in the city is mainly linked to immigration. And although the United Kingdom is not part of the Schengen area, the original sin of the EU is, in his eyes, the abolition of borders. Still convinced of the merits of the Brexit in favor of which he voted, he will not celebrate it this January 31. "Honestly, there aren't really any reasons. "

Even among supporters of the other camp, the time is no longer in combat. "I just want to end it all, get out of limbo", plague Lottie Parry, 21, a student at the University of Staffordshire. Like her friend Daniel Suzuki, 23, with whom she is organizing a cake sale on campus on Friday, the young woman with the long brown braid and clear eyes had spoken for the "Remain".

Lottie Parry, 21, voted to stay in the European Union.
Lottie Parry, 21, voted to stay in the European Union. PHILIP HATCHER-MOORE FOR "THE WORLD"

During the legislative elections of December 12, 2019, Stoke-on-Trent, former fief of Labor, switched to the conservative camp for the first time in 80 years. "When the new local elected official (member of the Tories) came to thank us for his election, I told him to thank Jeremy Corbyn (the leader of Labor) ", pouffe this sexagenarian, who voted for the "Leave", crossed Thursday evening in front of the Duke William pub, in the popular district of Burslem. Between two puffs of his cigarette, he deplores the lack of clear positions of the leader of the opposition on Brexit.

Before the 2016 referendum, the divorce from the Union was not on the minds of city residents, said Kiki Locker. But it has become synonymous with hope … before losing all its splendor, thanks to discussions perceived as endless between London and Brussels. "Things had to change here in one way or another", argues the esthetician to explain support for Brexit. And, for her, if the initial craze has disappeared, the hope has not completely evaporated: "But it is not excluded that I will change my mind in the coming months. "

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