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Why no one is talking about Brexit during the UK elections

Why no one is talking about Brexit during the UK elections
Why no one is talking about Brexit during the UK elections

 


An aerial photograph taken on June 11, 2024 shows a general view from Kirkby to Ashfield, ahead of the UK general election on July 4. France Media Agency

SKEGNESS, United Kingdom — Britain's last general election was all about leaving the European Union, but this time Brexit is barely mentioned — and residents of the anti-EU bastion of Skegness aren't surprised.

“Labour are avoiding it because they didn’t want it, the Conservatives are avoiding it because they screwed it up,” Danny Brookes, 58, former mayor of this English seaside town, told AFP unlucky.

Add to that Brexit fatigue and the barely healed scars of the divisive vote and it's easy to understand why the main parties are largely avoiding the toxic issue ahead of the July 4 poll.

READ: British Prime Minister Sunak calls general election for July 4

“A bit like a terrible row in a family, it just takes a while before someone really wants to go near it again,” said Chris Grey, a Brexit expert at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a landslide victory for the Conservatives in 2019, pledging to “get Brexit done”, which saw the Boston and Skegness constituency return its Conservative MP with a largest majority.

England's east coast region of Lincolnshire recorded the highest proportion of votes in favor of Brexit in the 2016 referendum, when 75% of voters chose to leave the bloc.

The influx of migrants from Eastern Europe, coupled with general discontent with the political establishment over low wages and lack of jobs, were seen as fueling the vote.

READ: UK's Sunak to unveil manifesto promising 'financial security'

Johnson led Britain out of the EU in early 2020, before being forced out of office due to numerous scandals which have since left fellow Brexit supporter Rishi Sunak in 10 Downing Street.

To drop

Brookes voted for Brexit but believes that promises made by his main supporters during the campaign – notably on immigration, which has since reached record levels – have not been kept.

“A lot of what they said didn’t come true. They have failed us,” the councilor said at the cafe he owns on Skegness’s main street, citing the accommodation of asylum seekers in the town’s hotels.

Others in Skegness, home to 21,000 people and where rides and amusement arcades compete for space with sweet shops and ice cream stands, express similar regrets about Brexit.

Pete Ashmore, a 70-year-old retiree, voted for Brexit eight years ago, but says he would vote differently if given the chance again.

“It seemed like a good idea,” he said on the walk, with two British flags flying from a basket attached to the front of his mobility scooter.

“But I suspected it wouldn’t work, and I think they were right.”

Polls now suggest that most Britons think Brexit was a mistake. Those who continue to argue that this was the right thing to do tend to say that the Conservatives did not implement it correctly.

“(So) for conservatives, there’s not much to be gained from talking about it,” says Grey, a professor of organizational studies and author of “Brexit Unfolded.”

The Liberal Democrats, the smaller opposition parties, have pledged to re-enter the European single market in the future.

The Scottish National Party would seek re-entry into the EU if Scotland, which largely voted against Brexit, were granted independence, although that prospect is not on the horizon at the moment.

Join?

Labor leader Keir Starmer, a former Brexit spokesman who voted “remain” and wanted a second vote on the issue, ruled out a return to the European single market, the customs union or free movement.

But he wants to negotiate a closer relationship with the EU, including a new defense pact.

This future relationship could include a youth mobility program recently proposed by the European Commission, which would make it easier for Britons aged 18 to 30 to live, study and work in the EU.

Labor talks little about Europe, however, because that would allow the Conservatives to lead the entire Brexit campaign, Gray said, while the economy and health care are voters' top concerns.

“You could say that politicians are just reacting to the public mood,” he added.

In Skegness, Mandy Mann, 55, enjoying a plate of fish and chips and mushy peas in the town centre, thinks Brexit should be on the ballot paper.

“We pay more now than when we were in the EU,” she says, citing a cost-of-living crisis that has crippled households with high energy bills and mortgage repayments, adding that she would vote for to come back.

Gray suspects that if Labor secures a large majority as expected, Labor MPs in the Starmer government could then push for closer alliances with Europe, ultimately putting Brexit back on the agenda.


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“There will potentially be an important discussion on re-accession in view of the 2029 elections,” he predicts.

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