Britain’s general election is now just shy of two weeks away, as voters face a choice between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn. There are many issues at stake, but one predicament which continues to cloud over the region is Brexit. This area of the country has became somewhat well known for having thrown its weight behind Britain’s departure. In the North East, only Newcastle Upon Central voted remain, whilst Sunderland set the stage for that shock result.
In the years that have passed Some individuals in the region have since voiced anger at local MPs whom despite the majority views of their constituents, branding them “remoaners” whilst others have become frustrated at the inability of Parliament to “get Brexit done”, with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party winning the popular North East vote in the European Parliament elections. These factors have became a unique variable and challenge to the Labour Party’s traditional strong support in the area, which although likely to fare up well, is expected to lose votes.
In the run of it all, Brexit has been a popular venting point for anger and disillusionment against politicians and the elite. The weaponization of national sentiment and discontent has hastened an identity transition in the North which has saw it less affiliated with socialism, a long term output of the region’s industrial decline in the 1980s and the switch to Neoliberalism. However, despite the widespread disillusionment, apathy and distrust in the midst of that legacy, is Brexit the appropriate venting point for local frustrations?
What does Brexit offer the North East in real terms? The local supporter of it might state that it “takes back control of our country” and “reduces immigration”. Certainly, a feeling of national pride and security makes one feel confident, strong and prideful. It makes them feel part of a community and group, something which has been diminished in recent years through rampant individualism and ultra-capitalism. When there is nothing else to believe in, this obviously matters for a lot of frustrated people, but will it improve their lives? will it improve the region and their material circumstances? What will it change?
Whilst we should not hold the feelings of Brexit supporters in contempt, as many have done so, nevertheless it is important to be honest that Brexit as a whole is hugely detrimental to North East England and offers nothing outside of discourse and rhetoric. It will erode European investment into the region, it will risk key industries such as Nissan by cutting up supply chains and markets that depend on the broader continent, it remove grants and funding from the European Development fund, it will reduce the number of European international students coming into the region’s universities and pose an immediate 3% risk to the North East’S GDP.
When these points have been raised, they have often been dismissed as scaremongering. This stems from anger, distrust and a lack of public faith in politicians in the light of repeated dishonesty. This is understandable, people are fed up and they well within their rights to be. However, is Brexit the right avenue to vent that anger? Will Brexit change the conduct of politicians? Will Brexit restore public trust in government? Will Brexit solve the lingering North-South divide and the Westminster neglect of post-industrial regions? Will Brexit bring back jobs and solve the injustices of the 1980s? The answer is that it will do none of those things.
People in Northern England are searching to believe in something again after their confidence in socialism was crushed by Thatcher and the emerge of the modern, financial centric, neoliberal economy which has perpetuated inequality and regional divides. An ideological vacuum has been filled with nationalism, a brand of it which has so much anger and so much eagerness to hit back at authority for its negligence, yet is ultimately void of any kind of direction nor goal in what wants to achieve. In doing so, it paradoxically translates into support for those who do not sympathize with the region and its history, and in turn hurt it even further. By opting for Brexit the North has been rebellious and vocal, but it has not been strategic, prudent or visionary at all. People want to sit within their anger and feel justified, but have little interest in a serious vision for change.
Thus, the North East and the North as a whole for that matter, needs to start thinking about its future more seriously and with a lot more scope. At this point Brexit is unlikely to be stopped, yet regardless it will continue to blinker people, fixate attention and polarize society in a way which distracts from the real problems and their causes at hand. In essence, it is a distraction, a cloud which hangs over the region which prevents people from the situation around them. If the North East wants change, then downplaying Brexit and tribally championing those who are most seen to support it, who have no care for the North East, has to be a starting point.