Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

East London ‘Brexit’ Backers Show Capital Split Over EU

Havering borough is a Euro-skeptic hotbed in a generally pro-EU capital. Here's why.

At the eastern edge of London, fishmonger Dave Crosbie is clear how he’ll vote in the June referendum on European Union membership: He wants out.

Foreigners are taking Britain’s jobs, he says, and its fish.

“If you want a bloke to lay the roads or whatever, there are plenty of people here who can’t get a job, but they can bring in someone from the Continent who can do it for a third off,” said Crosbie, who’s manned “The Better Plaice” stall in Romford Market since 1974, the year after Britain joined the now 28-member bloc. “They come over here, sleep six to a house and then they send the money back.”

Dave Crosbie, a fishmonger and stallholder at Romford market.
Dave Crosbie, a fishmonger and stallholder at Romford market.
Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

If there’s one part of England that Prime Minister David Cameron can count on to support continued EU membership, it’s cosmopolitan London, where YouGov Plc found 58 percent of the population back the “Remain” campaign. But on the easternmost fringes of the capital, the polling company ranks Havering, at the end of the District Line of the Tube, the London Underground rail network, as the most Euro-skeptic part of the country.

“The key is it’s the periphery: these are not people who are in the heart of things,” YouGov’s director of political & social research, Joe Twyman, said in an interview. “They’re too far out to take advantage of London and see the benefits of multiculturalism and internationalism.”

Capital Divide

Official statistics illustrate the divide: the mean income of Havering residents is 30,600 pounds ($43,400) a year, three-quarters of that for London as a whole. Its 6.5 percent unemployment rate is above the London average and the national 5.4 percent level.

YouGov’s findings correlate with election results. Havering is a stronghold of the anti-EU U.K. Independence Party, and the borough council in January approved a UKIP motion that Britain would be better off outside the EU, making it the first local-government body to do so.

The reasons for the Euro-skepticism are “immigration, immigration and immigration," said Angela Watkinson, a member of Cameron’s Conservative Party who’s one of three lawmakers representing Havering in the House of Commons, back down the District Line at Westminster. “The arguments are: ‘They’re taking all our houses, they’re taking all our jobs.”’

‘Keep Calm’

Travel west from Upminster station in Watkinson’s district into the heart of the capital and the picture is very different. Five of the ten most pro-European areas in YouGov’s ranking of 188 districts are in central London. In the City and Docklands, the capital’s financial districts, executives at international banks from HSBC Holdings Plc to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. back Cameron’s campaign to remain in the bloc on June 23.

That’s a world away from Crosbie, who has a “Keep Calm and Leave the EU” poster behind the counter that harks back to a World War II motivational campaign, while the U.K. and English flags fly from his stall. He complains that the EU “messed up the fishing industry,” citing the opening up of U.K. waters to other nations’ fleets.

Andrew Rosindell, the Conservative lawmaker who represents Romford, puts such sentiments down to “a deep sense of patriotism and national identity” that pervades his electoral district. Residents “are traditional in their views and they cherish what we have,” he says. Immigration “is allowing a cultural change in our country which nobody has sought.”

Market Day

Talk to people milling around Romford Market on a busy trading day, and it’s a recurring theme. 

“We’d be better off running our own country, rather than being run by Brussels,” said Steve Reeves, 55, who runs a candy stall. “We’d be able to close the doors a little bit. There’s a lack of services, doctors, schools, and that’s to do with the number of people in the country."

A stall at Romford market.
A stall at Romford market.
Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Official statistics show Havering has a much lower proportion of immigrants than London at large, though the gap has closed since the turn of the century. Havering’s proportion of foreign-born residents doubled to 12 percent between 2000 and 2014, while the London average rose to 36 percent from 32 percent.

“If we get out, we can shut our borders and stop people coming in,” said Tony Geary, 49, who runs a clothing stall. “At the same time, I get a lot of stuff in Paris. If we go, does that affect where my stock comes from?”

Lisa Johnson, a grocer, also has doubts about which way to vote. After detailing her concerns about immigration she said she’s leaning toward a “Remain” vote because “I’m scared that leaving the EU will leave us too vulnerable.”

‘Floodgates’ Open

At an Italian restaurant down the road, co-owner Aristotle Alexandrou, 36, said he’s “100 percent” in favor of people coming to Britain if they “put into the system.” A British-born son of Greek immigrants who’s in business with his Italian father-in-law, he’s also worried EU free-movement rules make Britain vulnerable to terrorism. “The floodgates have been opened and everyone has come across,” he said.

Two of the borough’s lawmakers also have mixed feelings. Watkinson said she’s a long-standing Euro-skeptic but will vote to remain, because of the protracted period of economic uncertainty a “Leave” vote might trigger. Jon Cruddas, an opposition Labour lawmaker whose Barking & Dagenham constituency spills over into a neighboring borough, says on his website he’s always been “a bit” Euro-skeptic, but thinks “the overall risks of leaving are too great.”

There are no doubts for Tory lawmaker Rosindell, who’s campaigned at successive elections since 2001 with his pet Staffordshire bull terriers, Spike and Buster, clad in Union-flag coats.

“We’re better off to be independent of the EU,” said Rosindell. “We’re going to spend as much time as we can campaigning and working to get the right result.”

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