Lincolnshire Talks: Brexit – a return to a land of hope and glory or a looming disaster?

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Now that the phoney war has finally ended with Prime Minister Theresa May triggering Article 50 on March 29, we can now look forward to two years of negotiations before officially leaving the European Union. What sort of deal we end up with by March 2019 is another question.

Vocal Brexit supporters, dubbed Brextremists by some Europhiles, would have you believe that discussions with our neighbours across the Channel will be plain sailing, with a new, “bespoke” arrangement at the end of the negotiations, and a chance to revive “a buccaneering spirit, un-cowed and unfettered by EU bureaucrats” across the rest of the world.

Ardent Remainers, mocked as Remoaners by some Brexiteers, have made no secret of their fears about what will happen to the UK outside the EU. Indeed, 100,000 pro-EU supporters protested in London last weekend under a ‘Unite for Europe’ banner.

As for Theresa May, in between announcements stating that “Brexit means Brexit” and embarrassing notes suggesting that the UK’s negotiating strategy would be “to have our cake and eat it”, she has kept her cards extremely close to her chest, aside from confirming the fact that Britain will leave the single market and customs’ union.

Meanwhile, a leaked EU negotiating strategy has suggested that the organisation will take Britain to the International Court of Justice if it tries to walk away without paying an estimated £50bn divorce bill.

On receiving the Article 50 letter, President of the Council of Europe Donald Tusk described the process that was about to unfold as “damage control” from the consequences of Brexit.

French President Francois Hollande was more blunt, stating that Brexit will be painful for the British.

But what can we really expect once we leave the EU? A return to a land of hope and glory? A global Britain? Or decades of uncertainty and a loss of influence on the world stage? Or even potentially irreversible economic and cultural damage?

The view from Lincolnshire MPs

Lincolnshire MPs on triggering Article 50

MPs in the county all supported the triggering of Article 50, although this perhaps masks some of the disquiet felt by some of our elected representatives.

Scunthorpe MP Nic Dakin admitted that he was “filled with sadness at the prospect of leaving the EU” while fellow Labour MP Melanie Onn, who represents Great Grimsby, made the important distinction that the UK was leaving the EU, not Europe itself.

Concerns are not confined to Labour circles, despite their division over how the party, and the country as a whole, should handle the Brexit process.

Former Sleaford and North Hykeham MP Stephen Phillips, who voted Leave, resigned as an MP such was his displeasure at the PM’s “fundamentally undemocratic, unconstitutional” approach to leaving the EU.

Business confidence in Brexit

Perhaps a better indication of what Brexit will mean for Lincolnshire comes from businesses that trade on the continent.

Again, however, the picture is decidedly mixed.

Managing Director of Siemens in Lincoln Neil Corner. Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

The plummeting value of the pound following the Brexit vote has actually boosted exports for some Lincolnshire businesses.

Lincoln’s largest employer, Siemens, is one of those to have benefited from the weaker pound.

Neil Corner, managing director of Siemens Lincoln, told Lincolnshire Business earlier this week: “Although a weaker pound is helpful for exports and can increase or accelerate customer orders, which is no doubt good for our manufacturing business in Lincoln, overall the most important thing is for a sustained, stable environment to maintain future business and future investments.”

Lincoln-based Heritage Upholstery told Lincolnshire Business that sales to the EU of their products were significantly up over the past 12 months.

However, the company added that there had also been a financial impact from the weakening of sterling as we source much of our product from overseas markets.

Myles Shaw, owner of Grimsby-based Carpet Runners UK

Myles Shaw, owner of Grimsby-based Carpet Runners UK, was more upbeat, claiming that Brexit had been fantastic for his business, with sales to the US soaring.

However, some companies have not shared such positive Brexit experiences.

Fiskerton-based Ferry Ales Brewery slammed the government for deliberating withholding vital EU grants to small businesses, describing the putting of payments on hold as “ridiculous”.

And as previously reported, £130 million for Greater Lincolnshire from the current EU funding programme which runs from 2014 to 2020 remains in doubt.

Voice of the people

Much has been made of respecting “the will of the people” following the referendum.

In February, MPs from the now quarrelling Brexit select committee visited Boston to hear from businesses, councillors and local residents on what leaving the European Union would mean to the town.

Lincolnshire Reporter also caught up with some of the locals who were keen for Theresa May to “get on” with the Brexit process.

John Hardy, 66, was a very vocal Leave supporter, unhappy at perceived high levels of immigration in the town.

He said: “Basically this town has been absolutely flooded with immigrants.

“They’re everywhere.”

Fellow Brexit supporter Eileen Dunn, 62, added: “I’m not happy with how they say to you ‘you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that.'”

Another Leave voter, Margaret Woods, 79, said: “It’s full of everybody else apart from the Boston people.”

What deal do you hope the UK ends up with? Let us know in the comments below or by emailing [email protected]

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