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We Went to the Most Eurosceptic Place in the UK to See How People Are Celebrating

Earlier this year, Romford was declared the country's most pro-Leave town.

by Angus Harrison, Photos: Harry Hitchens
24 June 2016, 3:33pm

Far from the sticky air and furious clouds of the past week, the weather over Romford market this morning was decidedly clear. The east London town has found itself a focal point of the referendum, following a YouGov poll released in February of declaring it the most Eurosceptic part of the country.

The market town, nestled in the borough of Havering, is otherwise notable for its local MP Andrew Rosindell, who campaigned at the last general election with a bulldog dressed in a Union Jack waistcoat. Given that the UK has just voted to leave the EU, it goes without saying that the sentiments of Romford are far from isolated.

Still, it presented the best opportunity to gauge the feelings among an area with a high density of Leave voters, so I headed there this morning to chat to some residents.

George

Heading down the middle of the market, we made a beeline for a fish stall at the furthest end. EU fishing regulations have played a big role in shaping anti-EU arguments, so we expected fishmongers in the most Eurosceptic part of the UK to have been celebrating.

But chatting to George, a young "out" voter working on his dad's stall, his mood was closer to incredulity. "I hope it's the right outcome, but we've yet to find out," he said. "David Cameron's already resigned, hasn't he?"

His dad's voice joined him from over his shoulder: "He's just a baby throwing his toys out the pram."

George's reasons for wanting to leave were clearly business-minded. "The EU have ruined the fish trade, absolutely, when our people can only go fishing two days a week and the rest of the EU can go whenever they want," he explained, adding that he felt the campaign had been patriotic rather than racist. "We've got to feed our own people," he said.

That said, when asked whether he thought anything would actually change, he seemed less sure: "I don't really trust politicians."

David

Further up the strip, we arrived at Dave's Jewellery, a stall that's been in business since 1972. On asking David, its owner, which way he voted, he stuttered a cautious response. "I decided, at the last minute, out." He felt that despite being labelled overwhelmingly Eurosceptic, the mood in Romford was far from emphatic. In fact, "I don't think people will mind that much," he said. On whether he thinks the outcome of the referendum will impact his stall, he shook his head. "No, the market is dying – they are dying everywhere. I just come here to socialise now."

Before we moved on, David was keen to show us a cutting from a Polish magazine that dates back 35 years, featuring a photograph of his stall at its original location on Petticoat Lane. "You see," he said, "my stall is famous across Europe."

Thatcher House

One of Romford's Eurosceptic landmarks is the aptly-named Margaret Thatcher House, headquarters for Havering's triumphant Leave campaign. Today, the building was quiet. The doors were closed and there were no signs of the Brexiteers other than a stack of bright red "VOTE LEAVE" placards piled up on the doorstep. It was then that an elderly couple, passing on the other side of the road, yelled "Vote Leave!" with a jubilant laugh.

When we crossed over to meet them, the husband said, "Germany and France wanted us in, but now we're out they'll have to make up the money to support Macedonia and the like." In his eyes, Europe was a nice idea, but one that was doomed to fail. "I used to drive a cab round London, and if I ever asked a passenger are you from America, they'd say, 'No, I'm from Texas.' They'd never say the United States."

A lot has been said about the sizeable generation gap between voters. But the response from the wife signified more of a disheartening ambivalence. When I asked why she had voted to leave, she said that "it should stop a few immigrants coming in". When I asked why immigration was such a big deal, she said, "Oh, at our age it doesn't really concern us, to be honest."

Audra

Working our way back through the central shopping mall we met Audra, one of Romford's few Remainers. "Economic uncertainty and the threat of Russia," she stated as her reasons for voting to stay. "It's going to affect us. Prices will go up, the pound will go down, holidays will be more expensive. Exports and imports will be impacted. I'm from Lithuania, but I've been living in the UK for 19 years now and I'm a British citizen."

I asked Audra if she still felt confident in her identity as a Brit and a European. "Yes, absolutely," she said. "I am British."

Graham and Penny

Winding back to where we began, we returned to Romford market, now a little busier than when we'd first arrived. Here, we stopped at Penny's – a market stall selling household goods. Graham, working alongside his daughter Penny at the stall, spoke confidently and quickly about the importance of Britain caring for its elderly, and of concentrating on internal affairs before those of the rest of the world.

"There have been so many changes in Romford over the past 15 years, and they've happened so quickly. Too much immigration too quickly," he said. "We've got some lovely people here who we've got to know, but we've got to be sensible."

As we left to leave, Graham briefly blocked our path and insisted, "Romford is the friendliest place you'll ever come to – I must make that clear."

It's obvious, from whichever angle you take, that the decision to leave the EU has its roots somewhere far closer to home than Brussels. For many communities it's been a response to widespread and long-term disenfranchisement – an outlet after years of waiting for one. That's probably why the voters we spoke to – give or take the odd comment about immigration or Germany – seemed almost non-plussed. Britain has left Europe, the Prime Minister has resigned, Scotland and the Labour leader may soon follow suit, but Romford market feels much today like it did the day before. The most Eurosceptic part of the UK is out Europe, and been left simply sceptical.

@a_n_g_u_s

To see all our articles about the EU Referendum, check out Europe: The Final Countdown.