Parliament resumed after its summer recess last week, and Brexit is firmly back at the top of the agenda. While former foreign secretary Boris Johnson is tirelessly trying to throw the prime minister under the bus, both the Brexit secretary Dominic Raab and EU leaders are preparing for the possibility of a no-deal scenario. Meanwhile, GMB, one of Britain’s biggest unions, has called for a vote on the final deal, and there’s increasing pressure on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to back it.
Whatever the outcome, Brexit uncertainty is bad for business. UK manufacturing has hit a 25-month low, with job cuts and a fall in exports. To make matters worse, last month the Bank of England raised interests rates for the first time since 2009, which for the average consumer means higher borrowing costs on loans and mortgages. And to top it all off, the pound is on its arse.
Brexit-backing northern seaside resort Blackpool is one of Britain’s most deprived areas and exactly the kind of consumer-reliant town that these developments could hit hardest. And yet, walking through the streets on a drizzly Monday morning, there couldn’t be more signs of the opposite. It’s barely midday and the Wetherspoon’s just off the town’s promenade is packed, the amusement arcades are brimming with sugar-rushing giddy teenagers and every psychic we approach for a reading is booked up until November (I assume it’s nothing to do with my humble request to find out what the future holds for Britain post-Brexit).
So could it be that Brexit has had a positive effect on the people who voted most unanimously for it? Has a weaker pound increased tourism within Britain? Or is Blackpool simply full of people running away from reality and into the bright lights of the town’s famous illuminations?
I spoke to holidaymakers, shop owners and Blackpool natives to find out.
Mark Yates, souvenir shop owner
VICE: Hey Mark, how long have you been working in this shop?
Mark: Since about half ten this morning.
Could you describe Blackpool in a sentence?
A small town with inner city problems.
How has Brexit affected your business?
All our stuff is bought in the far east in dollars, so the cost changes on a weekly basis because there’s no confidence in the pound. A fridge magnet that cost you 28p now costs 45p, and you’ve got 20 percent VAT on it instead of 17.5 percent. These are not third-world issues, but what it means is our margins are now narrower, so the prices go up and people don’t buy as much. It’s knock-on all the way through.
Sami H and Faisal Shams, day-tripping international students
Is this your first time in Blackpool?
Faisal: This is my first time.
Sami: It's my fourth! I’ve been coming since 2014.
How does Blackpool compare to other places in the UK?
Faisal: Some cities are quite similar to each other, and you can see the same people – I can see the diversity here.
Sami: The weather is better than Manchester.
Do you reckon the EU referendum has affected tourism in Blackpool?
Sami: Definitely: I think there’s more people coming. You can see already in Manchester the prices all changing – everywhere you go it’s 10p to 20p extra on everything, whereas here prices are the same.
Leon Stansfield and Kezia Evans, Blackpool natives
What’s the biggest misconception about Blackpool?
Leon: Have you seen the Sainsbury’s as you come out of the train station? I think of that as the biggest cock tease that’s ever existed – you get off the train and you see that and you think, 'This place is really nice.' Then you go two minutes down the road and there’s a bunch of crackheads saying, "Have you got 20p so we can buy some Spice?"
I see. Has Blackpool changed since the EU referendum?
Leon: Yeah, it’s definitely been on the decline from what I’ve seen. It's got very violent and hostile.
Kezia: Everyone’s still being racist and telling immigrants to get out of the country.
Is that tourists or people who live here?
Kezia: It’s a bit of both – you get tourists that get drunk every week down the road from us that are all pretty aggressive, but the locals are too.
Any other reasons for Blackpool’s decline in opinion?
Leon: I definitely think there’s a correlation in the decline of this town and the increase of BGMedia [a YouTube channel that posts videos of young MCs from Blackpool]. As soon as people like Afghan Dan and Little T got big, I saw the groups of teenagers growing in number, going through town, smashing windows and picking fights on people.
John and Diane Eades, holidaymakers
You seem to be having a lovely time. When did you first start coming to Blackpool?
Diane: About 30 years ago, now.
How’s it changed since then?
Diane: A lot of places have shut down and there’s a lot of beggars on the streets.
John: It’s not just here – all the seaside places have gone downhill. We lived in Skegness for years, and that’s gone downhill. And Great Yarmouth, Cleethorpes – they all have.
Why do you think that is?
Diane: Wages are crap.
John: Since they’ve opened the floodgates, this country’s gone, and I blame Tony Blair for that. At one time you could walk from one job to another. Them days are gone – you’re lucky to get one. The people who run this country are too simple, they haven’t got it up there [points to head].
Sunny, fish and chip shop owner
How long have you been working in Blackpool?
Sunny: I’ve had this shop for four years.
How’s business been since the EU referendum?
There was a bit of a dip when the country voted to leave the EU, but because the weather’s been nice this summer I’ve had more customers than last year.
Do you rely on Eastern European workers?
Yeah, I do. They’re still working, but after the Brexit vote they’re not really happy. They want to go back to their own countries and start their own businesses there.
Do you think there’ll be more tourists post-Brexit?
No, I don’t think so. There’ll only be people from England, Scotland or Wales. I don’t think Europeans will keep coming like they have done before.
Darren Jeffries, '10p Bingo' proprietor
How long’s this shop been here?
Darren: My father's the oldest tenant on the promenade – he's been here for 42 years.
Wow, that’s ages. What kind of people come to Blackpool?
It’s getting more cosmopolitan; there’s more Europeans. The English are tending to go abroad a lot, mainly as the accommodation just doesn’t seem to be quite right. Some B&Bs are very old and rundown, so when they do come they’re not happy and don’t come back.
What do the papers never tell you about Blackpool?
The council are running down this area so they can force compulsory purchases to sell it to big businesses.
How’s Brexit affecting tourism in seaside towns in Britain?
When the deal actually goes through and the general public know where they stand, then they’ll feel more comfortable about spending the money that they have. At the moment, I feel they’re holding back a lot.
Do you talk about Brexit with your fellow business owners?
No, we don’t talk about Brexit. We’re already reading about it, we’re getting it shoved down our throats every minute of every day.
Catherine Stansfield, horse-drawn carriage owner
Perhaps you can answer an age-old question for me: who normally rents a horse-drawn carriage on the seaside?
Catherine: Families, mostly – and the occasional stag and hen-do.
How’s business been since the EU referendum?
It’s improved in the last few years, but I think that’s because they introduced the Cinderella carriages rather than traditional open-top ones.
How do you think Brexit might affect Blackpool?
I think there’ll be more people coming to Blackpool than going abroad.
Mark Powell, hotelier
What’s been the most surprising thing about running a hotel since you opened two years ago?
Mark: We’re getting a lot more foreign visitors from Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Arabians aren’t coming for your classic sort of visitor places anymore – London or Edinburgh. They’re coming here.
How did you vote in the referendum?
I voted to leave. But whereas a lot of people say they voted because of the immigration, I actually voted for Brexit for industry. I’m an aerospace engineer by trade, and I wanted industry brought back into this country.
Do you think Theresa May is going to be able to deliver the Brexit you want?
She wasn’t for Brexit originally, so I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be "softly, softly" with her.
How’s Brexit affecting seaside towns?
I think it’s a plus in this industry, because if people don’t go abroad so much they’re still going to want to do something.
Do you talk about Brexit with your guests?
That would be unprofessional, but if they bring it up I listen.
What do you like most about Blackpool?
It's British tradition.
All photography by Chris Bethell.