Lancashire's great EU-turn
Stop the Brexit roller-coaster, we want to get off.
That is the deafening cry from an increasing number of voters across Lancashire with just 28 weeks left before Britain turns its back on Europe.
A new poll by YouGov appears to show that two years on from a unanimous vote to leave, the Red Rose county is slowly, but surely, changing its mind about life outside the EU.
While all 16 parliamentary constituencies voted for independence in the referendum, four are now in favour of remaining. And all 12 others have seen a significant shift towards staying.
Preston has seen the most dramatic swing of all, with Lancaster and Fleetwood, West Lancashire and Blackburn also turning from Leave to Remain.
Sir Mark Hendrick, MP for Preston and a committed European, admitted: “It doesn’t surprise me one little bit what this survey says. I believe that if there was another vote it would be a completely different result.”
The poll, commissioned by the pro-Remain pressure group Best For Britain, says Preston’s support for staying in Europe has shot up from 43.1 per cent in June 2016 to 54.3 per cent now.
Lancaster and Fleetwood has changed from 49.1 per cent Remain to 53.7 per cent, although MP Cat Smith, who has voted both for and against Brexit in the House over the past two years, told the Post: “Most politicians take polls these days with a pinch of salt after how bad they have been in recent times.”
West Lancs has changed its mind, says the YouGov survey, from 45.1 per cent Remain to 51.3 per cent. And Blackburn’s electors would vote 51.3 per cent to stay (from 45.1 two years ago) if they were given another chance.
Best For Britain says the figures show 112 Westminster constituencies which voted to leave have now changed their minds and want to remain.
Overall it would translate into 53 per cent support for staying in the EU compared with 47 per cent wanting to go - completely different to the 52-48 voting to leave two years ago.
And it is only the latest poll to suggest Britons might have been a little hasty when casting their referendum votes in 2016.
A recent Sky News poll revealed half of the country wants another referendum to vote on what happens next.
A slight majority - 51 per cent - felt Brexit would now be bad for the country.
The YouGov analysis, which began long before the term Brexit was coined, shows a steady change in the mood of the nation dating back as far as 2012 when almost two-thirds of people polled wanted Britain to quit Europe.
The referendum in 2016 ended in a 52-48 split in favour of Leave from 33.5m votes (72 per cent turnout).
Things started to change in March 2017 when Remain edged in front. And it has stayed that way throughout the past 18 months with the figures showing a 51-49 split three weeks ago.
One academic, Professor Simon Tormey, a British ex-pat and expert in European politics at the University of Sydney, said there was a very consistent 40 per cent who still favour Brexit. But the rest are not big fans.
When former Prime Minister David Cameron visited BAE Systems in Warton in 2016 at the start of his campaign to persuade the nation to stay in the EU, he predicted a Leave vote could hit companies like the aerospace giant hard.
He described Brexit as a “leap in the dark” which could place jobs at risk.
But more than two years later bosses of the military aircraft manufacturer, which employs 9,000 workers at its two Lancashire sites, are facing departure from Europe in a much more positive way.
“As we have relatively limited trade with the European Union, the resulting impact of Brexit on our business is likely to be limited, depending on the terms of any transition and final agreements with the EU,” said a company spokesman.
“We have a long history of collaborating through European partnerships. We will support the government in its aim to ensure the UK retains its key role in European security and defence post-Brexit and to strengthen bilateral relationships with key partners in Europe.
“This will be important for ongoing collaboration in the development of defence capabilities.”
Another big employer, Leyland Trucks, has close contacts with Europe - it sells wagons there and buys parts from countries in the EU.
But the American-owned company has chosen to keep its thoughts to itself throughout the arguments since the referendum.
A spokesman said: “Leyland Trucks has declined to comment on matters concerning Brexit. We have been contacted by a number of publications on the same subject, and we have been consistent in our decision to refrain from press comment.”
The North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce said businesses locally were agreed that the government needed “to stop squabbling in Westminster and get on with negotiating the best possible agreement with the EU.”
“When talking to local businesses it seems that opinions on Brexit are just as polarised as they were during the referendum period,” said Alan Welsh, policy manager at the Chamber.
“It may appear to be a strong negotiating tactic but walking away without a trade deal is very undesirable. We believe that ‘no deal’ would equate to a ‘bad deal’ for many reasons, including significant border delays, paralysis of investment, difficulties recruiting skilled workers, higher trade tariffs and increased production costs.”
The University of Central Lancashire educates around 2,000 students from overseas every year, although most are from outside the EU.
And while Brexit could have a direct effect on the university, it is not expected to have a major impact.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor Liz Bromley said: “It’s likely that our ‘divorce’ from the European Union will affect different universities in different ways.
“It is very possible that fewer EU students will choose to come to UK universities, although we don’t think this factor will affect UCLan too much; we attract many more students from outside the EU than from within it.
“And European students who really want to come to the UK for their higher education can still do that, it will just cost more.
“It is likely that research and student mobility funding streams will be affected, although there is a lot of work going in behind the scenes to make the transition as smooth as possible in terms of funded academic collaboration.
“It’s my view that expanding the opportunities for students to study alongside those from around Europe remains crucial in building a world-class student experience, and in creating global citizens.
“We are very fortunate that we have our campus in Cyprus because this will play a key role in helping the university achieve this aim, regardless of the outcomes of the Brexit plan.
“It is more important than ever that we continue to send the message that British universities are important civic institutions that bring knowledge, innovation and graduate talent into the regional economies in which they are situated – and that the British Higher Education system remains one of our greatest assets with a world-leading reputation.”