Frustrated, Confused: What Leave Voters Plan to do in The EU Elections

It was the designated harbour for the ferry service that Transport Secretary Chris Grayling signed with a company that did not actually have any ships – at a cost of at least £6m to the taxpayer.

In truth, a resumption of a regular cross-Channel ferry service would have been welcomed in the town.

The lorry and passenger ferry to the Normandy coast stopped sailing a few years ago.

Nigel Farage in Ramsgate in 2017

Today, Ramsgate has a small coastal fishing fleet, dwarfed by the smart new craft of the offshore wind farm.

The fishermen worry that the turbines are scaring off the fish.

There is a sense of a place left behind or overlooked by national politicians, although it has born the brunt of its fair share of austerity.

No surprise then that the locals voted heavily for Leave in the 2016 EU referendum.

UKIP has also enjoyed a strong local following.

Ramsgate has unwittingly been a part of the Brexit saga
The Kent town has unwittingly been a part of the Brexit saga

Nigel Farage is a well-known local personality and is an outgoing member of the European Parliament for the South East England region.

He has also stood twice to become MP for South Thanet. He was defeated both times.

The Conservatives poured massive resources into his last battle in 2015 when he took nearly a third (32.4%) of the votes.

Now Mr. Farage has broken with UKIP and is fielding candidates against it for his new Brexit Party.

Most people thought the UK would have left the EU by now and few wanted or expected that we would be taking part in the European elections this May.

They were wrong – but as my colleague Lewis Goodall reported, Mr. Farage wasn’t one of them. He is well-prepared for the campaign.

Where does that leave Brexit-inclined voters in Ramsgate?

The seaside town now also boasts the largest Wetherspoons
The seaside town now also boasts the largest Wetherspoon pub

The overwhelming majority of those I met this week on a sunny afternoon in town were that way inclined.

In summary, I got an earful of the F-word and the C-word.

They are “frustrated” that the UK is still in the EU, and “confused” as to how they are going to cast their votes.

If they cast their vote, that is. At least one lady said she planned to abstain in protest.

Many people said they would vote for whichever party looked stronger on polling day.

Mr Barrett said he used to fly his UKIP flag from the boat
Steve Barrett said he used to fly his UKIP flag from the boat

That certainly was the view of Steve Barrett, a local fisherman who sailed in the 2016 Leave flotilla up the River Thames to parliament, which clashed with Bob Geldof’s Remain protest ship.

Mr. Barrett used to fly UKIP’s purple pendant on the Razorbill’s mast.

Today he’s tempted by the party of the “plain-speaking troublemaker” Mr. Farage.

Of Mr. Barrett’s catch of quality fish and lobsters, 60% (in season) ends up at Boulogne in France. He reckons he will still be able to sell his fish there after Brexit with no problem saying “that’s the way it’s always been”.

Steve Barrett, a local fisherman sailed the Razorbill in the 2016 Leave flotilla up the Thames
Mr. Barrett, a local fisherman sailed the Razorbill in the 2016 Leave flotilla up the Thames

His quarrel he says is not with Europe, where his parents and brother live, but with EU regulations which lead to large quantities of the fish he catches being wasted, discarded dead back into the sea.

It is a similar story in Pete’s Fish Factory, according to the chef Jack. The seafront fish and chip shop has been frequented by both Mr. Farage and the local Tory MP Craig MacKinlay. Mr. Farage is the visitor they are still talking about.

Chef Jack says the customers are frustrated
Chef Jack says the customers are frustrated

Jack summed up his customers views on the EU question in one word: “Frustrated.”

I heard it again in the Royal Victoria Pavilion – a thriving social hub for the town now converted into the biggest JD Wetherspoon pub in the country.

People do not understand why we are having these elections, and those drinking in the pub at least were tempted by the smaller Brexit parties. Nobody mentioned Labour or the Conservatives all afternoon.

A split in the anti-EU vote between UKIP and Brexit would damage both of them in the European elections.

But if I was Gerard Batten, UKIP’s leader, I’d be worried. The Brexit Party and Mr. Farage are making the running in the conversations in what should be a UKIP heartland.

There are still five weeks to go but Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and other party leaders should start worrying as well.

The latest YouGov poll gives the Brexit Party the largest share of support – with the Brexit Party 24%, Labour 17%, Conservatives 11%, Greens 6%, UKIP 6%.

That may be just a quarter of the total, but if Mr. Farage’s results are anything like in the real contest at the end of May, he could come first in the European elections for the second time running.

He’ll have turned politics upside down again. He’d almost certainly have killed UKIP and revived the no-deal Brexiteers.

On the other hand, if things go otherwise and the UK ends up staying in the EU, I detected a note of resignation in the pub.

“We’ll just put up with it, that’s the way we are,” one drinker muttered into her pint.

Author: Adam Boulton

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