August 8, 2022

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Brexit referendum 5 years on: How Bristol feels as UK remains divided

Today (June 23) marks five years since Britain’s knife-edge Brexit referendum, in which we voted to leave the European Union.

It was a landmark decision which upended British politics; rattling the financial market and trade between the UK and EU countries.

And since the UK’s divorce with the EU was completed last year, tensions over Northern Ireland are just an example of the fallout that remains.

Read more: Bristol Covid: The age groups with most cases as infections soar

Much of the debate around Brexit has centered on economics, but leaving the EU has impacted people’s lives more broadly, from basic access to goods, to travel and education.

The repercussions of Brexit have been felt on a regional level in our city, with some locals saying they’ve been personally affected, while others say not much has changed.

Bristol’s 2016 vote did not reflect the national picture – with 61.7 per cent voting to remain in our city.

Aditya Ray

Bristol resident Aditya Ray told Bristol Live: “I’m not from the EU and so it hasn’t affected me that much. In fact in some ways it has opened up the labour market to those outside the EU as well.

“But living here I’ve also found the price of basic stuff has gone up,” he continued. “Things are more difficult to find. This might be a temporary problem but it could be a long term one as well.”

Meanwhile Adam said: “Initially a lot of people thought Brexit would not be a huge thing, wouldn’t have a huge impact. It obviously has and it obviously will.


He spoke of Brexit’s impact on science research: “It will continue to have that impact especially with European collaboration for science research.

“It has come to a massive stop and a halt because of Brexit. The funding’s not there anymore to support it.”

But Alan Evans says he hasn’t seen much of a change.

“We obviously haven’t been abroad or anything like that, so I’ve not really noticed it’s changed any of the goods that we would normally buy,” he said. “I haven’t really noticed a great change other than what you see on the news.”

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Brexit dominated the news agenda until the coronavirus pandemic hit last March, and the government’s priority shifted to public health.

Reports suggest Covid-19 has slowed down Brexit negotiations, as well as impacting the public mood on the topic.

But a report published by Bristol Live in February claims young people are more worried about Brexit than catching coronavirus.

Author of the study, Dr Daisy Fancourt, said: “A greater proportion of younger people voted to Remain than to Leave in the 2016 Brexit referendum and the ongoing news about the ramifications of leaving the EU for jobs, finances and businesses is likely to have a greater impact on younger people.”

But some young people in Bristol believe they were misled by the government, which resulted in them voting differently to how they’d vote now.

They include Adam, who calls his decision to vote leave a ‘huge mistake.’

He said: “I did vote out initially. Huge mistake. I didn’t think it’d have the massive impact that it did.

“I mean I was quite young at the time, but I do feel misled by the general campaign. I do feel mis-promised.

“It’s meant to give our country more identity but I feel like it’s done the opposite. I feel like it’s given us less identity and less unity.”

It comes as a study published by the National Centre for Social Research found the UK remains deeply divided over leaving the EU.

It found that, if polled again, 82 per cent of people would vote the same way as they did in June 2016.

The study, based on 12 surveys with a random sample of 2,000 adults between September 2016 and January 2021, also found that if the referendum were to be held again today, Remain would win by 53 per cent. But if the question was framed as whether to rejoin the EU, staying out would win by 52 per cent.

So, if given the chance again, would people in Bristol vote differently?

Tash Moore told Bristol Live: “I voted to remain five years ago and I would vote to remain again.”

Keith said: “Bad idea from the start – I never voted for it. Maybe there will be another vote to go back in but I doubt it.”


Alan said: “I personally voted to stay in because I thought that there would be problems that hadn’t been outlined when the actual voting took place. I’ve not really changed my mind in that respect. Obviously we are out now and we have to make the best of it from here on in.”

Brexit in Bristol – what happens now?

Thangam Debbonaire, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons and Labour MP for Bristol West, has explained how Brexit might affect the people of Bristol going forward.

She said: “We are now seeing the consequences of the Prime Minister’s chaotic approach to the relationship between the UK and our nearest neighbours, where many of us visit for holidays, study or work, and on which many businesses depend for trade.

“Many people in Bristol have found the most tangible result of this chaos has been higher prices on products from abroad. Things are more serious for the owners of many Bristol businesses, large and small, who are finding it difficult to source goods or hire staff.”

Meanwhile MP for Bristol North West Darren Jones said: “From supply chain delays and increasing costs for businesses in Avonmouth, to tensions in Northern Ireland and pricing and staffing pressures for the agricultural, hospitality and care sectors, the country is still having to adjust to our new position.”

Both MPs said the next big impact of Brexit on Bristol is the EU Settlement Scheme.

“For EU citizens living in the UK, the Settlement Scheme is a big mess,” Ms Debbonaire said.

“It expires at the end of this week and there is no plan for any follow up for the thousands of people who are likely to be left in bureaucratic limbo.”

Mr Jones stressed EU citizens should apply for the scheme.

He said: “The big thing that people need to know about is the June 30th deadline for the EU Settlement Scheme.

“If you are an EU citizen, we want you to stay in Bristol, so please make sure you start your application as soon as you can. The Home Office has very long delays at the moment, so it’s best to get your settlement scheme application in as soon as possible.”

How do you feel about Brexit five years on and how has it affected you? Comment below or email: