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‘Brexit? Just get on with it’ is the blunt message from Yorkshire

From the lounge of the Wheatsheaf pub to the queue at Annie’s Fruit Bowl the people of Howden have a blunt Yorkshire message for Westminster: get on with it.

The town of 4,000 has followed the Brexit process closely through its Conservative MP, David Davis. His constituents in Haltemprice and Howden voted narrowly to leave the EU and almost three years later many are frustrated it has yet to happen. Not least because Mr Davis was once the Brexit secretary in charge of negotiations.

He resigned in July 2018, but this week he voted in favour of Theresa May’s Brexit deal, at the second time of asking. The Conservative party’s internal contortions have left the country not knowing how and when it will exit the EU — for which some Howden voters may never forgive them.

In the Wheatsheaf on Thursday, while many were glued to the last race at the Cheltenham Festival, others were considering the evening’s vote in parliament to seek a delay in the scheduled Brexit date of March 29.

Brian Nalton, 76, is the pub’s elder statesman, surrounded by overall clad workers refreshing themselves after a hard day in the fields around the town.

Brian Nalton enjoys a pint at the Wheatsheaf

“We do not have a government any more. We have always voted Conservative here. But all the MPs are self-serving bastards. They are not thinking about the country, just themselves,” he pronounced.

As for Theresa May, she is a Remainer so the wrong person to negotiate Brexit. “All the true blue Britons voted out,” he said. The EU has changed from the simple trading bloc the UK entered 46 years ago. It is, he declared, a “sinking ship”, with Italy mired in debt and even the German economy slowing.

Mr Nalton, a haulage contractor, believed a delay could cost Mr Davis his seat at the next election. “No one will vote. We will stay at home.”

Along the road at the butchers, Philip Parkin also has little time for MPs. “If they were running a business they would have gone bust. You have to take decisions.”

Marie Hall, 52, serving behind the counter, said customers “are sick of it. Those politicians should be put on the minimum wage and only get a bonus when they achieve something”.

Mr Parkin, 49, voted Remain but would be happy to leave without a deal. “On March 30 the world won’t end. I will open the doors, people will come in.”

He has three week’s meat supply and his only import is Danish bacon.

Howden is the home of the quiet Leave voter. In such market towns across England the population — whiter and older than average — voted for Brexit in the 2016 referendum and for the Conservatives in the 2017 general election. More than 55 per cent voted Leave and 61 per cent for Mr Davis.

The Town Square in Howden

Howden lies in the flat, fertile agricultural belt between Leeds and Hull, visible from afar by the majestic square tower of its medieval minster.

The disruption of globalisation has swept around it rather than through it. Along with Parkin’s butchers and Annie’s, it sustains bakeries, a hardware store, Boots, cafés, posh delicatessens and just one empty retail unit.

PA, the news agency, employs more than 400 people producing and editing content for newspapers and its own services, as well as back-office staff.

On the outskirts are some big warehouses including Ebuyer, the online trading site, and Howdens, the kitchens and joinery group. The Eastern Europeans who work there mostly live in Goole, a cheaper town the other side of the River Ouse.

Not a single leave voter mentioned the Irish backstop, the provision in Mrs May’s EU withdrawal agreement to prevent a hard border in Ireland which has caused uproar in parliament. They said the EU took too much money and set too many rules. But while attacking the Brussels bureaucrats they had no more time for their elected representatives.

“Sack the lot of them and start again,” said Rob Naylor, 33, a drinker in the Wheatsheaf. The delay was a disgrace, according to the agricultural engineer: “Let’s just get out.” The EU would still want to trade with the UK.

Andy Ashton, taking his dogs for a quick walk after work, said MPs “are all as bad as each other”.

“The majority of them don’t want to leave and they are going to make it difficult. I don’t think we will leave.”

Would that upset him? “Not really,” said the 60-year-old, an educational consultant. “I am not against immigration. I am just sick of EU regulations and them spending our money.”

Mr Davis’s pro-Brexit views chimed with his constituents. But some faulted him for quitting the government. “He should have stuck with it. He can’t influence anything from outside,” said one man, who did not wish to be named.

At Annie’s, the grocer’s, Sue Simpson greets every customer by name.

Most just roll their eyes when asked about Brexit. Marjorie Robinson, a pensioner, sums up the mood. “They [MPs] should get behind Mrs May. They have messed about long enough.”

Stevie Kettlewell: This deal is not perfect but there is no perfect solution

Stevie Kettlewell (above) has had Brexit debates in her own family. Her children work in London and voted to remain while she voted to leave. It was time to heal divisions, she said. “This deal is not perfect but there is no perfect solution. I have been married for 52 years and marriage is hard work. You have got to compromise.”

Graham Bell, 65, voted Remain but believes the vote to leave should be respected. Mrs May was seeking a “place in history” rather than the right result. “She should have formed a cross-party committee to negotiate and got something the Commons would approve.”

As dusk fell over the minster, he frowned at the prospect of further delay: “There are so many other far more pressing matters: the NHS, jobs, knife crime. We would just like to get back to normal.”


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