In down-at-heel east London, Brexit mood prevails

A sign urging Britons to vote to leave the EU, in Havering, Britain.
A sign urging Britons to vote to leave the EU, in Havering, Britain.PHOTO: TWITTER/@FERDIGIUGLIANO

ROMFORD, UNITED KINGDOM (AFP) - In the working-class east London borough of Havering, there was anger mixed with hope on Thursday (June 23), as locals voted in Britain's landmark EU referendum.

Citing exasperation at uncontrolled migration and a fierce desire for independence from Brussels, a string of voters said they wanted Britain out of the EU for good.

"I'm going to feel British again," said Diane Booth, a soft-spoken 69-year-old pensioner, adding that she wanted Britain to be self-sufficient so it did not have to rely on European food imports.

"I think we've got enough here," she said at a polling station in Romford, Havering's main town. "We've got pigs in this country, we've got chicken in this country!"

She was speaking as British voters cast their ballots across the country, with the result on a knife-edge between Remain camps and Leave campaigners, who hope Britain will become the first country ever to leave the EU.


A poll by YouGov earlier this year ranked Havering as the most eurosceptic area in Britain.

Local councillors held a symbolic vote in January to leave the EU, the first such local government motion. The borough is also located near England's east coast, the traditional heartland of Britain's anti-Brussels movement.

Emma, a 19-year-old student in mental health nursing, said she was "sick (of) all the propaganda".

But she added that she supported a "Leave" vote so that Britain would not have to be governed by EU regulations on medicines.

"It's gonna be better for us," she said. "There are so many medications that we can't have because of them, because of the red tape."

Joan, a woman in her 50s, also said she was planning to vote "Leave" as a way of reining in "uncontrolled immigration" from other parts of the EU.

"We'll be the first to leave and I think the other European countries will leave after this," she said, as she arrived to cast her ballot.

"Leave" supporters have focused their campaign on immigration, particularly the large number of eastern and southern European workers who have arrived in recent years, putting pressure on public services and wages in some parts of Britain.

That message has resonated well beyond Havering.

"The issue that matters is immigration," said 69-year-old retiree Barry Martin outside a polling station in Biggin Hill, a commuter town south of London, where leading Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage also voted.

"There seem to be open borders and at the moment (Prime Minister David) Cameron doesn't seem to be able to cope with it," Martin added.

"They're just coming in willy-nilly. You see it in the papers every day, they're getting on lorries, coming over from Calais."

Not everyone in Romford shared similar views.

Kate Garnham, a 47-year-old brand manager, said leaving the EU would be "awful".

"People have been too sceptical about what the 'Remain' campaign has to say," she said, adding that the rival claims had been "very confusing".

Booth, a former public sector worker, added: "My son lives in Germany. He is quite happy there. We do clash."

But Lesley Syer, a 74-year-old pensioner, said the threat of ever more migrants was worrying , asking: "Where are we going to put all these people?

"I'm not racist, but it's a small island and nobody ever says we're that small," she added.