BREXIT Episode Six - The Land of my Father

Episode Six - Boston, The Land of my Father

I left Bradford, and travelled east, to Boston, a small market town in Lincolnshire.

Boston has existed for a thousand years, and 700 years ago became the number one port in Britain - second only to London in terms of wealth.

It is from here that the Pilgrim Fathers fled for America. They settled in what is now Massachusetts, and established the city of Boston. It is also the land of my father, and his family. I was born a few miles away in the city of Lincoln and we would regularly come here to share holidays with my cousins. So I returned after many years to see what has changed and what remains.

A town, once made rich from farming, polled the largest Leave vote in the referendum - 75%.
Oh, and Boston was the biggest leave town in the referendum, with 75% of people voting to go.

Boston’s success and failure as a town comes from agriculture. It is the largest exporter of agricultural crops from the UK, with over 70% of its annual harvest going to Europe and the around world.

As more and more land is farmed, the industry needs one major resource - labour - and it is this labour that led to a vote of 75% to leave… and a now divided town.

Eastern Europeans flooded here in their thousands to work on the land, under the free movement of labour. A market town that had remained English and rural for a thousand years, changed in just fifteen.

When I arrived, I walked around for two hours to get a feel for it, and for me it was unrecognisable - except for notable landmarks. I went into a traditional family butchers to speak with the owners. They had known my family for fifty years, but they were reluctant to speak to me. One woman briefly said ‘All the media have come here since the referendum, and they all label us as racist. We aren’t racist, but this is no longer our town’. And then out of sight in a room at the back, I saw a hand signaling to her to stop talking and that was the end of that.

‘All the media have come here since the referendum, and they all label us as racist. We aren’t racist, but this is no longer our town’

I walked on for a while, and this what I felt. Everyone looked at me, the locals and the Eastern Europeans - I wasn’t from here, I looked different, so I must be media. I hadn’t felt like that since my time in Afghanistan. And all I could hear was voracious conversation in eastern european tongue, as the locals walked silently by with the heads bowed. And I thought, boy, this going to be a long week.

And then as I was about to give in, I met Mark Woods, who had worked at the port for twelve years, a local lad, ‘born and bred’ as we say. He told me that the port is still busy with imports from Europe. And as he continued talking, he opened the barrier, closed the road, and a train that had just been loaded with steel from a shipment from Belgium, passed by to supply the factories of Wolverhampton.

There is a sign at the port which reads ‘Port of Boston, Into Europe’ with both the British and European flags. That barrier opening and closing was like a metaphor to me - this gateway to Europe, a history of 700 years of trade with Europe, might close with new tariff and trade agreements.

‘Port of Boston, Into Europe’

I asked Mark what were his views on Brexit, and he said:

‘My neighbours are Polish and they are great. The English who used to live next door were a nightmare. There are problems of course, but for me everything is fine - you can’t change anything anyway’.

We talked on a while and he said, ‘There are 75% white British here, 25% Eastern Europeans.'

'But in fact many of the European’s also voted to leave. It’s not as simple as it seems - the statistics don’t tell the reasons.'

I realised that like everything I have read about Brexit, it’s not straightforward. So over the next week I met with people from all sides of the community, in hope of sharing their stories.


© Martin Middlebrook | All Rights Reserved

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