Brexit: It was close...but Leeds is still a European city

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THE country may have listened to the man in the Union Jack suit – but Leeds is still flying the European Union flag, although from a relatively lonely vantage point.

The city – along with its ‘Golden Triangle’ neighbours Harrogate and York – voted by the narrowest of margins to Remain.

European Union Referendum 2016. Yorkshire and the Humber count at the Leeds First Direct Arena. Counting gets underway.
23rd June 2016.
Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

European Union Referendum 2016. Yorkshire and the Humber count at the Leeds First Direct Arena. Counting gets underway. 23rd June 2016. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

It was a bold but ultimately futile gesture on a cataclysmic night, when 18 of the 21 regional councils whose votes were being processed in Leeds – and the will of the people as a whole – went the other way.

But the closeness of the Leeds vote – 50.3 percent in favour of Remain – could not be ignored.

Leeds was one of the last to declare its vote at Leeds Arena, and by the time count officer Tom Riordan did announce it at 6am on Friday, the nation’s fate was all but sealed already.

The city had provided the epicentre of the Yorkshire and Humber counting operation, with the 2.7m overall votes from across the region being fed in to Leeds and onto the national total. This was alongside Leeds’s own count, with ballots from 358 polling stations, being totted up by 400 volunteers.

Ilkley Moor. Picture by Simon Hulme

Ilkley Moor. Picture by Simon Hulme

Perhaps Leeds’s role at the centre of the brewing Brexit storm will become even more symbolic in the coming weeks and months.

One of the abiding images of the long night was the sight of Leave campaigner Ollie Smith walking around the floor of Leeds Arena.

Clad in a suit covered in Union flags, he turned heads – and drew inevitable giggles – as he observed the Leeds count.

“I think he might have wasted his money there,” was the comment from one onlooker.

But in the hours that followed, as Thursday turned into Friday, that view would completely change.

And no-one was giggling.

The first sign that something big was about to happen was the huge 81 per cent turnout in Craven. That was closely followed by the shock result from Sunderland, which jolted everyone, and most palpably the Remain campaigners.

Then came the Yorkshire results. First Craven, Richmondshire and North East Lincolnshire, all for Leave.

But it was the narrow victory for Leave in Sheffield, killing off Remain’s hopes that other big urban areas would salvage their hopes, which removed any doubt.

Out on the streets of Leeds yesterday, opinions varied about the implications of the national decision for the city.

Melissa Mortimer, aged 29, was heavily in favour of Britain exiting the EU.

She said: “I’m glad that we left and I think it was the right decision for our children when they grow older.

“I think we’ve been putting lots into other countries without getting anything back.”

However, Val Lloyd-Hicks, 61, said: “I’m appalled.

“I think there will be long-term repercussions for our children and grandchildren.”

Social media too was abuzz, with Leeds campaigners and commentators having their say.

Among them was Mike Love, a member of the Together4Peace movement, who said on Facebook: “We may be witnessing the desperate fight for survival of the sovereign nation state, an illusion that depends on our faith in it.”

Also on Facebook, Neil Taggart, a keen election watcher and former Leeds city councillor, noted that “today is the first day of the beginning of the break-up of the UK”.

And on the Yorkshire Evening Post’s social media pages, opinion was once again deeply divided.

Daz Burke said: “At least more than half the good people of Leeds have sense. Ashamed of the rest.”

Ann Dauny commented: “Of course Leeds voted to remain.

“They have done very well with funding from Europe, but remember it was British money in the first place, but Europe deciding where it was to be spent.”

However, Janet Hall said: “I’m from Leeds. I voted out and proud to have done so!”

Nicola Louise Orange said: “Clearly not all Leeds people voted in. I voted out and so did a lot of people I know – all from Leeds.”

Activists at  the Frauenkirche cathedral in Dresden, Germany in 2015, prior to a G7 Finance Ministers meeting, with balloons with pictures of European leaders.  PHOTO: Jens Meyer

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