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Brexitland

South Lincolnshire always seemed far away, not least while growing up there. It’s mostly fenland, with flat, damp spaces and big skies separating people and places, as often as not hidden behind tall fences.

It’s an insular place - by the sea, yet blocked from it by the Wash - salt marshes and mud flats, more suitable for a prison, than weekend breaks. Boston once had a major port, but it silted up centuries ago, long before the town got its real claim to fame - having a namesake in America. From here, the early pilgrim fathers made an ill-fated escape to the new world.

More recently the region had flowers; tulips to rival the Netherlands, great flat fields of colour and an annual festival in Spalding, now no more. The farmland remains, but brassicas picked by migrant labour is a far less picturesque claim to fame. I left as soon as I could and went as far as I could, from London to Japan and China.

My family remains there, one part living at the end of a long potholed lane, hard up against a dike built to keep the land drained, and still not considered local after 40 years.

This obscure region has been transformed by the 2016 referendum into the poster child of Brexit. Two adjoining districts - Boston and South Holland - delivered the most resounding verdicts in favour of Brexit, with three further neighbouring districts in the top ten.

The vote came as a shock to me. Britain had always been a cosmopolitan sort of place. The sense of dislocation was intense when I realised that ground zero of this vote was not in distant Yorkshire but right here, in my native Lincolnshire.

I left Britain under Thatcher (another gift from Lincolnshire to the world) and suddenly found myself trying to understand what had happened to the country and why it voted as it did. Britain suddenly felt like a foreign country.

I didn’t expect the high levels of immigration or the degree of insecurity. I also didn’t expect the proliferation of mobility scooters or the eloquence of people’s reasoning. As one market trader said to me "I voted leave and didn’t understand why, but since then, I’ve been getting informed.. Have you read the Lisbon Treaty? No, well I have, twice, and now I know why I voted as I did"

Levels of crime have risen and Boston is Britain’s new murder capital. Meanwhile, wages have stagnated and rental prices have risen by 20 % since the millennium, mainly due to migration. The streets are lined with ‘Euroshops’ selling imported goods and services specifically to new arrivals. Agricultural labourers from Romania and Bulgaria converge on the fields during harvest time, doing the jobs no one else wants to do for the wages offered. They are hard working, reliable and appreciated by local farmers.

I was last in Boston at the end of August 2019 and talked to two former addicts, drinking next to Boston’s port basin. Drugs came to Boston in the 1990s and crime came with them. Now things are apparently a bit better. “I’m less afraid of my son going down the same path as me” says one of them, ruefully. He hadn’t voted in the referendum but would have voted leave.

Another day I picked up some youths hitching home from a party. All three were old enough to vote, all were jobless and all three would vote leave if given the chance. The same sentiment was wide-spread. One business-owner was more sanguine since he relied on Polish labourers but he wanted to stay in Europe to criticise the club from the inside. People also felt showed a universal contempt for politicians of all stripes which, whatever way things turn out, is not a good sign for the future.
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