Brexit: A regional insurrection one month after EU referendum

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Image caption The West Midlands has a long history of making things work. Just as the new prime minister wants Brexit to work

Nearly one month on from that epic referendum result, I've been sounding out opinions in the part of Britain which voted more enthusiastically than anywhere else for the UK to leave the EU.

It was the ultimate example of what looks increasingly like a regional insurrection in defiance of majority opinion, and no little advice, from the nation's capital.

Almost 60% voted leave in the Midlands as a whole. In Stoke-on-Trent the figure was 10% higher even than that. So I wanted to know if Midlanders had stumbled into something they now regret.

'No doom and gloom'

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Image caption A £60m private sector investment in a major regeneration project in Wolverhampton city centre is going ahead

The Izons Industrial Estate, near Oldbury in the Black Country, is home to a typical collection of small, predominantly metal-based, businesses.

When I visited it during the campaign, I struggled to find anyone who didn't want out of the EU. So I returned to Augus Engineering, which has been run for nearly half a century by three generations of the same family.

Far from regretting his decision to vote leave, the boss Steve Cartwright told me there was growing confidence in the area.

The lower pound was making their exports more competitive; the prospect of an eventual fall in interest rates was helpful; and the announcement of a £60m private sector investment in a major regeneration project in Wolverhampton's city centre, far from being stalled by Brexit, had gone ahead with a media flourish exactly as planned.

"Certainly none of the doom and gloom that had been predicted," he told me.

On closer examination, I find our region has something of a north-south divide. Among our more affluent areas, Cheltenham, The Cotswolds and Warwick voted to remain in the EU.

But they could not have saved the day, or the night, for David Cameron without big numbers in the major cities voting the same way. In the event, only Bristol did so.

The 50-50 city

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Image caption Digbeth is just a stone's throw south of Birmingham city centre

Cosmopolitan Birmingham, Great Britain's biggest single electoral area, delivered arguably the greatest shock of all, finally shattering the Remainers' hopes.

But only by the narrowest of margins. Half a million people voted. Leave's majority was just over 2,000.

That's why I'm calling Birmingham the 50-50 city.

From Oldbury I drove to Digbeth, just a stone's throw south of the famous Birmingham skyline where the Impact Hub houses an impressive assortment of small businesses, most of which have a clear social purpose.

Iris Bertz is a one-woman business. And an EU migrant. German born, she places about 80 young apprentices from other European countries into local firms under an EU educational programme called Erasmus Plus.

"If there's an end to free movement, that would be the end of projects like this," she tells me, warning universities, colleges and employers alike had reason to fear any restrictions to the free flow of talented people.

Optimism maintained?

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Image caption In Stoke-on-Trent, 70% of voters said they wanted the UK to leave the EU

There's an old truism in politics.

The electorate is always right. We are told the converse is equally true. The electorate is never wrong.

The thing about truisms is that there is often some truth in them.

The West Midlands has a long history of making things work. Just as the new prime minister wants Brexit to work.

But maintaining the optimism that's turned Digbeth into a hotspot for business start-ups could yet turn out to be the most challenging 'work in progress' of all.

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