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European elections 2019: Deep Brexit divide remains in Liverpool and St Helens

By Nina Warhurst
Political Editor, BBC North West

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image captionA mural of Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool's Baltic Triangle and the Dream sculpture in St Helens

They may only be 13 miles apart, but a lot more divides Liverpool and St Helens than the East Lancs Road.

One is football mad, for instance, while the other is better known for its love of rugby league.

Then we come to attitudes on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union.

While people in the Liverpool City area voted 58% to remain in the EU nearly three years ago, it was exactly the opposite story in St Helens with the same proportion wanting the UK to leave.

The Liverpool City Region's six boroughs - which also includes Knowsley, Sefton and Wirral on Merseyside as well as Halton in neighbouring Cheshire - were split three apiece.

So why do people in St Helens and Liverpool feel so differently, and have attitudes shifted since June 2016?

image captionArtisan coffee shops populate Liverpool's hipster hub in the Baltic Triangle

In Liverpool's Baltic Triangle, you can smell the history… and the organic coffee.

It boasts of being at the heart of the fourth industrial revolution - the technological one.

Warehouses which once stored tobacco, silk and coffee are now home to hipsters, designers and musicians.

George Pneumaticos is a Canadian-Greek immigrant who is married to a Finnish woman.

The 49-year-old designer said he was left heartbroken by the referendum result.

"I feel 100% a part of Europe - even my dog is half-French," he explained.

image captionDesigner George Pneumaticos wants to be part of the European Union

So which way will he vote in the European Parliament elections on 23 May?

"I've been Labour since I moved to the UK in 1998 - but the way Jeremy Corbyn and his team have failed to commit to a second vote... well, I'll be going Green."

While some of his colleagues share his disenchantment in what they perceive to be a lack of clarity from Labour on Europe, the party's strength in this part of the world should not be underestimated.

Lewis McDonagh, a 22-year-old artist, is clear about where his vote will go.

"Labour," he told me.

"It's always Labour. Always will be. My family go that way. So do I."

But is he satisfied with his party's position on Europe?

He shrugs before saying: "They'll get my vote."

It's a short walk past a skate park and some uber-cool graffiti until you get to the 92 Degrees coffee shop.

As they roast and grind their own blend, one of its customers is percolating her thoughts about the European elections.

"I am usually Labour," says 38-year-old Kate Brown.

"And I haven't given up on them. But well… we'll see how the campaigning goes. It's wide open for me."

If it wasn't for the famous Anglican Cathedral on the skyline, you might think the area around Jamaica Street had been pinched from Berlin - and there's a pavement slab honouring the EU funding that started its redevelopment.

It's estimated that more than £2bn of EU funding was given to Liverpool over the period which culminated in it being the Capital of Culture in 2008.

The Baltic Triangle is, of course, just one small part of Liverpool. This city borough still has some of the poorest wards in the country and, of course, it's impossible to know why people voted how they did.

But the pro-EU feel in much of the city is down to more than just money.

The graduates, the global businesses, the outward-looking optimism of the tech-boom - it strikes me that they matter more there.

'What's the point?'

The same cannot be said in St Helens.

Finding an artisan coffee there is nearly as hard as finding anybody enthusiastic about voting on 23 May.

St Helens council is investing in the town, but it's fair to say it is not enjoying the same share of the tech boom as is Liverpool.

The reality is that more than a dozen units on and around the high street lie empty.

image captionMany shops lie empty in St Helens

I pop in to Pickles Bakery and have a chat with a couple of members of staff.

Sharon French, 54, talks with passion about the sacrifices of the Suffragette movement in securing women the right to vote.

The fact she won't be voting in the European Parliamentary elections is therefore even more powerful.

"I just think it's pointless," she tells me.

"We voted to leave and we're still hanging on.

"I think women should vote - I've always thought that. But it does make you think: What's the point?"

image captionKaren Greenhall and Sharon French still want to leave the EU

Her workmate Karen Greenhall, 55, agrees.

"It's disrespectful. They're brushing Brexit under the carpet like we'll just forget about it.

"But we haven't forgotten. No way.

"The politicians - they never wanted to leave… not really."

On the other side of the bus station is the Theatre Royal, which benefited from the European Development Fund.

That's not relevant for box office worker Ann though.

The 68-year-old says: "I want to put the Great in Great Britain again.

"We did it after the war. We can do it again."

So will she be following Sharon's lead and staying at home come election day?

"No - I'll be voting. And for the Brexit Party.

"They're the ones who'll get things done - especially as the others have led us up the garden path."

On the rainy, empty high street, Francis Hannah, 64, says he's definitely not going to vote though.

"There's no point at all - it's not going to do us any good.

"It's a waste of money - why aren't they spending it on towns like this?"

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