EU referendum: What do the diverse people of Leicester think?

By Ben Truslove
BBC News

Image caption,
Leicester - famed for Gary Lineker, a market, winning the Premier League and a diverse population. But what do the people of the largest city in the East Midlands think about the EU referendum?

Leicester is one of the most ethnically diverse places in the UK and has seen several migration booms, most notably of Asians forced out of Uganda in the 1970s. But in a city of immigrants will migration be a make or break issue in the EU referendum on Thursday?

Its diverse population was evident in the celebrations following Leicester City's "miraculous" Premier League-winning season. But does that unity spill over into the EU referendum?

In a short, unscientific survey by the BBC on Leicester Market, only stall holders Hemendra Desai and Riaz Ahmed immediately leapt on immigration as a principal factor in the EU debate.

They quickly made their opinions known, crying: "Out, out, we want out."

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Hemendra Desai was quick to say he will be voting to leave the EU

Mr Desai, who sells watches, said: "The EU has allowed lots of people in who don't have any money, they don't buy anything from the market. They work for lower wages.

"And there is lots of crime - my watches are stolen from right in front of me."

And he is keen to stress he was born in the UK.

Meanwhile his friend Mr Ahmed, a migrant himself who sells clothing, said migration needs to be controlled.

Image caption,
Riaz Ahmed said he thinks immigration needs to be controlled

"At the end of every day there are always loads of EU migrants standing around either working illegally or getting drunk," he said.

"Often my wares go missing. I've been living in this country for 40 years - but it is now full."

This fear of migration is not new. When Idi Amin forced Ugandan Asians to leave their country in the 1970s, an advert was taken out in the Ugandan Argus by the city council urging people not to come to Leicester.

The National Front organised a march in the city and the council said schools and services were "already stretched to the limit" - arguments that may sound familiar from the current referendum campaign.

Image caption,
In the 1970s, the National Front organised a march in Leicester over fears the city would be overwhelmed by migrants fleeing Ugandan dictator Idi Amin
Image source, Leicester city council
Image caption,
Leicester City Council took out an advert in the Ugandan Argus urging people not to move to Leicester

Kishor Chauhan is chairman of the Belgrave Business Association and believes the whole debate has become bogged down with the issue of migration.

"We saw it in Leicester in the 60s and 70s, people were really concerned the influx of migrants would make their communities unrecognisable. Nothing like that has happened," he said.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The Golden Mile in Leicester is home to dozens of Indian jewellers, sweet shops and clothes stores and hosts the largest Diwali celebration outside India

"Leicester is a far better place for migration and I think the people who live here know that. I think there are greater concerns about the EU referendum for the people of Leicester considering voting Leave or Remain.

"Migration has worked here in Leicester. Just look at all the different people celebrating Leicester City's success."

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Fans celebrating the night Leicester City clinched the Premier League title

For the record, Mr Chauhan, who came to Leicester from Kenya in 1963, is in favour of remaining in the EU - but not all his colleagues agree.

"The association is evenly split about the referendum - everyone has their own individual views. For me personally we should stay within the EU. The single market is essential to us," he said.

"Unfortunately the whole debate has been hijacked by immigration. Immigration is good for this city and the country but it needs to be controlled.

"If we leave the EU we have no influence and become isolated. We are facing this problem but so is France and Germany. Why not work together?"

Back at the city's market there are other factors dominating the debate.

Simon Wilkes is perhaps more typical of a campaign-weary public.

"Whatever happens we will be the same," the 58-year-old said. "Any government that comes into power in this country dumps on us. That's what they all do.

Image caption,
Simon Wilkes has worked on Leicester Market for almost 50 years

"I'm registered to vote but I can't see anything changing."

When questioned, the father-of-one, who has worked on the market since he was 10 and is clearly proud of Leicester's heritage, does admit he thinks immigration needs curbing. But he says he will not go out to vote.

Carole Bevans from Blaby, who is in town for some shopping, did not bring up immigration when asked about her views on the EU - which are strongly in favour of leaving.

"We send too much money to the EU. We need to look after our own first," she said.

Image caption,
Carole Bevans was firmly in favour of voting to leave the EU when she spoke to the BBC

"They have made so many cuts - especially to disabled services - it's ridiculous to be sending money abroad."

When asked directly about immigration she said it was another factor in her decision to vote leave - but not top of her agenda.

But what do the youth - the future of the city - think?

Friends Katie Ball and Isis Bolan are both too young to vote but would like to. Both are slightly aghast at the other's political leanings.

Image caption,
Sixteen-year-olds could vote in the Scottish independence referendum but they cannot this time round - leaving friends Isis Bolan, left, and Katie Ball without an opportunity to vote

Katie said: "I would vote to leave. We've got no independence - I don't want power to go to Brussels. But the problem is I don't believe a lot of these politicians. On both sides I think they are liars."

Isis said: "I think we need to be together as a union. I wish I could vote to stay in. If anything happens [internationally] we are better off all working together.

"Which side of the debate is Boris Johnson on? I think that tells you everything you need to know about the leave campaign."

So, in this city of many cultures, some people clearly do see immigration as an issue as they head for the polling station. But, just like anywhere else, it seems there are many other topics to think about as well.