Excluding London, northerners were more likely to be Remainers than southerners. So why are anti-Brexit voices from the north so often absent from the national debate?by Rik Worth / October 15, 2019 / Leave a comment
As the climactic third act of Brexit approaches with a potential second referendum, one persistent narrative remains: the north of England being dominated by backwards, Leave-supporting xenophobes. This myth manifests not only in the form of endless vox pops exploring why so many northern voters backed Leave—making “leave voter” and “norther” almost interchangeable—but also through earnest sympathy for the plight of the north, talk of northerners as turkeys voting for Christmas, and conversely depictions of Remainers as a homogenous (southern) metropolitan elite who don’t understand anything or anyone beyond the Watford Gap.
The number of leave voters in London—1.5 million—is more than five times higher than the entire population of Sunderland, 277,247, and yet it’s Mackems, not cockneys, who are approached by news presenters on the street. They are the ones depicted as authentic, “average” Britons, while at the same time being dismissed as economically short-sighted, backwards and regressive.
This idea is, it should go without saying, grossly oversimplified. Back in March of this year, statistical analysis for CityMetric demonstrated the North/South Brexit divide was not as great as we might assume. Many southern councils outside London supporting Leave while Northern cities backed Remain. Excluding London, northerners were more likely to be Remainers than southerners—and the difference in support for Remain between the north and London is only 1 per cent.
Even at this late juncture, there is a healthy movement of Remain-supporting groups—from Merseyside to Tyneside, and everywhere in between—still fighting the myth of a north responsible for Brexit.
Martin Brookes is chair of York for Europe and member of the Yorkshire Remain Voice Choir. For him, the issue is a classic case of people imagining stronger divides than really exist. “Imaginary maps became lodged in people’s minds with arbitrary lines drawn across England,” Brookes says.
In the North West, Manchester for Europe (Mcr4EU) campaigns on the basis that there was a disparity in 2016 not between north and south, but between city and town. Most northern cities are multicultural, have at least one university and voted to Remain. The idea of a northern Leave story was built not on metropolitan areas, but on surrounding areas.
Mcr4EU, then, opted to try and change the towns. Members looked to places like Oldham, which has low economic levels, voted Leave by nearly 61 per…