Talk of coups and warnings about threats to democracy were given short shrift by high-street shoppers enjoying the midday sun in the Thames estuary town of Grays on Thursday.
“It’s fearmongering. I’ll tell you what’s undemocratic: not finally delivering on what the people voted for back in 2016,” said Maureen Fowler as she paused from a shoe shopping expedition in the largest town in the Essex district of Thurrock, where 72% of voters backed leave in the EU referendum.
She and her husband, Jim, were among those voters, and two years of warnings about the consequences of no deal appeared not to have dampened their fervour for leaving.
Both are retired, having worked in the past in different capacities to service Ford manufacturing, which once employed tens of thousands of workers in east London. They applauded the actions of a prime minister who they felt was finally standing up to Brussels.
“They’ve been trying to do to us what they did to Greece, which was basically blackmail, although I do feel that perhaps everything wasn’t properly explained as it should have been during the referendum,” Jim said.
Like the Fowlers, Tony Fry, 50, was critical of the coverage of the prorogation of parliament by what he described as the “leftwing BBC”. He said he would have left without a deal 18 months ago and that Boris Johnson was doing the only thing that would secure Brexit.
“For an overweight blond bloke like myself I think he has played a blinder to be honest,” laughed Fry, a former Ukip member who was wearing a Help for Heroes T-shirt out of respect for family members who had served in the armed forces.
“Going for no deal like this isn’t ideal but it’s the only way at this stage. The country is fed up at this stage. I’m even fed up but we still want to get Brexit done.”
Along with praise for Johnson and, to a greater extent, Nigel Farage, Fry expressed a newfound admiration for Jacob Rees-Mogg, whom he had seen on TV batting away journalists’ questions at Aberdeen airport after a visit to secure the prorogation from the Queen at Balmoral. “It’s not going to happen but I would vote for him tomorrow if I had a chance,” he said.
Rees-Mogg will not be standing in Thurrock, historically a Labour stronghold but which has been held by the Tories since 2010, but the approval of Fry and others will come as music to the ears of Downing Street political planners eager to stave off the threat of Farage’s new Brexit party as it eyes up constituencies where Ukip had been knocking at the door in the past.
Selling toy bubble-blowing guns (“£4.99 and it comes with two bottles of mixture”) from a stall halfway along the high street, Zoe Scarrott shrugged her shoulders and shook her head when asked if she shared the concerns of others elsewhere that the prorogation of parliament might be profoundly undemocratic.
“I think that they, the MPs, need to deliver what the people voted for and if he [Boris Johnson] thinks that he can do it this way then people are not really going to care,” she said.
Like the others, the restoration of lost sovereignty was a priority but there was also a personal motivation, as she saw it, for wanting to see Brexit realised.
“My little boy is six and is extremely bright but he’s being held back because the school he goes to is one where there has been a massive influx of Romanians, Poles and other people, and the teacher’s time is being taken up with teaching their children how to speak English in the first place,” said Scarrott, who noted that most of her customers spoke in accents that appeared to be from overseas.
She was grateful for their custom but believed that the NHS, schools and other services were “overrun”, which she felt put current Westminster manoeuvring in the shade as an issue.