Brexit Cornwall

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In the recent UK ‘Brexit' referendum, The county of Cornwall voted with a 56.5% majority to leave the EU. These images and interviews explore some of the issues surrounding the vote.

Cornwall is one of the poorest areas in the UK, qualifying for Objective One European funding which has averaged £60 million a year over the last ten years. Objective One Funding is available for - areas where prosperity, measured in Gross Value Added (GVA) per head of population, is 75% or less of the European average. The average wage in Cornwall is £17,200 compared to the uk average of £26,500.

The benefits of EU membership can be seen throughout Cornwall with high profile developments like the Eden Project and the Superfast broadband scheme, but it is also heavily reliant on the fishing and farming industries who feel they have suffered due to EU legislation.

Kynance Cove Café.

The European Development Fund invested £380,00 of the £780,000 spent on the Kynance Cove redevelopment project. Solar tiles on the roof of the café can generate enough clean electricity annually to light seven 3-bedroom houses for a year. This clean energy prevents nearly two tones of carbon dioxide emissions every year. 8374kWh of electrical energy has been generated by the project since its installation.

Andrew Stacey, Looe.

Andrew has been on his 280 acre County Council livestock farm for 16 years. “Farming is a lifetime occupation, its crucial to be able to plan but if after 3 years of planning the markets change you could be producing something that the market doesn’t want.”

"The government is basically subsidising food production. I’m currently in profit only because of the subsidies, if the government decide not to support farming in the same way we could be a lot worse off but even then we want to be doing it on our own without the rest of Europe telling us what to do. I don’t want subsidies, I would rather be able to produce a margin without relying on them. I want to produce food and want to be paid a proper price for it, when you put subsidies in it creates a false economy. New Zealand has done it, they did away with farm subsidies (ending payments in 1984) and it was really hard for a while but they are in a far better position now.”

House in Falmouth showing support for the IN campaign.

Truro & Falmouth was the only Cornish constituency that voted to remain. Overall Cornwall voted to leave the EU with a 56.52% majority. 140,540 remain votes and 182,665 leave votes were cast.

Peter, Newlyn Fish Market.

“I voted Leave along with the fishing industry, I do actually believe in the free movement of people and a lot of the EU legislation but something has to change with fishing quotas and rules. They’re now saying that nothing will change until at least 2019 and even then we can’t just disregards all the current rules on fishing limits and areas. The French have a right to catch as well and if there are no controls then there won’t be any fish left for future generations”.

Agath from France

Photographed while writing postcards on the long train journey from London to Penzance. “The French are sad about Brexit but it’s the UK’s choice, we will always remain friends with Britain. The financial benefit for French tourists is negligible at the moment but that may change when you actually leave”.

Ray and Lorraine, London.

“We holiday in Cornwall regularly, the terror situation stops me from wanting to holiday abroad.”

Cornwall receives an estimated 4.5million visitors each year, with ‘staycation’ bookings at their highest levels for 10 years.

Stand up paddleboard yoga off Gyllyngvase beach, Falmouth

Paul and Marcel from Lithuania and Romania, harvesting broccoli.

In each decade from 1861 to 1901, around 20% of the Cornish male population migrated abroad – three times the average for England and Wales. In total, the county lost over a quarter of a million people between 1841 and 1901. The current increase in migrant worker numbers provide much needed labor for the farming industry.

Goonhilly Earth Station.

Goonhilly was once the largest satellite earth station in the world, the site closed in 2008 but is being redeveloped into a Local Enterprise Partnership zone and was in line for potential European investment in the communications, space science and technology sectors.

Will Jackson, Engineered Arts. Penryn.

The geographic isolation of Cornwall has been greatly reduced by investment in superfast broadband, travel infrastructure and business hubs, this has led to massive growth in technology based businesses in the region. Based out of an unassuming looking building in Penryn, Engineered Arts are a world leading robotics company.

“The pound has plummeted which is great for anybody manufacturing in the UK but bad for anyone importing. We’ve already had quite a lot of enquiries from the US, suddenly our products are more than 10% cheaper than they were. There is much more of an incentive to manufacture here in the UK with a lower pound.

The more important question is how does this position the UK with the world generally, I think its very inwards looking, it’s a very backward step and I think it would have been much better to have remained a part of the EU and tried to fix some of the bureaucratic nonsense from within rather than trying to retreat back to some sort of imagined ‘glorious past’ which was never there."

Superfast broadband junction box.

90% of Cornwall has access to high speed internet making it the best connected rural area in Europe. The £132million investment in this program included £53.4m from the EU. This infrastructure has underpinned much of the business growth in Cornwall, particularly in digital industries, and the scheme has had an estimated £200m of economic impact.

These junction boxes are the only physical sign of a digital revolution for Cornwall.

Pete and Darren, solar panel engineers.

Maintaining a growing number of sites owned by a Spanish firm, Pete and Darren are seen here at their smallest site (along with the sheep that act as natural lawnmowers) their largest site will generate up to 50mw, capable of powering 14,000 homes.

Photographed on his family farm, George Eustice is the Conservative MP for Camborne & Redruth and Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

“For the last 10-15 years I’ve been in favour of staying in the EU as long as we can radically change things and take back lots of powers, I was up for staying in the single market with free trade and joint collaboration in lots of areas but I just felt that it had gone too far. I felt that this was an opportunity to change things properly and to make a big decision which is why I decided to join the leave campaign.”

In his role within DEFRA George finds the influence of EU rules and legislation creates what he calls ‘A perpetual culture of legal jeopardy’ which conditions officials to think only about how to obey EU law “The advantage of having taken back control is that no longer will I have officials coming to me saying we’re not allowed to do ‘this’ because its against EU law, I can ask them to tell me what’s wrong with the idea rather than just telling me its against EU law, then we can have genuine discussion”

It is clear that Cornwall has received a huge boost through EU grants and there is a fear that by leaving this funding will disappear. George’s perspective is that “When you take back control, you have to take back responsibility, take that responsibility seriously and fund policies to provide regional grants for disadvantaged areas to help them catch up economically.” He feels that we can spend the money better, more efficiently and more flexibility but that it will ultimately be a decision for parliament. He concedes “You do have to recognise the benefits of the structural funds, Objective One and Convergence funding, that’s been a benefit, its built the university and helped improve infrastructure and helped in many other ways. The truth is that we will never know if that funding would have come without the EU as we gave up responsibility”.

James Carpenter, Lifeguard on Portreath beach.

“I voted to stay, why change things for the sake of it, there was no reason. People talked a lot about immigration but I don’t think that the UK has too much of it, and the talk of immigrants stealing jobs is rubbish – a job can be yours if you work hard enough!”

Fish buyers gather around the meagre catch at Newlyn Fish Market.

According to George Eustice, Cornish MP and minister for farms, food and fisheries, Brexit would allow Britain to renegotiate a more favourable share of catches. Britain would have an opportunity to upend fishing quotas that give a “disproportionately large” share of catches to France.

Sam, fish buyer for Wings of St Mawes.

“The politicians don’t get the market and don’t understand the working fisherman’s life. This market used to be full (both numbers of boats and fish landed) and life was hard then. Look at it now. The pound dropping has been good for fuel costs and fish prices have risen. Which helps. But its not solved the problems."

Matthew Stevens Fish

Taking advantage of EU matched funding for business growth, Matthew Stevens Fish has grown from a small shop to a successful business employing over 80 staff.

“I’ve had about 10 different grants over the last 15-20 years, [totaling over £250,000] I don’t think that in 2-3 years time there will be that money available. I don’t think that the British government is going to see Cornwall as Europe saw us and I don’t think we will be that special case anymore.”

The business has grown from 5 staff to a factory with 85 employees, 40 of whom are from Eastern Europe, Matthew struggles to fill vacancies and finds that most applicants are from abroad “I’d like to have another 10 people tomorrow but we cant find the staff, when we do take on staff invariably they are from eastern Europe. We definitely need migrant workers, if they were made to go home we would have the shock of our lives, in this industry but also in places like the NHS”

Cornwall has grown beyond recognition. How can Cornwall, we've had about a billion pounds and treated as a special case, decide to vote out and bite the hand the feeds?”

A lady in a café told me she was going to vote to leave ‘for a bit of a change’ and I told her lady, that’s not the reason to vote to change, this is not a general election where you can change your party every 5 years. This is for good, this is for life and I really think that we are a better country within Europe than we are out of Europe.”

Interview available.

Sarune from Lithuania.

Sarune came to Cornwall 3 years ago to visit her parents, after falling in love with the county she found a job and worked her way up to a supervisor’s role. “I’m not sure what will happen now, I think that the vote was influenced by negative stories about immigrants. I’m working, paying tax and have a British driving license so I don’t think it will be a problem for people who are already here.”

Maintaining secrecy while discussing fish prices before an auction at Newlyn Fish Market.

Cornwall’s top tourist attraction, the Eden Project has received about £30 million in EU funding. Eden employs around 400 people and has attracted more than 18 million visitors since opening in 2001, it is estimated that it has helped to contribute £1.7 billion to the local economy.

Howard Miles, ABG design.

ABG design is based at the Treliske Health and Wellbeing Centre, one of 3 Cornwall Innovation Centers built with £29 million EU investment. These centers not only provide office space but support business growth through a number of initiatives. ABG has clients across the UK and Europe, recently winning a bid to work with Luxemburg University. When Universities have a project over a certain financial threshold they have to put a European tender out so anyone within the EU is allowed to go for that tender. Once the UK leaves the EU it is possible that UK businesses will be excluded from bidding on projects like this.

“Cornwall has been regarded as a county that requires European funding, one example is that we now have 98% broadband coverage so if you are a business on a small farm somewhere remote, you can still do what you need to run a business. Lots of the funding that Cornwall has got is in place, road networks, innovation centers, airport expansion. There are a lot of new infrastructure and business opportunities already up and running.”

The Proud family from Hundon (387.5 miles from Land’s End).

“It’s our first time in Cornwall and cost was definitely a factor for us. You just have to get in the car and drive down, then its £95 a night in a b&b. You don’t have the hassle or cost of flights abroad.”

Treswithian junction.

The A30 Junction Improvements project has developed the local road network around the Treswithian and Avers junctions, which serve as two of the four key junctions that serve Camborne, Pool and Redruth (CPR).

The improvements have been designed to increase the capacity of local roads, unlocking the area for further development in order to deliver the regeneration plans for the CPR area. Cornwall Council contributed £423,986 with £649,843 coming from the European Regional Development Fund.

Gintare, taxi driver in Falmouth, originally from Lithuania.

“I originally came here to study as I had family living in Cornwall, I’ve been here for 7 years now. Initially I thought that the result was horrible but now I think it could be a good thing. I’m better off as I’m already in the UK and it’s safer out of the euro zone, Lithuania has gone into recession because its taken the Euro and that’s led to price rises but no wage rises.”

Tom Kay founder of surf brand Finisterre.

Finisterre is based at Wheal Kitty workshops in St Agnes. Once a tin mine, the site was abandoned in the 1930s and redeveloped as a small business hub in 2005. The project received almost half of its £1 million funding from the ERDF Objective One program. The companies growth has been aided by EU supported projects including access to superfast broadband and the ‘Unlocking Cornish Potential’ program which subsidised graduate recruitment and provides small business mentoring.

Tom says “If you look at ‘Brand Cornwall’, there are a lot more successful businesses here and a lot of them have really benefitted from EU funding. We now employ 35 people and the business trajectory has been helped greatly by the EU, we are incredibly grateful for that. I would have preferred if we had stayed in (the EU), there are exchange rate fluctuations and questions about what will happen with import tariffs, VAT and customs which will effect us. We are probably facing 2-5 years of uncertainty which is not going to help business, development and jobs.”

Interview available.

Liz and Lena from Luxembourg.

“We are walking a part of the costal path. The day after the vote we were shocked but now were waiting to see what the consequences will be when the UK actually leaves. Tourism keeps towns like these alive so if they don’t want foreigners it will decline and die. The drop in the pound is definitely to our advantage but we chose Cornwall as the costal path is so well marked and it’s easy to find places to stay.”

Clive and Sandra, care workers from Cornwall.

“We voted to leave but each side’s case was very convincing. I think you’d have voted one way or the other based on what news reports you were listening to. We’ve seen a benefit already as the interest rates have dropped and our mortgage is now cheaper.”

Land's End.

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