Brexit: Why Norwich voted to remain in a region of leave voters
PUBLISHED: 07:52 25 June 2016 | UPDATED: 08:08 25 June 2016
The referendum campaign has exposed a divide between city dwellers and small towns and the countryside, and between older people and the younger generation.
This clash of views is perhaps greater within Norfolk than any other region, with Norwich an island of remain voters engulfed in the surrounding Brexit tide.
Of a turnout of 69pc – among the lowest in the region – 44pc voted to leave the EU, and 56pc voted to remain. This compares with districts including Fenland and Great Yarmouth which saw 72pc of those who voted pitching for a Brexit.
While there was jubilation across much of the region, in Norwich disappointed Remain voters organised a consolatory “group hug” at Chapelfield Gardens last night.
But the city has a long history of independent spirit. It was granted a charter by King Richard I in 1195 which allowed all assemblies and courts in the City of Norwich to be led by men of the citizens’ own choosing.
And being a commercial centre the city also had a high density of literate and numerate citizens, echoed in the Norwich of today.
Its younger population was also more likely to vote remain, echoing the national picture which saw 75pc of 18- to 24-year-olds voting to remain in the EU, according to polling data from YouGov.
UEA polling expert Chris Hanretty said: “Younger voters, and voters with higher educational qualifications, are more likely to favour Remain. Because it is a city with a university, Norwich has more of these kinds of people.
“The great contrast is with an area like Great Yarmouth,” he added.
“The Leave campaign had its fifth best result in Yarmouth.
“Yarmouth is on average older than Norwich, and university graduates are much less likely to live there.”
Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, a Remain voter, said people in her constituency held a wide range of views, but she was hopeful hard work could heal the divide, and accommodate what “we all need in Britain’s future”.
“It is also the case that Norwich has a younger population than the rest of the county which we have seen quite clearly in the facts of this referendum were more likely to have voted Remain than Leave,” she said.
“The hard work that has to happen next is all about what we want from our relationship with the European Union.”
Support worker Becca Lloyd, 30, of Mary Chapman Close, said: “The outcome for Norwich reflects the diverse city it has become. Norfolk is a rural county and maybe the people don’t feel the direct benefit of the EU.” She said her main concerns were the financial and political impacts of the decision. “As a Scot, I’m now behind the second vote to leave that’s being suggested. I was against Scotland leaving the UK but now there’s such a division of opinion it may be hard to maintain the political relationships. I’m concerned about Northern Ireland and what the political tensions and impacts upon the people will be. That country has been through enough.”
Norwich South MP Clive Lewis, a Remain voter, said: “I am really pleased Norwich voted to remain but ultimately it is a historical footnote now. The UK is going to come apart and Scotland has gone. I feel it has.” But he said for those in Norwich who voted to remain it was about coming to terms with the result, and “rebuilding” their position. “First of all, people need to take a step back,” he added. “We need to realise the implications of what has happened. We are in uncharted territory.”
Norwich City Council leader Alan Waters said the demographic of Norwich had led it to vote remain, with its young population and outward-looking view on the world.
“Also the fact we are the economic driver for Norfolk, for jobs, for financial institutions and we have strong links to Europe through the university and businesses,” he added.
Looking forward, he said everyone across the East of England was going to have to “take stock”.
“The important thing is we have got to maintain our key role as a regional centre, with the majority of growth taking place in the greater Norwich area,” he added. “Understanding the implications of coming out of the EU is going to form an important element in how we go forward as a city and what the council priority is and what the city priority is. We need to respond and plan for the future in the light of this fundamental change.”
The city’s student population also has an impact. UEA vice-chancellor Professor David Richardson said: “The EU referendum result is not what I hoped for and is not what we at UEA campaigned for. “For many in our university community the decision to leave the European Union will be a deeply disappointing and upsetting outcome.”
He said staff and students from across the family of EU nations were being reassured they were “hugely valued”, and he was ensuring the UEA remained a “welcoming and supportive place to study and work”.
“But it is not just about students from other EU countries but the opportunity for all of our students to have a European experience as part of their studies,” he added. “I am worried about losing those opportunities going forward and will do everything to protect them.”
The John Innes Centre said its international approach would not change as a result of yesterday’s referendum.
Director Professor Dale Sanders said: “We remain committed to our policy of recruiting and retaining the brightest minds from around the world. We remain committed to collaborating with the most excellent research institutes globally, including those in Europe, and we remain passionate about the impact of our science on the most pressing global challenges of our time.”