Europe

As the Brexit debate rages on, this city remains a Remain stronghold

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The UK’s upcoming election is shaping up to be a de-facto referendum on Brexit. Boris Johnson’s Conservatives still lead in the polls, but parties hoping to stop Britain's European Union departure insist the battle is not over just yet. Ben Lewis reports from Bath.

Since Roman times, Bath has welcomed travellers seeking pleasure and relaxation in the thermal hot springs.

These days, it’s still very much a tourist town. The region received an estimated 6.25 million visitors in 2018.

Bath prides itself on being an international city, so it’s no surprise voters here overwhelmingly wanted to remain in the European Union. 

“It’s a very cosmopolitan city, as you may have noticed, just walking around. Cosmopolitan seems to mean openness to other cultures, which is why we are generally pro-Europe,” according to anti-Brexit campaigner Ian Gilchrist.

The divisions caused by the Brexit campaign- and the subsequent political chaos- have been felt deeply here.

Anna Beria arrived in Britain 42 years ago from her native Italy. She has dual citizenship.

Anna Beria has joined Bath for Europe, a collection of dedicated anti-Brexit campaigners.
Anna Beria has joined Bath for Europe, a collection of dedicated anti-Brexit campaigners.
SBS News

“This is the country where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. Now, it’s become difficult, because I’ve seen what the referendum has done,” she told SBS News.

“I don’t feel at home as much as I used to, despite my double nationality. I do feel worried, especially for young people. My daughters are thinking of leaving as soon as they finish university. It’s sad.”

Ms Beria joined Bath for Europe, a collection of dedicated anti-Brexit campaigners. The group is often on the streets, handing out leaflets to passers-by.

While many of its members are backing the fiercely anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats in the upcoming election, the group is apolitical.

It was born out of the shock referendum result. 

“When we got the awful news, a few of us who’d been involved in the remain campaign met up, and we decided to set up an organisation that I suppose promoted the remain voice,” Liberal Democrat councillor Alison Born said.

Generally, voters in Bath are well educated and well off. 

The local constituency has been a Liberal Democrat stronghold for most of the past two decades.

But if the party wants to wield more influence in Westminster after the election, it needs to broaden its base.

We met Rebecca Hilliard as she handed out voter registration information in the city’s shopping district.

Rebecca Hilliard believes the upcoming election must be treated as a second referendum on Brexit.
Rebecca Hilliard believes the upcoming election must be treated as a second referendum on Brexit.
SBS News

She said the snap election needs to be treated as if it is a second Brexit referendum. 

“It’s going to be nothing about the individual parties and what their policies are," she said.

"This is purely a Brexit vote. People are going to be switching all over the place, they’ll be switching for parties they’ve never liked or wanted before.”

The Liberal Democrats’ clear anti-Brexit stance seems to have won over some younger voters, like Jamie Ruther, who manages a glassware shop on Bath’s tourist trail.

Jamie Ruther believes the Lib Dems hold the key to solving the Brexit woes.
Jamie Ruther believes the Lib Dems hold the key to solving the Brexit woes.
SBS News

“The way I see it, it’s a really sad situation. I’d love to put it all behind us," he said.

"Now that the options are clear, I hope people will see that and vote Lib Dem. I think even if they get voted out in the next few years, they could reverse some of the damage, if not all of it.”

But many voters still feel betrayed by the Liberal Democrats’ decision to reverse their stance on university tuition fees, when they joined a coalition government with the Conservatives at the start of the decade.

The political chaos spawned on by the Brexit debate has been deeply felt in Bath.
The political chaos spawned on by the Brexit debate has been deeply felt in Bath.
SBS News

Labour insists those wanting to remain in the European Union should support them; the only party backing a second referendum, and the opposition party with the greatest likelihood of forming a government.

A clear majority in Bath might want Brexit stopped, but how to do that at the ballot box, is a matter for debate. 

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