‘It’s beyond Brexit. It’s about who governs this country’
Thatcher’s hometown of Grantham is awash with anger and dismay at failure to exit EU
Lindan and Ray Wootten: “Theresa May has got to go. She’s had enough time. And now it’s time for somebody like Boris Johnson.” Photograph: Jennifer O’Connell
“Feeling stuck in a rut? Ruled by anxiety?” reads a poster in a window at 2 North Parade in Grantham, Lincolnshire.
A discreet plaque on the first floor of the chiropractic clinic reveals this is the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher. It is as if the house’s former occupant has returned to make a declaration on the current state of the British Conservative party.
A few doors up, in the Church View Guesthouse, owner Peter Waldren is raging about the delay to Brexit. He loves Europe – he shows me his collection of prints of France and says he feels “Anglo-French”. But parting ways with the EU couldn’t come soon enough for him. He is one of the district’s 60 per cent who voted Leave in the 2016 referendum. He’s no fan of Theresa May either.
“Margaret Thatcher was the last real leader this country had,” he says.
Alexander Maughan – at 21, the youngest member of the council – defends May, saying he doesn’t think the failure to deliver Brexit so far “is all on” her
A 10-minute walk away in the centre of the prosperous town, a group of five pro-Leave Tory councillors and one Ukip party member (or ‘Kipper’, as some people here say), are gathered near the statue of Isaac Newton. He will soon be joined by a 10ft-bronze statue of Thatcher, which will sit on a 10ft plinth.
In tune with the mood of the Conservative Brexiteers nationally, who have been calling for her resignation, they are, in the main, deeply disappointed with Mrs May.
“May is heading to be the worst prime minister in history,” says councillor Rob Foulkes, chairman of Stamford Yelland Conservative Association, an ex-RAF and commercial pilot, and a staunch Brexiteer.
They’re angry about the Brexit extension and horrified at the notion of participating in the European elections. Here, they’re also livid with their own local MP Nick Boles, who recently left the Tories after he failed to get support for his soft Brexit plan. And they are fearful that the party will punished at the polls in the district elections on May 2nd for failing to deliver on Brexit.
“Now,” says Foulkes, “it’s beyond Brexit. This whole question is about who governs this country. Where does sovereignty spring from – is it the people, or do we live in a dictatorship? And at the moment we’re living in a dictatorship.”
Marietta King, chairman of the local Ukip branch and a member of the party’s national executive committee, says: “It’s not just poorer people who voted to leave; it goes right through society. And especially those of us who are actually quite bright. The Remainers go on as if we somehow didn’t know what we were doing.”
Now, she says, “even the Remainers are furious – nobody is getting what they wanted”. She recently heard a Remainer in Westminster say “Bring up Cromwell, bring him back.”
“Theresa May has got to go. She’s had enough time. And now it’s time for somebody like Boris Johnson, ” says Ray Wootten, a former policeman and chairman of Grantham East branch of the Conservatives.
His wife Linda, herself a councillor, agrees.
“She made so many promises. She said over 100 times we will be leaving on March 29th and I believed her foolishly.”
But the person they’re most furious with is “Nick Boles, our MP. Despite 61 per cent of the district voting to leave, he’s ignoring their wishes even today,” says Ray.
Foulkes, too, is unimpressed with Boles’s brand of “progressive conservatism”. “That’s an oxymoron,” he says. “The Conservative Party will only survive if it moves to the right. That means getting rid of all those Remainer MPs who are doing their utmost to thwart the democratic process. Otherwise the boil on the Conservative Party will never, ever be lanced. We have to make a clean break and now is the time to do it.”
Alexander Maughan – at 21, the youngest member of the council – defends May, saying he doesn’t think the failure to deliver Brexit so far “is all on” her.
The prime minister, he says, “has actually battled very hard to get the deals we got. She has had to tangle through 40 years of a very strong relationship with the EU. Ultimately parliament has frustrated that.”
A Leave campaigner three years ago, he says his views have softened since.
“I still stand by the principle of Leave. But I honestly don’t know how I would vote in a second referendum. I think what this process has proven to us is that it was never going to be as simple as we thought it was.”
They’re less sanguine about the future for Britain if Brexit is not eventually delivered
One thing they are all agreed on is their horror of Britain participating in the upcoming European elections, and all expect a major backlash from the electorate.
“We can’t enter the European elections, God Almighty, we can’t,” says Adam Stokes, a councillor, and the treasurer of the Grantham and Stamford Conservative Association. His views since voting Leave have hardened.
“We can’t get an agreement on the withdrawal agreement. It has failed three times. It would fail a fourth and a fifth.”
Nobody seems particularly concerned about how the divisions in British society will be healed once Brexit has eventually been delivered. King thinks “everything will settle down. Everybody will be so thankful that it’s all over, they will get on with their lives.”
Maughan believes the division and anger has been “whipped up by the media and politicians”.
“It’s almost become a religion, a Catholic vs Protestant thing,” says Foulkes. “Before long will be burning each other on the stake.” I think he’s joking.
King believes fears about what might happen to the Border in Ireland in the case of a no-deal Brexit are a red herring. “Your leader, the Taoiseach, has always said you’re not going to put up a border. If the EU want a border they can put one up. With modern technology, it’s a doddle. They can easily do it.”
What kind of technology?
“Blockchain,” says Foulkes immediately.
He says the solution is for “Ireland to leave the EU”. Has he seen the polls that say 92 per cent of Irish people are in favour of remaining in the EU?
“Yes, fine, but as time goes on, you Irish will realise that the EU will sell you down the river. We and the Irish are the same, you know. You’re next to Britain, and we are your biggest customer.”
They’re less sanguine about the future for Britain if Brexit is not eventually delivered. “If we don’t leave,” says King, “and it carries on, then I think we’re going to be heading for quite a lot of civil unrest.”
What kind of civil unrest?
It seems she’s not talking about riots.
“Quiet civil unrest,” she says. “Civil disobedience, such as people not paying their licence fees.”