EU referendum ‘puts a lot at stake for the people of Islington’

Stronger in campaigners in Islington

Stronger in campaigners in Islington - Credit: Archant

The Gazette drops in on some campaigners for Islington’s branch of the Stronger In Europe campaign as they try to convince locals that Britain should vote to stay within the EU in June

Stronger in campaigners in Islington

Stronger in campaigners in Islington - Credit: Archant

Is Britain better off in or out of the European Union? On June 23, Islington’s voters will get the chance to have their say.

The Gazette caught up with the Islington Stronger in Europe campaign as they leafleted in Islington High Street on Saturday.

Its members are trying to convince those who live and work in our borough about of the benefits of staying in the 28-member bloc.

Stronger in campaigners in Islington

Stronger in campaigners in Islington - Credit: Archant

According to 43-year-old Nick Turton, who leads the local campaign and works in the energy industry, the referendum result could have a huge impact on Islington.

“A lot is at stake for people in Islington,” said Nick, of Rosebery Avenue, “where businesses small and large benefit from access to the single market. Students, tourists and workers benefit from the ability to move freely across the EU and we all benefit from lower prices and stronger protections.”

The campaigners are now planning a “business drive” to drum up local support.

Stronger in campaigners in Islington

Stronger in campaigners in Islington - Credit: Archant

Most Read

“We’re going to go and talk to local businesses about our views – focusing on the small businesses rather than the big chains,” 20-year-old undergraduate Freddie Wilkinson, who is in charge of student outreach, told the Gazette.

“Islington receives a lot of footfall from tourists. So if we suddenly have a period of economic instability that reduces the amount of money in people’s pockets – or if we suddenly have temporary restrictions of freedom of movement – then that could have a serious impact.”

He’s most concerned, however, about the impact a “no” vote would have on young people and students.

Stronger in campaigners in Islington

Stronger in campaigners in Islington - Credit: Archant

“What got me involved in this campaign was the fact people of my generation are going to be hit hardest by a potential Brexit,” he said. “With good luck, I’ll be living for another 60 years or so – and that’s a hell of a lot longer than a lot of other people who are going to be making this decision,” he said.

“I think I speak for an awful lot of students when I say we do not want to enter a job market that is reeling from the economic shock of Brexit.”

Moreover, he claims, leaving Europe could end grant-funding for university research projects and exclude students from the Erasmus programme, affecting the quality of their university experience.

This in turn would have a negative impact on the British economy, he believes.

For 56-year-old electronic engineer Raj Sivalingam, whose parents emigrated to the UK in the 1970s from Sri Lanka, a big concern is that Brexit would lead to a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment.

“Islington is a hugely multi-ethnic neighbourhood, and everyone I’ve met says how nice the environment is and how much they enjoy living in the area,” he said. “But if we put the shutters up – in terms of our attitude to people who come here and contribute to society – then that’s going to create a negative climate.”

Fellow campaigner Anders Lorenzen, 36, agreed, describing fears over immigration as “scaremongering”.

“The debate has become too focused on immigration, when it should be a lot more diverse,” he said.

Anders, who lives in City Road – one of the most polluted areas of the city – said he was most concerned about the impact of a Brexit vote on climate change.

“Islington has done a lot to tackle air pollution, including encouraging cycling and becoming the first London borough to introduce a 20 mph speed limit. But if the EU didn’t keep lobbying the government to do better, I don’t think we would be able to form strong environmental policies.”

Are the campaigners hopeful Islington will vote to stay? So far so good, according to Nick.

“We had 20 volunteers out around Angel the other week, and the mood on the street was good – definitely more people for ‘Remain’ than Brexit,” he said.

Freddie, who lives in Copenhagen Street, added: “Of course, you do end up having discussions on the pavement with people who are in favour of Brexit, and occasionally it can get quite petty. For example, I’ve had Brexit campaigners accept a leaflet from me just so they can tear it up in front of me.”

One passerby even suggested Raj use his pro-EU leaflet as loo paper.

Whatever the outcome, one thing is for certain: most people have strong views on the issue.

“It’s good that people are engaged,” says Freddie. “The most important message I’m trying to put across to fellow students is to get out there and vote.”