Will the United Kingdom embark upon a ‘painful divorce’ from the EU?

After weeks of debate, the moment has arrived for Great Britain to decide whether it will remain part of the European Union. Supporters of the ‘stay’ movement say it’s imperative to be globally connected, while opponents argue too much revenue is diverted out of the country. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant speaks with East Anglia residents ahead of Thursday’s seminal vote.

Read the Full Transcript


    Voters in the United Kingdom head to the polls tomorrow to make a momentous decision on their future. Will they remain a part of the European Union, or strike out on their own?

    "NewsHour" special correspondent Malcolm Brabant has been talking to people in the East of England. He brings us this report.


    With local polls suggesting that most East Anglians favor Brexit, the remain campaigners cranked up their polite offensive in the market town of Ipswich.

  • MAN:

    What do you think about it? Are you going to vote yes?

  • TIAH BENJAMIN, Student:

    Yes, I'm going to vote to remain, because I don't really see the point in not voting to remain, because you literally lose like so much.

  • WOMAN:

    Hi. Will you be voting next Thursday? Do you know which way you're going to vote?

  • WOMAN:

    Yes. Remain.

  • WOMAN:

    Remain. Fantastic, excellent.

  • WOMAN:


  • WOMAN:


  • WOMAN:

    Definitely out. OK. Do you want to talk about it?

  • WOMAN:

    Shut that bloody channel tunnel up, mate.

  • WOMAN:


  • WOMAN:

    Yes, absolutely, concrete it up.

  • WOMAN:


  • WOMAN:


  • WOMAN:

    I think (INAUDIBLE) for our country.


    But her suggestion that immigration made the country's foundation stronger met a sharp response.

  • WOMAN:

    My husband served 27 years in the military, and what have we got to show for it? Nothing. Fighting to keep them out, definitely out, absolutely, 100 percent, 100 percent out. My dad, his dad, my grandparents all fought to keep this country British.


    So, is Britain about to chime in with a painful divorce, after an often turbulent, fractious, and skeptical 43-year union with her neighbors across the North Sea, and declare independence day?

    At this gentle summer garden party in the village of Hoxne, in amongst the cream teas, one of the key referendum issues reared its head in an almost visceral manner.

  • PETER LOCKETT, Retired Electrician:

    I think we should stop immigration and not allow any more people in the country. I think there's far too many as well pinching our money for national health and all that sort of thing.


    Next to the sausage stand, the conversation switched to national sovereignty and the deep resentment many Britons feel about the amount of control exerted by unelected European commissioners and their unaccountable staff in Brussels.

  • STUART JARROLD, Sports Reporter:

    Every year, every day, every hour, we are spending so much money with faceless individuals who — we can't even govern ourselves. Why can't we, as a nation, run our own country?

  • ANTHONY BENTON, Import Export Businessman:

    In the long run, if the human race is going to exist to survive on this planet that we're wrecking, then we need to come together and work together.


    Karon Saunders is a truly international woman with part Italian heritage who's worked around the world. But she will vote to leave. She says excessive E.U. regulation is endangering her small organic free-range farm. She struggles to get her animals into abattoirs that favor industrial food producers, has given up breeding turkeys and has lost money because of E.U. rules governing slaughtering.

  • KARON SAUNDERS, Organic Farmer:

    I don't want people's employment rights, I don't want their human rights changed. I don't want that to be lessened. And I don't think it will.

    What I do want is to be able to look at legislation in a realistic manner. We may be able to put in the small slaughter houses, have that working for us, rather than working against us. Why do we need a vet to stand over people who for centuries have always killed the animals usually at the back of the butcher's or at home? There are legislations and there are ways that we can work that our standards don't drop.

  • LINDA DUFFIN, Financial Journalist:

    I do think a lot of Brexiters have essentially got their fingers in their ears and they are going la, la, la, la, la, because if we leave Europe, on what terms do we then do business with Europe?


    Mrs. Portly has spoken. That's the name financial journalist Linda Duffin uses when she blogs about food.


    My concerns are the potential for a drop in trade and investor uncertainty. If you look at the figures, 42 percent of our exports are to the E.U., 48 percent of our foreign direct trade is from the E.U. Essentially, if we leave the E.U., we will have to toe the line, but we won't have any say in where that line is drawn.


    Every week, the United Kingdom sends 350 million pounds of taxpayers money to the E.U. That's the cost of a fully staffed brand-new hospital.

  • GORDON BROWN, Former Prime Minister:

    I'm walking through the remains of Coventry Cathedral, bombed and destroyed by Nazi warplanes 75 years ago, and now painstakingly and lovingly maintained as a monument to wars that we have left behind and to the sanctuary of peace.

    And what message would we send to the rest of the world if we, the British people, the most internationally minded of all, were to walk away from our nearest neighbors? We should be leading in Europe, and not leaving it.


    Nostalgia for Britain's fighting spirit during the Second World War is never far away at Frinton-on-Sea, where a portrait of Winston Churchill adorns the railway station.

    Frinton, a bastion of gentility and snobbishness, has frequently rebelled against convention and common causes. When Churchill promised that Britain would fight Hitler's Germany on the beaches, there was the following response.

  • CHRIS OPPERMAN, Frinton Rotary Club:

    Frinton Parish Council cabled Whitehall and said, "Not on our beaches, you're not."



    A Second World War machine gun nest is part of the fabric of Frinton Station, and for the remain campaign symbolizes the bunker mentality of the Brexiters.

    Chris Opperman, a former pig farmer and broadcaster, was going to vote to remain, but changed his mind.


    I believe England is better off by itself, because we have the drive and tenacity to make up for any of the so-called benefits. I believe the engineering powerhouse is still locked away somewhere in Britain.

    I have been inspired by some impassioned speeches by employers of small factories, major employers as well, who've said, we can get on, we don't have to have the — what they call the feather bed of Europe to push our exports.


    during the course of this campaign, the lead has changed hands. According to the latest opinion polls, though, both sides are running neck and neck.

    But during recent campaigns, such surveys have been proved to be fallible, because people have sought to mislead the pollsters. And so it's far too risky to predict the outcome.

    Watching from the sidelines as Britain tears itself apart are immigrants from Eastern Europe, who're concerned about a campaign that some say featured a xenophobic edge. These are some of the 5,000 Poles who live in Ipswich.

  • Student Julia Rusek:

  • JULIA RUSEK, Polish Student:

    It's quite hurtful that people like me get blamed for things like the fall of the — the fall the England. And apparently we're stealing the jobs that other English people could do. We want to give back to the country that gave us education.

    We want to — when I grow up, after I finish university, I want to be paying my taxes, I want to be paying all of my bills. The way I was brought up was to give back to the — to people that give to me.


    The campaign has also generated quiet despair in Professor Stephen Bazire, a leading pharmacist, his hobby, railway modeling. He believes Prime Minister David Cameron's pledge to hold the referendum was a mistake that could lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom.

  • STEPHEN BAZIRE, Pharmacist:

    I'm quite worried that there will be a lot of vindictiveness going around between pros and antis. And I don't see Britain becoming at all united as a result of this, because if the result is very close, then you will have people who really are quite worried about staying in Europe and people who are quite worried about leaving Europe, and will be blaming each other.

    And Scotland will probably then go for another referendum and will probably leave. Wales might well do the same. And I think we become little Englanders then, again, rather than being part of a wider community.


    Only the voters can now decide whether the Brexit express is a runaway train that may lead to the shrinking of world's fifth largest economy. If Britain votes leave, there can be no turning back, and no one seems to know what the consequences will be.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," this is Malcolm Brabant in East Anglia.

Listen to this Segment