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Brexit crisis: Sunderland voters do not expect government to strike deal with EU | Politics News

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Voters in the Leave-supporting city of Sunderland have told a Sky News debate they have little faith in the government to strike a Brexit deal with the EU.

Hours after senior figures in Brussels warned Britain it risked leaving the bloc without an agreement after MPs voted to remove the Irish backstop, locals on Wearside offered their take on how Theresa May was handling the negotiations.

More than 61% of the city backed Leave in the 2016 referendum, a result Durham University Professor Thom Brooks said was driven by how austerity had “hit the region hard”.

But despite voters being set to get their Brexit wish in less than two months’ time – many of them appeared unhappy with how the process has been handled.

In a live vote, 78% of the audience – a mix of Leave and Remain voters – said they did not expect the government to agree a deal with the EU before Britain departs in less than two months’ time.

brexit debate sunderland
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Participants in Sunderland appeared unhappy with how the process has been handled

People also appeared suspicious of the motivations of those who wish to extend Article 50, which currently stipulates that the country will leave on 29 March.

Some 68% said they thought MPs who wanted to push the deadline back were trying to stop Brexit altogether.

With the backstop – a customs plan to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland if a free trade deal between the UK and EU is not reached – proving the biggest obstacle to a deal, 43% said Britain should leave without one.

Just 24% were keen on securing a deal that included the backstop, with 33% in favour of a deal on the condition that the backstop condition was removed.

Among those unhappy with how the approach taken by the government was taxi driver Zaf Iqbal, who voted Remain.

He said the deal negotiated by Mrs May was shaping up to be “the messiest divorce ever” and said the process should have been a cross-party one.

Mr Iqbal found consensus with fellow Remain voter Gordon Chalk, a firefighter, who said he wished it was Labour who was handling the Brexit negotiations.

“Give the Labour Party a chance because the Tories cannot do it,” he said.

“They have proven that for months.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn did meet with the prime minister earlier on Wednesday, and told Sky News he wanted her to provide an “assurance” that she was no longer threatening a no-deal Brexit.

But Leave supporter Caspar Hewett said Mr Corbyn heading up the negotiations would be “a disaster” – and dismissed calls for a general election as a waste of time.

Mr Hewett said the country should “go ahead” with the deal struck by Mrs May as it was the best way to ensure that the result of the referendum was delivered on.

Like Mr Hewett, Leave voter Daniel Field maintained that he wanted Brexit to go ahead – but criticised Westminster politicians for “acting like kids”.

The mortgage broker said: “If a businessman was in charge of this, it would have been done. There’s no way any of these politicians would have got a job in the private sector.

“Bring in some consultants, get somebody business-minded to do it.”

David Cliff, a business consultant who also voted Leave, reiterated his desire to see Brexit go ahead.

He said Britain had become overly-reliant on Europe to address its skills shortage and said the continent had “become the default for business planning in our communities”.

Retired bank manager Chris Clark was another Leave voter who stuck to his guns during the debate, insistent that leaving the EU without a deal would allow Britain greater freedom to strike trade deals with the rest of the world.

Simone Rudolphi, a Remain supporter, was sceptical of that claim and said countries would be sceptical of negotiating with Britain because its wealth “came from exploitation and imperialism”.

Kathy Haq, a retired nurse who voted Remain, said she still had concerns about the impact of leaving – deal or not.

“We recruited a lot of nurses from the EU and a lot of those nurses are now leaving,” she said.

“We have 40,000 vacancies in the NHS and unfortunately cannot train our own nurses because the bursaries were taken away and the applications dropped be a third, according to the Royal College of Nursing.”

But whichever way people in Sunderland voted, it was clear throughout the hour-long debate that their views had only become more entrenched in the two-and-a-half years since the referendum.

The only thing they could agree on was that the Brexit process has not exactly been smooth sailing.

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