The curious case of Cornwall: why did the Cornish vote for Brexit?


Cornwall, with a population of 530,000 people, received more than €654m from Brussels during the EU’s 2007 to 2013 budget cycle. This is more than the West Midlands and the East of England combined. Up until Brexit it was set to receive at least another €600m between now and 2020, that’s €1,209 per person. This is a county in which 56.5% of voters chose to back Brexit and leave their biggest benefactor. I was interested to look briefly into why this might have been the case and reflect on some of the consequences this might have for one of the poorest areas of the United Kingdom.

Firstly, it might be worth reflecting on some of the positive and tangible things that Cornwall has received from being a member of the EU. The construction of Exeter University’s Penryn Campus  was partly funded with around £100million of EU money. £50million of EU money has been spent on bringing superfast broadband to the area. The part dualling of the A30 brought benefits to business and the European Social Fund Convergence Programme resulted in a  14% increase in the total number of people employed in the county. Careers South West and Cornwall Adult Education both received majority funding from the EU. Further, the Cornwall Marine Network was established and run with European funding and this created training roles for 650 apprentices over two years. This is before you go in to the direct benefits of more well known funding streams such as those attained through the Common Agricultural Policy, helping small farmers to survive in a remote part of the British Isles. The more you think about it, the more baffling it is that Cornwall opted to leave.

However, Cornwall has always been a proud, independently minded county with its own language and distinct culture. On Thursday, I believe this got the better of them. The ‘let’s take back control’ message won out in favour of a system that has for many years provided fundamental support for an area of deprivation. A key problem with the Bremain campaign as I see it was that the message of just how much support the EU has provided for deprived areas like Cornwall simply hasn’t been shouted about enough.  take some personal responsibility for not campaigning enough. I blindly assumed, naively, that sense would prevail and the country would choose to remain, rather like with Scotland two years ago. When nationalism rises above pragmatism the result will, in my view, be negative 99% of the time.

It could be that the British government choose to sustain the amount of funding that has previously been provided to Cornwall but I raise the question of whether this would be fair? What about other areas of the country who have received similar funding? The Brexiteers blindly promised renewals of funding to areas of Cornwall during their campaign but can they really account for where this cash is going to come from. As Miles King noted in a blog post that I reposted on thinkingcountry this morning, many people who opted for Brexit will be worse off as a result, including those from Cornwall, Wales and farmers. It is these people who have received or had the potential to receive a large amount of support from the EU in the past. This is now all in jeopardy. I hope that support for Cornwall will continue in some way but realistically I cannot see Britain supporting it’s most south westerly county as much as Brussels has in the past. There are too many other things that Brexiteers have already suggested they will be funding such as the NHS. It is not possible to have more of the pie when you have already served several helpings. It is the smaller things that really affect our lives, such as the support provided by Cornwall Adult Education, and these are now at risk.

6 thoughts on “The curious case of Cornwall: why did the Cornish vote for Brexit?

  1. I like to think of myself as ‘nearly’ Cornish and I looked on line quickly after Brexit to see how the old country voted. Thank you for your thoughts. It beggars belief that yet another area of Britain feels it can do without its friends and trading partners. I have known neighbours and friends, British, French and German, in tears since that dreadful day and my family feels equally devastated .
    There is litle to say and the result is in the hands of our leaders, whoever they now are. I have been proud to be a part of Britain, proud to be part of Europe. Like some Scots with whom I share a little of my blood and my name, I am not sure I understand the English any more, I despise the atmosphere of racism and arrogance . What is there to be proud of .

  2. Just come across this article and it made me chuckle. To keep it brief; there is far more worth fighting for in life than money. Funnily enough almost all of my well educated colleagues, friends and family all voted Brexit and still do this day believe we made the right decision. Like many down here, I didn’t believe all the tripe on the TV of either side anyway (like the media would have you believe). I was fully aware of the all the funding we received from the EU. I was even involved myself in a couple of significant infrastructure projects in the area over the last few years funded by the EU. But like I say dear boy, there is far more to life and standing up for the ‘right thing’ than money.

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