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East London Residents Praise Historic Vote To Leave EU


British citizens woke up to a new reality today - a future outside the European Union. More than 17 million U.K. voters chose to leave the EU in yesterday's referendum. Thousands of them live in Romford. That's part of the east London borough of Havering, which voted by nearly 70 percent to leave. NPR's Frank Langfitt visited the town today to find out why so many people wanted out.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: So I'm here at market day in Romford, and there are dozens of stalls out here, selling everything from oranges to T-shirts and dresses. And just a moment ago, I was talking to a guy named Graham Gibbons. And he kind of articulated what a lot of people in this town feel and why they voted to leave the EU.

GRAHAM GIBBONS: We're losing our Britishness, our Englishness.

LANGFITT: Give me some examples of what you mean by that.

GIBBONS: It's been eroded away. We have a massive amount of immigration, so we're having people from all over the - all over Europe coming to live in the U.K. Sometimes you don't hear an English voice. Our older people - our older generations have worked very hard to make our country what it is, and we're just giving it away.

LANGFITT: Gibbons has had a stall at the outdoor market here for the past 25 years. It's called Pennies, which sells toiletries and is named after his daughter, who's helping him pack up his stall this afternoon. Gibbons says he voted to leave because sometimes he feels alienated in his own land.

GIBBONS: If I said to you I went to Chumsford, which is probably about 20 miles away, on a Sunday night evening. I went for something to eat with my family. We walked into the park. There wasn't an English voice in the park. We were the only English people in there. Some people can come here. The right people can come here - that are going to improve it. But we just let anyone in.

LANGFITT: Gibbons buys some of the products he sells from European countries. He knows that quitting the 28-nation trading block is going to cost him, as will the decline in the value of the pound. But he says it's worth it.

GIBBONS: It might be it'll affect my business, but it's better for the country for us to come out. It's the bigger picture. So we might have to take some medicine. It doesn't taste very nice, but it's going to make us better.

LANGFITT: Hello, Lawrence. How are you?

LAWRENCE WEBB: I'm very good. I'm very good.

LANGFITT: Well, you are looking a lot more relaxed than when I saw you last week.

WEBB: Yeah. Well...

LANGFITT: Shorts, shades.

WEBB: Well, the sun's out. You know, it's a beautiful day because we're outside the EU.

LANGFITT: I first interviewed Lawrence Webb last week. He's a councilor in the borough of Havering. Webb's also a member of the nationalist U.K. Independence Party, which helped drive the referendum. Webb says one thing that tipped the scales in favor of leaving is so many people are tired of the European Union making so many decisions that affect life in the U.K.

WEBB: And we're finding life ever more restrictive. And what we've done is we've thrown off those shackles.

LANGFITT: You're very happy today. A lot of other people around the world are really distraught. What do you say to them?

WEBB: I have to say, I don't really care because this was about us getting back our democratic power. The point of that was we didn't want foreigners telling us what to do. So I can't say I'm terribly upset if a lot of foreigners are upset by it.

TONY THOMPSON: I'm over the moon. I'm going to have a beer tonight - celebrate.

WEBB: Tony Thompson works as a butcher here. He voted to leave for the same reasons most people in Romford cite - immigration and frustration with the EU, particularly all the money the U.K. pumps into it. Thompson knows that leaving the European Union will have consequences.

THOMPSON: It's going to be odd, isn't it? It's going to be odd for a few years. We all know that. But in two or three years' time, it'll even out.

LANGFITT: But he felt like he had no choice.

THOMPSON: Do you stay there as a safe bet? You know what's going to happen. You know you're going to pay millions of pounds to the EU and get a little bit back. Or do you take the chance? Take the chance.

LANGFITT: Yesterday, United Kingdom embarked on a big gamble - that it will be stronger and life will be better outside the European Union. A great deal is riding on that bet. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.