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Brexiteers, Who Feel Stigmatized For Their Views, Seek Support


Brexit voters are pretty mad these days. The United Kingdom was supposed to leave the European Union last month. Now the country might not leave until Halloween. And some Brexiteers say even though their side won the referendum nearly three years ago, they still feel stigmatized for their views. NPR's Frank Langfitt attended a Brexit support group in the English village of Horncastle.

WILL GROVER: What do we want?


GROVER: When do we want it?


FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Dozens of Brexiteers turned out one evening last week for a meeting of Leavers of Lincolnshire, a local chapter of "leave" voters here in the English midlands. They came to vent their anger at Britain's parliamentarians 140 miles to the south in London. Will Grover, a local councilor with Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party, organized the event.

GROVER: Are you angry?


GROVER: Good. You should be. Your vote is being betrayed.

LANGFITT: Seventy percent of people in this part of Lincolnshire voted for Brexit, but British politicians can't agree on a deal to get out of the European Union. Grover says many members of Parliament refuse to honor the 2016 referendum and are trying to weasel out of Brexit.

GROVER: They have broken that contract. They do not respect you. Why should you respect them?

LANGFITT: Some people in Lincolnshire say they voted to leave to halt the influx of farm workers from Eastern Europe. Others say they want to take back control of lawmaking from Brussels. But Grover says Brexiteers are often derided as gullible xenophobes and hopes tonight's event provides a safe space.

GROVER: So you could come together and be proud to be a Brexiteer, to not be called an idiot, to not be called a racist, to not be told you didn't know what you were voting for. This is for you. This is for you to feel proud and unashamed of your views.

LANGFITT: Alfie Tomlinson, who's 19, took the stage and talked about the difficulties of being a vocal Brexiteer at the local university. Tomlinson runs a "leave" chapter at his school.

ALFIE TOMLINSON: A lecturer came up to us and said what we are doing is disgusting, racist and bigoted, and we should be ashamed. That, to me, just says everything - that you cannot have an alternative view, an alternative view which is the majority of this country.

LANGFITT: Peggy Reading, an associate lecturer at the university, blames Prime Minister Theresa May for the failure to deliver Brexit. And it's left her disillusioned with British democracy.

PEGGY READING: Nobody takes any notice of us. So why should we vote? That's very, very sad for this country.

LANGFITT: Do you feel like the vote's just being ignored?

READING: Yes. It's been shoved under the carpet. They know better than us. We're all thick, stupid. And that is not true.

LANGFITT: While working on campus, Reading says she keeps her Brexit views mostly to herself.

READING: I don't discuss it.

LANGFITT: And if you did, what would happen?

READING: I'd be ostracized.

LANGFITT: Reading found this evening's meeting relaxing and comforting.

READING: We sat down at the table. We didn't know anybody on that table. And we started to talk. And we all felt the same. That was absolutely great. Yeah, we can breathe.

LANGFITT: Brussels has given Britain until the end of October to agree on a way to leave the EU. When I asked Reading if she could remember a time when her country was this divided, she said, no, never, never ever. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Horncastle, England.


Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.