This week saw Cornwall receive much derision after the Government decided to award £18m to prop up the county’s weak economy, with the area now set to lose £60m of annual funding from the EU. Social media was awash with commentators saying that the region got what it deserved for voting Leave. They wanted Brexit, people said, and now they have it, they want us to pay for the disadvantages. Many people – mostly those based in other, more affluent parts of the country – crowed about the apparently hilarious irony.
Unfortunately, this patronising approach doesn’t address the reasons behind the vote, or, more crucially, the damage that will now come due to the shortfall in funding. It does little more than make Remainers feel superior.
I spent my formative years growing up in Cornwall and it’s where I call home. Cornwall is where I had my first relationship; it’s where I got drunk for the first time in a village local with a carefree attitude to ID; it’s where I spent long summer afternoons on the beach or hiking across the windswept Bodmin Moor. It’s an incredible place to grow up, which shaped my identity and gave me great memories, but I, like so many others, left at 18 in order to chase opportunity.
Unless you work within a trade or in retail, it’s hard to find work in Cornwall. Graduate jobs are pretty much non-existent. Young people leaving rural regions for the major cities is nothing new, but in Cornwall it’s a natural progression: it’s something that we always knew we would have to do.
Even in my early teens, I’d already worked out that I would need to leave in order to get the jobs that my schoolteachers were telling us all to aspire toward. This “brain drain” to metropolitan areas coupled with a rapid rise in house prices throughout Cornwall (largely due to the fact that so many people buy their second homes there) has created poverty as well as a lopsided and ageing population.
Cornwall has a unique cultural identity, and when you’re there it feels as isolated politically as it is geographically. While I voted Remain, I believe that the main reason 56 per cent of the Cornish population voted Leave was largely because of frustration with EU regulations regarding traditional regional industries like fishing and agriculture.
These real issues, like so many others, were ignored by the dismal Remain campaign, which centred its argument on shaming those who wanted to ask questions about our place in Europe. This only entrenched the view that Cornish needs were being ignored and pushed people further toward Leave.
Let’s not forget that MPs assured Cornish voters that the levels of EU funding would remain the same if it voted for Brexit – which, just like the numbers on that infamous big red bus, is now known to be another lie. EU money has been crucial to the development of the region, assisting the introduction of renewable energy and new trains. EU funding also benefited our lifeblood, the tourism industry, with money helping build the Eden Project and cleaning up the sea on our beautiful beaches.
The £53m received that was spent on installing super-fast fibre broadband was not only important for business growth but also for connecting communities and individuals in very rural areas who were incredibly isolated (one of the reasons behind the county’s notoriously bad mental health figures.)
We are now left in a perilous position where funding has been slashed in the region recognised as the poorest in the UK alongside the Welsh valleys. The reality of life in Cornwall is a far cry from the picturesque images of surf lapping at sandy beaches, and Labour councillor Tim Dwelly has recently warned that “we are about to go off a cliff". Cornwall is already ranked among the top 10 most deprived areas of Western Europe, with record numbers using food banks and 16,000 children in poverty.
Less investment will lead to a weaker economy, forcing even more young people to leave and further exacerbating the situation. The region is in real danger of serious regression and while second-home owners like David Cameron will still have their picture-postcard views, the reality will be far more unpleasant for those truly impacted by the shambolic Remain campaign and its outcome. What Cornwall needs now is help and understanding. If all you can offer is a condescending sneer and “You get what you deserve”, then you should be ashamed.