In the 2016 referendum, Swindon was one of the UK’s first areas to declare a Leave result, after nearly 55 per cent of its population voted to exit the European Union.
Nearly three years later, the announcement that its Honda factory will be closing in 2021 has led some people to suggest Brexit may have been a factor.
This is something Honda has explicitly denied. The Japanese carmaker has said its decision is in response to “unprecedented changes” in the motor industry.
The announcement that the Honda plant will be closing means around 3,500 workers will lose their jobs. The news has been met with shock and sadness from employees and residents alike.
And while Honda has said Brexit is not the cause, there are those who disagree.
Conservative MP Phillip Lee for example, who is in favour of a so-called People’s Vote, said the closure showed “project fear” was “project reality”.
Brexiteers told us repeatedly that warnings about the impact of Brexit on car manufacturing in the UK were false. If confirmed, news Honda is to close its Swindon plant show “Project Fear” was Project Reality. Every job lost is on the heads of those who misled people so badly https://t.co/pO0EfSOx4z— Dr Phillip Lee MP (@DrPhillipLeeMP) February 18, 2019
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said Theresa May’s “bungled Brexit negotiations continue to send chills through the economy” after the announcement.
But not everyone in Swindon is convinced by these warnings, with some saying they would vote to leave again.
Linda Law, 68, has a neighbour who works at the plant and described the news as “terribly sad”. But she said it does not necessarily have anything to do with Brexit.
Shoppers in Swindon on Tuesday, the day Honda announced it would be closing its factory there. (Photo: Florence Snead)
“I think unfortunately people jump on the bandwagon and blame Brexit for everything,” she said.
“I would vote to go, absolutely,” she adds, when asked what she would choose if she had to vote again.
“We managed before we were in the common market and I’m convinced we’ll manage again. People have got to accept it and work together instead of infighting within the government.”
Ann Wyness, 74, who also voted leave, described the announcement as a “sad loss” for Swindon as she paused to talk during a shopping trip with her husband John.
“But let’s not say it’s just Brexit,” she said. “I was listening to the boss of Honda on Sky News and he said it’s mostly about the car situation in the world.
“Everybody jumps on the bandwagon saying it’s Brexit but I don’t think it’s that.”
Ms Wyness told i should would also vote for Brexit again. “We can make it, I really believe that. We have been through the hard times after the war and we built this country up to what it is.”
Margaret Contini, who has lived in Swindon for four years, thought the timing of the announcement was just a “coincidence” when it came to Brexit.
However, the 78-year-old admitted some of the information that had come out after the vote had been pretty “mind-blowing”.
“It puts you more in the picture,” she said. “We are near to the time and they are saying ‘this would happen, that would happen’.
“You do think to yourself, why didn’t they say that earlier so people understood?”
There was little activity at the Honda plant on Tuesday following the announcement it would close in 2021. (Photo: Florence Snead)
Ms Contini said she was confident the UK would be able to survive post-Brexit but said the decision over which way to vote would be much more difficult now than three years ago.
“I think I’d have to have a think about it because of all they are coming out with now.”
Sandy Berry, 62, was also optimistic for the future. “I think we’ll do really well for ourselves – just give it time,” she said.
She said Theresa May had “a very hard job” on her hands. “Whoever is in power would be demoralised,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes.”
But Danny Sturgeon, 69, who voted remain, is less convinced. He feels Brexit has taken people’s attention away from addressing the “real problems” such as the concentration of money in different sections of society.
Mr Sturgeon is retired and has lived in Swindon for about 40 years. While he does not know anyone who works at Honda, he believes the effect of the site closure will be felt widely in the area.
“It does seem very worrying as far as the economy is concerned,” he said. “With that number of jobs, it’s quite a big impact.”
The plant is situated in an industrial estate around three miles from the town centre. (Photo: Florence Snead)
One Honda employee who will be directly affected by the closure spoke to i as he walked through the town centre on his way into the factory.
The man, who did not want to be named, said he did not see the decision coming. The cars had been selling well in the US and they had been hitting their targets, he explained.
“It’s devastating,” he said. “I have been there for 29 years, it’s everything. I’ve got family in there as well.
“It will be a massive impact for Swindon. It’s not just the Honda staff – we have the people who work in the canteen, the suppliers who work on the site… the ripple effect will be immense.”
The employee, who voted to remain in 2016, said he would now vote to leave if there were to be a second referendum held.
He believed Honda’s decision to close the plant was more to do with the recently announced Japan/EU trade deal.
Swindon was one of the first areas to declare a leave vote in the 2016 referendum. (Photo: Florence Snead)
“In the past it was their gateway to Europe and they have always said that,” he said. “They can go direct to Europe, they don’t need us.
“Brexit I don’t think helped but I don’t think it was the biggest factor.”
As for the future, it remains uncertain. “It will depend where you work,” he added. “The line workers and those supporting the line workers will be the last to go.
“Being in there for so long it’s a bit of a shock to come to the outside world. We have been taught things in a certain way, we are institutionalised after being in there that long.”