By Sarah Young
BRENTWOOD, England (Reuters) – Denise Draper was one of the 17 million people who last week voted in favor of Britain leaving the European Union. She has no regrets.
Draper, 33, a full-time mother, says the political and financial mayhem set off by last Friday’s decision to divorce the EU is unfortunate. But once the dust settles, she is confident “we’ll get what we wanted: Not just one particular thing; a better Britain.”
So-called Brexit has cost Prime Minister David Cameron his job and the UK its highest-level sovereign rating. It has pushed sterling to its lowest level in 31 years against the dollar and wiped a record $3 trillion off global shares. EU leaders are scrambling to prevent a further unraveling of a bloc that helped guarantee peace in post-war Europe.
But in Brentwood, an affluent town in the south-east county of Essex where 59 percent of voters chose “out”, people seemed steadfast in their decision. On the coffee shop-lined pavements of the 50,000-person town, the UK headquarters of US car company Ford, there was little sign of the remorse that many politicians and pundits have been alluding to since the vote.
A similar picture emerged in the nearby cathedral city of Chelmsford, where 53 percent of the population voted out. Of the three dozen people Reuters interviewed in these two Essex towns, an overwhelming majority said they had voted out and were still happy with the result.
For them, warnings by politicians of the likely damage to Britain’s economy from an out vote failed to resonate ahead of the referendum because they didn’t feel the system was delivering anyway.
In recent days, suggestions on UK talk shows and social media that out voters must feel remorse in the wake of market turmoil is the latest sign of an elite out of touch with reality.
Will Davies, senior lecturer in politics at Goldsmiths University of London, said many Britons in the corporate, politics and media worlds were still in shock.
“I think the sheer mystery of the whole thing for many in the liberal establishment means that maybe people will reach for this idea that there’s some buyer’s remorse going on,” he said.
Indeed, Sun newspaper columnist and prominent Brexit supporter Kelvin MacKenzie has said he now feels “buyer’s remorse” over the vote to leave and is “fearful” of what lies ahead.
But on the streets of Essex, shares and sterling are not the barometer by which voters were taking stock.
“Things are just getting worse and worse, there’s no social housing anymore, it’s all gone, everything’s gone and I’m not happy about it at all,” said Jan Hickey, 66, a retired social worker in Chelmsford.
Chelmsford is a 170,000-strong city with green spaces and fast rail links to London. Its 4 percent unemployment rate is lower than the national average, thanks to the replacement of old manufacturing industries with jobs in services and consumer goods.
But Hickey, like others interviewed here, said she was nostalgic for the past. “I’d like us to be Great Britain again and be able to decide…rather than have to go through the EU.”
In the hours and days after the result – as markets swooned and warnings of economic meltdown have multiplied – many of Britain’s stunned remain voters have taken to the airwaves to suggest the country’s out voters must be in a period of collective remorse.
The #regrexit hashtag has trended on Twitter. A petition calling for a second referendum has also gained over 4 million signatures. Some lawmakers have urged that the decision to quit the EU be brought before parliament.
Partly because the remain camps were concentrated in London, reactions of shock have got the most attention. Media referred widely to the comments of student Mandy Suthi who in an interview with ITV News last Friday said she wished she could change her vote because “the reality is hitting in, and the regrets are filling in”.
According to a poll of 1,033 people by market research agency Survation conducted for the Mail on Sunday after the result was known, 7 percent of people who voted leave said they regretted voting that way, compared with 4 percent who regretted voting remain.
In Essex, the reasons behind people’s leave vote were still very much alive. Key among them is immigration.
Many said they voted to leave to stem the influx of people from the European Union into Britain. An estimated three million people from the rest of the EU currently live in Britain, which has a population of 64 million.
“The services were buckling. It’s a numbers thing. We just can’t cope with the numbers,” said building inspector Michael Hamber, 47, who is happy with his leave vote.
Sarah Morales, a 30-year-old healthcare assistant says London elites who brand as “racists” anyone who wants to curb immigration are missing the point. Morales’ husband is Filipino.
“I’m married to a foreigner, but I just feel like we need to sort our border control out,” she said. “I voted leave to get our country back to normal.” She too has no regrets.
Even those who were not driven to vote leave by any particular issue were unwavering.
Bar worker Nicola Blows, 51, described herself as not “really-anti”. She decided to vote leave when she was in the polling booth and has no regrets.
“I just wasn’t happy with how the country is at the moment so I thought maybe a change would be good,” she said as she walked to the shops in Brentwood with her grandchild. “I think we should be allowed to be patriotic without being told off for it.”
Debbie Waterford in Chelmsford is also happy with her decision. “I’ve lost a lot of hope in the way the country was going. I just felt we needed a change. It’s as good as anything else so give it a go,” said the 50-year-old, who works as a home help.
For all the people interviewed, any period of financial, economic and political turmoil ahead is the price of long-term returns.
“In the long run I think it’ll do us better,” said Jason Tedham, 40, a builder in Chelmsford who says he voted to leave the EU in the hope that Britain would be “successful like we were.”
“Maybe not for my generation but for my kids.”
(Reporting by Sarah Young, editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alessandra Galloni)