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Quit bickering and act, say Brexit voters ahead of crucial vote

It's a bone-chilling winter's morning in Romford, and mixed martial arts fighters Adam Larkin and Zeb McKinn...

Posted: Jan 14, 2019 11:00 AM
Updated: Jan 14, 2019 11:00 AM

It's a bone-chilling winter's morning in Romford, and mixed martial arts fighters Adam Larkin and Zeb McKinnon are in the midst of a verbal sparring match before their real workout begins.

"I bet you voted Leave, didn't you," Larkin says to McKinnon with a friendly punch on the shoulder.


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"Me? Absolutely," replies McKinnon to the Remain voter, flashing him a devilish black mouthguard grin.

McKinnon is in the majority in Romford, a town on the easternmost fringes of London with one of the highest numbers of Brexit voters in the United Kingdom.

But with just days until Parliament is set to vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal -- expected to be rejected -- the Prime Minister also has a fight on her hands.

The clock is ticking on the UK's exit from the European Union on March 29 -- whether that will be with May's deal, no deal, or another scenario altogether is anyone's guess.

Many Romford voters told CNN they felt sorry for the Prime Minister, caught up in Westminster's version of snakes and ladders.

More than two years after the country voted to leave the EU, they say it's time for politicians to back her and "get on with the job."

The Leave and Remain sparring partners

Mid-morning at Romford's Mixed Martial Arts Clinic, and already around a dozen men have steam visibly rising from their heads in the chilly training ring.

Among them are Brazilian jujitsu devotees Larkin, 42, and McKinnon, 39. With their separate blue and white kit, and contrasting heights, they couldn't look more different -- and their opinions on Brexit are just as opposed.

Deal or no-deal, lorry driver McKinnon isn't bothered. Above all, he just wants the UK to "close the borders."

"Immigration was the reason this country voted for Brexit," he said. "So if they don't close the borders, it's totally pointless."

Meanwhile Larkin, Remain voter and head of operations at a local digital communications company, said a "deal needs to be done" to end the uncertainty of the past two years.

"I get frustrated by what looks like infighting among MPs -- it looks like nobody wants anything to succeed," he said.

Larkin's biggest fear was that the political "bickering" would lead to a second referendum and "drag things out" for years to come.

"We need to be decisive and move on."

The Pie and Mash shop manager with European ties

A short walk from the fighting ring, Robins Pie and Mash shop still has a queue of white-haired customers spilling over from the lunchtime rush.

Manager Ernie Holmes has for the past 35 years been at the helm of the family-owned cafe, which was founded eight decades ago.

His staff includes a mixture of Eastern European workers -- some of whom have worked there for more than 15 years. But the Leave voter doesn't think his staff will be forced to pack their bags anytime soon, instead predicting nothing more than a "visa change" once Brexit happens.

Two of the father-of-four's children live in Spain, and he said he hoped migration "back and forth" would continue after Brexit.

But Holmes also wanted to see a deal that "regulated" immigration -- and didn't leave the door open to "an influx of people coming at once."

"Theresa May was thrown in the deep end, and now she's just trying to please everybody," he said, a constant stream of pies marooned in a sea of mushy peas emerging from the kitchen behind him.

"I think she's done the best negotiations with what she had."

The political campaigner who wants a general election

Seated among the colorful mismatched retro furniture of Romford's community arts and cafe hub -- called the "Retailery" -- Remain voter Angelina Leatherbarrow floats a completely different scenario.

"I would really like to see the House of Commons vote against her (May's) deal," said the 42-year-old business development manager of library services at a neighboring borough.

Leatherbarrow's ideal scenario would be a "vote of no confidence so we can get a general election."

She said other issues -- like homelessness and poverty -- had fallen by the wayside in the face of "political handbag fighting" over May's deal.

The mum-of-two also ran as a Labour candidate in the staunchly Conservative local elections, and said she'd had Daily Mail newspaper clippings on immigration shoved through her letterbox.

"I think the way Brexiteers are being represented on TV -- of being loud and shouty -- has started to normalize that and make some people think it is legitimate to air those views," she said.

Leatherbarrow didn't see any version of the deal that was better than one we have now -- "being in Europe."

The market trader against a vote altogether

Just outside the Retailery, Romford's famous outdoor market is in full swing, with row after row of stall owners braving the cold to sell everything from flowers to leather goods.

Tony Geary, his face tightly wrapped in a scarf, pins a yellow sign emblazoned with the words "Big January Sale" to his clothing stall, MGM Fashions.

If it were up to the 51-year-old Leave voter, there would be no parliamentary vote on Tuesday at all.

"Theresa May has put forward what she thinks is right for the country in her eyes," he said. "And that should be enough, we should go with that."

Given the vote must go ahead, Geary believed Parliament should back May's deal and deliver Brexit -- for better or worse.

"It's like having a boss at work you don't get on with," said Geary, who has worked on Romford Market for almost two decades. "It doesn't make the whole thing work properly. So they should respect her, go with her, and deliver for the country."

Just what MPs will deliver on Tuesday -- and the crucial months to come -- is anybody's guess.

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