Here in Buxton, the England flags are on full display, the sun is shining in the most glorious summer weather in years and there’s a cheery optimism in the streets.
This is the heart of the Derbyshire peaks, about an hour’s drive south from Manchester. It’s the highest town in England, and the Romans discovered the health benefits of the thermal spa waters that many claim have restorative qualities two millennia ago. At the height of the Industrial Revolution, the surrounding region milled the cloths that clothed an empire while its factories turned out goods that were shipped to India, Africa and beyond.
There are canals that hug the contours of limestone hills, where London would be two weeks’ walk for a sturdy and stout horse pulling a barge. Then the railways and steam power came and changed everything.
For the business and mill owners who made fortunes, a townhouse in Buxton was a necessity, and they took the waters too to avoid the soot and smog of nearby Manchester, Macclesfield, Stockport, Bolton, Wigan, Sheffield and Stoke and a host of other cities nearby.
There was a common catchphrase and song then: “There’ll always be an England”.
Chances are that your breakfast table has a box of cornflakes — and the Kellogg Complex was so large, it was located beside the Manchester Ship Canal and had its own railway to move things around the factories that churned out its products and shipped them over the world. Cadburys, the chocolate firm, was based near there too.
Now the Kellogg complex has been demolished, the site is now home to the modern shopping Trafford Centre, while down the road is Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, who still has a logo of that ship canal on its shirts to this day.
Technology now has changed everything, and so too has global trade and the free movement of goods, services and people. The industrial heart of this region, and many others across this United Kingdom, has changed forever too. Mines and mills are shut, traditional industries are long gone. The new factories and businesses here send their products across Europe.
But despite the bunting and cheering, the sunshine and the growing lambs, the hardy cattle and the blooming hedge rows, all is not right here.
Last Friday, Airbus, the plane manufacturer that directly employs 14,000 and causes another 70,000 at least to make a living, warned that those jobs were at risk if the UK did not get a Brexit deal from the European Union soon.
For Remainers, the stark warning gave credence to what they’ve been saying from the first days the ‘B’ work was ever uttered. For the Brexiteers, the Airbus warning was just another sign of being pressured and meddling in the political affairs of the UK.
Now, and particularly following their World Cup victories over Tunisia and Panama, there is a feeling that England is doing just fine. There is a reality check coming, however, with Belgium, and the English team won’t have any easier games in the competition. But it has fuelled a sense that England are invincible, and that it doesn’t need anyone to tell it how to play its game, run its businesses or what life will be like after March 29 next when Brexit takes effect — deal or no deal.
I tried to raise the ‘B’ word many times. The reaction? ‘Europe needs us. We’ll be fine. We can do deals where we want. Britain will be great again. Europe isn’t dealing. Brussels is being dishonest’.
There are times here when the subject of Brexit comes up in social settings that it is simply better to say nothing and nod.
The reality is that every European official with any interest in the subject has warned that the Brits are about to jump off a cliff.
There is a reality too that EU27 is moving on from this Brexit business and is more and more taking the opinion that whatever calamity befalls Britain — with or without a deal — is entirely of their own doing. All they can do now, with time running down to October — a special summit in Brussels in mid-November at the latest — is to make sure they protect the interests of the EU27 and, in particular Ireland, France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany.
In Buxton, the local Weatherspoons’ public house, the Wye Bridge, is hosting Wold Cup specials. The owner of the chain is adamantly anti-EU and was a leading campaigner for Brexit. French wines and Belgian beers are now no longer sold. Instead, US brands and English wines are promoted. Jingoism, Brexit and beer go hand-in-hand now more than ever — and the further England go in this World Cup, the deeper that feeling is likely to grow.
But football does not equate to the intricacies of global economy and the interconnectivity of trade and free movement of people.
On Tuesday, the chief executives of Honda and Nissan along with those from Panasonic and Mitsubishi, warned of the potential dangers of Brexit — particularly of the hard kind — on their plants, with Nissan warning that it would be prepared to shutter factories and move elsewhere to Europe if needed.
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary in the United Kingdom Cabinet reacted to the Airbus warning thusly: “It was completely inappropriate for businesses to be making these kinds of threats for one very simple reason — we are in an absolutely critical moment in the Brexit discussions and what that means is that we need to get behind Theresa May. “The more that we undermine Theresa May the more likely we to end up with a fudge, which will be absolute disaster for everyone.”
The carmakers say some 800,00 jobs are potentially at risk.
No sooner had the Japanese business leaders issued a warning, than so too did The American Chamber of Commerce in the EU that represents Boeing, Exxon Mobile, Facebook, Dell, Coca-Cola and FedEx. It was also signed by the Canada Europe Roundtable for Business, Europe India Chamber of Commerce and the Japan Business Council in Europe. Together, Brexit would pose a severe risk to their £100 billion (Dh487 billion) investments in Britain.
Or, as the UK’s Business Minister, Greg Clark, put it: Any company and industry that brings jobs to Britain is entitled to be listened to.
Here, in this summer of sun, football and bunting, no one seems to care, or be listening. There will, after all, always be an England.