SUNDERLAND, England— Sunderland voted for Brexit to make itself heard, and in hope of a brighter future. Almost three years later, residents are still waiting.
This city in northeastern England once built ships that drove global commerce and helped Britain rule the waves. Coal from the surrounding mines helped power the country.
The mines and shipyards are long gone, and like many British cities, Sunderland has had to find a new identity, and new jobs, for the post-industrial era.
It has had some success. A university with more than 15,000 students helps boost the local economy. Japanese automaker Nissan employs almost 7,000 people at its Sunderland plant.
But the city’s unemployment rate is well above the national average, and pockmarked and shuttered buildings with broken windows scar its landscape. Renewal has been made harder by years of public-spending cuts under a deficit-slashing British government.
In Britain’s 2016 EU membership referendum, Sunderland voted by 61 percent to 39 percent to leave a bloc from which many residents — rightly or wrongly — believe they have received little benefit.
That departure, and any benefits it may bring, has yet to happen. Economic uncertainty around Brexit has shaken the auto industry that’s so crucial to the city. Nissan has scrapped plans to build a new SUV in Sunderland, and shifted production of two other models from the city — though the company says the moves are not directly related to Brexit.
With the terms and date of Britain’s departure uncertain, some feel betrayed. Dozens have joined former U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage on a “Brexit betrayal” march that will wend its way to London, arriving on March 29, the day Britain was supposed to leave the bloc.
The marchers are a small minority, but many in Sunderland feel some sympathy with their frustration.
“I think there’s just total distrust in the government — that’s why it’s happening,” said Reece Haase, a 19-year-old student at the university.
He favors remaining in the EU, but says that since people voted to leave, “then we should leave. I don’t think it’s the best decision, but that’s what people voted for and I don’t think it should be disrespected.”
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