The County of Cornwall has been in the news as the site of the G7 summit, just ended. In today’s Washington Post an article “In Cornwall, a jarring contrast of power and poverty,” by Karla Adam and Loveday Morris, a paradox of this visit is highlighted and brought out, indeed, that Cornwall is one of the poorest places in Great Britain, indeed in Northern Europe more generally, but that it is drawing much attention and some money, if not necessarily what it most needs.
A deep part of this paradox is that Cornwall was probably the part of Britain that got more per capita aid from the EU than any other, certainly as much as any other, due to its poverty, but also was one of the most strongly supportive of Brexit, with much of this driven by a dislike of EU fishing regulations, but now with Brexit in place the Cornish fishers discovering that the gains they imagined getting from leaving the EU and its regulations are simply not there, including unsurprisingly because they are now blocked substantially from selling the fish they do catch to the EU.
A part of this particular moment is that UK PM Boris Johnson was the main leader of the Brexit effort and is also apparently half Cornish, from his father’s side. So he is personally aware of the gains and losses and attitudes there, and his desire to help Cornwall was why he chose to have the G7 summit there this year when UK was the host. It apparently is bringing in money and attention, although probably not all that much to the third of the young population that is officially poor. The booming industry seems to be tourism, but people coming in buying second hones are driving up housing prices for the locals, whose other industries have been in decline, the last tin mine closing in 1998 after many centuries of operating.
I have a rather odd perspective on this, one I think I shared here several years ago, but now it is updated with this odd occurrence and new information. When the Brexit vote happened on June 23, 2016 I was in Antwerp with JMU students, with my wife Marina running our summer program there. The day after that vote we took the students to Brussels to visit EU HQ. The person who spoke to us was none other than a British man from Cornwall, who spent some time pointing out the peculiar situation of Cornwall, indeed the only part of the UK eligible for the largest amount of regional poverty payments. Probably not well known in Cornwall was that nearly all local public infrastructure projects were being funded by the EU, something Boris Johnson is aware of and has made some moves to offset the loss of, but not enough to fully make up for it.
Indeed, this man noted the strong pro-Brexit vote there and was obviously frustrated by it. He also commented at some length on the matter of the fisheries, which he identified as the big issue driving this sentiment. He essentially forecast what seems to have come to pass, that the Cornish fishers would gain little if anything from Brexit, despite their strong belief they would. The bottom line does seem to be that more in Cornwall have lost from Brexit than have gained, despite their strong support for it.
I close this by noting a bit about Cornwall and the Cornish people for those who do not know. It is the the southwestern most part of the island of Britain, due south of Wales. While a part of England, in fact the people are largely Celtic, and their language, which died as a first-use language as far back as the late 18th century, is most closely related to Welsh and Breton. Apparently there is a movement to revive the language, and it is now being taught as a second language there, with a few families now attempting to raise children to speak it as a first language. So maybe it is coming back.