It was a year ago today that the UK voted to leave the European Union.
Hartlepool saw one of the biggest ‘Out’ votes nationwide, with 32,071 people voting Leave and 14,029 Remain - a resounding 69.6-30.4% win.
Our on-line poll suggests the gap has narrowed, but Hartlepool still favours Leave, with 944 people voting 56%-44% in favour.
A year on, and negotiations have only just started, with a huge range of opinion about what deal the Government should be looking for.
Newly-elected Labour MP Mike Hill said the prioriy must be to protect jobs.
“Surprisingly for Ukip, and the regional, national and international media, who descended on Hartlepool during the General Election, Brexit was not the universal topic of conversation in the doorstep,” he said.
Put simply, we need a Brexit for jobs.MP Mike Hill
“In fact, it was hardly mentioned. Why? Probably because that, for a town which voted overwhelmingly for Brexit, it was job done and time to move on.
“Article 50 has been triggered and Brexit negotiations began this week. It is clear to me that having rejected the Tory ‘hard’ Brexit agenda, and their hollow mantra of ‘no deal is better than a bad deal,’ the country expects a measured set of negotiations, focussed upon protecting jobs and services, inward investment, trade and exports, human rights and employment rights.
“All of these things are vital for the people of Hartlepool, for their well-being and the future prosperity of the town.
“Naturally, I stand by the measures set our in the Labour party manifesto for a negotiated Brexit, starting with securing the rights of EU citizens to work and stay in the UK.
“That might not resonate immediately with the people of the town, but there will be Hartlepudlians working across the EU seeking equal rights and, on our own doorstep, employers like the local NHS trust rely on EU workers to make up the shortfall in hospital staff.
“If we get Brexit right, then Hartlepool will benefit from the freedoms given to us.
“The North East exports £7billion worth of goods to the EU each year, which equals 58 per cent of all exports, and Hartlepool makes a significant contribution to that outcome.
“If the Government gets Brexit wrong, there will be a significant impact on local businesses, and, therefore, on the jobs and livelihoods of hard-working citizens of the town.
“We simply cannot afford for this to happen, which is why, as a Labour MP, I will be demanding an open and transparent, paced and measured approach in order to secure the best protections and outcomes for my constituents.
“Put simply, we need a Brexit for jobs.”
Hartlepool Borough Council leader Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher has been frustrated by the lack of progress since the referendum.
“Clearly, the unstable position of the Government and lack of progress on Brexit are matters of major concern,” he said.
“In all honesty, I don’t think we are any further forward on Brexit other than the Leave Campaign have dropped their pledge to invest £350million per week into the NHS and the pound has become much weaker against the Euro.”
Ukip MEP Jonathan Arnott wants to see the Government pushing for a clean break: “Hartlepool voted overwhelmingly in the referendum for Brexit, and it is important that the wishes of the people of Hartlepool are now respected,” he said.
“There must be no watering down, no attempt to redefine this democratic decision nor any failure to respect it,” he said.
“We must regain control over our borders so that we can decide who can come to the country. We must ensure that we regain the freedom to negotiate trade deals across the world. We must not pay further taxpayers’ money to the European Union.
“Within these constraints, we want to be good neighbours with the European Union and to continue to trade with Europe in the simplest way possible.
“In an ideal situation, trade with the EU would be unaffected (they need our trade every bit as much as we need theirs) but we would regain our ability to develop new links across the globe - links which would give us access to new markets and the ability to create new jobs.
“We should look to the future as a globally trading nation. Brexit will be a huge success for Hartlepool, so long as our politicians do not let us down.”
The future of the UK’s relationship with Europe will be crucial to Hartlepool’s economic success, with the EU accounting for around 60 per cent of the North East’s export markets.
North East England Chamber of Commerce head of policy Jonathan Walker said the Government must put the needs of business at the heart of its negotiating position.
“The Brexit decision was obviously a shock for many of our members who hadn’t expected us to leave the EU,” he said.
“Once the decision was made, our businesses wanted progress on key decisions as soon as possible. We are now a year down the line with no significant progress.
“I appreciate it is good news the Brexit negotiations have now started. These talks will undoubtedly have major repercussions for many of our businesses.
“It is, therefore, vital that Government listens to what businesses want to avoid any unnecessary economic harm.
“As a strong exporting region, our firms must continue to enjoy trade with their biggest markets on as flexible and red-tape free basis as possible.
“The Government must be held to its promise to negotiate new trade deals around the world and provide far more resources to support businesses looking to break into new markets.
“Our future immigration policy is also of upmost importance to businesses and has to balance political needs with a recognition that our companies need to operate in a global market for talent.
“North East firms must not be hampered in their efforts to bring the brightest and best skilled workers to our region.”