Tonbridge says ‘Out’ but EU battle continues

Chris Burke

Tonbridge voters mirrored the national results in the EU Referendum with the town narrowly opting for Brexit.

The turnout figure for Tonbridge was one of the highest in the country, at 79.6 per cent, with 41,229 voting to exit Europe against 32,792 for staying in.

Despite initial optimism from the Remain group, the count at Larkfield Leisure Centre resulted in a vote to Leave. Early polls had predicted a perfectly split vote, as many undecided residents left it late to decide which way their vote would be cast.

Tonbridge & Malling matched many other areas across Kent, though neighbouring Tunbridge Wells voted in favour of Remaining by 54.9 per cent to 45.1 per cent.

The Remain group had fought its campaign on a number of key issues and Tonbridge & Malling MP Tom Tugendhat put his name to a cross-party letter including West Kent Green Party, Labour and Liberal Democrats in support of Remaining.

He had warned in Parliament that leaving the EU would have severe implications for the UK economy, believing the country was stronger if it stayed a part of Europe.

Despite being disappointed at the result, he said party unity was now vital to deliver the nation’s verdict.

Mr Tugendhat said: “I am very positive about the future of the UK – we are a strong country. Our economy is stable and things are good. We’ve heard our orders, and I’m looking forward to carrying them out and doing what is best for the people in Tonbridge, Edenbridge and Malling.

“I had campaigned hard for Remain, but you cannot win every battle. That doesn’t mean we were wrong to fight for what we believed in, but the people have spoken.

“I think there will be some instability now, but I am confident in our future, as we are a strong and prosperous nation.”

Howard Porter, Chair of the West Kent Green Party, who campaigned to Remain, said: “We can’t pretend not to be bitterly disappointed by the result and where we go from here is not clear for either side of the debate.

“The Referendum has churned up established political boundaries and right now we can’t be sure how the land is going to settle again.

“During the campaign, I was concerned by a great deal of the rhetoric coming from the Leave side, which has sought to play on people’s fears of immigration and used deliberate falsehoods to gain support. “There are perfectly legitimate arguments about the weaknesses of the EU, but these have been all too frequently sidelined by sound-bite politics that play on fear and don’t encourage hope. Now we need to repair our divided communities and take a positive message forward that unites people and gives them a voice and stake in society so many feel they lack.

“All of us, whatever party we belong to, who have campaigned on the Remain side, need to listen and learn from the people who voted to leave but also ensure that those manipulative political interests that have sought to capitalise on people’s legitimate concerns are pushed back into the shadows where they belong.
Racism and xenophobia should have no part in our political culture, and the first duty of politicians, from leaders to the activists on the ground, is to foster community cohesion, tolerance and democratic participation. This is our main priority now.

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