My Grandmother Lived Through World War II And Wants The U.K. To Leave. But She Doesn't Think It Will Happen

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Host Jeremy Hobson and his grandmother, Margaret Hobson.
Host Jeremy Hobson and his grandmother, Margaret Hobson.

Every time I come back to England, I visit my grandmother Margaret Hobson. She is now 93 years old and has lived in the United Kingdom all her life. My dad was born and raised here, but obviously, the British accent wasn't passed on to me.

Last year, I interviewed my grandmother for the first time and she told me that she didn't vote in the Brexit referendum, but it was clear that if she had, she'd have voted to leave.

“We’re definitely not Europeans,” she told me. “We’re British and that’s it.”

My grandmother lived with my late grandfather Richard in the city of Coventry for decades. They were married for 67 years and lived in Coventry — where most voted for Brexit — during World War II.

It was a factory town and ended up making materials for the war effort. As a result, it was singled out for attack by the Nazis. My grandmother lived through that, hiding in the hills nearby as the bombs fell. The remains of a destroyed cathedral still stand in the center of town, its bell tower still chiming away on occasion.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that my grandmother doesn’t see herself as European, given that Europeans were at war with her country during her lifetime.

Since my last visit a year ago, she has moved out of the house she and my grandfather lived in for decades. She’s now in an apartment in a retirement community in nearby Kenilworth. Her living room is laid out the same way it was — with a coffee table in the middle, positioned so that she can easily rest her cup of tea on its surface. A newspaper is folded up to the side.

And even though she favored leaving the European Union, she doesn’t think it’ll happen.

“I don’t think so. We’re too involved now with Europe. I don’t think we could ever really break away now. We still think that we’re big enough to run everything on our own, but I’m not so sure,” she tells me with a laugh. “I think we need a bit of help from the others now.”

She also tells me it’s more important to hear from the younger generation, whose lives would be affected more by Brexit than hers will.

On the British side of my family, there are actually three younger generations living in the U.K., most of them near my grandmother.

"She also tells me it’s more important to hear from the younger generation, whose lives would be affected more by Brexit than hers will."

Her grandnephew Adam Steadman is 37 years old, and a hardcore Brexiteer.

His wife is from Thailand and Adam says EU rules made it more difficult for her to find work as a pharmacist when she first came to the U.K. So he wants the U.K. to crash out of the EU without a deal.

“When we had the original question put to us about whether we wanted to leave the EU or not, it was to leave without a deal,” he tells me. “I’d be much happier if we just totally left and negotiated a brand new agreement.”

Adam thinks those who warn about the consequences of a “no-deal” Brexit are scaremongering.

His mother Peta Steadman, 64, and his father David Steadman, 68, also want Brexit to happen.

David says he thinks Great Britain can do “a lot better outside the constraints of a very protectionist market” and he says it is his belief and hope that Brexit will ultimately happen.

Peta tells me she wants politicians in London to “get it done,” and she says if there is no Brexit, she fears “a period of almost civil war in this country.”

Adam’s daughter Charlie Steadman is only 15 years old. Not old enough to drink a pint of beer, but old enough to understand Brexit and to be diplomatic in her comments about it.

“It’s one of those confusing things that they constantly make us try to debate at school,” she says, rattling off the consequences of both remaining in the EU and leaving it.

“I think the idea of leaving seems like sort of the better option, but I think that’s just because I sort of understand it from my family’s point of view,” she says, haltingly.

“I kind of just want [politicians] to sort themselves out and not put us in a position that makes us incredibly weak in the global market, because that would cause a lot of issues, particularly as I’m getting to the point now where I’ve got to find jobs and start figuring out what I’m going to do with my life,” she says. “I just don’t want them to mess up the country.”

Full disclosure: We spent most of our afternoon and evening together talking about other things.

Life, family, food, travel, maybe a little U.S. politics.

David, who wants the U.K. to leave the EU, can’t fathom that Americans are so scared of socialism.

It’s a reminder that the politics of Brexit are different than left versus right, which is why no one really knows what will happen when British voters have their say in December.

This segment aired on October 31, 2019.

Brexit: Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

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Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.



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