Friday 13 December 2019

The eyes of the world focus on the city that became a new home to so many Irish

Ukip's Steven Woolfe alongside party leader Nigel Farage. Photo: PA
Ukip's Steven Woolfe alongside party leader Nigel Farage. Photo: PA

Niall O'Connor

Suddenly, the chorus of the Remain supporters was shattered. "Yes! Yes!" gasped the Ukip MEP Steven Woolfe as the result from the Sunderland constituency was fed into Manchester town hall.

The early narrative in the referendum campaign - that Britain was on course to vote to 'Remain' - was now turned on its head.

And as more and more constituencies followed Sunderland's lead and voted in favour of a Brexit, a heavy atmosphere hung in the main hall of the referendum headquarters.

Was the unthinkable really going to be realised?

Was Britain actually going to make a decision to leave the EU, take a step into the dark unknown - a move that would shake the foundations of Europe?

As the counting continued and the polls were neck and neck, the eyes of the world became fixed on Manchester town hall, where this morning chief counting officer Jenny Watson will declare whether Leave or Remain has prevailed.

Senior members of the Remain camp, such as Labour's shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, consulted their colleagues about what was quickly materialising into the doomsday scenario.

This was Britain's day of reckoning and the moment that the continent of Europe came face to face with its greatest political test in decades.

But the sense of disbelief grew in Manchester as it became apparent that the people of Britain were indeed on the cusp of taking a decision to leave the EU.

There was a heavy police presence outside the venue, providing a stark reminder that this city - like many others across the United Kingdom - is on constant guard against the possibility of a terrorist attack.

The building's 280-metre clock tower rose above the city's rooftops, lighting up the Manchester sky.

Ironically, the clock carries the inscription 'Teach us to number our Days.'

On the streets surrounding the count centre, one couldn't help but detect a clear sense of emotion and trepidation - but also excitement from early on in the day.

Young professionals expressed fears of waking up to a country no longer part of the union.

These twenty- and thirty-somethings are concerned about their jobs, friends, finances and futures.

However, inside one of the city's busy Wetherspoons pubs, retired tradesmen dismiss the worries expressed by their younger generation.

Britain has been through worse before and still managed to survive, they say, adding that Brexit is the "most effective" way to deal with the immigration issue.

The absence of an official exit poll means that the majority of the people in Manchester and elsewhere won't discover whether their country has a future in the EU until they wake up this morning.

But regardless of whether Britain leaves or goes, Mancunians insist that one thing will remain the same: their close ties with us Irish.

On Wednesday, they had gathered to watch Ireland's stunning victory over Italy.

The close bond was evident, they said, from the way Manchester drinkers in the city's pubs raised a glass to the 'Boys in Green'.

This is a city that has opened its doors and shared its dreams with thousands of Irish who decided to call Manchester their home away from home.

Irish Independent

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