It is a state of affairs that even the town’s longtime residents struggle to comprehend.
“It’s absolutely astonishing,” says Caroline Cox, who helps manage the EU-supported Jubilee Wharf development.
“It’s this flabbergasting situation where so much money has been put in [by the EU] yet people are turning their backs.” With just 530,000 people, Cornwall took in more than €654m from Brussels during the EU’s 2007 to 2013 budget cycle, among the UK’s biggest beneficiaries.
Tucked away in Britain’s remote south-west corner, with its own heritage and language, Cornwall does not always enthusiastically identify itself as English, still less as European.
“We’re different from the English,” said one woman handing out Vote Leave pamphlets last week, explaining her contempt for the EU. ” Still, some locals strongly support the EU, which has provided economic support to a region that has struggled to regain its prosperity since the closure of tin mines in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Bert Biscoe, a poet and musician who is an independent member of Cornwall’s governing council, credits Brussels for nurturing Cornwall’s cultural identity.
But Cornwall is a reminder that the EU’s money does not necessarily buy love. Those who support remaining in the EU are panicking at the discovery of “outers” all around them. Many in Cornwall appear motivated by less-quantifiable factors.
The region has traditionally lived from the sea and residents are often furious at EU fishing policies, which they believe have benefited French and Spanish fleets at their expense.
Cornwall also shares much of the western world’s palpable dissatisfaction with government and elites — an anger that, in this instance, has fuelled a movement to ban second home purchases by wealthy outsiders.And the campaign has cast a light on passions — fundamentally concerning identity — that are not easily reconciled by development grants or economic projections.The EU’s largesse stretches in all directions in Penryn, a faded waterfront town in England’s westernmost county of Cornwall.There is the brand new university campus on the hill above the town, built with more than £100m from Brussels.Down at the water’s edge, the EU has helped transform a dilapidated wharf into a funky office space. And it has spent £50m to help bring superfast broadband internet service to a remote region where it was scarce.Yet many in Penryn are ready to quit the EU when Britain holds a national referendum next month.