Last weekend saw the third Mid Summer Fish Festival, organised and funded by Hastings Council. It’s a popular event, with many visitors enjoying a mix of music, local crafts and produce, cookery demonstrations, and lots of fish. But everyone who spoke to me, while enjoying the festival, had one thing on their mind: what happens to Hastings now Britain has voted to leave the EU?
Hastings Council has around £5m of EU funding in the pipeline at the moment - more has been promised to other organisations in the borough. The future of this funding is far from clear. For the time being, Britain remains a full member of the EU, so funding ought to be secure. But it’s not certain, particularly for funds that haven’t yet been fully approved. We shall certainly be joining with Cornwall Council and others to demand that the government guarantees both current and future funding for more deprived areas, at least at the levels we have received in recent years.
Our fishery, too, could suffer. Fishing quotas will still be necessary to protect stocks, and the government will presumably continue to allocate much of the quota to the bigger trawlers, and not to the under ten metre fleet. But there will be more of an incentive to trawlers from EU states to ‘poach’ fish from UK waters, as they won’t be subject to EU sanctions. It would be down to the UK government to protect our fish stocks - difficult, with only three fisheries protection vessels to protect 11,000 miles of coastline!
But so much is now unknown. We don’t know how long the UK will remain officially in the EU, although it seems likely it will be for some years. And we don’t know what kind of a deal we’ll end up with. If free movement of citizens across our borders with the EU ends, that could seriously damage tourism in Hastings, which is still our biggest local industry, as well as the foreign language schools that have flourished in recent years. And the ability of Hastings young people to go to EU countries to work and study could be curtailed too. Hastings has benefited greatly from our links with other EU towns and partnerships with them. This could become much more restricted.
But perhaps the most immediate danger is that EU visitors to Hastings will simply be put off coming here because they feel less welcome. If that happens, jobs in tourism will be lost and the local economy will suffer. The council will be doing what it can to continue to promote Hastings as a welcoming town. It will be even more important now to stress that EU visitors will always be welcome - something we can all contribute to in the way we communicate with overseas visitors.
So for this summer, there’s still plenty on offer for local people, UK visitors, and EU visitors to enjoy, including Hastings Carnival, St Leonards Festival, the Beer and Music Festival, the Seafood and Wine Festival, Stade Saturdays, and of course the ROOT1066 Arts Festival to celebrate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. Every one of these will be a wonderful opportunity to promote Hastings to an international audience. I can only hope that Britain, and Hastings, will remain as accessible and welcoming as it always has been.
The economic future of our town depends on it.