For centuries, the English town of Hastings has been famous for its 1066 battle that defeated King Harold’s army and started the Norman conquest of Britain.
But the seaside town facing France is now caught up in a modern-day battle over Anglo-European relations as Brexit divides opinions among its locals.
Fishermen in Hastings want Prime Minister Theresa May to take Britain out of the EU without a deal but others are deeply concerned about the risks, reflecting sharp divisions in the country as a whole.
Hastings’ symbolism may not have been lost on opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who visited for a speech on Thursday to insist he would not discuss a possible way forward with May unless she ruled out Britain leaving the EU with no deal.
Hastings fishermen, with an eye on more maritime access, want the hardest possible Brexit: sailing out of the European Union with no deal at all come Brexit day, scheduled for March 29.
‘We want a no deal, taking back control of our territorial waters,’ said Paul Joy, 69, who chairs the Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society, the fleet’s governing body, pointing to a sea chart marked with boundary lines.
‘I feel absolutely betrayed by the MPs,’ he told AFP.
With around 27 boats, the Hastings fishing fleet is one of the largest beach-launched fleets in Europe.
Vessels are hauled up onto the shingle, just as they have been for hundreds of years.
‘The end of democracy’
Britain’s parliament this week delivered its crushing verdict on the deal negotiated by May with the EU over the past two years.
Its rejection of the draft agreement leaves Britain heading for major disruption in just over two months’ time.
‘There is only deadlock because our MPs won’t back the country’s decision. Brexit is being run by people who don’t want to leave,’ Joy said.
‘We’re an island community, a seafaring nation and we’ve destroyed nearly all the coastal community fisheries through lack of access to fish,’ as part of the EU’s common fisheries policy.
He said a second Brexit referendum – a possibility touted by many MPs – would be ‘the end of democracy’.
In the seismic 2016 referendum, 55 percent in Hastings voted for Britain to leave the EU.
Hastings and Rye is represented in parliament by Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd – a May loyalist and ardent Remainer.
She won the seat by a 0.7 percent margin in 2017 – a top target for Corbyn if Labour succeeds in forcing a new general election.
Out of time
Remain voter Neil Hetherington, 46, an artist and designer, was standing in the winter sunshine on the promenade.
‘We’re in a really bad place. Anxiety is exacerbating,’ he said of the Brexit impasse.
‘Every day seems like a step backwards, and we don’t have time now to do that.
‘It doesn’t feel like we’re a nation going in one direction.’
Fritz Catlin, 56, a gardener and sound engineer, said of the parliamentary stand-off: ‘The politicians have shown themselves to be incapable of working for the people.
‘I really hope we don’t leave on March 29 but anything’s possible now.’
Marianne Hall, sat outside a boutique shop, said she was more worried about the fracturing of society in Britain over Brexit than Brexit itself.
‘I can’t see how we can leave Europe. It wouldn’t work, we’re too integrated,’ she said. ‘I don’t know if there is a way out.’