Blog: Billy Bragg and Tim Martin dine across the divide: ‘Not everyone who voted Brexit is racist, but every racist voted Brexit’ – The Guardian

Tim, 67, Devon

Occupation Businessman, the founder and chairman of the JD Wetherspoon pub chain

Voting record Tim mostly doesn’t vote. He voted leave in the EU referendum, and was an active campaigner for Brexit

Amuse bouche Tim once thought he could become the world’s greatest squash player. He couldn’t, and injured his back trying

Billy, 64, Dorset

Occupation Singer-songwriter, Bard of Barking

Voting record Since the 1980s, Billy Bragg has been associated with leftwing activism, and in the last two general elections he voted Labour: for Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn. In the EU referendum he voted remain

Amuse bouche Billy once shook hands with the Queen. She came to one of his gigs and asked for his autograph. (Kinda) true story – long story, too long

For starters

Billy I’ve been to a Wetherspoon’s pub, the Greyhound in Bridport. It’s a good place to grab good solid grub, any time.

Tim It’s unfair to ask if I’ve been to a Billy Bragg concert. I haven’t been to anyone’s concert. I have listened to plenty of his records.

The big beef

Tim My theory is that for the world to survive you need democracy – proper democracy in China, in Russia, everywhere. The EU is becoming less democratic, with an unelected president, etc. If you have a democratic government …

Billy Surely if democracy means anything it means society is bounded by accountability. In Boris Johnson you had someone who has never been accountable for anything, in his political or his private life. I feel that because the Brexit vote was so focused on regulations, it was also fundamentally about avoiding accountability.

Tim You could get rid of Boris – you can’t fire Ursula von der Leyen. I think the prize of more democracy will pay off, because it always has around the world.

Billy Brexit was sold on less red tape, less regulation; it’s actually led to more. For example, I don’t make money selling records any more because of streaming; the only way we do it is through mail order. But mail order into Europe is totally messed up now. People are sending stuff back because they are getting charged so much. And if I go on tour there’s no end of paperwork.

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Tim Well, that’s not good. The EU had free trade within its borders – that’s a good thing, but it’s protectionist too. Now we can eliminate tariffs from outside the EU, which would benefit countries that are mostly poorer than us.

Billy How long have we been out and who have we signed free trade deals with? Australia and New Zealand. And who will be the winners: our farmers or their farmers?

Tim You don’t need a free trade deal to get rid of a tariff. I think these things get sorted out if you can sack the people who make the rules. The whole thing is quite complex. When you boil it down there are some disadvantages and some advantages – linked to the fact that it is more democratic.

Sharing plate

Tim If you and I were running the country, we would say: here’s the big issue …

Billy (interrupting) Mate, I’ve spent 40 years becoming a beloved entertainer. If I wanted people to hate me I’d become a parking attendant or something.

Tim On a ticket with me …

Billy I’d be leader of the opposition.

Tim Obviously we’re not going to agree on everything, so let’s get some things we can agree on, then form a policy based on as many things as possible we can agree on. I actually thought the coalition government had some quite good policies.

Billy I don’t agree with you on that. Austerity, mate.

For afters

Tim. Immigration is a good thing, and we need a reasonable level of it. The only thing is: it should be controlled by people we’ve elected.

Billy Not everyone who voted for Brexit is racist, but I do believe that every racist voted Brexit.

Tim People coming here legally has been very important to the UK over the centuries.

Billy The Brexit arguments unfortunately did boil down to a form of nationalism. When that box was opened a lot of stuff came out that hadn’t been in mainstream politics since Enoch Powell.


Tim I think Billy is a force for good because people should say what they think. His views obviously aren’t the same as mine, but that’s what makes the world go round.

Billy I don’t think we’re representatives of the most divisive elements within society.

Tim We’re urbane, intellectual.

Billy The trouble with Tim is he just wants to get on with people. He’s a landlord; he wants to be “mine host”.

Tim and Billy ate at George’s Meeting House, a Wetherspoon’s pub in Exeter. Jess, serving, said she was happy with her wages, but, frankly, with the big boss there, it would have been hard to say anything else.

Want to meet someone from across the divide? Find out how to take part

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