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British Town Votes For Brexit But Now Resists A Consequence

NOEL KING, HOST:

Brexit is still not finished four years after the U.K. voted to leave the European Union. The EU and U.K. are negotiating new trade rules at the moment, but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is signaling that he will go ahead with a no-deal Brexit if that's not done by October, and some people are getting a sense of what life will look like after. Here's Elliott Hannon.

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ELLIOTT HANNON, BYLINE: Surrounded by rolling fields, the town of Ashford is in many ways quintessentially British. It's an hour south of London on the M20 motorway, surrounded by beautiful countryside, quaint villages with centuries-old pubs.

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HANNON: And soon it will be home to a sprawling new customs checkpoint, one that's capable of holding 2,000 trucks at a time.

LIZ WRIGHT: Two weeks ago, there were trees and hedges and wildflowers all around - and now diggers. The landscape has completely changed.

HANNON: The reason that local residents like Liz Wright (ph) are experiencing that change is because Ashford sits on the main route for trucks travelling to and from Europe through the U.K.'s key ferry port in Dover. Ten thousand trucks from the continent arrive at the port each day. The British government says millions of trucks will need customs checks next year once Britain leaves the European single market. Many of those checks will take place in Ashford.

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HANNON: Locals are worried about traffic, the noise of idling through the night and the environmental impact. But they also wanted Brexit. In 2016, 60% of the area voted to leave the EU. Even still, many constituents are unhappy the result landed in their backyard. Damian Green, the area MP for the ruling Conservative Party, told Parliament the trucks - known in Britain as lorries - should go elsewhere.

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DAMIAN GREEN: My right honorary friend (ph) be aware that I consider the decision to put an outbound emergency lorry park in my constituency to be wrongheaded.

HANNON: Rick Martin (ph) sits on the local council in one of the villages near the site.

RICK MARTIN: I don't think Kenton's (ph) immune to having a bit of that NIMBYism. Whichever way you voted, this is the reality of that vote, you know? And this is just the start.

HANNON: For the vast majority of British people, not much has changed day to day because of Brexit, but now the truck park is one of the first physical signs that long-promised changes are coming. If Britain and the EU can't come to an agreement, there could be new tariffs, new customs and regulatory checks, that would likely snarl the flow of goods crossing the English Channel. That means the U.K. could face years of economic disruption, but that's a price people who support Brexit are willing to pay.

Tim Bale of the think tank U.K. in a Changing Europe says the British government intends to get Britain out of the EU, no matter the cost.

TIM BALE: The politics of this for the U.K. government means that they have to be seen to deliver on taking back control, which was the big slogan, if you like, of the Brexit campaign.

HANNON: It's a slogan that resonated with voters like Paul Bartlett (ph). He's a county councilor who lives next door to the under-construction customs site.

PAUL BARTLETT: We've had - what? - four years since the referendum. And, frankly, we all are fed up with that. And we want to get Brexit done, and we need the infrastructure in place.

HANNON: Even if that means a massive truck park on their doorstep.

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HANNON: For NPR News, I'm Elliott Hannon in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMAL HANDS' "MANSIONS OF MILLIONS OF YEARS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.