24 March 2019
The vast majority of Cornish natives are of Celtic descent, and have their own unique culture and language.
The vast majority of Cornish natives are of Celtic descent, and have their own unique culture and language.

The Cornish: A different group of people with a different story

While most of the regions in Britain that bear separatist sentiment — such as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are pro-EU, the county of Cornwall is perhaps a striking exception.

For centuries the Cornish people have been fighting to preserve their unique identity and to gain more autonomy from London. However, unlike their Scottish, Welsh and Irish counterparts, the Cornish people are so proud of their own culture that they are both anti-London and anti-EU.

In the recent Brexit referendum, the Cornish people voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU. The reason why they dislike the EU is because many of them believe it would be more efficient for London to directly subsidize their region than through the various development funds of the EU, where Britain is among the biggest contributors.

Located at the southwestern corner of England, Cornwall is a peninsula which is separated from the English inland by the River Tamar. The vast majority of Cornish natives are of Celtic descent, and have their unique culture and their own language that date back to thousands of years.

Throughout history Cornwall has constantly been at odds, or sometimes even at war, with the central government in London over issues such as tax, administrative system and autonomy, because like the Scots and the Irish, the Cornish simply think of themselves as a different ethnic group from the English.

Some Cornish nationalists believe their region should become a semi-independent political entity like Scotland and Northern Ireland and have their own parliament. After Cornwall was declared a duchy in the 14th century by the Westminster, its constitutional status within the United Kingdom has remained rather unclear. Given their unique cultural identity, the Cornish think they should be allowed a lot more autonomy.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, nativist movement has gained wide popularity among the Cornish people.

Through their dogged perseverance and efforts over the years, the Cornish people eventually gained the same minority status as their Scottish and Welsh counterparts in 2014, and reached an agreement with London over the transfer of more administrative power to their county administration.

Many Cornish people see it as a monumental triumph and a milestone in their history.

It remains to be seen whether Cornwall can eventually gain the same political status as Scotland and Northern Ireland.

As the Cornish people are overwhelmingly anti-EU despite receiving tens of billions of dollars in subsidies from Brussels, it shows that in some cases you just can’t buy the allegiance and loyalty of a people.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 14.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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