A Norfolk MP has raised eyebrows by describing his constituency as "140 years away" from thriving Cambridge with voters who backed Brexit "despite my best urgings".

George Freeman, who was speaking at a business conference, compared his Mid Norfolk seat unfavourably with the university city.

He also adopted a mock Norfolk accent to highlight the different "mindset" between those in his rural constituency and Cambridge.

Eastern Daily Press: People punting in CambridgePeople punting in Cambridge (Image: Newsquest)

Mr Freeman, who was born in Cambridge, made his remarks at an Eastern Powerhouse business conference in the city.

He said: "It has been extraordinary to watch [the growth of Cambridge] and I am now a member of parliament for Mid Norfolk which is all of 40 miles that way but it might as well be 140 years away.

"And it voted 70pc for Brexit despite my best urgings and that tells you something about the disconnection."

Eastern Daily Press: George Freeman has been the MP for Mid Norfolk since 2010George Freeman has been the MP for Mid Norfolk since 2010 (Image: George Freeman)

He said Mid Norfolk was "so disconnected from this world of Porsches, millionaires, get-rich-quick spivs, esoteric academics".

And he went on to highlight the "completely different mindset" in his constituency, by adding, in a mock Norfolk accent, that: "[People in Mid Norfolk] say 'George doesn't have a clue what life's like down 'ere."

"That disconnection is quite important," he added. "It drove Brexit, which I think has not helped the science ecosystem and I think this is at the heart of what the Eastern Powerhouse is trying to address."

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Eastern Daily Press: An aerial view looking across Wymondham, with its abbey in the foregroundAn aerial view looking across Wymondham, with its abbey in the foreground (Image: Newsquest)


Michael Rosen, Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for Mid Norfolk, said the remarks showed a "lack of understanding and respect for the people who voted for him".

He accused the MP of "criticising his voters behind their backs".

Eastern Daily Press: Michael RosenMichael Rosen (Image: Labour Party)

However, others in the area supported his analysis of Mid Norfolk.

Paul Sandford, landlord of the Railway Tavern in Dereham, said his sentiments resonated.

“We do tend to be forgotten about here in the backwaters and George is doing his best to highlight it.

"Dereham is like an old house and it needs renovating. The town centre is in an absolute disgrace, it is nobody’s fault as there isn’t enough money to do anything about it.

"Whereas funding goes elsewhere - Cambridge seems to get lots of grants while we do not get anything."

Eastern Daily Press: Paul Sandford, landlord of the Railway Tavern in DerehamPaul Sandford, landlord of the Railway Tavern in Dereham (Image: Archant)


Mr Freeman, who has been an MP for Mid Norfolk since 2010, has clarified his comments to insist they were not meant as a criticism, but to highlight the way his constituency had been 'left behind', compared to places like Cambridge.

Eastern Daily Press: Dereham town centre - one of Mid Norfolk's biggest settlementsDereham town centre - one of Mid Norfolk's biggest settlements (Image: Newsquest)

"Norfolk has been treated as a backwater for decades. We don't want massive urban sprawl. We want thriving small businesses in a vibrant economy," he added.

He said he believed the Eastern Powerhouse could play an important role in improving Norfolk's economy and establishing greater links to places like Cambridge.

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James Palmer, director of the group - which is made up of MPs, councillors and business leaders - said the organisation can help grow the economy by lobbying ministers.

He argued Whitehall was failing to unlock the full economic potential of the east because it was neglecting to invest in the region.

Eastern Daily Press: James Palmer, director of Eastern PowerhouseJames Palmer, director of Eastern Powerhouse (Image: Newsquest)

It is one of the only regions that does not have a government-funded 'powerhouse' despite being the third biggest economy in the country, he said. 

Better road and railway links are a key aspect of their vision to create a unified region and talks are currently under way about creating a new railway station in King's Lynn, as well as turning areas around other railway stations into 'business hubs'.

"The government does not recognise the potential of the east. Investment could unlock £30bn of economic growth," he said.