Councillors support ‘People’s Vote’ on Brexit

Waltham Forest Council becomes second East London borough to back vote on deal to leave EU, reports James Cracknell

Walthamstow Town Hall

Waltham Forest Town Hall

Councillors in Waltham Forest have voted to back calls for a ‘People’s Vote’ on Brexit.

The move was supported by the Labour majority, but opposed by the Conservative opposition, in an often fractious debate at Waltham Forest Town Hall on Thursday night (18th).

It comes as the government continues to struggle to negotiate a deal with the European Union ahead of the official leaving date on 29th March 2019. Thousands of people are expected to join a People’s Vote march in central London on Saturday.

Councillor Clare Coghill, the council leader, told the meeting: “Whatever bonkers Brexit Boris Johnson comes up with next, it will be extremely damaging.

“People are losing their jobs, hate crime is rising – the problem with Brexit is Brexit, and the people of Waltham Forest agree. They understand that it means struggling to fund public services, isolation for small businesses, and families with EU citizens worrying about their future.”

In the June 2016 referendum, 59 percent of voters in Waltham Forest backed remaining in the EU. This contrasted with the nation as a whole, as 52 percent voted to leave.

A second vote, on the final Brexit deal with the EU, is now being proposed and has already received backing from key figures such as Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

Councillor Simon Miller proposed that the council back a People’s Vote. He said: “Quite frankly it is terrifying.

“Faced with the facts of Brexit, people no longer want to leave the EU – 81 percent of young people back staying. The people should be asked again. When the facts change it reasonable for people to change their minds.

“People voted to leave, you may remember, because they want to see increased funding for the NHS – what was written on that bus. They didn’t vote to be poorer, to lose their right to work and travel, to see the NHS short-staffed. They were told these things wouldn’t happen, but they are.

“As a borough that voted overwhelmingly to remain, it is time to stand up and be counted. We should have faith in the people of this country to vote again.”

Cllr Miller’s speech received a standing ovation from the Labour benches, but was followed by a heated debate with Tory councillors.

Councillor Alan Siggers, the Conservative group leader, pointed out that the EU Referendum Act was approved by both Houses of Parliament in 2015, as was the European Union Bill in March 2017 that formally began the Brexit process. Both votes were backed by the Labour leadership.

“The question was simple; leave or remain,” said Cllr Siggers. “It didn’t say ‘if you vote leave, go to Brexit option two; hard or soft”. It didn’t say ‘if you vote remain, do you want a second referendum?'”

“This was one of the biggest democratic exercises this country has ever had – 33 million people voted. Whether you like it or not, 52 percent vote to leave. I realise maths is not Labour’s strong point, but 52 is bigger than 48.

“Both the Labour and Conservative manifestos at the last general election talked about respecting the result.”

Other Tory councillors described the hour-long council debate over the People’s Vote as a “waste of time”.

Councillor Andy Hemsted said: “We should be talking about local issues, not national issues. If there is a second referendum the people who voted for the first time in years will be disgusted and we will lose them to extremist parties.”

Councillor Nick Halebi said: “I voted to remain and I campaigned to remain, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime decision. 498 MPs voted to give notice to the EU of our decision – including Jeremy Corbyn.

“This motion is a waste of time and is deflecting from the very important business that we need to discuss – addressing homelessness, crime and community cohesion in Waltham Forest.”

Cllr Miller rejected the criticism and said: “We are debating this because it has impacts on every local resident and every local business.”