Tories refuse to take part in County Hall debate on Brexit

The UK is set to leave the European Union after a referendum in 2016
The UK is set to leave the European Union after a referendum in 2016

Conservative members of West Sussex County Council have refused to take part in a debate about the consequences of a ‘hard Brexit’.

A notice of motion was put before the council on Friday (July 20), calling on leader Louise Goldsmith to write to MPs to express a ‘strong desire’ for a public referendum on the final deal, which is expected to be announced in October.

But Paul High (Con, Worthing West) told the meeting that none of his party would be joining the debate as ‘this council chamber isn’t the place to discuss this’.

The motion also asked Mrs Goldsmith to write to the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, and to call on all local authority leaders and Local Government Associations to adopt a policy calling for a public referendum.

James Walsh (Lib Dem, Littlehampton East), who tabled the motion, told the meeting: “There is mounting and indisputable evidence of damage that a hard Brexit would cause.

“We’ve had statements – strongly worded statements – from the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the British Chambers of Commerce and the Federations of Small Business all saying that.”

Dr Walsh was supported by Morwen Millson (Lib Dem, Horsham Riverside), who said: “I actually believe that, as the chaos of the last couple of months becomes clearer, more and more people in this county are looking to us for leadership.

“We’ve got major car producers, including our own Rolls-Royce. We’ve got many other major employers warning about the impact of leaving the customs union.

“Given the massive confusion, even in the Conservative Party itself, it seems entirely appropriate that a further public vote should take place.”

While acknowledging that he had voted Remain, and agreeing with the motion from Dr Walsh, Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate & Gossops Green) said all members of the Labour group would abstain from the vote.

Speaking on behalf of the group, Mr Jones said: “The Brexit result saddened me personally, but we don’t think that’s sufficient to re-run the referendum. We absolutely feel that there’s been a result.

“If we applied the principle that unfair or untrue statements had influenced people in a poll, I don’t think any general election in the last 200 years would ever have been valid.”

Mr Jones said he ‘couldn’t think of anything worse’ than re-running the referendum, bemoaning the ‘sheer divisiveness and the nastiness that it all seemed to produce’.

He added: “I struggle to see our residents wanting to see us spending our time trying to reverse this.”

The motion was defeated by 41 votes to six, with seven abstentions.