Eastbourne councillors vote to back calls for a Brexit People’s Vote

Eastbourne Town Hall
Eastbourne Town Hall

Eastbourne Borough Council has given its backing to a campaign calling for a so-called People’s Vote on the UK’s Brexit deal.

The majority of members on the Liberal Democrat-controlled council voted to give its support in response to a motion put forward by  Steve Wallis (Lib Dem, Devonshire) at a full council meeting on Wednesday (November 14).

Cllr Steve Wallis

Cllr Steve Wallis

The motion stated that the council would respect the result of the 2016 referendum but also call on the Government to hold a ‘People’s Vote’ on the final terms of the UK leaving the European Union.

Kicking off the debate, Cllr Wallis said: “How has the Government managed the Brexit negotiation? If you consider a split Conservative party in the House of Commons, endless ministerial resignations, the DUP still holding the prime minister to ransom.

“It is 130 days before we are due to come out and there is still no sign of a deal that will unite the Tory Party let alone Parliament and the country. I conclude that it has not been a tremendous success.

“This is why the country needs a People’s Vote. Politicians at Westminster have made a hash of negotiating a coherent way of leaving the EU without splitting the country.

“For the sake of democracy – whether you are a Leaver or a Remainer – we need the opportunity to look at those terms and say ‘actually, I support that’ or ‘actually, I can’t’.”

Cllr Wallis’ comments were made before news of the resignations of Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey and several junior ministers over Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

While the motion gained support from many of the council’s Liberal Democrats members, it was opposed by the authority’s Conservative group.

Robert Smart (Con, Meads) was among those opposing the motion. He said: “This motion is a nonsense. It is a nonsense in both principle and in detail.

“In principle, we have already had a people’s vote and we voted to leave the European Union. It was a once in a generation decision. Everybody knew this and it was not conditional on the terms of leaving.  More than 30,000 voters in Eastbourne voted to Leave.

“In detail, we all know the questions on the ballot paper are crucial. This motion is wholly inadequate in only defining one choice. What is or are the choices?”

Cllr Smart went on to challenge those supporting the motion to tell him what questions would appear on a ballot, saying that he believed there was currently no answer.

The motion also came in for criticism from Conservative group leader Tony Freebody (Ratton), who said it ignored the 2016 result.

He said: “The motion states ‘that the council respects the result of the 2016 referendum’. But the thing is the Lib Dems as a party don’t support that. Jo Swinson, your deputy leader is calling for ‘an exit from Brexit’. Number one on your budget plan is ‘stop Brexit.’

“This isn’t a People’s Vote it is a stop Brexit [vote].”

He added that ‘no one in the People’s Vote campaign knew’ what question would be on the  ballot paper and confirmed that his group would have a free vote on the motion.

In response Liberal Democrat council leader David Tutt (St Anthony’s) said: “The reason for a People’s Vote is that when people were asked ‘do we want to be in Europe or out of Europe’ it was that uninformed or that ill-informed.

“There were no details of the terms. It is rather like being asked in principle ‘do you want to buy a house?’ It was like doing that then saying that someone else will arrange the details.

“I don’t actually believe it should only be remainers who are calling for a People’s Vote.

“I believe that is should be people on both sides of the argument, so that people can read for themselves the details and terms of the exit package and decided whether or not that is right for Great Britain.”

Cllr Tutt also confirmed his group would have a free vote on the motion.

Despite this, the final named vote came in along party lines with 16 Liberal Democrat councillors voting in favour and all eight Conservative councillors voting against the motion.

Eastbourne mayor Gill Mattock (Lib Dem – St Anthony’s) and deputy mayor Kathy Ballard (Independent Conservative – Meads) both abstained from the vote as the positions are traditionally non-political.

Earlier in the meeting the council had heard from public speakers Paula Welch and Martin Jones, who spoke in support of the motion, and Jane Lamb, who spoke against it.