Eastleigh is officially backing calls for a second referendum after Councillors overwhelmingly backed a motion calling on the government to hold a referendum to accept or reject whatever deal the government finally negotiates as a result of Brexit negotiations – with an option to withdraw Article 50 and remain in the European Union.
In the EU referendum in June 2016 Eastleigh voted almost 40% to 36% to leave the bloc. The turnout percentage of 78% was high – though not a record for the constituency – but nevertheless a total of 76,000 voted on the issue of EU membership although Eastleigh’s total population is 130,000.
Councillor Alex Bourne (Liberal Democrat) who represents Eastleigh South Ward proposed the motion at the full council meeting held at The Point last Thursday night (18 October) saying:
“Council notes that it is more than two years since the referendum and the government has still to present to the public a deal with the European union that secures a strong and stable place for Britain in world, or that delivers on the promises of the leave campaign.”
On the doorsteps of Eastleigh this year many residents from the EU have told me they are sacred for their future and don’t know what they are going to do. The Prime Minister has said they are safe but there are no agreements and they continue to be used as pawns in negotiations they are people who have come into our community and have given so much and enriched our lives. They are our friends our neighbours our colleagues our teachers our lecturers. They are our bus drivers our shop assistants. Many are now our husbands, wives, mothers and fathers”
Many Liberal Democrat councillors spoke in support of a second vote in the debate that followed.
Cllr Manning, who represents Hamble and Netley, quoted arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg as having previously said that “ having two referendums was a sensible way to proceed.” Cllr Manning also claimed that the former Brexit Secretary David Davies seemed to have been unaware that member states in the European customs union were unable to negotiate separate trade deals with the UK and observed that “what we really have is a shamblexit.”
Cllr Gomer (West End North) described how important the UK’s membership of the EU was for it’s continued participation in pan-European projects in the fields of science, technology and education and that any disruption to existing projects by Brexit would impact on people in Eastleigh. Cllr Gomer said that most young people supported continued membership of the EU because “they value the opportunities that membership brings.”
The councillor drew applause when he said:
“The Brexit that was sold to the people of the UK is not the Brexit that will be delivered. It’s time to give the people of Britain a chance for a final say.”
Veteran Councillor Alan Broadhurst (Chandler’s Ford) revealed that he had voted to stay out of Europe in the first referendum that was called in 1975 but was in favour of second (or rather in Cllr Broadhurst’s case – a third) referendum saying:
“I resent the way it has divided young and old, I resent the division in society. A final vote is the only sensible way forward.”
Another West End Councillor Councillor Janice Asman wasn’t quite as enthusiastic:
“I do have a deep-seated concern about the principle of a second referendum I hope that it will not create a principle that each time there is a decision made we go screaming back saying ‘I want another vote please’”
Although despite her reservations the councillor still voted in favour of the motion.
The Leader of the Bishopstoke Independents was concerned that motion was exploiting popular support for ‘a peoples vote’ for political purposes saying she was “mortified” by the debate which she described as “cheap shots” and “outrageous political point-scoring.”
“I would have liked to hear a debate about the impact of Brexit on Eastleigh. What is it going to do to us? What are we going to suffer or how are we going to benefit?”
The Independent leader added that any debate should be “based on evidence” and while she ‘wholeheartedly agreed” with many of the comments that had been made she could not “condone it [Brexit] being used as “a political football.”
Cabinet member and councillor for Hamble and Netley David Airey said he sympathised with Cllr Parker-Jones and mounted a defence of representative democracy.
“I do not believe in the use of referenda in a Parliamentary Democracy. It is for our Members of Parliament, good or bad as they may be, to make the decisions on our behalf. We voted them there and we pay them enough money to do it – and its their job to do it – and they kicked this into the public to make the decision because they haven’t got the guts to make the decision they should have made – whichever party they belong to.”
The councillor said the current polarisation of the electorate had been caused by the referendum and warned:
“A second referendum will only make things worse and split the country even more when we desperately need to get back to discussing proper things like the National Health Service transport, environment air quality and all the other important issues that the public want solved.”
Independent Councillor Gin Tidridge told the meeting she also “wholeheartedly agreed” with her Leader that Brexit was being used as a “political point-scoring exercise” by the Liberal Democrat group but added she also agreed with Cllr Airey that “the referendum was a bad thing in the first place and having a second one won’t fix the issue.”
Cllr Tidrdge continued:
“As a council we shouldn’t be focusing on issues we can’t control. We should be focussing on issues we can control and do have influence over.”
Summing up Cllr Bourne said he appreciated Brexit was an emotive but rejected the accusations of the Independent councillors that he introduced the motion to score political points insisting that it reflected the concerns of the Eastleigh residents he spoken to on the doorstep.
The motion was comfortably carried. The three members of the Independent group – including the two who had spoken against the motion-abstained along Cllr David Airey while the Conservative opposition group, who taken no part in the debate all voted against.
There had been no public participation and notably, there had been no representation from Eastleigh’s Ukip branch.
Just a few years ago the Eurosceptic party were riding high in the polls and had pushed the Conservatives into third place in the 2013 Eastleigh by-election, after which they captured three of the borough’s County Council divisions from the Liberal Democrats in County elections but since the referendum – and the resignation of their charismatic leader Nigel Farage – support for the local party has waned along with its national standings.
After the vote one senior local Ukip party activist told Eastleigh News he had unable to attend the debate as he had been on holiday in Europe.