Brexit’s likely impact on Brighton and Hove discussed

Council Chamber without Conservatives
Council Chamber without Conservatives

Labour and Green councillors sat in a partly empty council chamber to discuss the impact of Brexit on Brighton and Hove.

But the Conservatives boycotted the meeting called by the Greens.

The “extraordinary council meeting” was held after the opposition Greens on Brighton and Hove City Council asked for an “impact assessment” to be made public.

They also wanted councillors of all parties to have a chance to debate the council’s preparations for Brexit – Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Although the Conservative group leader, Steve Bell, said that he disagreed with the meeting being held, 12 Tories signed the attendance register.

Councillor Bell called it “a meeting that will cost the taxpayer a fortune in officer time”. This would include preparations for the meeting as well as sitting through it.

And, he added: “We cannot change or influence Brexit. The officers have made an outstanding contribution to prepare the city in readiness.”

The Green group convenor, Phélim Mac Cafferty, was the first to criticise the Conservatives for failing to appear in the chamber.

Councillor Mac Cafferty said that the council had to provide clarity for residents and businesses as people deserved to know what steps would be taken.

He said: “If we crash out of the EU ours will be the only citizens of a major EU country who are not able to work outside their own country with relative ease. It is a tragedy.

“There have been more attacks on BAME and LGBT people. With the language of surrender used irresponsibly just months after we commemorated the life of Jo Cox.

“We’re the land of make do and mend with Union Flags waving and a Conservative government living in another world.”

Councillor Mac Cafferty said that the Prime Minister planned a second prorogation from next Tuesday.

Quoting Karl Marx, he said: “First time is a tragedy. Second time is a farce.”

He claimed that Brexit would mean the loss of 3,500 jobs in Brighton and Hove and he reminded members that the council was among the first in the country to call for a People’s Vote.

The Labour council leader Nancy Platts said that she was disappointed that the Conservatives were not at the debate.

She also shared the apologies of her own party members who could not attend for work, family or health reasons.

It was the council’s role to provide information and advice to people in Brighton and Hove during periods of “great uncertainty”.

She said that she was disappointed that the country was leaving the EU but felt that it was a councillor’s job to reassure residents and businesses to “navigate their way” through the changes ahead.

The chamber heard how the council’s Brexit Resilience and Planning Group was set up two years ago to analyse the potential impacts of leaving the EU and prepare for what was needed.

This included information for travellers, EU citizens in the city as well as advice for businesses, health information and medical supplies.

Councillor Platts said: “For EU residents who want to stay in the UK, I want to say to you that we value the contribution you make and you are welcome to stay in our city and make it your home.

“To help you do this, we have included links to guidance in 26 different European languages that will take you through the process of applying to the EU Settlement Scheme.

“Leaving the EU will affect businesses that received EU funding, employ EU citizens or import and export goods.

“We have provided links to the government’s ‘tools for businesses’ that will let you know what’s changing in your industry.

“It includes advice on tax, contracts and intellectual property that will be helpful to our creative and digital sector here in Brighton and Hove.

“We know that some people are worried about the impact on health and medical supplies, so we’ve included guidance on ordering medicines and what the NHS is doing to prepare.

“There’s also a link to sign up for email alerts on travelling abroad after we leave.

“The last thing any of us want is to get to an airport, ferry terminal or the Eurostar only to be turned away as we don’t have the correct documents.”

Thanking officers for their work, she said that the council would keep its site up to date as soon as the Brexit process became clearer.

Green Sarah Nield asked about medicines and suggested that the Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) was passing on national NHS advice to pick up prescriptions and not stockpile medications.

She said: “In other words, ‘keep calm and carry on – you can trust us’.

“In my opinion, if this is meant to reassure anyone that everything is under control, it does the exact opposite.

“If I was a person in this city with chronic health problems, reliant on daily medication to keep me on an even keel, I’d want a bit more than this government, whose party conference we have just witnessed as a festival of fantasy policies, telling me to trust them, they have ‘robust contingencies’ to keep me alive.

“I’d want to know a bit of actual detail about where my medicine was going to come from.”

Labour’s Amanda Evans told the chamber that, despite living in Brighton for 25 years, she was an Italian, Maltese, Welsh, Belgian Londoner.

She said that she was horrified by what had happened to the Windrush generation and the so-called ‘hostile environment’.

Councillor Evans said: “I am equally horrified by more recent stories trickling out through the few honest media outlets of the new hostile environment being created for the UK’s millions of EU citizens, many of whom feel that the EU Settlement Scheme has been deliberately designed as a confusing maze of trip wires set up to catch them out and throw them out.

“Rather than to support them in continuing to enrich this country with their presence, both financially and culturally.”

Green Tom Druitt said that Brexit would have a disproportionate impact on small local businesses especially in the tourism and hospitality sector which employed a significant number of foreign workers.

He said that bigger businesses had risk managers and teams to help deal with Brexit.

But a small restaurant owner would not be keen to go through government websites at 1am after cleaning up for the night.

Councillor Druitt said: “If we lose our small business sector, the bohemian vibe that Brighton has will be lost. That would be a very great shame for our city.”

Labour’s finance lead, Daniel Yates, said that he had learnt in recent weeks that Shoreham was the fourth largest fishing port in the country and the largest scallop port in Europe.

He said: “This will be affected by Brexit, which was supposed to be doing wonderful things for our fishing industry.

“Shoreham exports most of its fish to Europe.”

The mayor of Brighton and Hove, Alex Phillips, received a special dispensation to chair the meeting because she is also a Member of the European Parliament (MEP).

Those councillors who attended the meeting voted unanimously to ensure that updated impact assessments from the Brext Working Group were made public.

They also asked the chief executive to write to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson to express the council’s support for a People’s Vote and its dismay that the suspension of Parliament could leave local communities unprepared for Brexit.

The letter would also spell out the council’s concerns about the impact of Brexit on small businesses and tourism, vulnerable residents and EU citizens requiring support with settled status.