Two of Lancashire’s councils will vote this week on whether to support calls for a second Brexit referendum.
Lancashire County Council is set to debate a motion put forward by Green Party councillor Gina Dowding, backing a so-called ‘People’s Vote’ on the terms of the UK’s departure from the European Union. Members will also be asked to instruct the authority to carry out its own study of the potential impact of Brexit on the county.
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It emerged in August that dozens of councils across the country had commissioned similar reports – with the majority reaching negative conclusions. Fears included possible difficulties in recruiting sufficient numbers of social care workers and also shortages of food and medicines.
At the same time as the debate in county hall on Thursday, Preston City Council will also be asked to support a second referendum – and invite the Prime Minister to meet city leaders to discuss their “concerns” about Brexit.
Liberal Democrat councillor Neil Darby says the vote is necessary because of “mounting evidence” that jobs and investment are being jeopardised in the city because of the uncertainty over the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
“We know an awful lot more about what Brexit’s going to look like now than we did [at the time of the referendum],” Cllr Darby said. A lot of the promises we were sold back in 2016 – the likes of the infamous £350m for the NHS, of course – have been proven to be completely incorrect.”
And Cllr Darby claims it is “only right” that a second referendum should have an outright ‘remain’ option on the ballot paper.
“If you look at what a lot of the senior Leave campaigners were telling us before the referendum, [they said] nobody was talking about leaving the single market – and yet that looks likely to happen.”
A survey last month revealed that Preston was one of four parliamentary constituencies in the county which would now opt to remain in the EU, having originally voted to leave back in 2016 – the others were West Lancashire, Lancaster and Fleetwood and Blackburn. Every constituency in Lancashire voted for Brexit in the original referendum.
This week’s town hall vote would need the support of the city council’s ruling Labour group – and that would require local councillors to commit to a more definitive position on Brexit than their national party. At its conference last month, Labour resolved to keep all options on the table over a Brexit deal, including a referendum – but will first demand a general election if parliament fails to support the final deal.
However, Cllr Darby is unlikely to be backed by Conservative members on the city council, one of whom has rejected claims that the public has changed its mind – and branded the People’s Vote a “disaster for democracy”.
Cllr Daniel Dewhurst said: “A second referendum would be an insult to those voters who are already tinkering on the edge of political sobriety.
It would be catastrophic for Britain and would erode the very foundations of our democracy. It would suggest that a majority is an insufficient criterion for democratic legitimacy, undermining all decisions and elections for the foreseeable future and all manner of political institutions and democratic authorities.
“It would erode the very basis of democracy itself as a means of collective decision making and it would reaffirm the view held by a large proportion of the general public in Preston – who are already disillusioned with politics – that ‘their vote does not matter.’ And who could blame them if we re-ran the referendum?
“Cllr Darby and his so-called ‘Democratic’ colleagues may argue that ‘voters are entitled to change their minds’ – yet this is a deeply dishonest claim. If they are so genuinely keen on enabling voters to change their minds, surely it is fair to ask whether he would be willing to entertain a third referendum, to support the outcome of the second?
Meanwhile, for Cllr Darby, the prospect which emerged last week of the UK remaining in the customs union and even the single market for an indefinite ‘backstop’ period would be the “worst of both worlds” – and one which would leave him as unhappy as Brexiteers like Boris Johnson.
And he insists that the invite for Theresa May to come to Preston is more than just political posturing.
“Most people live in large towns and smaller cities like Preston – they don’t live in a London or a Manchester.
“I think it would be good for the PM to come to Preston as an example of where many ordinary people live. Come and see the problems we are facing, come and see what a Brexit would mean for us – and then take that down to Westminster and act on it,” Cllr Darby added.