People’s Vote demo: Labour councillors miss biggest ever Brexit march
Council leader Georgia Gould says budget cuts meeting which clashed with demo could not be re-arranged
25 October, 2018 — By Richard Osley
NEARLY all of Camden’s Labour councillors missed the biggest public demonstration so far on Brexit after a meeting on council cuts was scheduled for the same time.
More than 700,000 marched through the streets of central London on Saturday calling for a People’s Vote – the label which has been given to the idea of a new national referendum on Britain’s divorce from Europe. Asked why Labour councillors appeared to be absent, Town Hall leader Georgia Gould said she supported the aims of the march but it clashed with a meeting on the upcoming budget cuts faced by Camden Council.
The private session locked in all of the ruling group of councillors and some council officers, who were meeting ahead of Chancellor Phil Hammond’s budget announcements. It is understood that this local meeting was scheduled after the date of the People’s Vote march – the biggest street demonstration since the Iraq War – had been announced, but Labour organisers suggested this was the only time possible to discuss wide-ranging cuts that are expected to be revealed next week.
Camden councillors cancelled a full council meeting in 2014 so they could attend a march which appealed to Scottish voters not to vote for independence.
Labour, nationally, has in recent months called for a general election to break the deadlock on Brexit talks, with growing suggestions that the UK could leave without any deal at all.
Group leader Cllr Gould said: “Labour councillors spent the day at an important meeting which couldn’t be moved about how to deal with the latest round of austerity facing Camden. I joined the march as soon as our meeting ended to show solidarity with all marching to demand that citizens have the final say on our relationship with Europe.”
She added: “Ideologies are pushing our country to the brink and I believe people should have the final say.
Council leader Georgia Gould
Camden Labour will continue to campaign both for an end to austerity and against the Tories’ disastrous approach to Brexit.” During conference season, Holborn and St Pancras MP Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit spokesman, said the alternative – if Prime Minister Theresa May resisted calls for a new election – should be a new national vote with remaining in Europe as an option.
This, however, was mired in confusion when other speakers suggested any fresh referendum would not include the option of staying in.
Asked about the scale of the demonstration during an appearance on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, Mr Starmer said: “The size of the march is significant. But, I think it reflects a much bigger group. I think Leave and Remain, who are utterly losing confidence in the Prime Minister’s ability to bring back a deal.”
In Camden, insiders have suggested there has been some resistance to any undermining leader Jeremy Corbyn’s position on Brexit, but not enough to the leader and other senior figures making their own feelings known.
Labour’s Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, spoke from the main stage following the march and renewed his call for a new vote – and the option of scrapping Brexit by having remaining in the EU on the ballot paper. “What’s really important is that those that say that a public vote is undemocratic, is unpatriotic, realise that, in fact, the exact opposite is the truth,” he said. “What could be more democratic, what could be more British, than trusting the judgement of the British people.”
Labour members from Camden were among the marchers – the Holborn and St Pancras constituency flag was raised among the placards. Liberal Democrat councillors and members, as well as Green co-leader and Highgate councillor Sian Berry and members of her party also turned out.
Sian Berry (right) on the march with her co-leader of the Green Party Jonathan Bartley and MEP Molly Scott Cato
The Lib Dems are now making new efforts to have a motion discussed by members in the council chamber which would test opinion on a second referendum. They say Labour’s position of asking for a general election would not solve the stalemate with Brussels.
“It was fantastic to see that almost 700,000 people were motivated to go out and show the government they want to be given a final say on the Brexit deal,” said Lib Dem councillor Luisa Porritt. “I hope that in Camden, Labour take the opportunity to endorse that demand by backing the motion we will re-submit in support of a People’s Vote at the next full council meeting, and that in turn the government will listen.”
Councillors ran out of time to discuss the issue at a full council meeting earlier this month, leading to claims of filibustering.
The Conservatives said full council meetings, which cost more than £10,000 to stage, should not be used up by discussing what group leader Oliver Cooper called foreign policy.