Brexit row in council debate

Councillors in Leeds have exchanged parting shots over Brexit and Boris Johnson’s EU trade deal.

Tuesday, 19th January 2021, 12:02 pm

In a debate about the future of the UK’s relationship with the bloc, elected members traded familiar arguments about the 2016 referendum, echoing the divisions of the country.

The council’s opposition Conservative group congratulated the Prime Minister on securing a deal, which was struck at Christmas, which they claimed will give “greater opportunities” for Leeds to advance trade and business with different parts of the world.

But other parties were critical of the “last-minute” nature of the deal, which was signed just days before the post-Brexit transition period was due to end, and suggested the city and country would be worse off for being out of the EU.

Presenting a motion on the issue at a full council meeting on Wednesday, Tory group leader Andrew Carter said: “This agreement means there’s no tariffs or quotas on the movement of goods between the UK and the EU.

“It’s the first time the EU’s agreed to zero quotas with any trading partner.

“No-one with any common sense wanted to drift into a situation where there was no deal.”

Fellow Conservative Alan Lamb, Wetherby, said that although he’d voted to stay in the EU in 2016, those who’d supported the Remain cause in the years after had “held the country back”.

He added: “I found the arguments on both sides depressing and exaggerated.

“The lack of faith in Britain that the merchants of doom have is depressing and staggering.

“We’ve left the EU. The Remainers have lost. Move on.”

But the council’s Labour leader Judith Blake insisted that West Yorkshire would be poorer for Brexit, unless the government plugged the gap left behind by now absent EU funding.

She said the region had received around £390m from the EU between 2014 and 2020, which had been invested into jobs, skills and helping the disadvantaged.

Presenting Labour’s amendment on the issue, which the Conservatives later backed, she said: “Of course we need to look for the opportunities within the deal, and we’ll continue to do that.

“But this was one of most divisive referendums in British history and the damage it’s caused within our communities will be there for many years to come.”

She added that money promised for leaving was not evident.

The leader of the Morley Borough Independents (MBI), Councillor Robert Finnigan, claimed Brexiteers had been labelled “thick”, “Nazis” and “too white” by a series of prominent public figures and suggested “democracy was the winner” of the referendum.

But the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats offered the strongest criticism of Brexit and Boris Johnson’s deal.

Coun Jonathan Bentley declared: “The future is grim and we need to be honest about that.

“I doubt there’s ever been a country that’s given up all the benefits of an existing agreement, spent billions of pounds on the process, agreed to be poorer and then heralded it as a great piece of negotiation.

Referencing the recall of Parliament over Christmas to “rubberstamp” the deal, Coun Bentley added: “This is nothing to do with the will of the people in 2016. It’s all about the pandering of this government to its ideological backbenchers who are holding it hostage.”