County Hall’s political groups were accused of ‘ducking the issue’ by UKIP during an EU debate where councillors voted to remain neutral.
West Sussex County Council’s UKIP group leader Sandra James (UKIP, Bourne) submitted a notice of motion prior to the June referendum arguing that both the UK and West Sussex economy would be better off outside the EU.
To laughter from the chamber on Friday, April 15, she felt it ‘should not be a political debate’, and argued that the region contributed £12.70 for every £1 it received back, pointing out that Greek road projects were being funded by the EU when they lacked adequate infrastructure in West Sussex.
Steve Waight (Con, Goring) said he shared many of the concerns expressed around the bureaucracy of the EU, but added: “They (residents) are saying: ‘Do not tell us which way to vote, give us balanced, unbiased information so we can decide for ourselves’.”
His amended motion took out criticism of Prime Minister David Cameron’s deal, said it would be up to residents to judge whether what he had negotiated was a success, and the county council ‘welcomes the opportunity granted to the British electorate to vote on the UK’s membership of the EU’. It was passed by 47 votes to two with ten abstentions.
Graham Tyler (Con, Rustington) added: “I really can’t see the point of having this motion to actually state which way the county council should vote. This is not a decision for a county council to be taking I feel.”
Ms James replied: “Your amendment has neutralised my motion. Good, well done if you think that’s the answer to what people in West Sussex want to hear.”
She thought it was important taxpayers knew how underfunded West Sussex was, and added: “I’m really surprised you can duck that view because you do not want to debate the motion.”
But James Walsh (LDem, Littlehampton East), leader of the Lib Dem group, said it was a ‘myth’ that the structural funding went to other parts of the EU, with many deprived parts of the UK benefitting.
He added: “The motion before us is alleged to be non political. It’s extremely political and it’s flag waving for UKIP in this council chamber.
“The amendment returns us to where we should be.”
But chairman of the council Pat Arculus (Con, Pulborough) said Dr Walsh had been ‘more guilty’ of politicising the debate than others.
Janet Duncton (Con, Petworth) added: “This Government gave me a free vote and I value that free vote. I think the first motion obviously was trying to get the opinion of this council and I think that is wrong.”
But Mick Clark (UKIP, Saltings) argued that being outside the EU would give the country control over its legislation and trade, and choosing places such as Singapore to follow as a role model would be better than a ‘financially corrupt and protectionist block like the EU’. He called on Tory councillors to show loyalty to future generations not to ‘dodgy Dave and his cronies’, and added: “Vote with your conscience and not as instructed to do by Louise (Goldsmith, leader of the council).”
Mrs Arculus replied: “There is no line in the Conservative group.”
Philip Circus (Con, Storrington) objected to suggestions that the Conservatives were ‘ducking’ the issue, as they had worked hard for the return of a Tory Government, which had delivered an EU referendum.
Simon Oakley (Con, Chichester East) said the high cost to businesses of complying with EU legislation ‘should not be underestimated’, and while Morwen Millson (LDem, Horsham Riverside) was ‘of the view we should not be having this debate’ she thought there were many benefits of being in the EU such as better air and water quality, cleaner beaches, and investment in West Sussex businesses.
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