Birmingham City Council has voted to lobby the Government for a second vote on Brexit – and possibly a General Election.
The Liberal Democrats prompted a major debate in the council chamber yesterday (Tuesday, November 6) as group leader Cllr Jon Hunt (Perry Barr) warned the authority not behave like lemmings ‘plunging’ over a cliff edge.
Their motion, essentially calling for a public vote on the final terms of Brexit, was passed after backing from the council’s ruling Labour group who forced through an amendment to lobby for a General Election in the event of a ‘no deal’ or one that was voted down by Parliament.
The debate, which itself was called into question as to whether it would make a difference, came as the council chamber was told a long-awaited Brexit impact report for Birmingham and the West Midlands would be published by the end of the month.
Tabling the motion Cllr Hunt said: “For many people Brexit has become an article of faith, it is the promised land that will deliver something better.
“I count many of those who believe this among my best friends.
“Many of these people who have been let down by the system. Sadly it is proving to be a false religion. It cannot deliver its promises.”
He added: “It is not just that we are on a cliff-edge, it is that we are behaving like lemmings, unable to stop ourselves plunging over it, egging ourselves on to disaster.”
Seconding, Cllr Mike Ward (Lib Dems, Sheldon) said: “The EU is probably the most democratic organisation in the world. Everything it does we have agreed to.
“That’s why it works and that’s why it often takes a long time. Democracy isn’t perfect but it’s better than the alternatives.”
Council leader Ian Ward (Lab, Shard End) put forward the amendment calling for a General Election arguing a no deal or voted-down deal would ‘constitute a loss of confidence in the Government’.
He described Brexit as the most ‘divisive issue’ in living memory adding: “Whatever way people voted and for whatever reason, one thing we can say with some certainty is that no-one voted to be poorer, to damage the life chances of their children and grandchildren.”
Cllr John O’Shea (Lab, Acocks Green) seconded the amendment dismissing the idea that a second vote would undermine the result of the first referendum.
He said: “If you plan to move house and you have the survey done on the new home, which reveals a failed roof, rising damp and dodgy brickwork, you can walk away, but you aren’t then forced to sell your current home regardless.”
The council’s largest opposition, the Conservative group, tabled an amendment of their own which scrapped the idea of any further public vote in favour of the council reaffirming its ‘commitment to work towards getting the best possible Brexit deal for Birmingham’.
Forwarding it, Cllr Gary Sambrook (Cons, Kingstanding) issued scathing criticism of the Liberal Democrats group saying they ‘used to be’ a ‘mature’ party that ‘did not jump on every single bandwagon’.
He branded the idea of a General Election ‘lunacy’ arguing there was not enough time before Britain left the European Union on March 29, and described a second vote as a ‘blatant attack on democracy’.
Seconding the Tory amendment, which was ultimately voted down, Cllr Higgs (Cons, Highter’s Heath) questioned the point of the entire debate, saying: “I am disappointed we are debating something we have no power to change.”
Providing an air of optimism Tory group leader Cllr Rob Alden (Erdington) said: “In great change lies great opportunity.
“Brexit is no doubt a major change and challenge for the country and city.
“But with major change and challenge comes opportunity.
“That is where we as politicians in this city have to position ourselves.”
While the council’s only Green Party member Cllr Julien Pritchard (Druids Heath and Monyhull) argued the Government had still not tackled the underlying reasons people voted for Brexit which he described as a ‘cry to be listened to, cry against economic division and cry against the wealthy and powerful making decision for so many people’.
The issue is set to rumble on today (Wednesday, November 7) with the council’s Economic and Skills overview and scrutiny committee due to receive the ‘quarterly update on the impact of Brexit on the city’.
A presentation for the meeting outlines 11 ‘key concerns’ for Birmingham post leaving the European Union.