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There’s not much we can do on Brexit, Tory councillor tells hustings

Labour accuse Tories of avoiding Brexit during local election campaign in Swiss Cottage

17 April, 2018 — By Richard Osley

Don Williams speaking at the hustings

ONE of Camden’s most senior Conservatives has told voters that local councillors will be limited in how they can help European nationals worried by Britain’s EU divorce.

Councillor Don Williams, the party’s long-serving finance spokesman, was among candidates in Swiss Cottage asked to explain what they would do to ease Brexit worries if they are successful at next month’s Town Hall elections next month.

It’s important to remember, firstly, that the council has no competence, no legal competence in this matter,” said Cllr Williams. “All we can do is try to persuade. From the Conservative team here, and the local Conservatives in Camden, we too are made up of people who have backgrounds from in Europe and have European passports. So we are also very concerned to make sure that the rights of people who have been living here are protected. And similarly, the rights of British citizens living in Europe, on the continent, in the EU are protected as well.”

But Cllr Williams told hustings at the Crossfield Centre in Fairhazel Gardens: “It’s pretty clear that what we can do is to advocate and we shall keep advocating. But I mean I have to also make it pretty clear, from my experience on council, these matters are not matters in which the council have any real power. Every talk about this, is mostly talk. Not any action, other than advocate is what we can do.”

The hustings were organised by the Combined Residents Associations of South Hampsead, known as CRASH.

Listen to the answers: Don Williams, Nayra Bello O’Shanahan and Kushal Bhimjani

Nayra Bello O’Shanahan, for Labour, said: “We know that they’ve [Conservatives] been avoiding the topic during the campaign. One of the [Conservative] candidates is a strong Brexiteer, campaigning at national level for the vote to leave. We are fully committed, and we think the Labour Party are the only partly which can keep our community together – remainers and leavers – and I say this as a European who is going to be really affected.”

She added: “I am really confident that we will continue to work with the Brexit working group that the council has set up. There is already some negative impact of Brexit. There are already some negative effects in terms of rising house prices because of the lack of skilled workers from Europe. Also less nurses that are coming now to work in our NHS and our mental health services. We will do all that is in our power to really ensure European citizens are welcome here, can live here, can protect their families and be part of communities.”

Nayra Bello O’Shanahan

Lib Dem candidate Kushal Bhimjani said: “All of us three here are vehemently pro-Europe and vociferously pro-European. There is no argument on this side of the table as to what we want: we want a second referendum on the final deal and we want an exit from Brexit. The reason why, in all of these hustings, the Labour and Tory candidates are avoiding this issue assiduously, is that because on one side it is clear that one party want Brexit at any costs, due to a handful of Tory MPs who for 30 years have been pushing that party to the right. The other party will assiduously fudge and hedge and give us a vague position on Brexit that doesn’t actually mean anything. Different Labour MPs say different things.”

Kushal Bhimjani

She added: “I totally reject the argument from the Conservatives that councillors cants do anything, that’s not true. Councillors are ultimately members of their parties and the Conservative membership used to be more than 100,000. Now it’s less than 70,000 and decreasing every day. The existing members then have a duty to convince their party to change the party line. That’s something only they can do. The whole country is basically hostage to 70,000 Conservative members and what they think of Brexit.”

The meeting was told the Green Party declined the offer to attend the event. Independent candidates said they were not invited.

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