Calls for Cambridgeshire County Council to join a push for a ‘people’s vote’ on Brexit have been shot down, with claims it would be an “assault on democracy”.
Lib Dem Cllr Susan van de Ven called on the council to support a vote on the terms of Brexit with the possibility of remaining in the EU if it was decided leaving would be a bad idea.
She said many local businesses had expressed their fears about the uncertainty of leaving, as well as their disquiet about how the Brexit negotiations were being handled.
Conservative Cllr Anna Bailey called the motion the “worst” that had ever gone before the council. She said trying to “undo” the results of the 2016 referendum was “an assault on democracy”.
Cllr Bailey said: “Democracy may sometimes mean you bow to the will of the people, even if you do not agree. The chamber should unite behind the Government and send a clear message to Brussels.”
Fellow Conservative Mathew Shuter said he did not support Brexit, and was “worried” about how the negotiations over the UK’s departure from the EU were going.
Cllr Shuter told the council he had grown up in Portugal under a “fascist dictatorship” and that some smaller countries still relied on the UK to “stand up” to France and Germany.
Despite this, he said he could not support another referendum.
“I do not believe in another referendum just because we don’t like the result of the last one,” said Cllr Shuter.
“We should back our politicians, chaotic as it may seem at the moment.”
Lib Dem leader Cllr Lucy Nethsingha told the chamber that “Cambridgeshire does not exist in a vacuum” and that many businesses, families and people in Cambridgeshire and other counties would be hit hard by Brexit.
She asked whether the proposed Oxford to Cambridge expressway, currently lauded as a way to improve connectivity and productivity between two academic and scientific powerhouses, would be needed if major tech companies left in the wake of a chaotic Brexit.
“The big benefit of a democracy is people can always change their minds,” said Cllr Nethsingha.
“The Conservative Party seems incapable of saying what kind of Brexit they want.”
Cllr Terry Rogers, who represents Warboys and The Stukeleys, actually produced a crystal ball belonging to his wife, and rubbed it while telling the chamber it was difficult to be sure what effects Brexit would have on the local area.
Independent Cllr Donald Adey, who currently lives in Fife, made the 400 mile journey to Cambridge for the meeting.
He said he thought people should be able to “weigh up all the facts” again and make their own minds up on Brexit. He said there had been a lot of misinformation during the 2016 campaign, and the downsides of leaving the EU were now far more apparent.
Cllr Adey said: “It will make the vast majority of people poorer, it will threaten livelihoods and could send Northern Ireland up in flames again.”
Lib Dem Sebastian Kindersley echoed Cllr Adey’s fears about renewed problems along the Irish border. He told the chamber he had grown up in the Republic of Ireland, and the prospect of political tensions and possible violence being reignited filled him with “despair”.
Cllr Kindersley said voters had been subjected to “lies” during the campaign for the 2016 referendum, and said the “toxicity” of the debate, even in the chamber in Cambridge, was causing schisms in society.
Conservative Cllr Steve Count, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, said the decision to leave the EU had been made democratically. He attacked the Lib Dems, saying they were “big fans of changing their minds” on issues.
The motion to support a ‘people’s vote’ was defeated with 23 voting in favour and 32 opposing. There were no abstentions.
Today, (Thursday, October 18) motions will be put to Cambridge City Council asking them so support a ‘people’s vote’ or another general election should no deal be forthcoming.
Last month, South Cambridgeshire District Council voted to back a ‘people’s vote’.
Josh Thomas, Local Democracy Reporting Service.