Brexit letter bid defeated in council meeting

The motion was defeated today at Scottish Borders Council headquarters
The motion was defeated today at Scottish Borders Council headquarters

A motion to have Scottish Borders Council ask its leader to write to Prime Minister Theresa May about it’s “considered opinion” over Brexit was rejected today.

Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell, leader of the SNP opposition at Newtown, raised the motion at today’s meeting of the council – exactly one year on from the day Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union was invoked by the UK Government and one year away from the actual exit date.

Councillor Stuart Bell: 'The council cannot walk by on the other side of the road as we will be walking towards a hard Brexit. Now, right now, is the time to act.'

Councillor Stuart Bell: 'The council cannot walk by on the other side of the road as we will be walking towards a hard Brexit. Now, right now, is the time to act.'

His motion stated: “In light of the similar and very worrying forecasts by both the UK and the Scottish governments of the potential negative impact on the economy of all of the different Brexit options, and in light of the forecast of a double digit decline in the economy of the neighbouring North East of England in the event of a hard Brexit: a) council requests the leader to write to the Prime Minister to inform her of the council’s considered opinion that after Britain leaves the EU it remains within both the customs union and the single market, and; b) asks the chief executive to bring to council within three months an analysis of the imnpact and potential mitigations for the Borders economy of a hard Brexit.”

In an impassioned speech, he told councillors: “The council cannot walk by on the other side of the road as we will be walking towards a hard Brexit. Now, right now, is the time to act.”

He added: “A customs union is the only way the Northern Ireland border will work, and we need to be in it.”

He warned that a high percentage of Borders products is sold in Europe, and claimed some businesses, such as sheep farms, will fold in the event of a hard Brexit.

Councillor Mark Rowley: "The council does not have a 'considered view' on Brexit ... as I look round this room I can see there are 34 considered views, so this motion is factually wrong."

Councillor Mark Rowley: "The council does not have a 'considered view' on Brexit ... as I look round this room I can see there are 34 considered views, so this motion is factually wrong."

Seconding the motion was East Berwickshire councillor Helen Laing, who said tourism, farming and fishing industries rely on trade with Europe.

An ammendment to the motion was proposed by Tweeddale West councillor Kris Chapman, who said that the wording should be changed to “a” customs union and “a” single market. This ammendment was accepted by Mr Bell.

A second ammendment, to reject the motion, was proposed by Mid Berwickshire’s Conservative councillor Mark Rowley, who said that although he agreed Brexit is a very important issue, it should be discussed in other chambers.

He said: “I am not surprised he (Mr Bell) is playing this party political card.

“The motion is not as finely crafted as I would expect. The council does not have a ‘considered view’ on Brexit ... as I look round this room I can see there are 34 considered views, so this motion is factually wrong.

“Nobody knows what kind of Brexit we are going to have and there is no point in writing to the PM.”

Mr Rowley’s ammendment was seconded by fellow Conservative, Leaderdale and Melrose councillor Tom Miers, who said: “What is much more threatening is Scotland leaving the UK. Perhaps we should do a risk analysis on that.”

Several councillors also had their say, with Hawick and Hermitage councillor David Paterson saying: “I have a lot of people in my ward who will lose out, whether it is a hard or soft Brexit.

Galashiels and District councillor Andy Anderson opined: “I feel our leader should show some leadership in this matter as we will all be affected.”

And Kelso and District councillor Euan Robson added: “I agree that we don’t know what type of Brexit will occur, but we should look at the balance of probabilities.

“Any deal would have to be ratified by 27 parliaments and the European Parliament, or the deal will fail, so we should really consider what will happen in the event of a hard Brexit.”

In his summation, Mr Bell rejected the claim by Mr Rowley that he was playing a party political card, and he insisted: “Debate in this chamber allows us to form a considered view of this council.”

A roll-call vote on the motion was carried out, and the motion was defeated by 17-12, with two councillors – convener David Parker and Robin Tatler – abstaining.