I find it a little strange coming to this place to make a speech about political events way beyond its remit. The temptation would be to expound grandly on matters of liberty, sovereignty, foreign policy and economics but our job is to serve our residents on local issues and that is what we should continue to do.Nevertheless, Brexit will have far reaching effects for Wandsworth and the rest of the country. Most of these are best handled by Central Government and our colleagues in the House of Commons. We welcome the smooth transfer of power that took place last week with Prime Minister May providing the unity, strength, stability and continuity that this country needs during its Brexit negotiations. It is gratifying that two of Wandsworth’s MPs are members of that Government. I know that our new MP for Tooting will want to hold that Government to account as part of a strong opposition…as soon as that emerges.
Of course there are effects that may impact the Council and concern our residents. Pessimists say the economy could suffer. Any downturn will increase reliance on our services and could affect the resources we have available to provide them. Residents should be reassured that the policy of this Council will continue to be to provide efficient services, manage our budget tightly and keep Council Tax low. We understand the impact Council Tax bills can have on personal finances.
The economy will inevitably affect the demand for housing of all tenures and the level of homelessness across the country. Wandsworth Council will continue to work hard to attract investment in new, redeveloped and improved housing within the Borough for a mix of tenures and social needs. We cannot solve national housing problems within our heavily built-up area but we shall continue our efforts to meet the housing needs of our residents.
Wandsworth is part of London’s vibrant economy and the Council will continue to work with our new Mayor to support London’s businesses as it did with the last. Many of our residents work in the City so the success of the financial sector is doubly important. The new underground links with the Northern Line extension and Crossrail 2 are vital in that regard and as one project is well advanced the Council should be fighting hard for the second to bring vital benefits to our part of London.
Wandsworth has a cultural mix which reflects the ethnic make-up of its residents. For a long time the Borough has attracted people from all over the world and the Council does a lot of work to help assimilation. One of the concerns outlined in this motion is the fear of a possible rise in intolerance towards residents from other countries. It is reassuring to note that the police have reported no significant increase in reported incidents that might be related to the referendum. Wandsworth does not have an immigration policy but whatever the basis on which the Government allows immigration after Brexit we will continue to welcome and assimilate people from all over the world.
The Council therefore should carry on as normal. We should continue to provide excellent services and low Council Tax for all our residents. We should continue to deal with those day-to-day concerns from residents we meet on the doorstep and in our surgeries. We should continue to fight for the improvements that our residents demand.
But we should do more than this. Brexit doesn’t simply present risks to Wandsworth that need managing. Brexit presents a great many opportunities and the reason I support this motion is that it accepts the result and looks forward to the future success the country can enjoy outside the EU.
It is true that more Wandsworth residents voted to Remain than voted to Leave so where does that leave us? We should remember that Wandsworth is a part of the UK and not a metropolitan region of the continent. Wandsworth cannot separate from the rest of the UK. There is no campaign for Wanxit!
We should not continue the arguments of the referendum campaign and let them affect what we do as a Council. The referendum is over and we have a strong Government focussing on getting the best deal for the country which we should support. The campaign to Remain should not now be used to create division or fear in our residents.
We should be proud that this country has been able to settle an important constitutional matter peacefully and democratically when so many countries around the world are suffering violent upheaval.
Our new Prime Minister in her first speech in Downing Street spoke of her commitment to Unionism. I believe we should also serve Wandsworth with the same commitment. We must strive to be united within Wandsworth and with the rest of the UK and remain open to the rest of the world.
See a video of my speech here.