Councillors urged to show ‘responsible political leadership’ as Brexit deadline looms

Islington Town Hall. Photograph: Islington Council.

Islington councillors have been urged to show ‘responsible political leadership’ as the risk of a no-deal Brexit increases, arguably bringing with it a collapse in residents’ confidence in their institutions of government.

Cllr Sue Lukes (Lab, Highbury East) made the arguments during a meeting of Islington’s influential audit committee, which heard an update from council officers on the impact of the UK leaving the European Union without a deal.

Councillors were told that, as well as the widely-reported likelihood of food, medicine and fuel shortages, the council would face a straitened financial landscape in which lost EU funding might not be fully or immediately replaced by central government.

The committee also heard of risks around cost pressures and inflation, including contract inflation, of potential adverse impacts on labour availability and costs, particularly affecting social care and housing with reduced availability of EU workers, of which London Boroughs are at most risk.

Cllr Lukes said: “There’s a wider issue that I wanted to raise, because this is something that unfolds day by day. In a sense we’ve moved beyond looking at the issues about Brexit and the potential huge risks involved in a no-deal Brexit into what’s emerging as a constitutional crisis in the UK.

“There has been an undermining of the key institutions of state and my concern is that in a sense people, when they think of government, they read about the national stuff but their experience is local.

“We represent the local state, and there is a similar risk of loss of confidence, and it feels as though it’s really important that we incorporate into our planning the issue of how it is that we exercise responsible political leadership in those situations.

“We need to make it clear where we stand on issues about democracy and the rule of law, which are being called into question in the highest levels in the country at the moment, and make sure that people keep some confidence in the ability of our country to maintain those two key principles by being as open and responsive to people as possible.”

London Borough of Islington has received £155,000 from central government to date to support the organisation in its Brexit planning.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) recently forecast a year long recession following a no deal Brexit, even if significant disruption is avoided, which could lead to a 2 per cent reduction in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The predictions also see unemployment rising to over 5 per cent, a 10 per cent fall in house prices and a £30m increase in government borrowing which will also increase national debt.

A further complicating factor for the council are the rules surrounding political communications during polling season, with the information it is allowed to put out severely curtailed during a general election.

It is understood that the council’s emergency planning team has been “continually” working with the Metropolitan Police and London Fire Brigade to ensure contingencies are in place for a no-deal.

The council has also said it has drawn up plans to mitigate any disruption in fuel or food supply due to potential delays or disruption in supply chains, “to ensure essential services are maintained and vulnerable residents supported.”

So-called ‘tactical contingency meetings’ are expected to increase in frequency as the Halloween deadline looms, with the possibility of an emergency meeting for the audit committee itself to whom this evidence was put.

Cllr Nick Wayne (Lab, Canonbury) who chaired the committee said: “It may be that there will need to be further emergency meetings if things turn out as many fear that they might turn out.

“By the time of the next audit meeting, we may have left, we may have a constitution, we may have a government, who knows?

“We just don’t know where we’re going to be in a few months’ time. We may be the Independent Republic of Islington by then.”