Cllr Ben Chapelard speaks out at Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark's spectacular Hard Brexit U-turn.
"Last Wednesday Tunbridge Wells MP, Greg Clark, voted again to trigger article 50, giving the Prime Minister authority to start the process of the UK leaving the European Union. Amazingly, this is despite his own constituents, including himself, having voted to Remain by a clear majority!
During the first reading of the bill the previous week, 105 MPs voted against triggering article 50 precisely because their constituencies, like Tunbridge Wells, voted to stay in the EU. So why did Mr Clark, unlike the 105, go against the very wishes of the people he claims to represent?
The difference is that Mr Clark is a member of Mrs May’s government and his first loyalty is to her. No amount of spin or lofty words from Mr Clark will detract from the fact that he has abandoned his Remainer principles and forged ahead with a hard Brexit, all in the pursuit of his own ministerial career. This leaves us residents voiceless as the local MP puts his own party above his constituents.
Members of Parliament should represent the people who elected them. Whilst I accept that MPs cannot consult on every decision, the referendum was a clear poll of local opinion. We voted to Remain! Mr Clark should respect the opinion of his constituents. For us Liberal Democrats, loyalty to our residents comes above party allegiance. Sadly, Mr Clark is a Westminster man in Tunbridge Wells and not a Tunbridge Wells man in Westminster.
Meanwhile Mr Clark had done handsomely well out of Brexit. Having obediently wielded cuts to local government funding, including to our own Borough Council, his loyalty to the party was rewarded by the incoming Theresa May. The new Prime Minister duly promoted him to one of her top Cabinet jobs, Business Secretary. In contrast, many local people, whose livelihoods depend on being part of the Single Market, are now facing an uncertain future as employers begin moving jobs to the Continent.
The government's subsequent desperation to keep major employers in the UK has been embarrassing. Look no further than the grubby sweetheart deal Mr Clark put together to prevent Nissan moving away. The decision to leave the EU has already started to undermine job security and we are still years away from leaving.
Let’s be clear: the Liberal Democrats respect the result of the referendum. We are leaving the EU. Whether we like it or not, we have all got to get used to it. But what does Brexit look like in reality? No voter knew last June. That is why the Liberal Democrats want the British people to have the final say to avoid a stitch up by Westminster politicians which satisfies neither Leavers nor Remainers. On Wednesday Mr Clark also voted against this Lib Dem amendment to to give, you the final say on the terms of Brexit.
Mr Clark, like many of his colleagues on the Conservative and Labour benches, hides behind the narrow referendum outcome as if it provided a mandate for the most extreme exit from the EU. It did not. Mr Clark likes to call himself "a democrat". So why not give the British people the right to vote on the final deal? What are you afraid of, Mr Clark?"
These views were published in the Times of Tunbridge Wells in a column under the title "MPs should represent residents who elected them" in the 15th February 2017 edition. You can join the Liberal Democrats here.