Brexit commission launched by Labour on Tower Hamlets Council ‘may be too late’ say furious Lib Dems

PUBLISHED: 16:43 03 September 2018 | UPDATED: 13:41 06 September 2018

Lib Dem ex-cllr Andrew Cregan...

Lib Dem ex-cllr Andrew Cregan... "Council won't be in a position to implement anything before Brexit."” Pictures: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

The Brexit commission being launched on Thursday by Tower Hamlets Council has been slammed as “too late” to do any good as Britain gets ready to quit the EU.

Mayor John Biggs with new Brexit Commission's chair Amina Ali get ready for the launch. Picture source: LBTHMayor John Biggs with new Brexit Commission's chair Amina Ali get ready for the launch. Picture source: LBTH

The Lib Dem opposition on the council says Labour’s “overdue” launch hasn’t left enough time to tackle the impact when we leave on March 29.

Labour’s former front-bencher Andrew Cregan even quit the party last year over its “weakness” on Brexit and joined the Lib Dems before stepping down at the last election.

He now insists: “The council will not be in a position to implement anything useful before Brexit happens.”

The aim of the council’s new commission is to neutralise the impact that leaving the European family of nations has on the East End’s economy, civil society and public services and to consider how any negative effects of the split can be minimised—first revealed in the East London Advertiser on July 25.

Lib Dem Cllr Rabina Khan... “Lib Dem Cllr Rabina Khan... “"Mayor will have no excuses when Brexit arrives and we fail to mitigate its affects.”" Picture: Mike Brooke

But Opposition Lib Dem Cllr Rabina Khan believes they’ve missed the boat.

“The mayor finally agreed to set-up a Brexit commission after 18 months of inaction by Labour,” she told the paper.

“This overdue launch just seven months before Brexit comes after consistent pressure from Tower Hamlets People’s Alliance and from Liberal Democrats.”

The former People’s Alliance leader, whose party merged with local Lib Dems last week, submitted motions to the council last year and earlier this year calling for the mayor to prepare Tower Hamlets for Brexit, but had them rejected.

Former People's Alliance founder Rabina Khan now Tower Hamlets Lib Dem councillor reflecting on Brexit. Picture: Mike BrookeFormer People's Alliance founder Rabina Khan now Tower Hamlets Lib Dem councillor reflecting on Brexit. Picture: Mike Brooke

“It wasn’t considered a subject worthy of debate,” Cllr Khan claims. “Clearly the mayor wasn’t thinking of fundamental issues like free movement of labour, access to the European market or potential loss of business rates by companies moving out of Canary Wharf, which will have a devastating impact on the council’s budget and the loss of jobs.

“The mayor will have no excuses when Brexit day arrives and we fail to put in place any plans to mitigate its affects.”

But Mayor John Biggs insists he hasn’t left it late to set up his Brexit Commission which was debated in committee in 2017 and in his election manifesto in May. He accused Cllr Khan is being “disingenuous”.

He pointed out: “We are one of only a few local authorities in the country to set up a commission.

“We can’t go beyond our powers as a local authority. Brexit is a matter for the government and we can’t stop it, but there is enough time to deal with its consequences.

“The effects of Brexit won’t happen in a day. That’s absurd. It’s ‘Mickey Mouse’ to say we can insulate ourselves.”

One consequence of Brexit which has hit east London is the European Medical Association quitting Canary Wharf with the loss of 900 jobs announced last year with plans to move to Amsterdam. Around 36,000 scientists and regulators visit the association each year which benefits the East End’s hotel and entertainment industry.

Canary Wharf employs 12,000 people in 37 office buildings, 300 shops, cafés and restaurants and includes businesses in global markets with international supply chains.

The council’s new commission reports as late as January, just two months before Brexit on March 29. A panel is to take evidence from experts and the public at hearings throughout September and October.

It is being chaired by Cllr Amina Ali, Labour cabinet member for Brexit, who said: “Thousands of EU citizens have made their home and livelihoods in Tower Hamlets who deserve reassurance, while the many businesses based here need our support.”

The council is working with Tower Hamlets Law Centre, Citizen’s Advice Bureau and immigration charities supporting EU citizens living in the East End. Around 41,000 people, one-in-seven of Tower Hamlets’ population, are from the remaining 27 EU countries. Their future is now being questioned.

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