Petition urges Brexit MPs in St Albans and Harpenden to quit
PUBLISHED: 12:05 21 July 2016 | UPDATED: 12:11 21 July 2016
An attempt to oust two local MPs in the wake of Brexit has failed to win the full support of district councillors, despite a petition signed by 2,500 people.
But it was a close vote, with 29 councillors rejecting a call to demand that Anne Main and Peter Lilley - MPs for St Albans and Harpenden respectively - resign, as opposed to 20 believing the politicians should quit.
Both MPs were challenged last month to stand down for failing to represent their constituents in the EU referendum – as the majority of local voters chose to remain.
The avowed Eurosceptic politicians campaigned strongly to leave, despite about 63 per cent of St Albans’ residents voting to stay in the bloc.
A debate was held at last Wednesday’s (13) full St Albans district council meeting to discuss whether the politicians should resign immediately as they “can no longer justifiably represent the district and the 54,208 of us who voted to remain”.
Proposer Cllr Chris White said it was important for elected representatives to “be in tune with their electors. Not at all times, but always on the big issues.
“The situation on the EU referendum is a giant issue for this district. We saw our two MPs actively campaigning against the interests of their constituencies in this debate, many of whom work in the financial sector, many work in Rothamsted, which receives EU grants.
“This is our children’s and district’s future. Our MPs did not listen, they have lost their mandate and they must resign and face re-election, immediately.”
He was applauded by locals who had packed into the council chamber for the debate.
Cllr Simon Grover read out comments posted on an online petition which asks Mr Lilley and Mrs Main to resign as they “can no longer credibly hold” their office. It has been signed by 2,500 people.
Cllr Grover noted comments including that the pair hold, “Polar opposite views on EU to voters and that it was a ‘disgrace’ to campaign on the basis of personal opinions, instead of representing ours”.
Another said it was a “potential ‘up yours’ to the 63 per cent, many of whom rely on Europe or London for their livelihood.”
One disgruntled constituent added: “Peter Lilley, your constituents believe the best future for the UK is within the EU, you should resign.”
However Cllr Teresa Heritage, who said she voted to remain, pointed out: “This was a democratic election. I would far prefer spending my time concentrating on what they are doing in Westminster. We should be asking our two MPs to ensure they get the best deal for our people who work in the city and have jobs and lives connected to Europe.”
Newly-elected councillor Stephen Hodgson, said he would not support the proposal, which he labelled ‘divisive’ and aimed at narrow political gain.
He said: “Now is the time for people to come together. Surely what people want [in St Albans] are peace-makers.”
Cllr Hodgson said members, “should not become distracted with thinking about how different people voted, and how we might seek to punish people who voted in a particular way”.
Although the proposal was defeated, campaigners told the Herts Advertiser after the meeting that it was too big an issue to stand back and do nothing.
Lydia El-Khouri said: “While the vote didn’t go our way, which it was never going to, given the Tory majority, it was a really vital step in making sure we have any hope of having MPs who will represent the pro-European majority in St Albans and Harpenden.”
Fellow Remainer Jo Farmer said that hundreds of locals had joined a Facebook page set up specially for this area, St Albans and Harpenden Action Group, which is keen for Mrs Main to speak publicly with residents about better reflecting constituents’ pro-European sentiments in Parliament, in a public Q and A session. To date, she has refused this request.
The online petition is at: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/call-for-st-albans-and-harpenden-mps-to-stand-down
St Albans MP Anne Main has again defended her decision to publicly back the Leave campaign before the EU referendum, while fellow Eurosceptic, Harpenden MP Peter Lilley, has scoffed at calls for his resignation.
In response to a debate at St Albans council last week on whether both politicians should be asked to quit their role, given strong local support to remain in the bloc, Mrs Main said that, “no Conservative politician was bound to vote in a certain manner [in the referendum].
“It’s worth noting that when the bill that delivered this referendum was being passed in parliament I did not have one single constituent asking me to vote against it.”
She said it was a “nonsensical argument that in a referendum MPs should endeavour to try and second guess the outcome of a vote of their particular electorate and then try to match that vote for political expediency [which] would have in effect meant a very significant increase in the MPs campaigning to leave.
“In an age when it is important that all elected politicians are open about their views MPs should be prepared to tackle difficult topics head on. I was upfront with people, had heated debates, and publicly campaigned for what I believed in and 17.5 million citizens of the United Kingdom also shared that view.”
The politician went on: “I will not be cowed by some of the rude and threatening emails or comments that I have received. I also believe that when elected councillors choose to bring Hitler into their debate they have somewhat lost the argument.
“In these difficult times there should be a recognition that we should be standing up for what we believe in, and I have done this all my political life.
“I hope that we can all accept and move on from the result.”
Mr Lilley responded: “This is just a bit of politicking by the Lib Dems, which was sensibly voted down by the council. If the Lib Dems’ motion were applied across the UK, the majority of MPs would have to resign, including some of the remaining Lib Dems, but of course they ignore the logic of their own motion.
“They should get back to the important local issues they were elected to deal with.”