‘There’s simply no plan’: Stockport councillor slams Government as Lib Dems enjoy post-Brexit surge

Stockport Council’s leader of the opposition has slammed the behaviour of the Conservative and Labour parties in the aftermath of last week’s Brexit vote.

Councillor Iain Roberts, who has represented Cheadle and Gatley since 2009, believes that Westminster’s two main parties are failing to deliver the leadership Britain badly needs.

The Liberal Democrats have seen a surge in membership nationwide following last Thursday’s EU referendum under the guidance of Tim Farron.

Cllr Roberts insists that his pro-European party are striking the right chord among voters disappointed with the decision to break with Brussels.

“We campaigned to stay in the EU, we are united as a party and we have a clear view of what should happen next,” he told MM.

“Really we’ve got to get a grip on this. We’ve got to negotiate the best deal for Britain that we can, we’ve got to bring the country together, we’ve got to make sure we don’t turn in on ourselves.

“There’s an awful lot of work to be done, but frankly with Labour and the Conservatives concentrating on other things it’s going to be really difficult.”

While the country voted to leave the EU with 51.9% of the vote, in Stockport 52.3% of voters wanted to remain in the political bloc.

Economic warnings before the vote were often disregarded as ‘scaremongering’, but the pound fell to a 31-year low in value on Monday, and Cllr Roberts is concerned about the impact of Brexit.

“I’m really disappointed, we campaigned very hard to stay in the European Union because we think that’s the best thing for Britain, and it’s the best thing for jobs,” he said.

“I think there’s a real danger that Stockport will see a drop-off in investments, particularly the work that’s going on in Greater Manchester and the Northern Powerhouse.

“That work relies on foreign investors a lot of the time seeing our area as a good place to invest and somewhere where they want to take that risk, to invest their money, to create jobs.

“The indications we’re getting already are that the vote towards Brexit makes Stockport less attractive for that investment.

“Clearly I think we need to work very hard to minimise that effect, but there is no doubt as far as I can see that we will have fewer jobs, and we’ll be poorer than if we voted to remain in the EU.”

Despite months of campaigning from both sides, neither the remain-dominated Government nor the leave figureheads have a clear plan following the country’s exit from the EU.

Prime Minister David Cameron is stepping down and refusing to lead negotiations with Brussels, while the Labour party appears to be imploding under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Cllr Roberts’ biggest concern is the lack of a plan over what exactly happens next.

“It’s very clear that the leave campaign simply has no idea over what happens next – they have no plan and they have no strategy to get the best outcome for Britain,” he said.

“We’re in a situation where the Conservatives are about to go into a leadership campaign, which could go on for several months and could be very bitter – as the last few months have been.

“Labour are obviously in complete chaos at the moment with half the shadow cabinet resigning, and who knows if Corbyn will still be leader in a few months’ time?

“So I think it’s really worrying that at just the time we need strong leadership, we’ve got no leadership at all from those two parties.”

While all around are losing their heads, the Lib Dems have been a figure of strength in the wake of the EU referendum, with leader Tim Farron calling for the UK to maintain its ties with Brussels.

The party has seen its membership grow by more than 10,000 members since last week’s vote, and Cllr Roberts believes people appreciate the party’s conviction.

“We’ve always had a commitment to staying in the EU,” he said.

“We will stand up, we will say we stand by that commitment. We’re not going to turn our backs on people.

“A lot of people are coming to us and really appreciate that we’ve got that clear view and clear vision. We’re the ones who are saying ‘now is the time to put the work in and sort this thing out’.

“At Heald Green on Saturday we just had a constant flow of people coming up to us all afternoon saying how disappointed they were that the country had voted to leave the EU.

“But they appreciated the Lib Dems had campaigned to remain and that we were sticking to our guns and wanted the best from now on.

“It seems clear to me that that’s the reason people are joining us, and I think we’re doing the right thing and I hope people will see that. Clearly they are, and we’re getting new members as a result.”

If any party needs a recovery, it’s the Liberal Democrats.

From the heady heights of 62 MPs in 2005 and the key to 10 Downing Street five years later, the party was decimated in last year’s general election, keeping just eight constituencies.

Cllr Roberts accepts that it will be difficult for the Lib Dems to return to its former glory, but welcomes the progress it is making.

“When you end up in a situation where the party has taken the hit that it has and gone down to eight MPs – that recovery is never going to be easy,” he said.

“But I think that the way we do recover is by absolutely sticking up for what we believe in, not being swayed to blow in the wind whichever direction it goes.

“We say ‘we are the Liberal Democrats, this is what we believe in, this is what we will fight for, and if you agree with us and share our vision then come with us’. Some people will and some won’t.

“But it’s going to be a long, long fight for us. It’s going to be tough.”

After such a divisive referendum, politicians from across the spectrum have much work to do to get Britain on the right path in negotiations with the EU.

For Cllr Roberts, it’s vital that the country’s leaders come up with a plan at long last.

“We’ve had several months now of leave campaigners saying ‘it’s going to be absolutely wonderful, we can’t get out of the EU quick enough, it’s going to be fantastic when we’re out’,” he said.

“And now those same people are saying ‘you know what actually, if we don’t go down the article 50 route for say six months or 12 months, we’ll be absolutely fine’.

“So if it was so wonderful to leave, why do you now want to delay it? I think the answer is because they haven’t got a clue what’s going to happen.

“The people have said they want to leave the EU, we have to respect that decision, but as a country we need to have a strong and clear negotiating position.

“At the moment we’ve got none of that. At the moment we’ve got politicians running around like headless chickens, and the result will be a worse result for Britain.”

Image courtesy of Paul Walter and Richard Heyes, via Flickr, with thanks.

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