Wed, 22 Aug 2018
NEWBURY’S Conservative MP Richard Benyon has said he doesn’t see how Brexit will impact West Berkshire Council.
His comments come after it emerged that the local authority had not drawn up a Brexit risk assessment.
The MP, who backed the failed Remain campaign in the referendum, added that he was “quite bored of people trying to scare the public into thinking there’s this great looming crisis”.
In total, 52 per cent of West Berkshire residents voted to remain in the European Union in the 2016 referendum.
The comments follow Sky News contacting councils across the country asking what risks, concerns or plans they had for Britain leaving the European Union.
East Sussex County Council said it was concerned about Brexit’s impact on social care, while Bristol Council warned of social unrest.
The Newbury Weekly News approached West Berkshire Council and asked whether it had drawn up a risk assessment forBrexit.
The council said it had not been contacted by Sky News and that it did not have a Brexit risk assessment in place.
It added that a plan was “something currently under discussion”.
The leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat opposition Lee Dillon (Thatcham North) said the Conservative-run council had failed to assess the impact seriously.
Mr Benyon said: “The council delivers local services – social care, education, carries away our waste – it’s hard to see how any of those will be impacted by any sort of Brexit other than a wider economic impact.
“I want to avoid a hard Brexit in any way I can.
“I think that would be very damaging for our economy and the country.
“I hope we won’t see that.
“I can’t on the face of it, I don’t see West Berkshire being hard hit.
“I think some of the risk assessment is motivated by people who are furious we are leaving the EU.
“I’m quite bored of people trying to scare the public into thinking there’s this great looming crisis.
“We have coped with many dramatic events in our history and we will cope with this and we should not be scaring people in to thinking this is going to be an existential crisis.”
Last year, council leader Graham Jones (Con, Lambourn) said there was cautious optimism for post-Brexit West Berkshire.
He added that the district was well-placed to deal with the challenges ahead.
But Mr Dillon said: “Optimism is all well and good, but when it’s local jobs and services that the council need to run that are potentially at risk of a hard Brexit they need to be more than optimistic and put plans in place to safeguard the delivery of our services.”
He said that the Lib Dems had asked for a survey on Brexit’s impact on the local economy.
However, they were told that the council didn’t have the resources.
“We have been pushing for this,” Mr Dillon said.
“This is something we have been talking about publicly and privately for well over half-a-year and they have been dragging their heels.
“If they did one, would there be time to put anything in place before March 2019? No, unlikely.
“This is squarely on their shoulders.
“We knew the date was looming and this administration has failed to take it seriously.
“Whether you voted leave or remain you want to be prepared for the future.
“Everything is connected with Brexit in terms of the economy of the council.”
His colleague Jeff Brooks (Thatcham West) added: “It’s surprising it has taken so long for them to assess the impact on the economy, particularly of a hard Brexit.
“Given that we have some high-tech businesses, we need to understand the potential impact.
“We need to talk to the businesses.
“We have high employment but what impact might there be from them crashing out of Europe?
“It shouldn’t take long to talk to Vodafone and other senior local businesses.
“If there’s an impact on them there will be an impact on smaller feeder businesses.
“We have a lot of smaller white van businesses doing supplies and maintenance feeding off them.
“If they suffer, the whole of the economy will suffer.”
Mr Jones was unable to respond to the NWN at the time of it going to press last Wednesday.
See this week's edition for a follow up article.