North Devon Council passes motion calling for Brexit symposium

There is increasing worry about the impact of Brexit on our local economies and the recognition that it is important to make plans for all eventualities.

Last night, the Lib Dems in Opposition on North Devon (District) Council put forward a motion to examine exactly that:

The impact of Brexit (hard or soft) will affect all North Devon residents. This Council believes that with Brexit fast approaching, it is both sensible and realistic that the potential risks and impact of Brexit on North Devon – good and bad, short term and long term – are fully understood as far as is possible and aired in public together with detailed discussion on how these impacts can be mitigated. To achieve this, this Council undertakes to organize and co-ordinate a public conference/symposium before Christmas in which North Devon’s experts and leaders in business, farming, tourism, education, health and social services and other areas are invited to participate, together with elected representatives at all levels. This council is uniquely placed to lead this initiative by immediately setting up a Cross Party Working Group. The findings and conclusions of the symposium would be presented as a report to full Council and other authorities. Furthermore we request that consideration be given to how this Council can assist businesses etc. before and during the transition period.

I am pleased to say that the motion passed, with support from some Conservatives and Independents who recognised the need for such a symposium.

Cllr David Worden, Leader of the Liberal Democrats on North Devon Council, spoke passionately for the motion:

Whenever we turn on the news or read the newspapers it appears that the headlines are all about Brexit. I don’t want to go into the pros and cons of whether we should or should not leave the EU but I am extremely concerned about the impact of Brexit on the economy of North Devon. We live in one of the most deprived areas of the South West. There are hardly any services which have not been hit by austerity cuts. We simply cannot sit back and let the disastrous No Deal scenario, which seems ever likely, to be upon us, unprepared.

This proposal is pragmatic and in the best interests of everybody in our North Devon community. The GDP of the South West was already set to fall by 2%, and that was before a possible No Deal Brexit. Defra’s own figures show that up to 25% of farms are set to go out of business – North Devon’s agricultural industry is under unprecedented threat. The backbone of our rural economy could be decimated as subsidies are withdrawn.

Our growth agenda is in grave danger of not getting off the ground. Businesses may have to face real problems with exporting to Europe. They face having to deal with customs declarations from the EU. Businesses may well need to employ customs brokers, freight forwarders and supply software and authorisations. I hear that each business may have to apply for a UK Economic Operator Registration and ID number.

That’s just scratching the surface of what may happen. How many of our small North Devon businesses understand all the implications of possible changes that they face? It is less than six months before we are due to leave the EU and we have a duty as a council to try and help the transition because it appears from the press that the preparations are currently a total shambles.

With talk of stockpiling food and medicines our economy is in for a radical shake up and shock. Business, farming, tourism, education, health and social services are all likely to be radically affected. The implications of Brexit has not dawned on many people yet and as a council we have a responsibility to endeavour to mitigate some of the possible worse case scenarios. In my opinion this is the biggest challenge North Devon has faced in my lifetime but on the other hand there may be new opportunities opening up.

Businesses need to understand the implications and forward plan as much as they can. I know we don’t have the answers to all the potential problems and pitfalls but at least we can explore the possibilities and the consequences. To achieve this I would propose that we work together – cross party, to organize and co-ordinate a public conference/symposium as soon as practical bringing together experts and leaders in our community who might help charter a way forward.

The future prosperity of North Devon depends very much on being prepared as much as possible so I would move the motion as printed on the agenda.

Well done, Cllr Worden and team! I would urge other Lib Dem council groups, if they haven’t done so already, to consider putting similar motions forward to their councils. Lib Dems need to lead the way in demanding better, whatever the Brexit outcome might be.

* Kirsten Johnson was the PPC for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election. She is a pianist and composer at

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  • Andrew Daer 28th Sep '18 - 8:17am

    I was in Beaworthy two days after the Brexit vote and spoke to my first North Devon leave voter. His reason was the pothole in the road outside his house – not all the (red bus) money saved would go to the NHS, and he hoped some might go to road mending. Unfortunately, I have been out campaigning (mainly in South Gloucestershire) since that time, and there is nothing unusual about that level of comprehension of the complex issues involved. It’s blindingly obvious that public debate needs to be elevated beyond sound bites, designed, in many cases, to rouse anti-foreigner feelings which have nothing to do with the future well-being and prosperity of the UK, or to otherwise promote the interests of the classes represented by Rees Mogg, Johnson and Arron Banks, and their wealthy foreign friends and backers. North Devon must be congratulated by starting what I hope will be a process which is imitated up and down the country.

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