A senior Lewes councillor has called on the authority to ensure it supports EU nationals in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting on Monday (September 16), Lewes District Council’s Liberal Democrat deputy leader James MacCleary called on the authority to back efforts to advise and support EU nationals should the UK leave without a deal next month.
He said: “We don’t have a huge population of nationals from the rest of the European Union living in the district compared to some other places.
“But there are people who are legitimately living, working, loving and doing all sorts of other things in our district on a day to day basis and they should be able to.
“Obviously the Government’s current position is causing an enormous amount of uncertainty and some anger.
“I know that some other authorities are partnering with [Citizens Advice] to provide outreach and advice services for EU nationals to attempt to help them where possible.
“Given that it doesn’t fall under any local authority’s specific remit, I wondered if we could take the lead on that.”
Cllr MacCleary’s comments came as council leaders discussed a report on the council’s contingency planning for a no deal Brexit.
According to the report, a no deal Brexit “may cause emergency situations such as food and medicine shortages, stockpiling, public disorder, and the possibility of a snap general election and/or referendum.”
The council has been looking at these risks as part of its partnership work within the Sussex Resilience Forum, the report says.
However, it says the council’s own planning has also focused on the potential impact on Newhaven Port.
As the port health authority, the council has a responsibility for a number of checks at the port, including food safety and infectious disease control.
Under current arrangements, this work is limited to checking manifests electronically and holding quarterly visits and inspections, with Roll On Roll Off (RORO) cargo entering the UK.
However, a no-deal Brexit may see a step up in the amount of physical checks the council would need to carry out. This could be exacerbated in the long term if troubles at other ports leads to a rise in crossings at Newhaven.
The report says disruption at other ports could also see a change in the type of food imported through Newhaven in the long term, requiring greater checks by council officers. However, this would not be likely to change on day one, the report says.
It also warns that prolonged deployment of the council’s environmental health staff in this way could have a knock-on effect on its ability to deliver core services. This could be followed by “a prolonged and expensive recovery” period, the report adds.
The report also raises concerns about the potential impact on the roads around Newhaven, describing the road network surrounding the port as “fragile” and “totally dependent” on the availability of the A26 trunk road.
However, the report says, the Department for Transport’s assessment (made in March) is that there “would not be significant disruption at the port as a direct result of a potential no-deal Brexit.”
This assessment, however, drew criticism from Cllr MacCleary.
He said: “Setting aside the horror at the fact that any government could consider a choice of policy where we have fuel, medicine and food shortages.
“In the context of our report specifically, I think Yellowhammer for me undermines the credibility of any previous information we have had in relation to Newhaven Port.
“I am not sure that the DfT’s advice, which came before Yellowhammer was released, [was] that we were expecting two day plus delays at Dover, which was previously denied by the Government of course.
“I think as a responsible authority we should be writing to [the DfT] ourselves seeking assurance, even if it just to have it trotted back to us that ‘it will all be fine don’t worry’, so that when it isn’t we have got it in writing to show we actually made an effort to secure reassurance from the Government.”