Unfortunately, a scheduled debate at Shropshire Council on the refugee crisis was pulled at the last moment on Thursday. I am still very upset about this.
Three weeks ago, the Lib Dem group put a motion forward for a meeting of the full council. It called for the council to lobby the government and local MPs to get more action at a national level to ease the plight of the refugees. It also asked Shropshire Council to set up a non-political working group on how Shropshire can react to the crisis by accepting refugees.
By the time of the meeting, everything had moved on. Days after we submitted our motion, David Cameron had agreed to take 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years. Keith Barrow, leader of Shropshire Council, had announced a working party. After the first meeting of that working party, the Lib Dem group issued a revised motion that simply called for the council to make a proportional response to the refugee crisis, along with communities and other bodies in the county.
Unfortunately, Conservative cabinet member Claire Wild had submitted an alternative motion, which did nothing other than praise the leader for his work in setting up a working party and allocating an officer. Despite efforts on the sidelines of the meeting, she could not be persuaded to withdraw it.
We were faced with a debate about a public-spirited response to this humanitarian crisis turning into a political firefight. Keith Barrow suggested that I withdrew our motion, a proposal that brought supportive baying from the Tory benches. So I withdrew the motion. I don’t think I have ever done anything with such a heavy heart. But our work on refugees must remain non-political. A debate about whether it is better to make a public statement that we are committed to #RefugeesWelcome or wish to praise the council leader would not have been constructive.
I am saddened that councillors were denied the opportunity to express their support for refugees, or even say they are opposed to settling desperate Syrians in the county.
I was asked by the BBC after the meeting whether I had made the right decision to withdraw the motion. I said:
“Did I make the right decision? Yes, I think I did. Am I happy with the decision? No, I am not. But sometimes you have to make decisions that you are not happy with.”
Lib Dem group revised motion
The Council agrees that it will provide a proportional response to the refugee crisis and that it will work with central government, local partners and communities to aid refugees.
Councillor Claire Wild’s motion
This Council recognises the swift response of the Leader in setting up a Cross Working Group to look at this humanitarian crisis and also allocating a dedicated Officer to look into all aspects and work with the Cross Party Group.