1. Governance
January 29, 2016

A London borough just voted to leave the European Union

By Jonn Elledge

The further you go from a city, the less a part of the place its fringes are likely to feel. Throw in a strong existing identity and mediocre transport links, and you can end up with residential suburbs that don’t look or feel anything like the city proper.

So it is that London is generally an open-minded, multicultural sort of a place, but its eastern-most borough just voted to leave the European Union:

London (AFP) – A local council in London became the first in Britain to endorse leaving the European Union in a vote.

Havering Council in east London voted by 30 to 15 in favour of a motion tabled by a councillor from the eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP), led by Nigel Farage.

Havering, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, is the chevron-shaped borough clinging to the inside of the M25 where London turns into Essex. Its biggest town is Romford; it’s also where the District line ends up if you stay on it for so long that you can no longer remember not being on there.

But despite having been part of London for 51 years now, the area still identifies with Essex at least as much as the city. It’s also London’s whitest borough (83 per cent white British at the time of the last census, compared to 45 per cent in the city as a whole).

Correlation is not causation, but in the 2014 election UKIP got 28 per cent of the vote and seven of the 54 seats on the local council. It came second only to the Tories in terms of votes (22 seats on 28 per cent), but was pushed into third place by the Hornchurch Residents Association who got 10 seats out of 10 per cent of the vote. It’s not a hotbed of radical thought, is the point here.

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And now it’s seceding from the European Union.

“It is a fantastic result,” said the UKIP councillor, Lawrence Webb. “We as local councillors have to make decisions on rules and regulations that come out of the EU. They have a direct impact on local services.”

Actually, of course, it’s doing no such thing. British local authorities are among the weakest in the world. They barely have the power to build their own transport links or raise their own taxes; they’re not about to start their own foreign policy.

Nonetheless, the councillors in a borough of one of Britain’s most Europe-friendly cities just registered their desire to leave the European Union by a factor of two to one.

If the UK as a whole votes to leave the European Union, it’s widely believed that it could trigger a second independence referendum in a Scotland determined to stay in. If the UK votes to stay in, it’s not inevitable that the London Borough of Havering could vote to secede, Passport to Pimlico style. But can say for sure that it wouldn’t? Can we be truly certain?

Yes, we can.

This was a silly vote.

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