‘Let’s not do a mini-Brexit’: Date of referendum on directly elected mayor pushed back

The protest drew a crowd of about 50 people. Picture: Jon King

The protest drew a crowd of about 50 people. Picture: Jon King - Credit: Archant

The date of a referendum on the future of the borough’s directly elected mayor has been pushed back to avoid it becoming Newham’s version of Brexit.

Professor Nick Pearce. Picture: Nic Delves-Broughton

Professor Nick Pearce. Picture: Nic Delves-Broughton - Credit: Archant

Councillors voted unanimously in favour of a motion seeking to hold the vote on a date between June 2020 and May 2021 at a council meeting at Old Town Hall, Stratford, on Monday, September 16.

The motion, put forward by Cllr John Whitworth, includes an indicative date which could see people casting their votes on April 1, 2021, rather than on the same day as the London mayoral election on May 7, 2020 as originally planned.

The councillors have agreed that any decision on the type of governance model put forward to replace the directly elected mayor should wait until after the local authority's democracy and civic participation commission puts forward its own proposals.

Cllr Whitworth said: "We should accept the opportunity to take the commission's work into account."

Seconding the motion, Cllr Daniel Blaney, said: "Let's not do a mini-Brexit in Newham. In 2016 we didn't know what we were going to do as an alternative [to EU membership].

"Let's not rush into a referendum. Let's consider the alternatives and know what we are voting on."

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Cllr Whitworth explained there were practical reasons why holding the poll on the same day as the mayoral election was an advantage but agreed with a report which raised the possibility some people could be confused at having two votes at the same time.

At the same meeting, the mayor announced that Professor Nick Pearce from the University of Bath will be the commission's independent chairman.

Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz said: "Nick Pearce will bring a depth of expertise to the job as we work towards Newham becoming a beacon of democracy."

The commission has been set up to fulfil a manifesto pledge from the mayor to make the borough a "flagship of participatory deomcracy".

The mayor said that Professor Pearce, the author of Britain Beyond Brexit and director of the Institute for Policy Research, will lead a panel of experts and hold commission deliberations in public. The recommendations are due to be published in March 2020.

Following his appointment, Professor Pearce said: "I am delighted to have been appointed to chair the commission.

"In the coming months we will consult widely, gather evidence and make recommendations for the reform and renewal of the democratic life of Newham."