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Photo: Katy Colley

Gaza ceasefire motion blocked again

The most recent (20 March) Hastings Borough Council (HBC) broke up in confusion and anger after the Labour Mayor refused to let the full council meeting, following a question from the public about a blocked ceasefire motion. Katy Colley from Hastings Palestine Solidarity Campaign gives her account of what happened.

A coalition of councillors from the Green Party and Hastings Independents had tabled a motion to the HBC’s 20 March Full Council meeting calling ‘for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire in Gaza’.

However, the motion – the third attempt by the Greens to table a ceasefire motion – was blocked by the monitoring officer. When a member of the public asked for the motion to be put to council at the start of the meeting, the meeting was immediately adjourned by the Labour Mayor Margi O’Callaghan who refused to restart the meeting.

The police were called, though it was not clear the reason for their presence, and nobody was asked to leave the meeting.

‘It’s a disgrace!’

Independent Councillor Andy Batsford said afterwards that it was a disgrace and that the motion needed to be heard.

He said: ‘I’ve just never seen anything like it. To have the public in the public gallery making a valid speech before a meeting and then that deemed to be ‘dangerous’ or ‘worrying’ to counsellors that led them to leave the council meeting.

‘And then for the chief legal officer and the mayor to decide that the meeting was then fully adjourned for the entire time. I’ve never seen it in all my 13 years of the counsellor here.

‘It’s a disgrace. That motion needed to be heard. And also, the rest of the business needed to be heard as well. The people that came and made their points clear but succinctly, I think they should be commended and the meeting should have carried on.’

Following the fiasco Independent Councillor Mike Turner said the democratic will of the council was being thwarted.

‘In the end the decision is down to the Mayor whether it’s heard. You know why? Because Labour probably find this uncomfortable and like the Tories they hold the same position. How many more kids have to die before they do something? It is unconstitutional.’

Councillor Turner added: ‘I’m furious about this. We’ve had a breaching of the constitution here.’

Name-reading protest outside Hastings Borough Council’s offices last year. Photo: Richard Wolff

Don’t stand by

At the start of the meeting concerned local resident Gabriel Carlyle stood up, apologised for interrupting but asked whether the ceasefire motion would be put to council.

He said: ‘Can you confirm whether or not that motion will be placed on the agenda? Whether or not councillors in this room who represent are supposed to represent the constituents here will have the opportunity to discuss to debate and vote on the issues of those councillors on the cabinet have decided, are important to the people of this town and do affect the people in this town.’

The monitoring officer confirmed:  ‘It is not on the agenda and it will not be discussed.’

The meeting was stopped and many councillors then started to leave the council chamber as Mr. Carlyle went on: ‘In 2016 Hastings Borough Council was an active supporter of the Holocaust Memorial Day event here in Hastings.

‘The theme for that day was ‘Don’t Stand By’ and that is exactly what Hastings Borough Council has done for the last five and a half months.’

A number of other local residents who had accompanied Gabriel stood beside him silently holding signs saying ‘Don’t Stand By’ as Mr Carlyle went on: ‘Thirty thousand people have been killed, the vast majority of them of women and children. 1.7 million people have been displaced, many of them multiple times.’

He added ‘The International Court of Justice has ruled that there is a prima facie case that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.’

Green and Independent councillors said they planned to propose an amendment to the constitution to allow them to discuss this motion, but then admitted that even if the amendment were passed, they still could not discuss a ceasefire motion until after council elections in May.

The concerned members of the public who had come to hear the ceasefire motion left the chamber of their own accord, but the mayor still refused to start the meeting, even when another councillor offered to chair in her place.

Becca Horn, the prospective parliamentary candidate for the Greens who was present in council chambers throughout said she thought the decision to adjourn the meeting was ‘ridiculous’ and unnecessary given the majority of the councillors wanted to continue. Ms Horn added that the mayor didn’t give a reason for refusing to restart the meeting.

Some local councils that have passed ceasefire motions

Aberdeen City Council
Bolton Council
Bradford Council
Burnley Council
Calderdale Council
Exeter City Council
Islington Council
Liverpool City Council
Midlothian Council
Oxford City Council
Preston City Council
Sheffield City Council
Shetland Islands Council
North Somerset Council

According to Matt Lewin, a barrister at Cornerstone Barristers and the editor of Cornerstone on Councillors’ Conduct and Standards in Public Life: ‘Even though most authorities’ standing orders include a rule to the effect that “motions must be about matters for which the council has a responsibility or which affect the council’s area”, in practice this tends to be given a generous interpretation to allow “political” motions to be brought forward where there is a political will.’

The text of the ceasefire motion submitted to the 20 March HBC meeting

The events of October 7th, and the subsequent horrific and ongoing attack on Gaza, have had a profound impact internationally, nationally and here in Hastings.

This war has not only destroyed Gaza, killing more than 30,000 residents, but led to further bombing of Yemen, Lebanon and Syria. No agreement has been reached at the UN to enable a ceasefire, nor has a meaningful flow of aid been allowed by Israel. Global tension has been dramatically raised as a result.

The UK has been split politically about how to stop the war. But public opinion is overwhelmingly in favour of an immediate ceasefire. 76% of UK residents now support this.

Hastings has seen a series of well-attended protests about the war, organised by community groups such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and by the Hastings Mosque. In January, a motion calling for Hastings to twin with Al Mawasi (a small coastal fishing community in Gaza) wasn’t allowed to be debated because officers decided it wasn’t relevant local business.

Now this week, a threat of violence has been received by Hastings Mosque, threatening to target their Sunday School, attended every week by 150 children. As a result, 100 residents attended the Mosque on Sunday March 3 to show support for the Muslim community. Following discussions with the Mosque, we now ask that Hastings Borough Council:

1. Supports the significant Muslim community of Hastings by calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire in Gaza;

2. Expresses deep sympathy for all those affected by the conflict in Palestine and Israel. We offer our support in this difficult time to everyone in the Hastings area who has been affected, including the Jewish and Muslim communities.

3. Repudiates all forms of hate speech, specifically including expressions of antisemitism and Islamophobia.

4. Condemns any antisemitic and Islamophobic violence and abuse in the UK.

5. Calls for the unrestricted flow of aid into Gaza.

6. Acknowledges the importance of the sustained education development being done by Hastings PSC, Hastings and Rother Refugee Buddy Project and Hastings Mosque between the children of Hastings and Al Mawasi in Gaza;

7. Welcomes the commitment of Hastings Mosque to widen their conversations with the residents of Hastings to include talks and discussions about the history and meaning of Islam, event planning (such as street parties and debates;) to embrace all local communities; to foster dialogue with other religions including the local Jewish community; and to undertake long-term planning for further education links between young people in Hastings and Gaza.

Hastings & Rye Palestine Solidarity Campaign:

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Posted 21:36 Sunday, Mar 31, 2024 In: Campaigns

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