Battle to stop Portsmouth pushing ahead with plans to shut door on asylum-seekers is lost

Arthur Beech speaking to Sir Winston Churchill in Portsmouth Dockyard in 1941 - with the prime minister sporting the cane up for sale in his left hand. Picture: The News archive

Walking cane Churchill gave to Portsmouth labourer to go to auction at Sotheby’s

Have your say

CAMPAIGNERS have lost their bid to stop Portsmouth City Council pushing ahead with plans to shut the door on asylum-seekers.

A controversial Tory proposal to write to Home Secretary Theresa May demanding Portsmouth be removed as a cluster area taking in people fleeing war-torn countries was passed at a full council debate tonight.

Twenty-one councillors from the Conservative and Ukip groups voted in favour of the action and 16 members from the Labour and Lib Dem groups opposed.

The vote comes despite activists gathering in Guildhall Square earlier in the day, demanding the council showed unanimous support for asylum-seekers.

A handful of anti-asylum seekers took to the balcony of the civic offices displaying a banner calling for no more to be allowed in.

Councillor Aiden Gray, Portsmouth’s deputy Labour leader, said the city would now be seen as a ‘laughing stock’ given that other councils were playing their part taking in asylum-seeking families.

I am quite frankly ashamed to be British because as a country we are not doing enough to solve this humanitarian crisis.

Councillor Aiden Gray, Portsmouth’s deputy Labour leader

Condemning the council’s decision, Cllr Gray said: ‘It’s absolutely reprehensible.

‘We have families, we have children, and these are people who have come and gone through so much to find somewhere of sanctuary and safety.

‘I am quite frankly ashamed to be British because as a country we are not doing enough to solve this humanitarian crisis.’

He added: ‘These people are not here for a holiday, they are desperate.’

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Lib Dem leader, walked out of the meeting after the vote as he was so appalled.

Tory councillors Luke Stubbs and Steve Wemyss put forward the request to write to the home secretary as they believe the city has already taken its fair share of asylum seekers since 2000 and local services are already stretched.

Cllr Donna Jones, Tory leader, hit back saying the motion had been misinterpreted to portray the Tories as ‘twisted and evil’.

Cllr Jones said: ‘This is not being uncompassionate, it’s about saying as an administration that we inherited a 1,069 primary school places shortage.

‘We are overdeveloping our school sites because we are facing a crisis.’

But figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Friends Without Borders show Portsmouth only houses 124 refugees in a city with a population of 210,000.

Eighteen of those are children and five are of school age – yet all of them go to schools outside of the city.