Portsmouth council boss sparks row with MPs after claim they failed to 'back him up' at Westminster Brexit meeting
PORTSMOUTH'S council boss has hit out at the city’s MPs for not ‘backing him up’ as he took his demands for more no-deal Brexit funding to Westminster.
It comes after councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson attended a meeting of Hampshire leaders to discuss the county’s preparations.
The Liberal Democrat reinstated a plea for government to give Portsmouth City Council £844,000 and proffer up £100,000 a week after Brexit.
He previously told the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, the lump sum would reimburse the council for money it has spent on no-deal Brexit building projects, while weekly instalments would staff lorry triage points for port-bound lorries – avoiding a ‘traffic nightmare’.
On yesterday's meeting, Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘It was a really good opportunity to lobby the government to stump up the money the city council has had to spend, paid for by taxpayers.’
He added: ‘We've not got the money, so I asked again if we can get that money back – but disappointingly neither of the Portsmouth MPs turned up to back me up.’
Stephen Morgan, the Labour MP for Portsmouth South, said he could not attend after the Cabinet Office moved the meeting at ‘very short notice'.
‘This meant I was unable to attend as I had a longstanding speaking commitment on the Queen’s Speech on the climate emergency in the workplace of Parliament, the Chamber,' he said.
‘Strict protocol means you have to be in the Chamber for the start of the debate in order to speak on behalf of your constituents.’
He hit back: ‘I have already liaised with the city council’s chief executive and written to the chair of the local resilience forum for a report on the one-off meeting, to see what further steps I can take as part of my continuous action on this issue.
‘Mr Vernon-Jackson’s comments are therefore surprising. If he doesn’t understand parliamentary protocol, as a constituent of mine, all he needs to do is pick up the phone and ask.'
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, and Mr Shapps had also been pencilled in for the meeting, but were waylaid on the day a Brexit deal was reached.
Penny Mordaunt, the Conservative MP for Portsmouth North, said she ‘always’ backs the council funding bids, but had to be in Parliament too.
‘I do this every day – not just when Gerald is visiting,' she said. ‘It is in Portsmouth’s best interest we secure a deal and today was critical in that.
‘There is huge work going on to rally Parliament to support it – that has formed a large part of my day.
‘Gerald’s party are planning to vote against it. I would encourage them to rethink.'
Alan Mak, the Conservative MP for Havant, did attend the meeting – where he said MPs were given an update from the local resilience forum.
The body is made up of Hampshire’s emergency planners, including police and fire chiefs, looking to keep post-Brexit disruption to a minimum.
Mr Mak said: ‘The latest Brexit and border preparedness meeting was a useful update on the work the government, local authorities and the local resilience forum are doing to prepare for Brexit.
‘We were reassured that preparations are going well and I'll continue to stay active and engaged on this issue.’
So far the city council, alongside Hampshire County Council, has spent more than £4m to prepare for a potential no-deal Brexit.
In return Portsmouth has been given about £2.1m for those preparations, including £1.25m given to the county's local resilience forum.
The latest raft of funding for the city came after Mr Shapps last week confirmed a windfall of £400,000 from the Port Infrastructure Resilience and Connectivity Fund.
That money is expected to go toward a gate camera and vehicle booking system at Portsmouth International Port.