EU Elections 2019: Elected MEP Barbara Gibson to stay as county councillor for Welwyn Garden City

PUBLISHED: 17:40 28 May 2019 | UPDATED: 13:26 29 May 2019

Liberal Democrat MEPs Barbara Gibson and Lucy Nethsingha. Picture: NEIL PERRY

Liberal Democrat MEPs Barbara Gibson and Lucy Nethsingha. Picture: NEIL PERRY

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Barbara Gibson, who was elected as a new member of the European Parliament for East of England on Sunday, will keep her position as a Welwyn Garden City representative on Hertfordshire County Council.

Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps questioned Cllr Gibson's ability to handle two jobs. Picture: supplied by Grant ShappsWelwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps questioned Cllr Gibson's ability to handle two jobs. Picture: supplied by Grant Shapps

The new MEP has seen a meteoritic rise in recent years since joining the Liberal Democrats back in 2016 in response to Brexit.

She subsequently snapped up a county councillor position for the Haldens division in 2017 and became the Lib Dem's Welwyn Hatfield parliamentary candidate for 2022's planned general election in 2018, before winning a European Parliament seat just a few days ago.

But Welwyn Hatfield's current MP, Conservative Grant Shapps, says constituents are questioning whether she can she wear all of these hats simultaneously.

"Their Parliamentary candidate is now both a county councillor and an MEP in Brussels. This has left many local people to ask how on earth she'll find time to represent Welwyn Hatfield in Westminster too," said Mr Shapps.

Brexit Party MEPs Michael Heaver, June Mummery, and Richard Tice. Picture: NEIL PERRYBrexit Party MEPs Michael Heaver, June Mummery, and Richard Tice. Picture: NEIL PERRY

Cllr Gibson, who lives in Welwyn with her husband and two dogs, says she is confident she will manage - but acknowledges she will need additional support to carry out her duties at county level.

Welwyn Hatfield will be her base of operations while she moves between Brussels, Strasbourg and Hertfordshire, she told the Welwyn Hatfield Times.

"And I plan to have a constituency office here as well."

The Liberal Democrats also hope to take an MP seat at the next general election.

New Green Party MEP Dr Catherine Rowett with her colleagues after the result was declared. Picture: PAUL GEATERNew Green Party MEP Dr Catherine Rowett with her colleagues after the result was declared. Picture: PAUL GEATER

"In Welwyn Hatfield, in the May [local] elections we achieved 33 per cent of the vote and in these [European] elections we are now a strong challenger for the Grant Shapps's seat, having got more votes than Labour and the Conservatives put together," Welwyn Hatfield borough councillor Malcom Cowan has claimed.

Mr Shapps responded that it was highly unlikely the new MEP would secure the UK parliamentary position in light of the Liberal Democrats performance at the 2017 general election.

"Every party must claim they will win the seat the next time. However, the Lib Dems secured just seven per cent in Welwyn Hatfield at the last general election," he said.

Cllr Gibson joins another Liberal Democrat Lucy Nethsinga, the Brexit Party's Richard Tice, Michael Heaver and June Mummery, the Conservatives' Geoffrey Van Orden and the Green Party's Dr Catherine Rowett as fellow East of England MEPs.

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"In you add up the votes for the 'remain parties' it outstrips the Brexit Party," Dr Gibson claimed.

Lib Dems, Greens and Change UK did take 41.5 per cent of the vote at the Welwyn Hatfield euro poll, but many residents did vote overwhelmingly in favour of the Brexit Party.

"I've been elected an MEP for the Eastern region with 38 per cent of the [East of England] vote," Brexit Party MEP Richard Tice said.

"The Brexit Party's success is a huge upset in Westminster. We had a simple message: Let's restore trust in democracy, let's promote a WTO Brexit and let's get our MEPs around the negotiating table."

Local Brexit party voter Peter Butcher, from Welwyn Garden City, hopes the momentum will continue onto the next general election.

"I support/voted for Brexit because I feel the three main parties have let the people down. They have ignored the British people for far too long, on many issues from housing to anti-social behaviour to the NHS, plus many other issues," Mr Butcher said.

Commenting on the fall in votes for the Conservatives, who previously held three seats at East of England level, MP Shapps said: "Unsurprisingly Welwyn Hatfield voters shared their feelings about the UK not having resolved Brexit. I think that's very understandable. In fact I share their frustration, too."

Similarly, the Greens are also looking to capitalise on their one seat at European level despite not having any Welwyn Hatfield Borough councillors currently.

"People are now realising climate change is something to take seriously," leader of the Welwyn Hatfield Greens Marc Sheimann told the Welwyn Hatfield Times.

"If we can get our new green MEP to come to Welwyn Garden City this will gain momentum. At the next council election we will have more choice and more candiates."

It was a disapointing night for Labour, which came fifth at borough and regional level, its parliamentary candidate Rosie Newbigging acknowledged.

"We campaigned on a strategy of trying to heal deep divides in the country," said Ms Newbigging, adding that 'remain' and Brexit proved more of a salient issues with voters.

"We think a real people's vote - which could be a general election - is the way forward, but it seems unlikely.

"So we are looking at moving towards a confirmatory second vote."

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