The mayor of Brighton and Hove has been urged to quit because she also serves as an MEP (Member of the European Parliament) and hopes to become an MP (Member of Parliament).
The call to quit was made at a Brighton and Hove City Council meeting which Councillor Alexandra Phillips chairs in her capacity as mayor.
The mayor is a ceremonial post in Brighton and Hove with none of the powers held by, say, the mayor of London.
Like the Speaker of the House of Commons, it is a politically neutral post although the holder almost always belongs to a political party.
Nigel Furness, a Hove resident and former council candidate, spoke out at the full council meeting at Hove Town Hall this afternoon (Thursday 24 October).
Mr Furness said: “I would like to ask Madam Mayor if she would do the decent thing … and relinquish the chains of office?”
His call came after he asked the Labour council leader Nancy Platts: “Our current mayor, Councillor Alex Phillips, also holds office as a Member of the European Parliament and is now proposing to stand as a parliamentary candidate for Brighton Kemptown.
“As these latter two categories involve publicly participating in politics, is this a conflict of interest?”
Councillor Platts said: “You are certainly not alone in raising this with me, as have many other members of the public and members of this council.
“However, your question relates to the mayoralty rather than the policies or actions of the administration. As such, I do not feel it would be appropriate for me to comment.
“I would, however, like, with your permission, Madam Mayor, to ask the monitoring officer if he would be able to explain the legal and constitutional position.”
The council’s monitoring officer Abraham Ghebre-Ghiorghis said that Councillor Phillips could continue as mayor while holding political office.
Mr Ghebre-Ghiorghis said: “The role of the mayor is a statutory role and (the law) does not prohibit the mayor from undertaking other political roles.
“It does not restrict him or her from becoming an MEP or an MP – but a person cannot be an MP and MEP at the same time.
“Should she be successful at a future general election, she will have to resign as an MEP.”
Mr Ghebre-Ghiorghis said that as long as Councillor Phillips acted in a politically neutral way while carrying out her official duties as the mayor, she would not be breaking any rules.
He said that there was “nothing unlawful, illegal or improper” in holding the post of mayor while serving as an MEP – provided the mayor did not use her role for party political purposes.
Councillor Phillips has been a Green councillor since winning a by-election in Goldsmid ward, in Hove, in July 2009. She now represents Regency ward in Brighton.
In May she held her seat at the local elections and weeks later she became the youngest mayor of Brighton and Hove. She is 34.
Just a few days afterwards Councillor Phillips was elected an MEP for the South East England constituency – and she is also her party’s parliamentary candidate for Brighton Kemptown.
If the Prime Minister Boris Johnson persuades enough fellow MPs to support him, he could call a general election to take place on Thursday 12 December.
After the meeting Councillor Phillips said: “I’m honoured to serve Brighton and Hove as mayor and I’m honoured to have been elected as an MEP.
“I take my duties very seriously although I will of course leave it to voters to judge me on my record.”
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