Council meeting called off after public call for motion on Gaza ceasefire

Scenes at a council meeting which was called off abruptly because of public calls to discuss a ceasefire in Gaza were a “disgrace”, a council boss has said.

Hastings Borough Council was set to host its full council meeting on Wednesday evening, but was cut short in under two minutes.

In the recorded meeting available online, an inaudible man is seen standing and speaking from the back of the room as the meeting is called to begin.

A video seen by the PA news agency shows the man asking the mayor whether the motion on Gaza will be put on the agenda for the meeting.

Leader of the Labour group, Heather Bishop, said: “The scenes we saw this evening in the council chamber were a disgrace. Democracy was temporarily undermined, and those present felt unsafe and threatened – an unacceptable situation.

“We wholeheartedly recognise the right of individuals to protest – it is a vital part of our democracy. But when such protests prevent the ability of democratically elected councillors to meet to discuss and make decisions on important issues that matter to local residents, they move beyond legitimate protest and into mob rule.”

Full council chairwoman and mayor Margi O’Callaghan told the PA news agency that she was unable to start the meeting and talk through safety procedures as someone stood up and started shouting something.

She said: “I can’t continue what I have got to say.

“It’s very rude, it’s not procedure. Members of the public are welcome to come and watch, (but) not ask questions by coming in and shouting over the chair.”

She said the decision not to include a motion of a ceasefire in Gaza was made the week before and was not on the agenda for council business so could not be discussed.

Cllr O’Callaghan said the people holding signs in the “packed gallery” would not leave and so they could not continue the meeting.

But the chairwoman of Hastings and District Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Katy Colley, who was in the public gallery for the meeting said all was calm and residents were waiting patiently for the meeting to continue.

She said: “To our surprise the mayor decided to stop the whole meeting and just not carry on which was utterly bizarre.

“We were all just sitting there. Nobody was asked to leave.”

“Baffling, and really it’s a sad day for democracy. It was just local people who really care about what’s happening.”

In a video seen by PA news agency, Hastings Independent Group councillor Andy Batsford said after the meeting he had never seen anything like it in his 13 years as a councillor.

“It’s a disgrace. That motion needed to be heard. And also, the rest of the business needed to be heard as well,” he said.

“The people that came and made their points clear but succinctly, I think they should be commended and the meeting should have carried on.”

Leader of Hastings Borough Council and Green party councillor, Julia Hilton, said: “Last night’s council meeting was adjourned by the Labour mayor when people in the gallery asked why the meeting wouldn’t discuss a motion calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

“While an amendment to the constitution would have allowed this to come to a later meeting and been supported by Green councillors, the mayor removed any possibility of that happening.

“There were a number of important items on the agenda for tonight including debating a motion to support the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill and a change to our constitution to embed opposition chairs and vice chairs in our scrutiny committee.

“These will now have to wait until the next full council in June which is extremely disappointing.”

A Hastings Borough Council spokesperson said the meeting was adjourned because of disruption and would not comment further.

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