Oxfordshire County Council has banned a national “Brexit Facts” bus from parking in Broad Street, claiming it “could not permit political advertising.”
The Council later retracted this reason as “incorrect”, after seeking legal advice, but upheld the ban on the grounds of parking restrictions.
In an email to Oxford for Europe, seen by Cherwell, the County Council said: “The event would involve parking a bus on double-yellow lines and include an area for guest speakers and an audience in the road.
“It is due to the impact on traffic management and safety that the decision has been taken not to grant the request to lift the parking restrictions.”
The double-yellow lines in question are three metres in length.
Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, Layla Moran MP tweeted: “The bus should be allowed and when it does I will be there.
“During elections Tory and Lib Dem buses visit the county. The Leave bus during the referendum criss-crossed the country spreading fake news. Politically motivated move from Tory council?”
Oxford for Europe said: “We are not a party-political organization; the purpose of the Brexit Facts Bus is to draw impartially sourced facts about Brexit to public attention so as to invite reflection and discussion. Parking regulations are not properly used as a tool to suppress political free speech.
“No other council is known to have behaved in this way in 33 cities and towns where the bus is stopping.
“The County Council’s decision, which we are advised might well merit a judicial review, smacks of a will to curtail democratic dissent and debate that is reminiscent of the dogmatic and dictatorial attitudes currently driving Brexit.”
The City Council remained supportive of the Bus and Oxford for Europe throughout the dispute.
Bob Price, former leader of the City Council, founded the Oxford Europe Association to support EU27 citizens and to “affirm Oxford’s identity as a Europe-friendly city”.
City Councillor and Oxford Europe Association secretary, John Tanner said: “This is an extraordinary attack on free speech by Oxfordshire County Council and I hope they will think again. Whatever people’s views about Europe it is vital they can be aired in public.
“To ban an information bus from parking in Broad Street for half an hour is just silly.”
The “Brexit Facts” bus had been visiting Oxford as part of its eight day tour, during which it had made 33 stops in towns and cities across Britain.
Patrick Stewart, the Star Trek actor, and Layla Moran MP both spoke at the Oxford event.
The aim of the campaign was to parody and correct Vote Leave’s own “campaign-winning red bus.”
The side of the Facts Bus was emblazoned with the figure £3,200 million. This is the estimated weekly cost of leaving the EU if the UK left without a trade deal.
Patrick Stewart said at the event: “When the UK and Ireland were brought in as members [to the EU] I felt, for the fi rst time in my life, that what had happened in 1914-18 and 1939-45 could never happen again and at last collaborative, collective cooperation would assure benefits for everyone.”
“I want to urge that we think again, now that we are learning the real cost of Brexit.
“Some time ago another independent economic think tank reported that it could be 20 years before the economy of the UK would stabilise after Brexit. Millions like me will be saying to themselves; ‘Well, that will not be in my lifetime.”
Layla Moran in her speech also called for “a first referendum on the facts, now that we finally know what is going to happen”
She said: “Since I was elected in June, I kind of feel that I’ve had the front row to seat to a car crash.”
The two figures were also joined by Oxford student and a co-founder of the national student Remain movement Our Future Our Choice (OFOC), Will Dry.
Dry said: “I’m really, really sorry but I voted Leave. I voted Leave because I thought it meant more trade with the rest of the world, more money for the NHS and it meant a fairer, better Britain.
“It’s become clear to me over the course of the last few years that everything they campaigned on, or nearly everything they campaigned on, was a complete lie and turned out to be completely wrong.
“I’m now campaigning with all my heart and soul to turn it around to try and rectify the mistake I made.
“The youth of today, although they might be too busy writing essays at the moment, are absolutely behind you.”
Oxfordshire County Council told Cherwell: “A request came to officers relating to the lifting of a parking restriction in a busy part of our road network. The original reason given for refusal by the officer – the political advertising point – was wrong and it has been reviewed following legal advice.
“The request relates to the parking of a bus in a restricted area which is the subject of a Traffic Regulation Order imposed to manage traffic safely and efficiently. The council’s view is that this request does not fall into the very limited exceptions that would be used to lift those restrictions.
The event would involve parking a bus on double-yellow lines and include an area for guest speakers and an audience in the road.”