Tower Hamlets Council has officially pledged its support for Somaliland as an independent state.
More than 150 people of Somali origin packed out the public gallery as a motion was passed to recognise the east African nation at a full council meeting on Wednesday, November 18.
But some were not happy at it being discussed, arguing a local council meeting was not the place to debate international affairs.
A motion to support the state came from Cllr Amina Ali (Lab, Bow East), who spoke about the importance of the issue to the borough’s Somali community.
She said: “This council believes that Somalilanders have made a significant contribution to Tower Hamlets and are one of the oldest communities in the borough.
“This council should be strongly urged to support the growing pressure to recognise Somaliland as an independent state, allowing it a seat at the United Nations.
“The council resolves to support the campaign to recognise Somaliland as an independent state. Support for this motion will show the council has listened to the Somaliland community in Tower Hamlets.”
Somaliland declared independence from the Republic of Somalia in 1991, but has not yet been recognised by either the UN or the African Union.
Mayor John Biggs added his support to Cllr Ali’s motion, while deputy mayor Cllr Sirajul Islam said: “The Somali community has made a good contribution to Britain, so recognising it today is immensely important.”
The motion also had support of the independents.
Referring to the problem of pirates off the coast of Somalia, Cllr Rabina Khan (Ind, Shadwell) said recognising Somaliland as a state would be an important step.
She said: “The MEP Godfrey Bloom said one way of addressing the problem of pirates is to recognise the country of Somaliland.
“Is it not in our interests to support that part of the world that wants peace and prosperity?”
But Conservative councillors were unhappy that the motion was even brought to council.
Cllr Chris Chapman (Con, Blackwall and Cubitt Town) said it was the party’s view that it was not within the council’s remit to discuss international affairs.
Moments later, Cllr Andrew Wood (Con, Canary Wharf) took to Twitter and sarcastically trashed the motion.
He tweeted: “This is why I got elected as a local ward councillor for Canary Wharf – to discuss whether or not to recognize a foreign state.
“We have a large Spanish community, should we discuss Catalan independence? What about Nigerians and Biafra or Chinese and Taiwan?
“Time spent on Somaliland is time not spent on truly local issues that affect all residents.”
The motion then went to a vote, which was passed by all Labour and Independent councillors, with Conservatives abstaining.
Such was the flurry of people leaving the public gallery after the motion was passed, the meeting was adjourned for 10 minutes.
Tower Hamlets became the third UK local authority to publicly declare its acknowledgement of Somaliland as an independent state, after Sheffield and Cardiff councils.