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“Suffragettes” launch the ‘Deeds Not Words’ pledge outside County Hall on 25 November
image credit: Divest East Sussex

The East Sussex Pension Committee suspended its meeting at County Hall on Monday morning (25 November) after campaigners dressed as suffragettes delivered an ultimatum calling on the Committee to agree to stop funding climate change or face a campaign of nonviolent action.

A spokesperson, for the campaign group, Divest East Sussex said “East Sussex County Council (ESCC) currently invests £145 million of the East Sussex Pension Fund (which covers Brighton and Hove as well as East Sussex) in the giant oil and gas companies that are driving our current climate crisis – companies like Exxon, Shell and BP. The five members of the Pension Committee are the ultimate decision-makers regarding the Fund’s investments”.

A member of Divest East Sussex, dressed as a suffragette, stood up at the beginning of the meeting to announce the ultimatum and deliver written copies to the five members of the Committee: Simon Elford (Cons, Bexhill), Nigel Enever (Cons, Peacehaven), Gerard Fox (Cons, Hailsham), David Tutt (Lib Dem, Eastbourne) and Trevor Webb (Lab, Hastings). As the ultimatum was read out the Committee’s chair, Gerard Fox, declared the suspension of the meeting.

The ultimatum, the full text of which is available online warns the Committee that “if it insists on continuing to invest in these companies, we will be launching a campaign of nonviolent action to compel [it] to stop’”.

The intervention coincided with the launch of a ‘Deeds Not Words’ action pledge. Members of the public can sign this online at https://tinyurl.com/deedsnotwordspledge to commit to taking part in various forms of action, including ‘arrestable’ and ‘non-arrestable’ actions, if East Sussex County Council continues to refuse to stop funding climate change.

A spokesperson for Divest East Sussex said: “For the last four years people and institutions from across East Sussex have been calling on East Sussex County Council to stop funding climate change.

“They refuse to stop investing local people’s pensions in the giant oil and gas companies – companies like Exxon, Shell and BP – that are driving the crisis. As Australia burns, the Arctic melts and tropical cyclones devastate Mozambique, we can no longer wait. We therefore put the Council on notice that if it insists on continuing to invest in these companies, we will be launching a campaign of nonviolent action to compel them to stop. We urge all those who *really* believe that there is a climate emergency to join us. It’s time for deeds, not words.”

The campaign group notes that Hastings Borough Council, Lewes Town Council, Brighton & Hove City Council, Lewes District Council, UNISON, Caroline Lucas MP (Green, Brighton Pavilion) and Maria Caulfield MP (Cons, Lewes) have all backed divestment of the East Sussex Pension Fund. In October the County Council was forced to debate the issue at County Hall after over 5,000 local people signed a petition calling on the Council to divest from fossil fuels

East Sussex County Council (26 November) is yet to offer a public response to the suspension of the meeting.