THE Conservative candidate for St Helens North said comments he made about potentially harmful impacts of Brexit in 2016 were “absolutely wrong”.

Joel Charles is the deputy leader of the Conservative Group on Harlow Council, near Essex, and is looking to win the seat Labour’s Conor McGinn has held since 2015.

One of the key messages during Cllr Charles’ campaign so far has been that voting Conservative is the only way to deliver Brexit.

If elected, Cllr Charles has pledged to vote for Boris Johnson’s withdrawal agreement in Parliament, but if this fails will advocate leaving the European Union without a deal.

Cllr Charles also said he will support no-deal if the UK fails to reach a free-trade agreement with the EU by the end of the transition period, currently set for December 31, 2020.

The Tory candidate told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that he does not believe a no-deal would massively damage the people of St Helens.

He said Conservative policies, such as cutting taxes for people on lower incomes, along with its Brexit plan mean the UK’s best days are ahead of us.

The Conservative candidate’s comments are a noticeable shift to the arguments he made for remaining in the European Union in 2016.

In July 2016, Cllr Charles attended an EU debate at The Hertfordshire and Essex High School and Science College in Bishop’s Stortford.

During the debate, he argued that “the path to prosperity is not through isolation under Brexit”, and believed leaving the EU “can only do harm”.

Three years on, Cllr Charles said he said he no longer thinks this is the case.

“No, I was wrong. Absolutely wrong,” Cllr Charles said.

“Actually, when you look at the trade deals that we are lining up ready for our exit from the European Union, I think actually we’re in a very strong position when we leave the European Union, as I suspect we will.

“I’m campaigning with colleagues for a Conservative majority.

“I think actually our better days are ahead of us as we leave the European Union.”

Cllr Charles also said in the 2016 debate that intelligence agencies such as MI5 and MI6 rely on shared information across the EU and argued that leaving the union would put this “complex co-operation” at risk.

The Tory candidate now believes he was wrong on this point too, saying UK security services are “robust enough to deal with any scenario”.

Despite holding these views at the time, Cllr Charles said he accepted the result of the referendum and now believes the outlook is more “positive”.

The Conservative councillor said if he is elected, it is his responsibility as a democrat to honour the will of the voters of St Helens North and “get Brexit done.”

Cllr Charles said: “On the night of the referendum result I said we’ve got to get on now and deliver Brexit. That is the result, that is the overall majority.

“They have decided, my job is to represent the people who believe that we’ve got to get on and deliver Brexit, as I do as well.

“I am someone who believes our best days are ahead of us as we leave the European Union.”

Cllr Charles has joined a raft of Conservative MPs, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to sign up to the ‘Stand up for Brexit’ campaign.

The campaign was first set up in 2018 to call on MPs to reject Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement. In June 2019 a fresh pledge was added to ask MPs to commit to leaving the EU on October 31.

After this failed to happen and a general election was subsequently called by MPs, a new pledge was added calling on candidates to “deliver on the will of the British people”.

Cllr Charles said: “I’ve signed up for the ‘Stand up for Brexit’ pledge, which means if I’m fortunate enough to be elected here in St Helens North I will vote for Boris Johnson’s deal.

“If that falls for whatever reason, I don’t think it will because I believe we will have a Conservative majority government, that I will advocate a no-deal position.

“I’ve made that pledge – I’ve made that crystal clear.”

Cllr Charles, who was first elected to Harlow Council in 2008, said he is advocating a “fresh new approach” and wants to “end the complacency Labour seems to reside under in St Helens North”.

Despite working as a ward councillor for residents who live more than 200 miles away from St Helens, Cllr Charles believes he has much in common with the people of this borough.

“I’m a working-class boy,” Cllr Charles said. “My grandfather was a trade unionist who was a haulier, and he comes from coal mining stock.

“I was born and bred on working class principles and you always have to work hard to achieve your life’s ambitions.”

St Helens Star: (From left) Cllr Linda Mussell, Conservative councillor for Rainford, Joel Charles, Conservative parliamentary candidate for St Helens North and John Cunliffe, chairman of St Helens Conservatives(From left) Cllr Linda Mussell, Conservative councillor for Rainford, Joel Charles, Conservative parliamentary candidate for St Helens North and John Cunliffe, chairman of St Helens Conservatives

Cllr Charles is also the director of government relations and impact for Future Care Capital, a charitable health and social care think tank.

He believes his experience in local government and the charitable sector make him well-placed to represent the people of St Helens North.

“I’ve got a lot of experience,” Cllr Charles said.

“I’ve spent 10 years in local government but I’m also a director of a national charity that focuses on health and adult social care.

“Some of those challenges in terms of adult social care I think draw parallels with St Helens North.

“What I want, I will be calling on my own government to do this, is to get a long-term funding settlement for adult social care.

“The wealth of experience I’ve had over ten years in local government and in the charitable sector I think adds weight to my experience and my capabilities to represent this local area.”