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A “distraught” member of the public blasted the “shameful” attitude towards immigration at a heated election debate in the Beaconsfield constituency last night.

The issues of immigration, Brexit, the Green Belt and social care took centre stage as five candidates seeking election at this month’s General Election hoped to persuade residents to cast their votes their way at a hustings at The Beaconsfield School in Wattleton Road, on Wednesday night.

The hopefuls - Dominic Grieve for the Conservatives, Russell Secker for the Green Party, James English for Labour, Peter Chapman for the Lib Dems and Jon Conway for UKIP – debated contentious issues including education, taxes and social care after questions were put forward by audience members.

A member of the public said she did not plan to take part in the debate, but felt compelled to speak up and expose the “shameful” attitude towards immigrants.

She said: “I am absolutely distraught at the bigotedness of the people in this room and in our leadership. The people who treat anyone else who doesn’t look like us to be some kind of monster, someone who is out to get us.

“It is shameful the way we behave, the whole referendum was shameful, the emphasis on immigration and treating people like they are a second class citizen is shameful and we really ought to look at how we make decisions in this sort of area.”

In response, Mr Conway urged her not to believe everything she reads in “what can be a bias press”.

He said: “The idea that because you believe in immigration control that somehow you don’t like immigrants, just does not connect.

It’s alright for you down here in Beaconsfield, you don’t see too much of it. But up in the north, there are towns that have been devastated – not because we don’t like those people, but because there aren’t places in the schools, in doctor’s surgeries, you can’t get a hospital appointment.

“We have not planned for this. We don’t need too much more immigration because we cannot cope with what we have got already.”

Meanwhile, Green’s Mr Secker said free movement was a “great gift” for young people, adding: “I spent half my life as a migrant in the US and I was never treated or talked about in the way that people here talk about guests to our country.

“I think it is a disgrace. We cannot demonise and stigmatise people who are trying to get by, who are ambitious and educated.”

Labour’s James English agreed that immigrants contribute to society in a “positive” way by “helping our public services and culturally enriching our society”.

Brexit was also a hot topic, with Dominic Grieve arguing that the best person to negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU is Theresa May.

He said: “It is the single biggest issue facing us and we have got to navigate our way through that successfully. I don’t believe there is any leader, other than the Prime Minister, who is in a position to do that.”

However, Mr English criticised the current government for their “reckless” approach to Brexit negotiations, saying: “Brussels doesn’t respond to us when we shout and make demands at this stage of the negotiations. We got what we voted for but the way we are going about it is, at times, ridiculous.”   

Lib Dem Peter Chapman said he was “surprised” that the government were pursuing a hard Brexit, accusing them of “prioritising immigration over the success of the economy.”

The hustings event, which was organised by Churches Together in Beaconsfield, was the first of three debates to be held in the constituency, with another held in Burnham on Thursday and the last to be held at All Saints Church in Marlow on June 5.