The North’s place at the Brexit table
After much speculation and months of guessing, Theresa May has finally outlined her plan for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union and what she hopes to achieve. This includes a Christmas list of sorts with 12 objectives, including new trade agreements with other countries, a leading role in science and innovation and control of immigration.
During the debate, much has been said about the devolved nations having a role in the Brexit negotiations but there has been little mention of the English regions and, in an era of devolution, the big question is: will the North have a seat at the Brexit table?
In real terms, the economy of the three northern regions, the North West, North East and Yorkshire and the Humber is worth £289bn, twice the size of Scotland’s and bigger than all the devolved nations’ economies combined.
Therefore, leaders and elected officials from across the North will feel it is vital they have an influence in the Brexit negotiations, especially as the regions in general voted to leave the European Union unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Brexit vote demonstrated that large swathes of the North feel dissatisfied with the European Union, despite receiving EU funds for various projects across the region and in core cities such as Hull.
Theresa May’s rhetoric on Brexit may, however, play out well for the Northern regions; she talks about a global opportunity and creating trade deals with, for example, the United States, India and China. This could see a further influx of foreign investment into the North, which Manchester and Sheffield has already benefited from. Even now new routes are being opened up from Manchester Airport to American and Chinese cities. There is still a lot more that needs to be done if the North is to realise its potential; the Northern Powerhouse founders are often speaking up for the region, but who will represent it in respect of the Brexit negotiations?
In a bid to speak up for the region, the Liberal Democrats have appointed regional Brexit spokespersons, with former MEP Fiona Hall and Lord Shipley representing the region. However, it’s not entirely clear how much influence these spokespersons will have and it’s more likely that the party’s leader, Tim Farron, could hold more sway, given his rhetoric on the need for the best possible deal for future generations and the party’s young membership.
The Labour Party on the other hand is more likely to influence Brexit negotiations given the likelihood of a full house of Labour mayors across the North come May. The favourite for the Manchester contest, Andy Burnham, has been the most vocal over Brexit and recently asked the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, about the region’s future. In response, David Davis, has said that he would be willing to meet Northern mayors to discuss the region’s future. But with the Brexit Secretary and the Government’s eyes looking at a nationwide deal, whether Metro-mayors will hold any influence over these negotiations is yet to be determined.
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