‘Government has left us in dark over Brexit’
ANDY Burnham has accused ministers of keeping Greater Manchester ‘in the dark’ about their Brexit plans – claiming they are favouring some places over others.
Speaking at a select committee hearing in Manchester on how EU withdrawal will affect individual areas, the mayor said Westminster was now at risk of repeating its previous mistakes by locking out certain parts of the country from its discussions.
Just one meeting has so far been held with regional mayors about Brexit, he said, adding that so far the government’s approach has not been ‘satisfactory’.
Citing new figures showing 65,000 EU nationals currently working across Greater Manchester, he also warned ministers are ‘headed for a brick wall’ after Brexit unless they use devolution to address a skills shortage in the region.
The local government committee session heard from Mr Burnham, Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen, Cambridgeshire mayor James Palmer and Len Duvall, chair of the EU Exit working group at the London Assembly. Most raised a degree of frustration over a lack of engagement from government over Brexit, but Mr Burnham was the most vocal.
Asked to what extent Greater Manchester had been included in the government’s emerging Brexit negotiations – and longerterm strategy – Mr Burnham said so far just one meeting had been held between ministers and mayors.
Government had also failed to provide its own assessments of the economic impact on the regions, he pointed out, despite that analysis eventually emerging through a leak to Buzzfeed News.
“We wanted regular meetings of the working group,” he said. “That hasn’t happened. We were told there was no regional impact, then it was leaked. So it’s not been satisfactory.”
He suggested some areas – without naming them – had had more access to government than others, implying that could be down to relationships with the Brexit secretary.
“It has to be structured and not dependent on whether you know somebody in David Davis’s team,” he said, adding: “We’re still in the dark about a lot of it.”
Mr Burnham also said the issue was not merely about what gets said in negotiations with Brussels, but ‘how it’s said’.
“If bridges are being burnt in Europe, it gets more serious the more you are depending on the EU for exports – and Greater Manchester has a high number of exports, so we would be, alongside the West Midlands, one of the areas that would be hardest hit,” he told the committee. The mayor also argued the forces that led to Brexit in the first place would be unleashed further if ministers failed to set up a proper ‘structured’ dialogue with the regions, allowing residents and businesses to feed back – via their leaders – how they felt about the ongoing process.
“Westminster is repeating, in its handling of Brexit, the same things that arguably gave rise to Brexit – a Westminstercentric approach to life,” he said.
Claiming businesses in the region had expressed ‘alarm’ at the possibility – repeatedly raised last year – of a ‘no deal’ scenario with the EU, he quoted new research from the Greater Manchester combined authority showing the number of European workers currently helping power the region’s econ- omy. That includes 26,000 people in its hotel and hospitality industries, 14,000 in banking and finance, 13,000 in manufacturing and 12,000 in public services, including the NHS.