‘Gov­ern­ment has left us in dark over Brexit’

Middleton Guardian - - FRONT PAGE - JEN­NIFER WIL­LIAMS

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.

Andy Burn­ham

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