Manchester mayor demands bigger Brexit role for English regions

Andy Burnham says UK regions need more influence to avoid ‘London-centric’ Brexit, reports Politico.

England’s regions must be granted “a permanent seat at the Brexit table,” Greater Manchester Mayor and former Labour Minister Andy Burnham will say Wednesday, accusing the U.K. government of a failure to listen to regional concerns.

Burnham will demand local and regional leaders are granted “equal footing” with those of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the U.K.’s overseas territories, according to extracts from a speech to the Local Government Association released to the media in advance.

Burnham will criticize the disproportionate influence afforded to tiny overseas territories such as the Cayman Islands, which is part of a group that meets formally with the government. English regions such as Greater Manchester currently have no regular, formal arrangement for discussing Britain’s Brexit strategy with May’s government.

Brexit Secretary David Davis pledged to hold a meeting for regional leaders in York after mayoral elections in May. However, in a letter to Davis Tuesday, Burnham said that two months on, no such meeting had been called.

“If the government fails to listen to our concerns it will raise fears that we are heading towards a London-centric Brexit dominated by the City of London and the financial services industry,” Burnham is expected to say Wednesday, according to a pre-briefed section of his speech.

“It cannot be right that Britain’s overseas territories, such as the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands, have a permanent seat at the Brexit table whilst we are denied one. Greater Manchester is ready to play our part and make a constructive contribution to the process of leaving the European Union,” he is expected to say.

The mayor points out that the Cayman Islands has a population of under 60,000 and is smaller than the Isle of Wight, while Greater Manchester’s population is 2.8 million.

In his letter to Davis, Burnham called for the establishment of a new government cabinet committee, comprising the recently-elected “metro mayors” of city regions including Greater Manchester, Merseyside and the West Midlands, as well as other regional leaders.

Among the top priorities for English regions will be securing a commitment from Davis that EU structural funds, which have supported regional growth — particularly in poorer areas — will be replaced after Brexit. In his letter to the Brexit secretary, Burnham said such funding should involve long-term commitments, be devolved to regional or local governments, and be targeted at the most deprived areas.

Burnham, who presided over Manchester’s response to the May 22 terror attack in which 22 people were killed, is an advocate of greater power for English regions, and earlier this year told POLITICO he wanted a new body called the Council of the North to be set up to represent the interests of around 15 million Northerners.




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