York Press column – Unleash Yorkshire’s potential to make a success of Brexit
February 5, 2020
At 11pm last Friday, our country officially left the European Union after 47 years of membership. This ends over three years of doubt and debate, and represents a genuinely historic moment in our long national story.
The government will now turn to the vital task of building a positive new relationship with the EU to support continued trade and cooperation, while also seeking out fresh trade openings in dynamic countries beyond Europe. As we negotiate this new partnership with the EU, we remain in a transitional period until 31st December this year, under which we continue to interact with Europe broadly as if we were still members, a period the government will not extend.
I understand concerns about being able to conclude a satisfactory trade deal with the EU in this time. However, I feel that the lesson of the improved exit agreement the Prime Minister secured this autumn is that a hard deadline serves to focus minds, and will force both sides to agree a sensible solution.
Our country and our region are well placed under this new arrangement, with the UK linked to Europe by affection and geography, and to the wider world of the Indian Subcontinent, the Caribbean, Africa, Australasia and North America by ties of family, language and history. In Yorkshire we do not lack for determination and energy, of the kind that impelled Captain Cook to set off from our county to discover new lands. York has long engaged with Europe dating back to our Roman and Viking heritage, but is today also more global, with our sights and universities drawing tourists and students from the other side of the world.
I believe that the government will only succeed in its overall task if it delivers on its plans to spread opportunity and prosperity more widely across all regions, as it is only by unlocking the potential of everyone that we can make a complete success of our new life outside the EU.
This must mean increased investment across Yorkshire and Northern England, and concrete steps from government to grow our region’s economy, boosting skills, wages and jobs. Having long worked on these issues, I was pleased to help secure funds to dual the A1237 ring road and an over 6% cash boost for York schools in the autumn, and am encouraged by the fact that my lobbying will now be augmented by the large number of vocal new Conservative MPs for Northern seats, on whose support the government depends.
Realising Yorkshire’s potential depends on a fairer division of transport and infrastructure funding, so we get the better connections we need to support growth and family life. Although London is an important national dynamo, I would question whether it is right for the capital to receive two-and-a-half times more transport spending per head than Northern England. I would like to see a share of this going to fund a new railway station in Haxby, and I will work to hold the Prime Minister to his summer pledge to build the new Leeds to Manchester high-speed Northern Powerhouse railway without undue delay.
The first post-Brexit Budget in March will be a further opportunity for the government to show it is serious about widening opportunity across Northern England, and I am reassured by what I hear about the Chancellor’s intention to boost skills and training. In York we already see decisive progress on this, with the official opening of the new Yorkshire Institute of Technology which I will be privileged to attend this Thursday. Uniting regional employers, colleges and universities to train school leavers for engineering, construction and digital roles, the Institute should be of immeasurable value in creating new pathways into high-skill, high-wage work for York youth.
The government has taken encouraging steps in Parliament to deliver on this agenda in the last two weeks, with key votes on the NHS Funding Bill, which puts into law an increase annual NHS funding of £33.9 billion, and the Telecoms Infrastructure Bill, to speed up the roll-out of full-fibre broadband towards the government’s aim of 2025.
2020 therefore starts with a big change, but I am confident that it is one which the people of our great city will take in their stride.