If the referendum result last June meant anything it was that politics should be done differently. Politicians – some belatedly – have woken up to the need for authentic leaders who actually believe in things and are not just managers. Ditto that younger voters have become a force to be reckoned with. But the sad fact is that in so many ways politics is still being done exactly like it always has been – by ‘a chosen few’ keeping power to themselves.
“Taking back control” was a convenient slogan but those who espoused it seem to now have little belief in what they were saying. The current Brexit Bill puts Henry VIII powers in the hands of Secretaries of States and the Prime Minister. Ditto secondary legislation. Parliament quite rightly is fighting back and asserting that its constitutional sovereignty should be enhanced, not further diminished by our exit from the European Union.
That is all well and good but there is a wider dimension, which is why I believe the country needs not just a barrier free Brexit, a green Brexit and a jobs Brexit but also a devolved Brexit. Taking back control is not just about Westminster vs Whitehall. It is also about the devolved nations, Metro Mayors and local government. There are three proposals I believe which would deliver a devolved, more democratic and ultimately better Brexit:
1. Powers repatriated from Brussels should go not to Westminster and Whitehall but, whenever and wherever, appropriate to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as called for by Carwyn Jones and Nicola Sturgeon. A declaration to this effect should be signed by the leaders of devolved nations and the Prime Minster.
2. The new Metro Mayors who- along with the Mayor for London – now represent 19 million people in England, should be a key part of the future political debate. It was welcome that David Davis found time at Conservative Conference to meet with the three northern Mayors – see the GMCA’s Brexit Monitor report – but they, and Sadiq Khan and Andy Street, should be at the top table negotiating in Brussels.
3. Local government exists to provide democratic accountability. It may not be perfect but nor is our minority Government. On the basis that to achieve the best possible – or, should I say, least worst – result from Brexit will require the utmost collaboration between politicians at all levels and in all parties, council leaders must be part of the solution.
The fact is that Brexit will have differential impacts. Most areas will lose but lose in different ways: some because of the economic sectors they specialise in, others due to the funding they had previously received. The idea that we can have a Brexit solely made in Whitehall is, as soon as one properly considers it, preposterous. It also flies in the face of the shake-up in politics that the referendum result was allegedly going to herald.