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Sarah Longlands: The north must keep its head over Brexit

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The Institute for Public Policy Research North recently held a Northern Brexit Summit. This was run in partnership with the City Region Economic and Development Institute (REDI) at the University of Birmingham. Researchers from the Institute shared the results of their work exploring the implications of Brexit for the North of England’s economy.

The research describes the vulnerability of the UK’s regions using a sophisticated modelling methodology. For the north of the country, the results are stark: negative impact on regional gross domestic product of up to 14% (compared with a fall of around 3% during the financial crisis).

Approximately 2.5 million jobs are put at risk, particularly in sectors such as professional business services – which are currently the most productive for the north. All in all, regions like the north of England are estimated to be 4.6 times more vulnerable to economic shocks than their counterparts in the EU.

The research provided a glimpse of the economic and social implications of Brexit. However, it also told another story, longer in the making. It’s a story of a UK in which centralisation of political and economic power has widened not only the prosperity gap between London and the rest of the country, but also the democratic deficit.

Brexit speaks to how people’s sense of control over their lives has been eroded, leaving them vulnerable, angry and often dependent upon a beleaguered local state. As Liverpool City Region CA mayor Steve Rotheram (Lab) said in his speech at the Northern Brexit Summit: “There is a deep human need to feel that we are being listened to, that we do have agency, that we can control our own destiny.”

So what does this mean for the north and the strength of its Brexit ‘resilience’? Firstly – to borrow from Rudyard Kipling – the north needs to keep its head, even “when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you”.

That means working as a single region towards a progressive Brexit; one which is about ensuring powers repatriated to the UK from Brussels do not become clogged in the Westminster system but are properly devolved to the north.

This is not just about size but recognising that the strength of the north lies in its diversity of people and place. Keeping its head means the north being proactive in preparing and adapting to the realities of Brexit by taking care of its people through education, skills and housing policy. Finally, it means an outward-looking north which seeks to build on its existing relationships with Europe and the rest of the world in order to manage its very real vulnerability in the face of Brexit.

Sarah Longlands, director, IPPR North

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