Brexit secretary David Davis is being urged to ensure councils play a more active role in negotiations over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.
Pressure is mounting on Mr Davis to demonstrate how the Department for Exiting the European Union is consulting with councils on Brexit and how those discussions have played into policy positions.
The chairs of Key Cities and the Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities, Peter Box (Lab) and Sir Stephen Houghton (Lab) respectively, last week sent Mr Davis a letter, a copy of which has been shared with LGC, outlining their concerns. The two groups together represent 50 urban areas, 23 of which are the largest English cities outside London, and cover more than 25% of the English population.
In their letter the chairs said: “We appreciate the significant challenges associated with our exit from the European Union and welcome the government’s stated commitments to ‘frictionless trade’ and emphasis on the importance of protecting British business.
“However, we do have concerns regarding the extent to which the final deal will seek to balance the interests of English regional economies and how it can be demonstrated that these varying interests have been given the fair and full consideration they are due.”
There is particular concern about this due to the potential impact Brexit could have on different regions, according to the government’s own impact assessments.
Sir Stephen, who is also leader of Barnsley MBC, said: “Local government, like the rest of the country, has so far been kept in the dark during the Brexit negotiations – and the little information that has been disclosed suggests Brexit will have a fundamentally unbalanced regional impact and present real challenges to overcome.”
“The government owes it to the British people to protect key industries, maintain the free and open trade relationships on which our country’s success has been built, and safeguard the jobs of ordinary working people. But they cannot claim to do so effectively without actually listening to local areas.”
Yesterday, DExEU minister Suella Braverman met with six combined authority mayors to update them on how Brexit talks are progressing.
In their letter Sir Stephen and Cllr Box welcomed the “regular meetings” the DExEU has with the Local Government Association “where it may be possible” to discuss issues relating to Brexit and its potential impact, they echoed concerns raised by both the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and the Housing, Communities & Local Government committee about the “absence of a formal framework through which the English regions are able to express the interests of their residents on a fair and equal footing”.
They added: “We would also welcome any clarification you may be able to provide on how, in the interests of transparency and democratic accountability, your department proposes to demonstrate that this important consultation process has influenced the government’s position on the transition, subsequent trade deals and post-Brexit policy making.”
In a statement Cllr Box said mid-sized cities “are essential to the resilience of the post-Brexit economy” and added: “Our insights into local conditions can help to ensure policy and investment is channelled where and how it needs to be. However, many of our biggest employers in these areas are heavily reliant on export markets and areas like just-in-time manufacturing, which could be devastated by any new barriers to trade.”
Cllr Box said “time is running out” to ensure there will be a “frictionless trade” agreement in place when Britain finally does leave the EU next year and warned “the government must urgently formalise the way it engages with local representatives so that varying community interests are fairly and transparently represented at the heart of the final deal.”
A DExEU spokesperson said: ”This government is negotiating for every nation and region of the UK with the goal of securing a deal that works for all parts of the country.
“We have an on-going dialogue with local councils and DExEU minister Suella Braverman is visiting as many areas as possible to hear their views and to feedback on progress to date.
“Since the beginning of this month alone she has met with council leaders from the North West and the Humber regions, and today she updated six metropolitan mayors from the combined regions.”