In the aftermath of the crushing defeat of the government’s Brexit plan in the House of Commons, the question on everyone’s lips is “what next?” Opinion is divided: some say the UK is now heading for “no deal”, others for “no Brexit”. Continue reading
As the December European Council drew to an end, EU leaders must have felt that they were living their own Brexit Groundhog Day. As has become the norm since the Brexit negotiations began in March 2017, the European Union is faced with a British government in crisis. Continue reading
By Phil Syrpis, University of Bristol
Whisper it gently, but a solution to the Brexit riddle seems to be coming into view. Westminster has yet to see it, but it will not be long now (famous last words…) before the reality becomes impossible to avoid. March 2019 will be upon us very soon. Unless *something* is agreed the UK will leave the EU on 29 March with no deal. Continue reading
Image: EPA-EFE/Andy Rain
Katy Hayward, Queen’s University Belfast; Adrienne Yong, City, University of London; Maria Garcia, University of Bath; Michael Gordon, University of Liverpool; Nauro Campos, Brunel University London, and Phil Syrpis, University of Bristol
A draft agreement on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union has been reached between representatives of both sides, alongside an Outline Political Declaration on a future relationship. It remains to be seen whether the British government is able to survive, and gain parliamentary support for the deal. Here, though, academic experts consider what adoption of the 585-page draft Withdrawal Agreement would mean. Continue reading
For many cities and regions across the UK, Brexit carries profound risks. It seems highly likely to trigger a period of economic instability, as investors seek a better understanding of the on-the-ground realities of a post-EU Britain, as the pound responds to changing economic conditions and as new relationships are established in Europe and beyond.
Leaders of local authorities – already feeling the impact of a decade of austerity and sluggish growth – are worried about their futures under Brexit. In August, Plymouth City Council became the first to issue a legal challenge to the British government over Brexit, requesting information and analysis about possible impacts on the local area. And in October, the eight metropolitan mayors called for further devolution and increased funding under Brexit.
But do these local leaders have the capacity to bring about the changes necessary to deliver a better future for cities and regions? Our research from 2017 suggests that places in England too often lack the leadership they need to achieve a prosperous and secure future.
Odd one out
We compared local leadership in England with Finland, Germany, Italy, Australia and the USA, and found that England was – in some important respects – the odd nation out. When we asked local leaders how they would respond to either a major economic shock or opportunity, the pathway to effective action was far less certain and much less transparent than elsewhere.
For example, in England, local leaders said that they would work within networks of firms to develop complex strategies involving the public and private sectors on the ground, while also seeking central government support. By contrast, in Finland, Germany and Italy the relevant mayor would take charge, with support from their professional staff and central government.
There have been some shifts toward the European model, with the introduction of combined authorities and elected mayors in some parts of the UK from 2011. But according to the participants in our study, this move has added complexity and could reduce coordination in local government, as new ways of working had to be found when previously important roles, such as local authority chief executives and council leaders, were forced to concede some control.
Even so, the local leaders we interviewed also saw this move as adding to the legitimacy of local leadership, because the mayors are directly elected, as well as providing a focal point for community mobilisation and buy-in.
Yet there is a real gap between public expectations of mayors and their formal powers and authority in the UK. And since not all parts of England have mayors, it’s harder for elected leaders to assert their influence at a national level, share their experiences with others and find collective solutions to the problems in their cities.
An ad hoc approach
Local leaders in England have also found it difficult to build momentum and public support for devolved forms of governance. The private sector has a prominent role in local governance through their role on Local Enterprise Partnerships and through prominent business member organisations. Some of the participants in our research saw this as a strength, but they said it also brought uncertainty and ambiguity.
They felt that the reliance on interpersonal relationships between key people in the private and public sectors resulted in an ad hoc approach to local issues and initiatives. There was little learning from past experience, so every challenge required a bespoke approach. As a result, responses tended to be reactive rather than strategic, and short term rather than comprehensive or systematic.
As it stands, England’s local leaders do not seem to be in a good position to ensure a smooth transition through Brexit. National economic and political processes have a significant influence on the well-being of cities and regions in the UK, and Westminster holds its power tightly. In Europe and elsewhere, local leadership has a greater impact on local economic performance.
A new role
Brexit will reshape the UK economy and society, as well as how the nation is governed. There is a strong case to introduce mayors in other English cities and to allow them to take a greater role in political life. Elected mayors could, for example, have an important role working with central government to determine what powers might be repatriated to a local level, after Brexit. So far, they’ve had little opportunity to negotiate.
Mayors are also well placed to act as ambassadors for their local areas by developing strategic partnerships with elected leaders and business interests in Europe and beyond, effectively bypassing central government. Yet they currently lack the powers and prestige of their European counterparts.
There is also scope for elected mayors to influence national and global debates by acting as a united force to demand greater devolution after Brexit. But it’s clear that some elected mayors in England are in a better position to negotiate with central government than others, because of their public profile and perceptions of competence.
Greater devolution will be necessary to empower local leaders to look after the interests of their citizens, while the UK repositions itself in the global economy, and sharing power at the local level will be an important step to greater prosperity and political stability in the nation, after Brexit.
Momentum seems to be building for a people’s vote on Brexit. Phil Syrpis (University of Bristol) argues that it will not provide the answer to Brexit – whether or not the government secures a deal with the EU. Rather, he argues that the calls for a people’s vote are distracting campaigners from making the case for the outcomes they really want. Continue reading
Britain has only a couple of months left to decide on its future relationship with the EU. Phil Syrpis (University of Bristol) says it is time for both the government and the opposition to level with the public about the choices involved. The coarse sloganeering of the past two years will lead to a destructive Brexit unless politicians get real.
The summer recess is often described as silly season. But this year is different: the silliness has to stop. We have just two months to decide on our future relationship with the EU, and the magical thinking – in the government and Labour party alike – is no longer sustainable. Continue reading
Before the Brexit negotiations had officially started, back in June 2017, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told journalists what he needed on the other side of the table:
A head of the British delegation that is stable, accountable and that has a mandate.
Less than a year before Brexit day, scheduled for March 29, 2019, Barnier may feel he is still waiting for those conditions to be met, especially as the EU now finds itself with a new head of the British delegation, Dominic Raab. Raab’s negotiating position for the next round of talks, starting on July 16, results from Theresa May’s attempt to hold her cabinet and the Conservative Party together at a meeting at Chequers. In doing so, the prime minister provoked yet another domestic Brexit crisis with a spate of resignations, including those of the Brexit secretary, David Davis – who Raab has replaced – and foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. Continue reading
“We need a new gender contract for the UK.” Thus surmised Professor Yvonne Galligan Queens University Belfast at the end of the WIDEN symposium that took place in the University of Bristol in May 2018. With the 4 UK nations represented, the 3 sponsoring universities of Bristol, West of England and Bath, and 16 speakers from women’s and anti-discrimination organisations, universities, and trade unions, this was a day of knowledge sharing from practitioner, activist and interdisciplinary research perspectives. Continue reading