The uncertainty and turmoil caused by Brexit could prove worthwhile if it acts as a catalyst in the redistribution of power and wealth to the North, a leading figure in the church has claimed.
According to the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, last year’s vote presents politicians with a fresh opportunity to boost prosperity in the region – and to avoid deepening division across the country.
The intervention from the senior clergyman comes amid growing concerns about the impact of Brexit on the North’s economy, following reports that the region is twice as dependant on EU trade as other parts of the UK.
It also comes amid claims that the Government’s Northern Powerhouse agenda is waning, following the sacking of key enthusiast George Osborne by the new Prime Minister Theresa May.
Many of these fears were echoed in the House of Lords today, as peers discussed the latest findings from the IPPR’s annual State of the North report.
The paper, published in December, warned that UK economy is set for a “period of significant disruption” and Northern industries must be made more resilient in response.
This prompted calls from a number of peers for the North to be given special representation in Brexit discussions, with some backing the IPPR’s own suggestion of a northern Brexit negotiating committee.
There was also much speculation about the possible impact of Brexit on jobs and exports in areas like Yorkshire, with Lib Dem peer Lord Shipley claiming it would “damage” the region’s economy “profoundly”.
The Archbishop attempted to strike a more optimistic tone however, as he pointed out that the political and economic “status quo” was “not serving the North well” before the vote.
He suggested the upheaval expected over coming months could in fact “prompt a shift in direction” that “may just be worth the uncertainty”.
“If we are, indeed, poised to ‘take back control’... Brexit cannot just be about more control for London,” he said.
“We need more devolution from South to North... We need Cabinet-level figures to champion the North... We need a more diverse economy that draws on the skills of northern people.
“The state of the North is important because, unless we get things right in the North, the whole country will be more divided, less prosperous and unhappier.
“In short, the whole country needs the North to flourish.”
The Labour peer and BBC broadcaster Lord Bragg issued a similar call, as he suggested Brexit could be present an opportunity for the region – but only if leaders are willing to act “quickly” and “confidently”.
He laid down a challenge to “Brexiteers” to step up and deliver for the region, urging them to “stop moaning”, “redeem your fibs” and “turn your bluster into blast-off”.
“The North is well prepared for the impact of major change, but it needs to happen very quickly,” he said. “The North... can be the salvation of this country, but only if those inside [Whitehall] had the guts to seize the moment.”
Responding to their comments, the Tory peer and Cabinet Office spokesman stressed the Government is working to get the best possible deal “for all parts of the United Kingdom”. But he said he noted concerns about the “relative disadvantage of the North in accessing the decision-makers”, adding: “That is certainly a point of which my colleagues in Government should be aware.”