FORMER Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham has set himself on a collision course with his own party by suggesting a hard Brexit could be the best outcome for the North of England.
Mr Burnham, who is now Labour’s candidate to be Greater Manchester’s first metro-mayor, warned remaining in the European single market could harm efforts to protect key industries.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has promised the party will press for the Government to seek continued full access to the single market as part of the Brexit talks with Brussels.
Mr Burnham used a speech at a conference in Leeds to call for an “honest conversation” on the Brexit terms that would best suit the North.
He said: “It seems to me to be the case that not just Westminster, but Europe, didn’t have a good enough answer to de-industrialisation.
“European state aid rules have at times thrown up challenges when it comes to saving traditional industries. We’ve seen that recently with the steel industry.
“These industries require real care and help if we are to protect them for the long term.”
Mr Burnham warned against retaining single market access becoming the “sole focus” of discussions following the Brexit vote.
He continued: “If that means we can’t get some flexibility on state aid rules, well maybe that’s not necessarily going to be right for the North.
“I think the North needs to adopt a very different approach now in terms of the way we create the industry of the future. It’s about becoming more interventionist.
“And I make it quite plain I would quite like to have the ability, if I’m the mayor of Greater Manchester, to say I am going to prioritise Greater Manchester companies for public contracts and public investment.”
Mr Burnham said he would ask companies receiving state help to do more public good in terms of apprenticeships to build a “real partnership”.
Greater Manchester will hold its metro mayor election in May, along with other areas including the Liverpool City Region and the West Midlands, as part of an agreement to take more control over its own affairs from the Government.
South Yorkshire councils have agreed a draft devolution deal involving a metro-mayor but it is not clear whether it will go-ahead in its current form.
Mr Burnham told the conference, hosted by IPPR North and Northern Power Women, that devolution was part of the answer to the disillusionment revealed by the Brexit vote.
He said: “Different places need very different solutions if they are to make a success of themselves in the 21st Century.
“This is why devolution in England needs to be, not just accepted where we are up to, embraced much more fundamentally and a journey must begin to really rebalance our country in a fundamental way.
“Let decisions be made in the North that are going to be right for the North, let us take more control over our own destiny.”