James Brokenshire's arrival as Communities Secretary 'could bring new impetus to Yorkshire devolution bid'

The replacement of Sajid Javid with James Brokenshire as Local Government Secretary could being new impetus to the campaign for a Yorkshire-wide devolution deal, according to an MP.

Sajid Javid, the new Home Secretary, and James Brokenshire, who replaces him as Communities Secretary.
Sajid Javid, the new Home Secretary, and James Brokenshire, who replaces him as Communities Secretary.

Mr Javid has been appointed Home Secretary in a Cabinet reshuffle forced by the resignation of Amber Rudd, after she after admitted she had "inadvertently" misled MPs over her immigration targets while being questioned about the Windrush scandal.

He was appointed by telephone by Prime Minister Theresa May the morning after Ms Rudd's departure, and becomes the first Home Secretary from an ethnic minority background.

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He was replaced as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government by former Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire, who has recently returned to Westminster after treatment for cancer.

Among the items in the new Cabinet Minister's in-tray is likely to be the future of devolution in Yorkshire, with efforts to transfer vital powers and funding to the region from Whitehall progressing slowly.

Mr Brokenshire's likely position on the issue is unclear, as he has been involved with home affairs, rather than local government, for the majority of his time since entering Parliament in 2005.

And the terminology he uses when referring to devolution in the region is likely to be scrutinised carefully by local leaders as they look for signs he might be sympathetic to their cause. As the son of a former council chief executive, it is hoped he will have a better initial understanding of local government than his predecessor.

A Whitehall source who has worked closely with Mr Brokenshire suggested the new Communities Secretary’s affability could be vital in negotiations over Yorkshire devolution, as he was able to unite even Sinn Fein and the DUP in get along with him at a personal level during fraught talks on Northern Ireland powersharing.

The source said: “He’s well liked across the piece, I’d go as far as to say it’s quite difficult to dislike James in any way, even if you’re a dyed in the wool political opponent, he is such a genuinely nice guy with no edge to him or side to him at all.

“So in terms of dealing with Labour-run local authorities, as much as any Conservative Secretary of State is going to get on with them, James will.

“He’s unfailingly polite, courteous and patient and as anyone who’s worked in Northern Ireland will testify those are incredibly important qualities that you can transfer across when you are dealing with Sinn Fein and the DUP on a daily basis.

“In Northern Ireland, where your capacity to upset one or the other or all sides at the same time is huge, everybody liked and got on with James, even when they disagreed with him.”

In March, Mr Javid said he would "carefully consider" a detailed proposal by the region's council leaders on what a One Yorkshire devolution deal could look like.

The 10-page document was a response to Mr Javid’s request for more meat on the bones after being presented with a nearly united front from Yorkshire’s politicians the previous week.

Previously hostile Ministers appear to be softening their stance on such a move, with a source close to discussions on the Government side saying at the time that “our door is always open”.

On May 3, a mayor will be appointed for the Sheffield City Region with virtually no powers or resources, due to a lack of agreement among local leaders about a devolution deal in South Yorkshire.

Keighley MP John Grogan, a prominent supporter of a One Yorkshire agreement, said: "I hope the appointment of a new Secretary of State will bring fresh impetus to the campaign for One Yorkshire devolution.

"As a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr Brokenshire knows all about the need to devolve power away from Whitehall. I hope he will take a keen interest in the issue.

"What greater political legacy could he leave for his tenure in office than being known as the man who led the negotiations which resulted in the election of the first mayor of Yorkshire?"

Only a few hours after his new role was announced, Mr Brokenshire was in the Commons for the scheduled communities, housing and local government questions session.

He fielded questions from MPs, but left Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry to respond when John Grogan asked what progress had been made in considering the Yorkshire devolution proposals.

After being told the Government was considering the 10-page document, Mr Grogan asked whether the Minister accepted that a One Yorkshire agreement was the "settled will" of the vast majority of councils and people in Yorkshire.

The Labour MP continued: "Will he encourage the new Secretary of State to enter into talks with Yorkshire councils so he will ever be remembered as the man who delivered the first ever elected mayor for the White Rose county?"

Mr Berry responded by describing Mr Grogan as the "Mystic Meg of the Labour Party" and adding that "unlike him, I want to see the people of South Yorkshire have their say in the elections next Thursday".

The Minister went on to criticise Labour's Dan Jarvis, who would continue as Barnsley MP if elected this week, for treating the mayoralty as a "part-time job".

And in the next question, Conservative Shipley MP questioned whether one mayor could effectively cover all of Yorkshire without high levels of bureaucracy and cost.