Andrew Vine: Now Yorkshire must seize its place in this new world

Who will fly the flag for Yorkshire?
Who will fly the flag for Yorkshire?
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THE future begins today for Yorkshire – and it is up to our politicians to speak with a single unified voice to ensure that our region seizes the opportunities of the new world in which we live.

After the turmoil and triumphalism of yesterday, the vote to leave the EU, the tearful resignation of David Cameron, the exuberance of the Brexit camp in victory, now the hard work begins to carve out the brightest of futures.

Regrets and recriminations are of no use. A global stage has been set before us, and Yorkshire must speak up loudly and proudly to claim our central place upon it, setting aside the divisions of the past months and going forward with unity and determination.

For make no mistake, we will need to make ourselves heard against a competing clamour for special treatment from elsewhere.

From Scotland, where the SNP is already waging war on Britain’s decision, and agitating once more for independence.

Expect that to be followed by demands for additional funding from English taxpayers.

And from London, which will use its support for remaining and status as the single biggest economic engine Britain has to demand preferential treatment almost as a city state.

Against such a backdrop, it is more than ever necessary for Yorkshire’s MPs to press our region’s claims, and for the business community to weigh in with an uncompromising message that we are open to trade with the world, ready to take full advantage of both renegotiated links with EU countries and new international markets.

Those messages also need to be hammered home with Boris Johnson, the likely front-runner to succeed Mr Cameron.

Mr Johnson is, by history and inclination, a politician deeply rooted in London, and sympathetic to special pleading from the capital. He must be persuaded of the importance of turning his eyes north to see our strengths.

But then the entire political establishment needs to look northwards and heed carefully the voices and views that emerged from Yorkshire as the ballot papers were tallied.

For this county spoke clearly and decisively, not only about a future in or out of the EU, but also about profound questions over how Britain is run and the changing faces of so many of our towns and cities.

Certainly, the verdict was damning of the EU’s flaws. The disillusionment that has grown in voters’ hearts over three decades about its lack of accountability, elitist leadership and lofty attitude that its sclerotic bureaucracy knows better than member states was given powerful voice.

But there was something more. This was a vote about the state of Britain, the North-South divide, the dominance of London and a disconnect between those who govern and those who are governed.

David Cameron never foresaw when he announced a referendum on EU membership that it would also return a verdict on how the country sees itself.

A ballot at least in part intended to exorcise the demons that have possessed the Tories for quarter-of- a-century revealed instead rifts between affluent areas and the less well-off and anger at the failure of successive governments to get to grips with issues that matter on streets never on the itinerary of any ministerial visit.

People who long felt their voices have not been heard found in the EU vote the opportunity to shout out their frustrations.

Uncomfortable truths were laid bare about the reality of life for communities large and small across Yorkshire.

Chief among them is immigration, for so long the issue that dared not speak its name in any mainstream party for fear of accusations of racism.

But Yorkshire, and the rest of the North, have spoken up. Behind the voting figures lie sentiments that are resolutely not racist. They are, though, expressive of concern at the effects on communities of a virtually uncontrolled influx of migrants for decades, with no thought given to how integration and mutual understanding could be fostered.

These communities live with what has too often been ignored or denied by politicians – that in many cases the result has not been a happy, vibrant multi-culturalism, but an uneasy accommodation of division and self-imposed segregation.

Nowhere has this unease been voiced more firmly than in Labour’s traditional Yorkshire heartlands, which should be a matter of the utmost concern for the party as it looks to the future.

It failed to get its core voters to buy in to the Remain message, hampered by Jeremy Corbyn’s lacklustre, half-hearted support for staying in the EU, which has left him facing a motion of no confidence.

There is a danger for Labour in Yorkshire – especially if an early general election looms – of mass defections in urban areas of its vote to Ukip.

Perhaps it will not be a meltdown on the scale the party saw in Scotland at the general election, but a drift away that it can ill afford.

Yet the closeness of the vote for Brexit in Yorkshire, as in most of the rest of the country, tells of a population divided. Those who rejoice at the result do not massively outnumber those who despair.

That places another duty on those who now must speak up for Yorkshire – to do their utmost to heal and unite, to bring bitterly divided sides back together under a banner of forging success from uncertainty.

The issue has now been settled, and there is only one course. To use all of Yorkshire’s energy, entrepreneurial spirit and appetite for hard work to make the future ours.