Boris Johnson can seize devolution moment on Yorkshire Day: The Yorkshire Post says

Can Boris Johnson deliver meaningful devolution for Yorkshire? Picture: PA
Can Boris Johnson deliver meaningful devolution for Yorkshire? Picture: PA

In Boris Johnson’s brief time in power, he has been pursuing an eye-catching strategy his aides are terming “boosterism” – announcing large spending commitments and bold policy decisions designed to end austerity.

Boris Johnson vows to push ahead with devolution in the North as he marks Yorkshire Day

The sun rises over Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales. Picture: PA

The sun rises over Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales. Picture: PA

This tactic – which has included a commitment to a new high-speed railway line between Leeds and Manchester as well as a pledge to recruit 20,000 new police officers in the next three years – is running in parallel to a simple promise to enact Brexit on October 31 in any circumstances.

It is yet to be seen if his grand promises will be followed by action, and there are undoubtedly grounds for cynicism, as any observer of Mr Johnson’s ill-fated Garden Bridge project when he was the Mayor of London can attest.

Give us devolution to mark Yorkshire Day
However, on Yorkshire Day, it is worth considering whether the clarity of his approach to national politics can be replicated at a regional level when it comes to the issue of Yorkshire devolution.

Like Brexit, this has been dogged by years of complicated wrangling, shifting goalposts and frustratingly-little progress.

The official position of the Conservative Government has been that the One Yorkshire plan, backed by 18 of 20 councils, the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Directors and several business chambers – backed by research indicating a region-wide mayoral authority could provide a £30bn economic boost – does not pass muster because Yorkshire is not seen as a “functional economic area”. But at best this is disingenuous.

The truth is, as Mr Johnson himself admitted last month, it is actually Conservative fears that One Yorkshire devolution could ultimately result in a Labour mayor that is causing the Tories to hesitate.

However, polls indicate Labour is in crisis, despite the many recent travails of the Conservatives, and Her Majesty’s Opposition’s new ‘settled’ policy of campaigning to remain in the EU, in the face of either no-deal or any Conservative deal with the EU, is unlikely to be well-received in vast swathes of Leave-backing Yorkshire, including many traditional Labour heartlands.

One does not have to be Sir Lynton Crosby to calculate that, with Labour so badly losing its way under the stewardship of Jeremy Corbyn, and the apparent abandonment of those who made it clear their desire to break free from Project Europe, now is absolutely the right time for this Government to break the impasse on Yorkshire devolution.

At a stroke Mr Johnson can carve his name into God’s Own Country folklore as the Prime Minister who had the courage of conviction to unlock Yorkshire’s limitless potential, and in all likelihood – given Labour’s newly stated alignment to thwarting the result of the EU Referendum and how that has been received in traditional Labour strongholds in the county – with a Tory mayor at the helm to boot.

Earlier this year the Government agreed to a way forward on South Yorkshire’s stalled devolution deal allowing it to run until 2022 but allowing those who wish to join a wider Yorkshire deal – as Barnsley and Doncaster currently do – the opportunity to follow that path after that date.

That agreement has been hard-won and has followed intense discussion at a local level. Such pragmatism amongst local leaders is to be applauded. Adopting a staged approach, allowing for similar city region deals in other parts of Yorkshire with the long-term goal of wider Yorkshire devolution, represents progress.

And so it comes to this: Mr Johnson’s penchant for Latin aphorisms is well documented. In that spirit, The Yorkshire Post calls upon the new Prime Minister, on Yorkshire Day and on the topic of devolution for the region, to Carpe Diem.