THREE long years ago Yorkshire voted strongly and definitively to leave the EU. It is still waiting. Our region’s patience has been tested but – in Boris Johnson – we have the person uniquely placed to deliver Brexit.
We need a Prime Minister who not only passionately believes in Britain’s independent future outside of the EU, but who will also stand firm in Brussels to ensure we get a decent deal and leave by October 31 – Boris is that leader.
Boris has the right plan: prepare for no deal with conviction to demonstrate our resolve, but also constructively engage with our European friends to improve the current deal and then leave smoothly. And that famous Yorkshire thrift should approve of not handing over £39bn of our hard-earned money without making sure we get something in return.
As Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson pulled off an unprecedented diplomatic feat in co-ordinating the expulsion of 153 Russian spies from 28 countries after the Salisbury attacks. He will use those same negotiating skills to ensure Brexit is delivered and we can start focusing on our future.
That future needs to be one in which everybody feels part of. To many, Britain today feels divided, but Boris is determined to change that and unite our society. After leading the referendum campaign, he understands first-hand the strength of feeling in places like Yorkshire that we were not sharing enough in the nation’s prosperity. As Prime Minister, he will make fixing this a priority.
The best way to spread that opportunity is through education. For too long, the disparities in funding between different areas has held some of our children back. Per pupil funding across North Yorkshire is hundreds of pounds lower than some other areas. Boris has committed to addressing this.
Secondly, we can only fully realise our potential if our great Northern towns are better connected, from Manchester to Bradford to York to Newcastle. Boris gets this, highlighting the anomaly of a major city like Leeds not having a tram system.
His record as Mayor of London shows that he prioritised transport, investing in and improving the Tube and silencing the doubters with Europe’s biggest rail project, Crossrail. As Prime Minister, he can deliver the same for the North.
Lastly, Boris will seize the new opportunities available after leaving the EU to boost regional growth. One way of doing this is to turbo-charge our great ports nearby on the Humber and Tees – something I’ve strongly advocated.
Immingham is one of Britain’s largest ports, a jewel in our crown, handling 240 rail freight movements a week. Teesport is another, a key part of the UK’s industrial supply chain. If we create Free Port special economic zones, our ports will attract more investment, new businesses and quality jobs, ensuring a brighter future for these communities.
My own rural slice of Yorkshire is a little different to the port of Grimsby and the metropolis of Leeds. From the Dales to the Moors, Yorkshire’s beauty is unsurpassed. Yet it is not a museum. Those dry-stone walls, grazing sheep and breathtaking views mask vibrant communities that need particular support to keep them thriving.
Getting good broadband dominates my mailbag, so I was delighted that Boris made it a priority to deliver full-fibre broadband to every corner of the UK by 2025. Currently just seven per cent of us benefit from this, while 90 per cent of Portuguese homes enjoy connectivity fit for our times. When a village is “lit up” with fast internet, the benefits are extraordinary. Our small businesses flourish, our families stay closer in touch, and our children learn faster. Yorkshire’s rural communities don’t deserve to suffer a digital penalty, and Boris will ensure we will not.
Boris also appreciates that life is difficult for many of our farmers, and he will match their resilience with ambitious commitments to enhance productivity.
If Yorkshire stands for anything, it is our independent spirit. Boris will be the UK’s first Prime Minister who previously ran a devolved area. He understands better than anybody the power of enabling local people to control their future.
As a region that is champing at the bit for more devolution, as a proud community that wants to see a sense of hope, optimism and confidence restored to our nation, Yorkshire would be hard pushed to find a better friend in No 10 than Boris Johnson.
Rishi Sunak is the Conservative MP for Richmond and a Local Government Minister. He is backing Boris Johnson for the Tory leadership.