'Devolution in the North is the only thing bringing political rivals together'

Greater Manchester Metro Mayor Andy Burnham. Photo: Bruce Rollinson
Greater Manchester Metro Mayor Andy Burnham. Photo: Bruce Rollinson
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Amid divides over Brexit, devolution in the North is the only thing bringing political rivals together, it has been claimed.

Andy Burnham made the remark during a fringe session held at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

The event, run by the UK2070 Commission, asked if regional disparities could ever be reduced without more devolution.

Andy Burnham, Metro Mayor for Greater Manchester, said they could not and that politics was currently going through a “nervous breakdown”.

He said: “If you’re in any doubt about it this last week will confirm that, when you saw the scenes in Westminster.

“But as ever, when you go through these moments, sometimes green shoots can start to appear and I feel they finally are, I think there is a growing political consensus about devolution.

“I’ve always argued that the referendum in 2016 was a dual instruction to the British public, yes to reassess the relationship Europe but also an instruction to Westminster to reassess its relationship with the rest of England.”

He said it was only now that the second part of that was beginning to be addressed as the interests of places were being put before the interests of parties.

He added: “I’m sure we’ve hit a moment in our national life where we need to pick out the things that bind us and really work with them. Can you think of anything else on the agenda right now that is uniting people in politics? I would put it to you that devolution is probably the only thing creating consensus across the political parties.”

The panel, which included Lord Kerslake, the Chairman of the UK2070 Commission, and Leeds City Council Leader Judith Blake, also discussed how devolution deals in the North could not just follow the lead of Manchester.

Ms Blake said: “If I can be quite bold, the George Osbourne government made a big mistake in thinking that the model in Manchester could be easily replicated and dropped in other parts of the country.

“We all have different regional geographies, regional needs, and we have to really get across that if we’re going to get real and stable devolution that matters for the areas that we all represent, then it has to reflect local boundaries and needs.

“But I think it’s absolutely clear that the top down approach from the Government has failed and we are ready and willing to take this debate forward.”