Devolution for the whole of Yorkshire must not be allowed to fall to the “Yorkshire backstop”, it was claimed, as politicians were urged to seize the “chance of a generation” and commit to handing more powers to the region by 2022.
The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu led a delegation to Westminster yesterday to convince politicians of the benefit of the all-encompassing scheme, known as a One Yorkshire deal. It was hoped they could convince the party’s to commit to the deal in their manifestos.
He was joined by 18 Yorkshire council leaders, MPs from across various parties, and business representatives for separate meetings with Labour and the Conservatives yesterday, with the aim of stopping the possibility of tearing Yorkshire apart by creating piecemeal deals across the region which do not eventually join up.
Dr Sentamu said: “It is very clear now for me, more than ever before, that this is a chance in a generation to be able to talk about One Yorkshire, especially in those areas where there has been some devolution like in Leeds and in South Yorkshire.
“We’ve got to support them so that they actually get all the power. But in the end, we are hoping that the game will end up with One Yorkshire.”
Dr Sentamu said he felt that for the first time “from all parties, we were being listened to, whereas before I haven’t perceived that actually there was enough listening.”
He added: “I think if this time it isn’t done, we are losing a great economic success. And the other thing is, in our nation which at the moment because of Brexit, we all sound very divided. There would be nothing more wonderful as a message of reconciliation.”
John Grogan, Labour MP for Keighley, organised the visit and said the worry was if politicians could not commit to a One Yorkshire deal, the default position was multiple deals across the region, which he called the “Yorkshire backstop”.
He said: “With the Government’s proposals, the two big questions are what happens to the rest of Yorkshire outside South Yorkshire, Leeds City Region, and then what happens in 2022 when the deals run out? The Government, in effect, is creating a Yorkshire backstop - and Northern Ireland backstop didn’t end all that well - they’re saying really that if no further deals are reached between now and 2022 then they will balkanize Yorkshire and there will be elected mayors across Yorkshire.
“I think that’s the wrong way of going about it really, I think they’ve got to leave open discussions between now and then and that will create greater faith amongst council leaders and the people.”
Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council, added that an eventual One Yorkshire deal was inevitable.
She said: “I just feel like the genie is out of the bottle. We’re committed to moving forward.”