Mark Casci: What Brexit can learn from Yorkshire devolution
In what I can only assume was a clerical error of some kind I was on a guest list of around 40 of Yorkshire’s leading political and business leaders, who had been invited to the magnificent Churchill Rooms, to discuss matters of state under Chatham House rules.
Now 90-years-old and named after the home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs where it was first observed it has become a byword for “off the record” and despite the (often deserved) cynicism that surrounds my profession I have no intention of violating it in these pages.
However what I can say is that the exchange of views, particularly from business people, when it came to devolution in particular, was of a very high standard.
For some months now The Yorkshire Post has reflected those views from business across the region about the extremely high value that a devolution settlement could have for the wider economy.
And, naturally, the more of this great county that involves itself in such a proposition, the greater the dividend we can expect. Indeed Carolyne Fairbairn, director of the CBI, is on record saying that the wider the devolution deal for Yorkshire, the more competitive we can be on an international platform.
Seventeen of the local authorities of Yorkshire have signalled their willingness to form part of a Yorkshire-wide deal.
However Sheffield and Rotherham are sticking to their plan to press ahead with the Sheffield City Region, despite Barnsley, Doncaster, Chesterfield and Bassetlaw having backed away from the deal struck last year.
While I favour a Yorkshire-wide deal, and see Sheffield and all of South Yorkshire as having an incomparable amount to offer such an arrangement, I make no criticism of those wanting their own deal.
Whenever I read, to pick one example, what Richard Wright from Sheffield Chamber of Commerce has to say on the matter, I cannot fault with his logic, no matter how much I disagree with it. He and Sheffield businesses have a deal on the table that will make their lot in life better.
I make special praise of Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis for seeking an interim arrangement that would see Greater Yorkshire (basically the whole region minus Sheffield and Rotherham) agree a deal with the Government with a view to the rest of the county coming on board at a later date. It is this kind of leadership that we will need to make sure we do not fall behind the likes of Manchester and the West Midlands, regions who already have deals in place.
I am confident we will get there. The consequences of a failure to not are too great.
As I left the Palace of Westminster I could not help but feel how advanced the debate had been and make the inevitable comparison with another great debate of the age, one being discussed in the Commons that very day.
It is clear that, unlike the devolution debate, that Brexit has and continues to be debated by the extremes and not the centre.
Too many who voted remain are still re-running the debate of the campaign which ended 14 months rather than debating what is happening now. Meanwhile the extreme end of the leave camp would rather yell “REMOANER” like a spoilt child any time anyone raises any sentiment not in step with their view.
Nothing of substance in life is achieved without compromise and this applies in droves to both devolution and Brexit, both of which have to work for everybody. In keeping with the tone of the majority of those discussing devolution I would like to see the Brexit debate increasingly handled by the grown ups.
“The people have spoken” we are told ad nauseam. Maybe it’s time somebody started listening.