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North needs ‘all-star’ Brexit negotiating team

Northern councils should form a single ‘all-star’ committee to defend their regional economic interests in the UK’s exit from the EU, the IPPR North has recommended.

A report from the think tank says that the north of England includes over 70 local authorities and 11 LEPs, too many to negotiate individually with the government.

It adds that the “nascent and patchy” devolution process in the north means that, unlike administrations such as Scotland, Northern Ireland and London, it has no single body to negotiate for it.

IPPR North called for the region’s five combined authorities, along with Transport for the North and Business North, to establish a small Northern Brexit Negotiating Committee secretariat.  It then suggested the same coalition should identify a suitable figurehead to liaise with pan-northern bodies and to chair the committee.

Ed Cox, IPPR North’s director, said: “The North of England’s £300bn economy faces real opportunities and challenges from Brexit - for instance, trade is very important to the North’s high-tech products like cars and pharmaceuticals - but this clearly must be balanced against concerns on immigration and jobs.

“Whether it’s top business leaders or trade union leaders, politicians, scientists and innovators or others, we want to hear who northerners think should join our “all-star team” for the North. Speaking with a single voice will put the North on par with Scotland and London during the negotiations.

This would be followed by a Brexit North Summit, to be held by early 2017 at the latest, to bring together stakeholders and discuss the key issues.

The devolution process has been called “unclear and inconsistent” by the Public Accounts Committee, and the Local Government Information Unit accused Theresa May’s government of going “walkabout” on its predecessor’s devolution commitments at the Conservative Party Conference.

Devolution in the north also recently suffered a setback after communities and local government secretary Sajid Javid withdrew the North East deal. Last week, Lord O’Neill also stood down from the Treasury as devolution minister.

Mayor Sadiq Khan has reconvened the London Finance Commission to seek greater devolved powers for the city following the Brexit vote, and Nicola Sturgeon has indicated she will seek a second independence referendum after Scotland voted to stay in the EU.

IPPR North said that the north has unique economic interests in advanced manufacturing, energy, health innovation and digital capability, which could be affected by the consequences of Brexit, including loss of international investment and changes to immigration levels, trade deals and environmental protection.

The report comes as May announced that she intends to trigger article 50 by March next year, meaning the UK will leave the EU by March 2019. The announcement caused the value of the pound to fall to a 31-year low against the dollar, breaching the previous low reached following the referendum result.

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