Devolution and Brexit

“devolution is far, far more important to the future of this country than Brexit ever can be – and we cannot allow the potential good it will bring slip from our grasp.”

These comments are taken from Mark Casci’s excellent article on devolution in yesterday’s Yorkshire Post Business News. Incredible as it may seem, I think he is right. Overall the article discussed the current state of the Yorkshire devolution conversation; the imminent possibility of a West Yorkshire deal; the status, or lack thereof, of the One Yorkshire proposal; and the lost opportunity of the failure to establish regional assemblies under the Blair government.

I must admit that I had not paid much attention to this previous failure to establish regional assemblies as the powers on offer were derisory and the assemblies did not really seem to have much of a purpose but I suppose the prospect of what they might become was overlooked.

The outstanding comment of this article though was the comparison between devolution and Brexit. Brexit is such an emotive issue. Most of the population seems to have strong opinions, one way or the other. Yet, how many people even consider devolution?

Yes, Brexit deals with major issues such as national sovereignty, the ability to conduct trade deals as an independent political entity and freedom from “imposed” EU regulations. These must be weighed against the advantages of being in the EU such as, EU funding of capital projects, being in the Single Market and Customs Union, having freedom of movement within the EU and being part of one of the largest trading and political blocs in the world. Yet, what difference will being in or out really make to our daily lives? Economic opinion on both sides indicates that, initially, we will be worse off out than in.

On the other hand, economic policy, social housing, health, education, transport policy, social care, taxation and benefits all fall within the remit of Westminster. It is these issues that devolution could have such a positive impact on.

So why is devolution not at the top of the government’s agenda?

The reasons may be many and varied but, on most of the domestic issues mentioned above, the government has failed Yorkshire over the last 50 or more years. It is far easier for Westminster to direct anger at an “unelected” body in the EU rather than accept responsibility for its own failings. To devolve power would reduce its own importance but to separate from the European Union increases further the concentration of power in Westminster. Plus, of course, there are many ways for the rich and powerful to make even more money from leaving the EU than remaining in it.

I am not saying that Brexit is not important. It is. There are many reasons to be concerned about the risk of erosion of national sovereignty that further EU integration might bring, however, I believe that the concentration of focus of the entire political establishment on just one topic is a grave mistake which could put the whole future of this country at risk.

It is our responsibility to re-focus this election away from the single divisive topic of Brexit and on to topics that will actually benefit the people of Yorkshire. The one key topic that could do so much more for us is that of devolution of the powers necessary to run public services away from Westminster to a Yorkshire Parliament.

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