Bristol and Brexit

I am dismayed and angered that Government has moved to shut down Parliament in order to push through its Brexit plans – potentially taking us into a No Deal future. Bristolians are represented in Parliament by four MPs who have now had their voices, and by extension our voices, silenced.

This sits in a wider failure. Over the last three plus years, Governments have failed to engage with political leaders outside of Westminster as to what was needed from any negotiations. People are always shocked when I share that during his two years as Brexit Secretary, David Davis did not once come to discuss Brexit with the Core Cities, which represent some 19 million people in their greater areas and around a quarter of the national economy.

What has fermented is a Brexit crafted in the dark backrooms of Whitehall and corridors of Westminster, with no reference to the rest of the UK – regardless of how places and people voted in 2016. But it is local councils like ours who are putting in place the emergency plans. It will be left to the local authorities to pick up the pieces if the UK leaves the EU with No Deal, as Keir Starmer (Labour’s shadow Brexit Secretary) and I saw first-hand when we visited companies and citizens in Bristol last week and heard their concerns.

It has been frustrating hear of the huge sums of money spent on failed ferry contracts and “tally ho” publicity campaigns  – money that we could have invested in mental health, house building, and low carbon transport solutions. At the same time local government has continued to have austerity imposed upon us, resulting in a the loss of government funding of 60p in every pound since 2010.

The entire bandwidth of Government has been consumed by Brexit, with all that bluster seemingly doing nothing to stop the slide towards No Deal – which Parliament has already ruled out. At the same time the Climate Emergency, housing crisis, and migration crisis have meant  local government has needed an engaged Government that is visionary and leading rather than reactionary and pandering with slogans rather than solutions.

It’s is a false promise that 31 October will draw this to a close. If we leave with a No Deal we will face the costly and all-consuming task of rebuilding an architecture to cover trade, migration, defense and alliances, and, of course, how to protect peace in Northern Ireland.

What we really need is for the Brexit debate to leave Westminster and come to the cities, putting local government at the forefront of planning. In the coming days, I will be further working together with other party leaders from Bristol.

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