There will be no shortage of issues for leaders to tackle in Yorkshire in 2019, but Brexit still looms large at national and regional level. Rob Parsons reports.
As the clock strikes 11pm on March 29, 2019, the UK will leave the European Union, bringing to an end the 46-year relationship with the continent and its state institutions.
Two-and-a-half turbulent years after the country’s seismic referendum vote, this simple statement is about as certain as it’s possible to be about the outcome of Brexit and what form it will take in the coming months.
And as politicians ready themselves for what is sure to be another bruising 2019 at Westminster, some believe the likelihood of Brexit itself never actually happening is growing as Theresa May’s beleaguered government struggles to get any kind of deal through a divided Commons.
What most can agree on is that Brexit is likely to dominate the political landscape in 2019 just as it has in the last 12 months, even if the final destination - be it no deal, a Norway-style solution, an extension of Article 50 or even a second referendum - remains uncertain.
Reading the runes for the coming months, the views of three of the region’s MPs who spoke to The Yorkshire Post reflect the wide spectrum of opinions about which way things ought to go.
Conservative Kevin Hollinrake, representing Thirsk and Malton, believes Parliament will eventually see sense and approve a ‘soft landing’ Brexit in the face of alternatives that are “quite unthinkable.”
“If you take the politics out of this, most people think the PM’s plan is a sensible compromise”, he said. “All the others we look at probably won’t get through the House either. It is the least worst option but the one that will work.
“I hope over Christmas people will look at this and take a sensible view, though there will be some turbulence. Whoever is leader, this country will face very similar challenges.”
Fellow Yorkshire Tory Andrea Jenkyns, a member of the pro-Brexit European Research Group, is adamantly opposed to the Prime Minister’s proposed Brexit deal and says that as a net importer of goods, the UK has ‘nothing to fear from no deal’.
The Morley and Outwood MP says governmental plans for leaving without a deal are just a tactic to wring a last-minute concession out of the European Union that will help the PM win more votes in the Commons.
“No deal would make the UK instantly free to forge new and beneficial trade deals across the world, with established allies such as the US, Canada and Australia, but also emerging economies such as India and Brazil.
“Preparations are being made already to ensure disruption is kept to a minimum, and no deal would at least free the UK instantly from the burdensome institutions of the EU.”
Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn, the pro-Remain chairman of the Commons Brexit Select Committee, last month tabled what could end up being a crucial amendment in the Commons during the meaningful vote on January 15. It calls on MPs to reject Mrs May’s deal, reject the possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a deal and guarantee Parliament a proper say in what would happen next.
Nevertheless, he says the country “will enter the New Year more uncertain about the future of our country than I can ever remember in my lifetime”.
“No deal would be a disaster for the economy and the jobs that depend on it,” he said. “It is really important that we rule out leaving the EU with no agreement as soon as possible. We need to be clear what is not going to happen before we can turn our attention to what might happen.”
Though Brexit will be the talk of Westminster in 2019, its impact will be felt in town halls around Yorkshire. Prominent in many politicians’ concerns will be what they get from the proposed Shared Prosperity Fund, introduced to replace the existing European funding.
But the feeling is likely to persist that with Brexit taking up the majority of government ‘bandwidth’ and many departments being told to move resources to address the growing risk of ‘no deal’, huge issues affecting their communities may remain in the long grass.
Long-awaited reforms to social care were expected to be published in 2018, as was a devolution framework establishing the criteria for areas like Yorkshire hoping to have much-needed powers handed over to local leaders, but both are still yet to be set out.
The region’s leaders, including recently-elected Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis, will come under increasing pressure in 2019 to end the devolution stalemate that has left them watching enviously as other parts of the North have been handed control of their own affairs.
Transport will be a big issue, with all eyes on the railways in May for signs of a repeat of the chaos triggered by the introduction of a new timetable.
Plans for the flagship Northern Powerhouse Rail network connecting the great cities of the North will belatedly be submitted to the Government, while weighty documents such as
Transport for the North’s 30-year vision and the Government’s Northern Powerhouse Strategy are due to be published. And the Government’s comprehensive spending review could have major implications.
At city level, Sheffield and Leeds will forge ahead with their plans to introduce clean air zones with charges for polluting vehicles, while Bradford and Wakefield will continue to deal with the ramifications of the inadequate ratings handed to their children’s services departments.
May’s local elections, with all seats up for grabs in the East Riding, York and several North Yorkshire districts, will give a hint as to how the events of the year have changed the political landscape. But with plenty of water to pass under the bridge before then, few would want to say with any certainty what the impact will be.