Could The Northern Powerhouse finish what Brexit started?

Written by Frank Kremer

While Theresa May has seemingly done everything in her power to erase David Cameron’s legacy, she recently pledged her commitment to continue working on the Northern Powerhouse project.

In the wake of Brexit, much has been made of how London will cope with the damage it has already wrought. This has come in in the form of an attempted bid for the capital’s independence and a glut of foreign investors likely to buy up the now-cheap commercial real estate.

With London in financial disarray, there may be a place for the Northern Powerhouse after all. However, could treating parts of the country as unique establishments in this way prove dangerous? Britain is already divided. If we continue down this route, we could be regressing to the time of the Jutes, Saxons and Angles—possibly a pang of nostalgia too far.

What was the Northern Powerhouse supposed to achieve?

When the Conservatives scraped into power in 2015 (another decision that proves maybe we as a nation do not deserve democracy) Osborne promised to build a ‘Northern Powerhouse’—a powerful and affluent vision of the North of England. With their report: ‘The Northern Powerhouse: One Agenda, One Economy, One North, [One Vision]’, the government planned to improve connections between Northern cities to “enable them to increase their productivity to meet the levels currently only seen in London and the South East.”

But the very next sentence outlines the government’s commitment to building HS2. Already, on the first page of the report, the government has suggested the North can only gain ‘power’ from this new arterial transport link with London. But with Brexit turning London into Londone, will the government have a rethink?

How is this going to change after Brexit?

A recent report from IPPR North noted that the region’s £300 billion economy—almost six times greater than that of Wales—gives the North of England every right to have its own team to maneuver Brexit negotiations.

Manchester has already led the way for areas of the country which are looking to begin devolution from Whitehall, with eight further parts of the UK already signing deals to this end; there has also been talk of the restorative powers of something called the Midlands Engine. At this rate, it won’t be long before the power of the Cornwall Carburettor or the Thames Valley Transmission becomes the next pet provincial project, all of which suggest that after Brexit, it’s every province for itself.

These deals will have a significant impact on everything from the civil service and how businesses pay their rates to healthcare. By giving each city north of the Watford Gap power to make its own political decisions, local councils can come up with policies which are in the interests of their constituents, and that’s no bad thing. But this may well set a precedent for every part of the country to strive for its own leave campaign; could we soon see Manxit? Brumxit? Stoke-On-Trexit?

Manchester United, but what about the rest of the Kingdom?

When Mark E Smith sang “The North will rise again” back in 1980, it’s unlikely that this is quite what he had in mind. By treating the North as a separate entity from the rest of England, it could set a dangerous precedent, even though there are some noble points to be found in the Northern Powerhouse project.

After all, Nicola Sturgeon has already pledged to submit a second bill for Scottish independence, and both Wales and Northern Ireland are already operating under somewhat separate parliamentary systems from England. The Prime Minister may claim that Brexit will “enhance” Scotland’s status in global politics, but not before around 80,000 jobs will be destroyed in the process.

So where does this leave the newly-Untied Kingdom? With Parliament revving up the Northern Powerhouse, and other parts of the country following suit, maybe the small subset of Londoners who are seeking independence will get it, albeit not quite in the way they were expecting.

Alternatively, maybe Theresa May will come up with a policy that makes everyone happy. After all, Bob Dylan just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Stranger things have happened this year.

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Frank Kremer

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