I was not sure whether to applaud graciously or to choke on my metaphorical cornflakes Saturday morning as I read Brexit Minister David Davis’ piece in the Yorkshire Post. He wrote how he was now a great Yorkshire champion and was going to make Brexit work for Yorkshire.
What of Yorkshire and Brexit? Davis’ assurance that the Yorkshire voice will be heard in the Brexit process should be reassuring. Yet how quite does he propose that this is going to work? What is the process by which he is going to involve and consult us here in Yorkshire? It would be interesting to know. The Prime Minister’s welcome but very belated visits to Yorkshire likewise do not hold out much encouragement of involvement. Rather it seems that we were just visited as felt necessary and a chosen few allowed into the presence chamber. If Yorkshire is really to have meaningful involvement in the Brexit process, which it should given it’s population and economy then we need a transparent and democratic structure for how that is going to work.
Davis talks about a drop in unemployment in the region. Of course on the face of it that must be welcome but I question the nature of the jobs available. We also see the weekly price rises in the supermarkets while wages stay put and the local housing market beginning to stagnate. The picture is more nuanced. Corbyn at least has the courage to propose a progressive and transparent rise in income tax at the top end, which Davis slates as an attack on the middle and working classes yet of course his own party propose a stealth tax on dementia and school kids nutrition.
Davis then goes on to extol the workers rights, which the Tories will introduce in exchange for those lost from the EU. Of course, the detail remains to be seen but you will need to be a ‘worker’ to benefit and probably of some years with the same employer to qualify. What people in our county need more than ever at the moment is some security in a time of extreme change. That means good jobs, with reasonable wages and prospects and a proper social safety net if things go wrong. Time for in-work training is great but at a moment when we face potentially the greatest technological revolution of all time, there will need to for greater training at all stages in life in or out of work. Davis mentions education only in passing and yet this is Yorkshire’s weak point where we desperately need co-ordinated policy-making and investment.
Turning to our all-important agricultural sector, maybe it is a mistake but the article states, ‘the Conservatives will also ensure that the county’s farmers get the best possible deal from Brussels’. Perhaps this means they foresee a continuing relationship? This is confusing for our farmers, they like other businesses need to know where they stand, exactly what they might expect in terms of state support and support for what? Will it just be for food production or will it be – as with the EU – a mix also helping protect our environment. In respect of the latter, the omens are not good bearing in mind the way the Tory government has risen roughshod over environmental concerns about fracking in Yorkshire, making planning decisions over the heads of local authorities. Farmers are key to our food production and the environmental custodianship of our beautiful Yorkshire landscape. They deserve to know how to structure their businesses for the future.
We are told farmers can expect free and frictionless trade with the EU; now that will be a huge achievement without either membership of the Customs Union or the Single Market; as an aspiration it is worthy but nevertheless seems contradictory to the apparent political framework the Government has set itself to work within.
Corbyn we are told is incapable of negotiating with the 27 Member States of the EU but that we should have faith in Davis. How can we when he and the Prime Minster insist on trumpeting this fundamental error? A basic EU law textbook will tell them that they will not be negotiating with the 27 but with the Commission on behalf of the 27. It maybe a small point but it is indicative of a worrying misunderstanding of the process.
Finally, we are told we can expect ‘continued’ investment in schools, roads and rail. Well it will still be a fraction of that which goes into London and the South East and we might ask when over the last 30 years have we seen Mr. Davis championing that disparity on our behalf. It’s clear that Yorkshire needs a voice but he and the Conservatives are not that voice!