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The Regional Democracy Think Tank for West Yorkshire

Article 50: A personal view on Yorkshire, the UK and the EU

This blog reflects the personal views of Same Skies campaigner Ian Martin from East Leeds.

The future of Yorkshire really matters to me. This is my home, whatever happens here, whether our future is positive or negative, it will directly affect me and my family. I believe it my duty, our duty, to stand up where we are and look out positively. This includes engaging positively and working collaboratively with people beyond whatever borders surround us. For the many issues we can't address as Yorkshire alone, we need to look outwards and more often than not in our past the EU was a better outlet, a more appropriate scale and a more positive partner than the UK. The EU made possible the dream of Yorkshire's citizens collaborating with those in Nordrhein-Westfalen and Lombardy without our ambitions being filtered through the very different perspective of London.

For that reason, I can totally understand why Scotland (that voted in referenda to remain in the UK and then subsequently in the EU) may have to make the choice to leave one international body (UK) in order to remain in an international body that has better served its needs (EU). Here in Yorkshire, we don't have that same question. Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, although it has not had the chance to express its opinion on being bound to England and the UK. Given the referendum, the only international body we can be a part of in the near future is the UK (which remains part of the UN, NATO etc).

I became politically aware at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Bosnian refugees arrived in my suburb and their stories, as well as those of East Germans finally free to speak across borders, convinced me of the benefits of European unity. I was inspired to learn German and eventually benefited from the EU's ERASMUS programme to study in Trier for a year. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, I voted Remain, I felt that was in the best interests of Yorkshire's future. I accept I lost. I accept that most people who voted 'leave' in the referendum don't see the EU as the appropriate level at which to make any decisions about our future. I accept that for now most people who voted in the referendum would prefer those decisions to be made in Westminster. The question that needs to be asked though is about whether people here in Yorkshire and elsewhere will be given the choice as to whether those decisions should be still be taken in Westminster in future.

I'm also aware that the defeat of the Remain campaign may be in the longer term best interests of the EU itself. For as long as I remember, the UK has been an awkward partner to fellow EU members, often acting as a brake on the positive ambitions of other members towards a more integrated continent of solidarity. And not just in governmental terms, the only part of EU-wide decision making that is directly accountable to its citizens (especially as it is under a proportional system) has been consistently ignored by those whose job should be to scrutinise its work – how much have we learned about the European Parliament from press and broadcast media in the UK?

After decades of being half in and half out, it could be something of a relief for the UK and the EU to start again. The boost to support for the EU in most member nations as a result of Brexit may allow it to create a genuine pan-European electorate giving assent or otherwise to the vision of a federal body with minimum standards of quality of life for all its citizens. The UK in future may decide it wants to negotiate access to some or all of that. Without being members of the EU, UK representatives will have had no role in designing, developing, consenting to or scrutinising any of it but we may decide that it is attractive enough to nevertheless accept EU terms. In fact over time, that lack of political impact on decisions made by our nearest neighbours that affect us may be a key argument for those campaigning for Yorkshire (and the rest of what this island becomes) to rejoin the EU.

IPPR North have been lobbying for the voice of the North to be heard in Brexit negotiations, including through a Northern Brexit Negotiating Committee, and I hope they will succeed in making this happen with a diverse range of voices and perspectives from throughout the North. For me, all of this should be focused on the future and in particular on the future of young people in areas of fewer opportunities (including parts of Yorkshire). The referendum took the UK out of the EU and put power in the hands of the UK government for now. If the UK government is going to take seriously our future here in Yorkshire, here are a few things I want it to do:

  • To ensure that people in Yorkshire have the widest possible opportunities to live, work, travel, study and play in the EU (and beyond) without any 'right' being effectively hindered by bureaucracy.

  • To be fair to other regions of Europe and to ensure that Yorkshire continues to benefit from the ideas and energy of people from elsewhere, the UK government needs to get out of the way of us actively making EU citizens welcome and ensure they benefit from the same rights here as do Yorkshire's citizens within the EU.

  • To ensure the continued active promotion of ideas and perspectives sharing through exchange programmes, such as ERASMUS.

  • To maximise access to opportunities for organisations (including businesses) within Yorkshire and that these are based as a minimum on employment rights, environmental standards, public procurement transparency and consumer protection (developed by the UK government as part of the EU's decision making processes) for as long as democratically elected bodies within Yorkshire consider them appropriate.

  • To ensure the replacement of EU Development funds (that have benefited Yorkshire even when UK government has ignored our needs) and make sure that decisions about them are taken by democratically elected bodies within Yorkshire itself

  • To ensure that Yorkshire can continue to play its role in contributing to continent wide peace and solidarity programmes, including welcoming refugees arriving at EU borders and making safe routes available for them to reach Yorkshire instead of risking the Mediterranean and other crossings.

But most important of all, now that the UK as a whole has answered the question of its role within the EU, surely it is the time for people here in Yorkshire to decide on how we want to be governed within the UK too? Surely this time of change for the UK is exactly the time when Regional Democracy should blossom?

I campaigned for the UK to remain in the European Union alongside others and we couldn't convince enough people to get out and vote that way. The UK will no longer be a member of the EU and that means Yorkshire will not be part of the EU either. Nevertheless I will continue to think of myself as European and support the development of the European Union. I will continue to believe another Europe is possible. I will continue to buy the New European newspaper and encourage it to reflect the experiences of Europeans in all parts of this island. I will apply for individual EU membership if and when the time comes. And once the EU has had chance to move forward without the brakes placed on it by the UK's elite, I may well be amongst those campaigning for Yorkshire to rejoin fellow regional democracies in the European Union.

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