City leaders have accused the government of failing to involve them in the Brexit process, as a group of councillors and mayors met the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.
Leaders from some of the UK’s largest cities met EU officials in Brussels on Monday, in a bid to have a bigger say in the Brexit process.
Judith Blake, the chair of Core Cities, which represents 10 of the biggest cities outside London – Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield – said local leaders were frustrated that Westminster had not given them a seat at the table in discussions on the UK’s post-Brexit future.
Blake, who is also the leader of Leeds city council, said requests for meetings with Theresa May, David Davis and Liam Fox hadn’t had a positive response. “The clock is ticking. We are almost a year away from whatever the outcome of the negotiations are,” she said, setting out why the group came to Brussels.
Most of the cities represented in Brussels, including Manchester and Liverpool, voted to remain in the EU, but Birmingham, Nottingham and Sheffield narrowly voted to leave.
This is the latest encounter between Barnier and British politicians, after earlier meetings with Labour and separate delegations of leavers and remainers, as well as leaders from Scotland and Wales, who want to repatriate powers from Brussels to Edinburgh and Cardiff.
Blake wants cities to take control of EU regeneration funds after Brexit, although the government has not confirmed whether it will continue such programmes when current funding ends.
The group is not seeking a role in Brexit negotiations, but hopes to preserve links with other European capitals and explore how cities can maintain flows of migrant labour and trade after Brexit.
One idea floated is that cities could buy into EU programmes, such as research or regeneration funding. Such plans are likely to face difficulties, as the EU considers itself a club of countries, and has already dismissed as unworkable proposals for UK nationals to opt into EU citizenship.
Andrew Carter, the director of the independent thinktank Centre for Cities, said the group’s agenda reflects the fact that “Manchester has got more in common with Munich, probably, than it has with Mansfield,” while “London has more in common with Amsterdam and Paris than it has with a small place in the UK.”
A recent leaked Treasury report showed that all UK regions would be hit by Brexit, but Carter said the impact needed to be seen in the context of existing strengths. “London, Bristol, Leeds in the short run could be more affected, but because they are stronger economies in the first instance, they are better able to respond and adapt.
“Newcastle and Birmingham are some of the cities that in aggregate may be least hit, but they also are are some of the ones that are least able to adapt and respond.”