“In fact, cities are the key drivers in trade”: in the wake of Brexit, we need devolution more than ever

Brexit campaigner Liam Fox standing before a promise he will now, as trade minister, have to deliver. Good luck with that. Image: Getty.

There remains great uncertainty in the aftermath of the UK vote to leave the European Union. Few seem to have a plan for what Brexit will look like and how the UK’s relationship with the outside world will take shape.

But while the desire for sovereignty and to “take back control” were top of many voters' list of reasons to vote to leave, the fact that we live in a globalised world where economies and trade supersede national boundaries cannot be ignored.

Much of the confusion about how Brexit will affect the British economy has resulted from the inability of those for and against it to acknowledge the realities of the position of the UK in the contemporary global economy. This failure to understand the realities of globalisation is partly why there is such confusion about how to deliver the kind of post-Brexit UK demanded by those who voted leave. But regaining national sovereignty is extremely difficult, if not impossible, in today’s global economy.

The interconnected world

The recent global financial crisis should have sent a powerful message. The degree of interconnection between places in the global economy has reached unprecedented levels and attempts to “unpick” these interconnections are highly problematic.

Globalisation is complex. It is no longer a case of “us” and “them”. Capital, goods and services flow within, between and across national borders – and the flow is uneven. It is often directed through key cities. So when we talk about flows of foreign direct investment between the UK and Germany, we are actually discussing flows of people and money between cities such as London and Berlin.

In fact, cities are the key drivers in trade. It is no surprise therefore that there were significantly higher votes to remain in the EU in cities such as London and Manchester. This is because these cities are points in the global economy through which trade, services and people flow. It is in these locations that we can most easily see the benefits of interconnection with cities in the EU and beyond.

Cities have benefited disproportionately from globalisation. Image: Andy Sedg/creative commons.

Outside of the major cities, the regions of the UK have experienced a downward shift in the scale at which economic activity takes place and political power is exercised. The national shift from manufacturing to a service-based economy has had a geographically uneven impact. Many manufacturing industries in the UK’s regions have shrunk or disappeared. This has not been helped by UK national policy which focuses on the financial services sector (predominately in London).

Globalisation’s disconnect

Globalisation has brought with it disconnection between the way that economies and their management have been simultaneously downscaled and upscaled. So, as well as the concentration of decision making in Westminster, there are also a number of decisions being made abroad that affect regions across the UK: the evolution of the European Union epitomises this process.

This upscaling of power is necessary. Many of the most important issues of the last three decades are shared across national boundaries – take for example environmental concerns. The formation of supra-regions begins with an acknowledgement of the benefits of removing trade barriers and having free movement of goods and services, which should create opportunities for all regions of the UK.

Cross-border concerns are better shared. Image: motiqua/flickr/creative commons.

In fact, the best hope for deprived areas of the UK is not to place decision making squarely back in the hands of the UK government. This gives power back to the very institutions that created and exacerbated the regional inequalities seen in the UK today. Benefits such as investment in local enterprises and infrastructure, improvements in working conditions and levels of employment result from international engagement and cooperation.

Those who – justifiably – feel isolated and economically depressed should call for greater decision-making power at a more local level. Local power, combined with access to international resources and opportunities, can start rebuilding local economies.


Globalisation makes this possible as cities and regions do not necessarily need to go via London for trade and investment. These connections are essential for local economies to compete in the globalised world.

But leaving the EU means leaving the hundreds of trade agreements the UK has with non-EU countries, and also possibly the freedom of movement of goods and services there is within the EU. Until these are rearranged (which will take several decades), the UK’s constituent regions may struggle to access international markets. So the “take back control” rhetoric offers no solutions, only problems.

The UK government has consistently failed to articulate the rationale and benefits of upscaling in its relations globally (specifically in the form of EU membership), despite the economic benefits it has brought. It is not about the removal of national boundaries but rather an acceptance of how so much of what drives the global economy occurs outside of these strict boundaries.

Closer economic cooperation is the only logical response to globalisation and the best way to ensure stable growth. Indeed, the short, medium and long-term impacts of the Brexit vote will surely serve to provide the UK with a harsh lesson in the dangers of going it alone.The Conversation

Jennifer Johns is senior lecturer in international business and economic geography at the University of Liverpool.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

This app connects strangers in two cities across the world. But can it tackle urban loneliness?

New Delhi, in India, where many of Duet-App's users come from. Image: Ville Miettinen

“You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people”. Olivia Laing, The Lonely City

Our relationship to where we live and the spaces we inhabit define who we are and how we feel. But how often do we articulate the emotional impact of this relationship, whether this be loneliness, frustration or even civic pride?

“When I moved to a new city, started living alone, wanted to drink less, stay indoors more, and when I realised that I cannot make any more best friends.”

A new social network, a simple app that connects two individuals from the UK and India, aims to counter some of these issues.  Over the course of a year connected pairs receive one question a day through the app and their responses are exchanged with each other. A simple interaction that gradually builds a series of one-on-one relationships and invites users to imagine, over time, the other person living their life.

Distant geographies are an implicit part of the experience, therefore many of the questions nudge users to explore correlations between their physical and emotional landscapes. The data shows us that many of the Duet-App users are located in populous urban cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Manchester, Leeds and London, places that can just as often discourage feelings of belonging and place-making as much as they foster them.

“I had thought I'd never be able to live here again. but here I am living again at home after almost a decade living elsewhere. Living in Mumbai is a contact sport, and I can't do without it's chaos and infectious energy.”

Mumbai, India. Image: Deepak Gupta

In general cities are getting bigger and spreading wider at the same time as our communications are increasingly being conducted online and via digital gateways.

There is a sense that much of our online personas project an idealised version of ourselves; we increasingly document and express our daily lives through a filter and we are not always comfortable with a spontaneous expression of ourselves. Duet-App seeks to foster alternative digital relationships that through their anonymity allow us to be more honest and free.

“I feel a lot of people assume that I always have a lot going on for me and everything's always happy and amazing. I wish they could appreciate... how much of my own anxiety I swim in every single day. I appear and behave “normal” on the outside, calm and composed but there are always storms going on in my head.”

In exploring the responses to the questions so far, those that often garner the most replies relate directly to how we feel about our personal position in the world around us. Often these questions act as provocations not only to share responses but to reflect and articulate our thoughts around how we feel about what we are doing in the here and now.

Manchester, another popular city for Duet-App users. Image: Julius 

“Sometimes I feel sad about it [getting old] because I saw how easy it would be to feel lonely, and the fact that the world is set up for able-bodied young people is a bit of a travesty.”

Although many social media platforms allow for distant engagement and access into the lives of others we are in the main still curating and choosing our friendship circles. Through Duet-App this is randomised (and anonymised) with the intention of bypassing the traditional mechanics of how we broker online relationships. While directly exploring the digital space as a place for intimacy.


“Where do you go for peace?

“Well the internet, really. I do some mindless browsing, peek into the fandoms, listen to a few songs. Calms me down.”

Snapshots into the lives of someone existing and playing out their lives remotely can highlight shared concerns that break down preconceptions of how life is lived by others. Prompted by the reflections of a stranger exposed to our lives, digital relationships can encourage us to address the physical space we inhabit and the effects that the cities we live out our lives in have on our own well being. 

Catherine Baxendale is director of Invisible Flock.

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