A London borough just voted to leave the European Union

"This'll put us on the map". Image: Google.

The further you go from a city, the less a part of the place its fringes are likely to feel. Throw in a strong existing identity and mediocre transport links, and you can end up with residential suburbs that don't look or feel anything like the city proper.

So it is that London is generally an open-minded, multicultural sort of a place, but its eastern-most borough just voted to leave the European Union:

London (AFP) - A local council in London became the first in Britain to endorse leaving the European Union in a vote.

Havering Council in east London voted by 30 to 15 in favour of a motion tabled by a councillor from the eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP), led by Nigel Farage.

Havering, for those who haven't had the pleasure, is the chevron-shaped borough clinging to the inside of the M25 where London turns into Essex. Its biggest town is Romford; it's also where the District line ends up if you stay on it for so long that you can no longer remember not being on there.

But despite having been part of London for 51 years now, the area still identifies with Essex at least as much as the city. It's also London's whitest borough (83 per cent white British at the time of the last census, compared to 45 per cent in the city as a whole).

Correlation is not causation, but in the 2014 election UKIP got 28 per cent of the vote and seven of the 54 seats on the local council. It came second only to the Tories in terms of votes (22 seats on 28 per cent), but was pushed into third place by the Hornchurch Residents Association who got 10 seats out of 10 per cent of the vote. It’s not a hotbed of radical thought, is the point here.

And now it’s seceding from the European Union.

"It is a fantastic result," said the UKIP councillor, Lawrence Webb. "We as local councillors have to make decisions on rules and regulations that come out of the EU. They have a direct impact on local services."

Actually, of course, it's doing no such thing. British local authorities are among the weakest in the world. They barely have the power to build their own transport links or raise their own taxes; they're not about to start their own foreign policy.

Nonetheless, the councillors in a borough of one of Britain's most Europe-friendly cities just registered their desire to leave the European Union by a factor of two to one.

If the UK as a whole votes to leave the European Union, it's widely believed that it could trigger a second independence referendum in a Scotland determined to stay in. If the UK votes to stay in, it's not inevitable that the London Borough of Havering could vote to secede, Passport to Pimlico style. But can say for sure that it wouldn’t? Can we be truly certain?

Yes, we can.

This was a silly vote.


Brexit is an opportunity for cities to take back control

Leeds Town Hall. Image: Getty.

The Labour leader of Leeds City Council on the future of Britain’s cities.

As the negotiations about the shape of the UK’s exit from the EU continue, Britain’s most economically powerful cities outside London are arguing that the UK can be made stronger for Brexit – by allowing cities to “take back control” of service provision though new powers and freedoms

Core Cites UK, the representative voice of the cities at the centre of the ten largest economic areas outside London, has just launched an updated version of our green paper, ‘Invest Reform Trust’. The document calls for radical but deliverable proposals to allow cities to prepare for Brexit by boosting their productivity, and helping to rebalance the economy by supporting inclusive economic growth across the UK.

Despite representing areas responsible for a quarter of the UK’s economy and nearly a third of exports, city leaders have played little part in the development of the government’s approach to Brexit. Cities want a dialogue with the government on their Brexit plans and a new settlement which sees power passing from central government to local communities.

To help us deliver a Brexit that works for the UK’s cities, we are opening a dialogue with the EU Commission’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier to share our views of the Brexit process and what our cities want to achieve.

Most of the changes the Core Cities want to see can already be delivered by the UK. To address the fact that the productivity of UK cities lags behind competitors, we need to think differently and begin to address the structural problems in our economy before Brexit.

International evidence shows that cities which have the most control over taxes raised in their area tend to be the most productive.  The UK is significantly out of step with international competitors in the power given to cities and we are one of the most centralised countries in the world.  

Boosting the productivity of the UK’s Core Cities to the UK national average would increase the country’s national income by £70-£90bn a year. This would be a critical boost to the UK’s post-Brexit economic success.

Our green paper is clear that one-size fits all policy solutions simply can’t deal with the complexities of 21st century Britain. We need a place-based approach that looks at challenges and solutions in a different way, focused on the particular needs of local communities and local economies.

For example, our Core Cities face levels of unemployment higher than the national average, but also face shortages of skilled workers.  We need a more localised approach to skills, education and employment support with greater involvement from local democratic and business leaderships to deliver the skills to support growth in each area.

The UK will only make a success of Brexit if we are able to increase our international trade. Evidence shows city to city networks play an important role in boosting international trade.  The green paper calls for a new partnership with the Department of International trade to develop an Urban Trade programme across the UK’s cities and give cities more of a role in international trade missions.

To deliver economic growth that includes all areas of the UK, we also need to invest in our infrastructure. Not just our physical infrastructure of roads, rail telecommunications and so forth, but also our health, education and care infrastructure, ensuring that we are able to unlock the potential of our core assets, our people.

Whether you think that Brexit is a positive or a negative thing for the UK, it is clear that the process will be a challenging one.  Cities have a key role to play in delivering a good Brexit: one that sees local communities empowered and economic prosperity across all areas of the UK.

Cllr Judith Blake is leader of Leeds City Council.