One of the deepest driving forces behind Brexit has been a sense of alienation among many English people – being left behind, not being voted on, being ignored, being exploited.
It is the dissatisfaction of a country with a rich capital and nine of the ten poorest regions in northwestern Europe.
The Brexit and Boris Johnson in last year’s general election used the link between the “metropolitan elite” and the regions of England in particular.
It inspires Scottish nationalism – even Welsh nationalism – which is a tributary of the paradox of Ulster trade unionism.
This deep dissatisfaction is long overdue for Brexit or, of course, and the political system has responded by devolving powers to parliaments and assemblies in Scotland and Wales since the 1990s, and the return of a regional legislature in Northern Ireland. The UK is very complex, a separate national identity is re-emerging, but use it without political institutions and run it.
Instead there is the cohesiveness of emerging political institutions, with various powers headed by mayors. London was the most important and long-established – and proved to be the political starting point of Boris Johnson.
But Greater Manchester is rapidly growing into a rival municipal power hub for London and London-based politicians. Its first elected mayor was Andy Burnham of Labor, who was a cabinet minister under Gordon Brown and a leading bench MP against leadership aspirations when he was transferred to the post of mayor of this new metropolitan authority.
But this is the size and importance of Manchester – and it is the opportunity for executive power that Mr Burnham still has the leadership potential for Labor.
In fact last week the Conservative Party began to use him against current leader Gear Stormer, who said they now plan for the possibility of having to fight the next general election against the Burnham-led Labor Party. Lack of attacks on Mr Stormer’s government.
Well, this is an open political slander, but a sign that Mr Burnham is a big beast in Britain’s political jungle.
So, we have to focus on the fact that Andy Burnham and his Liverpool mayoral representative Steve Rotherham participated in a corporate Ireland webinar on Thursday.
It is, of course, designed to boost trade between Ireland and post-Brexit Britain, with special emphasis on exports to the northwest of the UK.
Enterprise Ireland has set up an office in Manchester, soon to be joined by a consulate, sitting in Edinburgh and Cardiff and overseen by the embassy in London.
But what struck me the most were the comments about how the two mayors want to use their new powers for their own economic and social development, not waiting for London.
Initially, the two mayors are working together to boost trade – their first joint venture will be in Ireland in September.
Naturally they will make a big difference in what we know about music and football in Liverpool and Manchester – and believe that, according to Andy Burnham, they will have representatives from “our four biggest football clubs”.
Never before in the history of pushing an open door could the doors of Ireland be so easily opened to a trade mission sprayed with Stardust from Manchester United, Liverpool FC, Everton and Manchester City.
In the new complex business of regional trade operations, they are going to find it upwards after Ireland in September.
But Andy Burnham was very clear on the importance of the UK’s new regional politics: “If Britain is to succeed as a result of Brexit, it will have to rely on urban areas like the international weightlifting. I think we’ve weigh down now because we live in a London-based country.
“There is a desire on the part of our residents to be based in the English territories, to do more for us, and to strike more on the world stage.”
He also makes it clear that merging with Liverpool will extend the entire Northwest Territory to a greater extent.
He makes it clear that trade is not a one – way street: “We want to promote our own businesses, but we’re doomed if we become a defender.
“Northern Powerhouse” Is this too bad? Liverpool Mayor Steve Rotherham said the phrase was “an artificial construction to try to answer the problems we face (former Conservative President George Osborne).
“We are the most politically centered democracy in the OECD, but we have the most unbalanced economy in the whole of Europe. Power sharing is just the beginning to address the inequalities and other economic problems we have in our country,” he said.
What is the sales pitch from Northwest to Ireland? According to Burnham and Rotherham, there are prospects after the Govt recovery surrounding the green economy and digitalisation.
They want to take advantage of the UK government’s holding of the next major UN climate change conference – COP26 – in Glasgow later this year to burn their own green-business credentials. Especially with tidal energy and carbon capture and storage projects in the Irish Sea.
“I think we’re going to see a green recovery from the epidemic,” Burnham says.
“In 100 years, people will look back to 2020, the moment of real acceleration towards zero carbon. Governments around the world need to have a serious understanding of employment, which is a clear place to start.
“We need to restructure every asset in Greater Manchester, which has a population of five million, and there are thousands of good quality job opportunities. This gives us the opportunity to tell.
“That’s why I see a big acceleration in the green economy.”
He thinks the large presence of Irish construction companies in Manchester now sets the Irish well in getting green energy, insulation and transportation from this move.
Steve Rotherham points out that regional authorities are making their own investments in projects such as housing.
He says one-third of the energy loss and carbon emissions in his city come from Victorian-era homes. Fixing it also tackles energy poverty – poor people have to spend more to heat.
“Transport infrastructure is huge for us – we are trying to get an east-west link and a north-south link,” he says.
Liverpool invests in hydrogen-powered buses. “This means that hydrogen energy is important to us, promoting energy suppliers, working with universities and creating opportunities for partnerships.”
Autonomous regional trade policy may be new to the UK, but there are no trade rules. One of them – the “gravity theory” that you trade more with the countries closest to you – can reassert itself here after years of rejecting the Brexit drive.
As Mayor Rotherham said, “Manchester is an hour away from Liverpool, but it’s only 25 minutes from John Lennon Airport to Dublin Airport: we need to break these water barriers and make more connections”.
The approach of Enterprise Ireland to the Northwest Territory may provide an insight into the official thinking of post-Brexit Britain.
Despite Brexit and Govt, Irish businesses still see the UK as a growth market, according to the agency’s customer survey. 89% of those surveyed saw growth opportunities in the UK, with 80% planning to expand themselves.
The survey results mark the beginning of a new phase of the agency’s growth targeting the UK – for the past two decades trying to force Irish companies to look beyond their traditional expansion market. Expect to be mainly north of England and Scotland.
Thus, the two strands merge – reorganized by Irish trade and commerce to try to make the post-Brexit situation better: and a new resolution for British regional authorities, assemblies and parliaments to do their own thing – free from London, not Brussels.