Planning for our future outside the EU
With the aftershocks still clearly being felt across the world, it will be some time before the dust settles following last week’s historic Brexit vote. But, amidst all the uncertainty, let me make one thing clear: Birmingham is not sitting still and we are not being stunned into inactivity.
I made it clear during the referendum campaign that our city has historically benefitted from EU membership and I stand by my comments. But the electorate has spoken and my job now is to get the best possible deal for the people and communities of our great city.
So, first thing this morning I met with chief executive Mark Rogers and Strategic Director for Major Projects Paul Dransfield, to discuss the way forward.
We will establish a Brexit working group whose job it will be to track, analyse and advise the council on the Government’s emerging Brexit strategy. This group will engage key players – both city council staff and partners across the city and beyond – and we will work together to ensure Birmingham gets the best possible deal.
We’re not exactly starting from scratch.
This is already an international city with strong links to a host of major cities, including Chicago in the United States, Guangzhou in China and Johannesburg in South Africa, Lyon in France, Frankfurt and Leipzig in Germany, Milan in Italy, Nanjing in China and Mirpur in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan.
Earlier this year I welcomed Chinese Minister of Commerce Gao Hucheng to our city, when we discussed investment opportunities and I recently joined the leaders of cities from across the world for the Chicago Forum on Global Cities. The point I’m making is that we were looking at global opportunities long before the Brexit vote.
And let’s not pretend we’ve just announced our divorce from Europe. Even with Brexit, it is essential that we continue to participate in the European Research Area so that we can continue world class research at our great universities. After all, our universities are, and will continue to be, key contributors to our city’s economic vitality.
Now of course the landscape is changing and post-Brexit negotiations must take into account the needs of our cities. They must also reflect the opportunities for growth and job creation offered by places like Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and others.
There has been a welcome move towards greater devolution in recent years and that must now gather pace. The West Midlands Combined Authority should have an even bigger role to play because our cities and regions will drive the post-Brexit economy.
Now is the time to invest in our cities and the leave campaign made it clear that there would be net gains if we voted to leave the EU, so it is only reasonable for any post-Brexit government to replace funding that might otherwise have come to cities like Birmingham via Europe.
In return we will create the growth. We will invest in jobs and skills and we will build much needed homes. We will ensure that the benefits of ongoing investment are felt in every community across Birmingham’s 40 wards.
I must just add one final point. Last week’s vote, and indeed the whole referendum campaign, highlighted divisions across the country. You can clearly see splits in families, communities, towns and cities. But the referendum is over now and we must heal the divisions that have emerged. We must do what Birmingham has always done and unite for the good of the whole city.
I’m proud to live in a city where communities come together regardless of race, faith or sexuality. Now, more than ever, we must continue to oppose those who seek to divide us.