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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

'Stop sneering at northern Brexit voters', think-tank warns

'Stop sneering at northern Brexit voters', think-tank warns

  • Remainers must listen to, rather than sneer at, the concerns of northern leave voters, think-tank warns - while leave supporters should not ignore the vital importance of European trade for the North of England.
  • Given North’s Leave vote, a focus on creating a resilient economy in post-industrial towns is key to Brexit success.
  • Report launch and speech will take pace at IPPR North's annual State of the North 2016 conference, Friday 9 December, of Northern businesses, political leaders and civil society. Speakers will include Andy Burnham MP; Chris Hearld, KPMG north region chairman; and Cllr Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council.

Establishment figures who dismiss leave voters in the North of England as “stupid” or “foolish” must stop sneering and understand the economic concerns of post-industrial Britain, delegates at a major conference of the North’s key leaders will hear.

Independent think-tank IPPR North will warn that although the EU Referendum was primarily about the UK and Brussels, it tapped into deeper concerns in “left behind” places where people want to “take back control” of their economic circumstances.

It cautions that leaving the EU might actually make this harder - unless government develops an industrial strategy that looks beyond the big cities, and local leaders focus more on building economic resilience.

Ed Cox, Director of IPPR North, will tell delegates at IPPR North’s annual State of the North conference:

“In June the people spoke. But in the North, they shouted.

“It has made me very angry that since the referendum, when it has become clear that the Northern economy could suffer significantly as a result of the Brexit decision, that some in the metropolitan media have presented Northerners as foolish or simple.

“We believe that Brexit is a cry of community outrage at the imbalances of wealth and power, played out in glorious technicolour within and between the regions of this nation. Scotland had already had its say, in June it was a chance for England to rise up against the wishes of the Westminster elite.”

Citing new research showing the North’s economy is increasingly decoupling from that of London and Scotland, Ed Cox will add that Brexit will be a challenge for the North, which depends more on trade than the rest of the UK:

“New regional trade data shows that around 10 percent of UK GDP is accounted for by trade with the European Union. Even a 1.6 percent downturn in trade could lead to a half a percent hit on the UK economy. But here's the thing - due to the composition of our economy, Northern regions are more than twice as dependent on EU trade as London. So in some respects, London is a great deal more insulated from the impact of Brexit than the North. Brexit is only going to exacerbate this decoupling process.

“Add to this the loss of EU funding for our universities and most deprived places, add to this the impact of fewer migrants in an ageing population, add to this the impact on our rural economy and whatever kind of Brexit we end up with, it looks a pretty challenging place from here.”

The accompanying State of the North report will urge government to make sure the North benefits from Brexit, by:
  • establishing a Northern Brexit Negotiating Committee so the North is heard during Brexit negotiations
  • extending Osborne's Northern Powerhouse from the big cities alone, to also focus on areas that voted leave in June
  • taking an optimistic approach to the North's untapped economic potential, focusing on unlocking growth and making areas much less dependent on single industries – as we have seen with the steel crisis, for instance.

Ed Cox will conclude that the vote to leave was as much a vote to “take back control” from Westminster as from the EU:

“To conclude that the North's vote to leave was an act of collective self-harm is to completely misunderstand what it is to be Northern.

“Anybody who listened to Melvyn Bragg's brilliant documentary series 'The Matter of the North' will have been reminded that the North of England has a rich history and tradition of taking back control.

“In simple terms, just like our Scottish neighbours, Northerners have historically compromised short-term economic benefits for the sake of their wider freedom and autonomy. This I believe is what we are witnessing in the Brexit vote. The 80-year experiment with centralisation is over, and it is little wonder the establishment are struggling to get it.”

IPPR North’s report State of the North 2016 – its annual healthcheck on the northern economy – finds that parts of the North which voted most strongly to leave the European Union in June are the most likely to experience Brexit "turbulence".
    The analysis explores how each of the North’s 11 economic areas is set to fare in 2017 and finds the areas most exposed to a downturn voted most strongly to leave the European Union.

    Humber (65 per cent leave), Tees Valley (64 per cent leave), and the Sheffield city-region (62 per cent leave) had the highest leave votes in the North, and are also the areas that have yet to transition fully from their industrial pasts, the study finds.

    By contrast, the North’s booming big cities voted remain on similar levels to London and Scotland – for instance, in Manchester, only 39 per cent of residents voted to leave. But within the wider Greater Manchester economic area, the leave vote rose to 53 per cent – indicating towns like Wigan, where 63 per cent voted leave, do not yet feel the benefits of any ‘Powerhouse dividend’.

    A similar pattern emerges in the Leeds city-region, where central Leeds voted remain but areas like Barnsley voted leave.

    IPPR North's report also:
    • highlights new academic research which shows London and Scotland’s economies are increasingly separate from the rest of the UK.
    • argues that European Union powers should pass from the European level to communities and regions. An IPPR North report to be published next month will set out an ambitious and innovative policy plan for communities to ‘take back control’ and set their own migration policy.
    Commenting on the report, Luke Raikes, report author and research fellow at IPPR North, added:

    “The North’s economic diversity is striking, and this will be its great strength for the coming years. But while some areas are well-prepared to adapt, the indications are that others will struggle.

    “It is clear from this analysis that an industrial strategy will be vital for the North. But this strategy can’t just invest in small clusters of activity, it must also connect these up across the North, with the transport infrastructure that’s now long overdue.

    “And most important of all, the North will need to develop a stronger more inclusive labour market, so that both people and businesses can thrive from northern economic growth.”


    For advanced copies of the embargoed report, or to arrange a pre-record or live broadcast interview, please contact Ash Singleton,, 07887 422 789

    Notes to editors:

    The State of the North report will be launched at IPPR North’s annual conference in central Leeds, with speakers including Andy Burnham MP and Cllr Judith Blake, Leeds leader and chair of the Core Cities group.

    Julia Unwin, the outgoing chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, will also give her final major speech in this capacity.

    The North’s 11 economic areas or Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), which comprise of several local authority areas, are listed below with the proportion that voted to Leave:
    • Cumbria - 56 per cent leave
    • Greater Manchester - 53 per cent leave
    • Liverpool City Region - 49 per cent leave
    • Cheshire & Warrington - 52 per cent leave
    • Leeds City Region - 55 per cent leave
    • Sheffield City Region - 62 per cent leave
    • Tees Valley - 64 per cent leave
    • North Eastern - 56 per cent leave
    • York & North Yorkshire - 54 per cent leave
    • Lancashire - 59 per cent leave
    • Humber - 65 per cent leave

    These are rounded to the nearest full decimal point. The full dataset is available from the press office.