Labour MPs dub UK Govt’s £1.6-billion fund for regional development as ‘bribe for Brexit’

Vidya Ram London | Updated on March 04, 2019 Published on March 04, 2019

Theresa May, British Prime Minister   -  Reuters

The “Stronger Towns Fund,” launched on Monday is meant to target areas that had not “shared in the proceeds of growth in the same way as prosperous parts of the country,” the government said

A £1.6-billion fund the British government has said it is setting up as part of its response to the underlying challenges of the country that were manifested in the Brexit vote, has become the centre of a new political storm in the UK.

While the opposition Labour Party accused the government of attempting “Brexit bribery,” through the initiative, by providing “cover” to allow Labour MPs in deprived constituencies that voted to leave the EU, to back her deal, others argued it could backfire, in fact making it harder for MPs to do so. The initiative has also refocussed attention on funding for those regions, and funding cuts to local government that has hit infrastructure and public services in those regions.

The “Stronger Towns Fund,” launched on Monday is meant to target areas that had not “shared in the proceeds of growth in the same way as prosperous parts of the country,” the government said, as it pointed to towns in the North and the Midlands as two areas in which the funds would be focussed, helping job-boosting projects in particular. However, the focus on regions with Labour constituencies where in many cases the majority voted to leave, led to suggestions from the Labour Party that it was merely a “desperate” attempt to get votes for her “bad withdrawal agreement.”

Anna Soubry, a critic of the government who left the Conservative Party to become one of the Independent Group within Parliament, drew a parallel with £1 billion of extra funding allocated to Northern Ireland when the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland agreed to become the government’s Supply and Confidence partner in Parliament, following the June 2017 election.

However, as details of the fund — – which will be rolled out over the course of a seven-year period — emerged, Labour MPs in northern constituencies signalled their rejection of the value of the deal. Lisa Nandy, a half-Indian Labour MP, whose constituency of Wigan voted heavily to leave the EU, and who has expressed reservations about the party’s decision to back a second referendum (while still pursuing its alternative vision of Brexit) pointed to the fact that the funds amounted to just £40 million for towns across the North West of England. “To put it in context in Wigan alone we’ve had cuts of £134 million since 2010 with more in the pipeline.”

‘Will backfire’

Tom Kibasi, director of the prominent IPPR thinktank, argued that the initiative, rather than giving Labour MPs “cover’ to back the deal, could actually backfire by highlighting that there was little seriousness in Westminster for tackling the issues raised by the Brexit vote. “It was never supposed to be Vote Leave, Get a Tenner,”…Brexit was supposed to change everything but instead it shows “nothing has changed.” It receives the great deceit: humiliation comes from Westminster, not from Brussels,” he wrote on Twitter.

While large cities in the North of England such as Manchester and Liverpool voted to remain in the 2016 referendum, many towns — often Labour strongholds — voted to leave, despite the Labour Party’s official support for remaining in the UK. The support that the leave campaign commanded in such regions has been widely seen a reflection of the widespread disillusionment with Britain’s political system, and long-term marginalisation that such regions had suffered as a result as a result of decades of underfunding and focus in Westminster on the more prosperous south of the country.

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Published on March 04, 2019
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