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Transport for the North: international connectivity is key to our success

The Independent International Connectivity Commission Report says that better transport infrastructure in the north is a national necessity. 

If UK plc is to maximise its competitiveness, then unlocking the potential of the north of England could be one of the key factors for success. This was the take away message from the Independent International Connectivity Commission report earlier this month when Chair John Cridland unveiled a series of recommendations designed to release the latent capability of the north’s airports and seaports by improving connectivity.

As Chair of the report and the wider Transport for the North movement, he said the UK public’s decision to leave the European Union has only increased the need to invest in better transport infrastructure in the north. The Brexit vote,” he explained, “means that now, more than ever, we have a responsibility to improve and expand our international connectivity in the north, and in doing so support maximising the potential of UK plc on the world stage.”

Under the wings of Concorde in a special facility at Manchester International Airport, fellow panel member and the venue’s chief executive, Tim Hawkins, pointed out that since the morning’s presentation had started “around 3,000 business trips were being started or completed above our heads right now.”

Air passengers using the north’s airports increased by 9.1 per cent over the last year, contributing some £5.5 billion to the north’s total GVA. If the UK is to become self-sustainable post-Brexit, the report says, it needs to nurture its northern assets. Cridland added: “Well there’s your proof of concept. The north has airport capacity for 60 million more passengers annually, yet only 4 per cent of air freight comes through the north.”

The alleged confines of the EU were one of the driving forces behind Brexit. It would be fitting, then, to explore new trading opportunities with partners further afield – the likes of Brazil, Chinaand India – but London’s centricity is actually a barrier to progress on this front. Mark Parsons, chief customer officer at DHL, and one of the Commission’s panel members who also contributed to the report, rued its findings that 50 per cent of long-haul passengers from the north have to take connecting flights internally. He said: “The north’s international connectivity is important for the UK as a whole. We’re talking about moving people, products and freight. If your transport of any of those things is going through multiple access points, then it becomes very inefficient and expensive. Whether it’s through aviation or through seaports, what we need to make sure is that foreign companies are able to trade as directly as possible with domestic companies, while cutting out the middle-man, in this case London. Whether as a tourist passenger or an international tradesperson, if you’re moving through multiple airports, then you run the risk of lost luggage, delays or myriad other problems.”

The solution to greater internationalism would appear simple: use the northern transport hubs more and the UK will welcome fresh economic growth where it needs it and open itself up to a plethora of pan-global partners. So if it is that simple, why was there any need for the report? “Strategy,” Cridland admitted, “has previously been disjointed. It’s up to us to change that ‘business as usual’ mentality and reap the benefits from doing so. This could mean an increase to national GVA by £97 billion and add 850,000 jobs.”

That all sounds great, but surely it can’t happen overnight? The report is realistic in its vision – international connectivity starts on the ground. “The challenge isn’t finding a great northern airport,” Cridland said, “because there are plenty. The challenge is in getting to one of the north’s great airports in the first place. We need more people within a 90-minute commute. The fact is that we don’t have the infrastructure available to link up Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield and the other wonderful northern cities to each other. It means that each of these cities exists in their own little bubble, rather than what we want which is a more joined-up network of opportunities.”

London, by contrast, profits from a talent and trade pool that encompasses the Home Counties as well as a prioritisation from all other major cities elsewhere to be quickly connected to it. The same such fluidity, worryingly, does not extend to the north. But a tailored model along the same lines could be made to work there too. Another Commission member, Sarah Stewart, chief executive of the Newcastle Gateshead initiative, said that a failure to provide suitable infrastructure was denying the northerners the same opportunities afforded to their counterparts in the south. “There’s a two-way flow that’s been neglected. Our (the north’s) citizens need to have the same access to holidays, the same access to activities. Business and leisure actually need to be intertwined. On the flipside, when people visit the north, we need to make sure that they’ve got access to things beyond the airport. We have so much to offer in our architecture, or national parks, our cathedrals, our universities. The north must be open to visitors and open for business.”

The magnetism of the capital, meanwhile, pertains thanks to businesses basing themselves there and a commitment to tourism. While the north is already home to 16 million people and 7.2 million jobs, there is a clear latency, nay duty, to do more.

 John Cridland CBE, is Chair of the International Connectivity Commission Report.

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A year in my life as a Brexit bargaining chip

After Brexit, like many other EU citizens in Britain, I spent a year not knowing what my future held. Here's what that was like.

I moved back to the UK in January 2016. I like to say “move back”, because that’s how it feels – I loved living in London so much during my Erasmus year that I always intended to come work here after graduation. 

I am French, and a journalist, and live in north London. I refer to the UK as “home”. By all appearances, in January 2016 I am part of what budding Brexiteers call the “liberal elite”, even though I rent a single room and my most expensive possession after my laptop is a teapot.

But by June, I have been given a new label. I am now one of the 3 million “EU citizens in the UK”. As Britain heads toward turbulent negotiations to leave the European Union, following a referendum in which I did not have a vote, I have become a “bargaining chip”. 

This is my account of that year.

April 2016

Moving back includes chores such as getting a UK phone number, a National Insurance number and opening a bank account – three tasks that go even smoother that I thought they would. For the bank account, I have been advised to go to Lloyds Bank, which makes it “easy for Europeans”. (A thread on Twitter recently proved it also is more inclined to help refugees than other banks.)

I also eagerly register to vote – another right of mine in the UK under EU rules, for local and European elections. And I am excited: I will have a vote in the London mayoral election.

I closely follow the referendum campaign. “Vote Remain” signs and stickers are omnipresent in my  neighbourhood.  I feel reassured. So do the other EU nationals quietly passing me in the street. “I don't recall seeing any Leave Campaign. It made me think it would be an easy win,” echoes Tiago Gomes, 27, a Portuguese musician.

In the pub, I get into a testy exchange with an acquaintance who holds French and British passports and is proudly campaigning for Leave. I struggle to understand why. Maybe, just like Ukip leader Nigel Farage, he knows he has a way out, if it all goes to shit.

Worried that people could wrongly see me as a Brexiteer because of my Union Jack Converses, I put a “I’m IN” sticker on each roundel.

May 2016

I vote in the London mayoral election. I have voted many times in France, but this is different – I am almost a Brit! I even take a happy selfie with my polling card, like a proud 18 year-old.

This turns out to be the only UK election I will ever have a vote in, as a friend will note a few months later.

June 2016

Jo Cox MP is murdered on the streets of her constituency. I report on the murder all afternoon and when I get the tube home, I feel shaken. A Leave supporter enters the tube carriage with an England flag. I want to ask him: "Do you even know what happened?" But I say nothing.

The violent turn taken by the campaign is felt in London, too. Samir Dwesar, a 27-year-old parliamentary assistant, remembers the abuse he suffered while campaigning for Remain: “I was called a p**i, and told to go back to ‘your f’ing country'.” Samir is British and has lived all his life in Croydon, South London.

Yet I am hopeful on 23 June 2016. I blow up “I’m IN” balloons, taste EU referendum cupcakes from my local bakery. I’m living history.

And it is history. I doubt anyone in Britain, and especially the country’s EU citizens, will forget the nightmarish morning of 24 June 2016. My heart sinks as I read the BBC news alert informing me I am no longer home – not really. On my wall, a poster of the Private Eye cover “What Britain will look like after Brexit”, which I found hilarious in April, looks like a doomed omen.

The mood is low among all Europeans. For Nassia Matsa, 27, a Greek woman from Athens who has lived in London for 9 years, it is even worse: 24 June marks her birthday. “Nigel and Boris ruined my birthday,” she says.

At least in London we are not alone. I discover many Brits identify as European. When I finally leave my house, my neighbourhood is still plastered IN signs and EU flags. “I found myself offering support to my British friends,” says Matsa. “Were talking about Brexit with an Italian, Swiss, Croatian, French and me, and all of us Europeans were comforting a Londoner who was ready to cry.”

July-August 2016

I go to France for a summer holiday. Everyone keeps asking what my situation will be in the UK after Brexit. My answer is always the same, and still hasn’t changed: I have no idea. My dad spends months repeating that Brexit will not happen: “They’ll realise it’s a mistake.” (They don’t.)

Bad adverts with Brexit puns bloom on the Tube. "We're Out," proclaims one for a city lifestyle app. I don’t laugh. But at least I don't have any Facebook friend boasting about Brexit. Mikael David Levin, a 24-year-old Italian who has lived in London for 16 years, does. "Their statuses frustrate and irritate me," he says. "They do not know how 'lucky' they are to be born in the UK."

After David Cameron’s resignation, the Tory leadership election and Theresa May’s premiership, the discussion focuses on when to pull the trigger, and what to do with people like us in the meantime. We are now, officially, bargaining chips.

September 2016

I start flying with my passport when I visit my family in France, even though I know my French ID is still valid until Britain officially leaves. At Stansted airport, the limited life expectancy of the “EU only” line makes me gloomy. Alex Roszkowski, a 27-year-old Polish-American who has lived in London for a year and a half, tells me he may now carry both his passports on every trip, as well as “copies of [his] lease, numerous old envelopes with [his] name and address, [his] business card".

Those EU citizens arriving in the UK have surreal experiences too. Joseph Sotinel, 28, who moved to London from Paris in September, encounters a bank official, who tells him: “Thanks for coming to the UK, you are still welcome no matter what.”

“It was as if I had done something heroic,” he says. “It was absurd.”

October 2016

Registering all EU citizens in the UK could take 140 years, according to a cheery statistic.

We are seeking an early deal to secure the rights of EU citizens, says the British government. Companies employing EU workers must provide a list of their employees, says the British government. Companies employing EU workers won’t have to provide a list of their employees, says the British government. EU citizens will need a “form of ID” in post-Brexit UK, says the British government.  EU citizens must be prepared to leave, says the British government.

Literally no one knows what will happen to EU citizens.

November- December 2016

EU nationals who have decided to apply to permanent residency or British citizenship start receiving letters urging them to leave the country. I fear mine could follow and think about it every time I get post. I read an article advising EU citizens to collect proof of living in the UK. As I am a lodger currently working freelance, I start keeping every single one of my shopping receipts in a box, and consider asking British friends for reference letters.

Matt Bock [unrelated to this journalist], a German freelance renewable energy project manager, worries about how to provide documentation showing he was living in the UK before Brexit too: “I don’t have an employer, I am outside the UK for a large amount of time for work, I am a freelancer largely paid by my own German company, I don’t have private health insurance, I am not married and I haven’t even been here for the prerequisite 5 years.”" He has chosen not to apply to right to remain because his chances of success are "remote", and says he is "ready to leave if need be."

As I, like Matt and many EU citizens, start thinking about moving back home, others rush to move to the UK. Alexandra Ibrová, 26, a Czech PhD student, moves to London on 28 December, worried she could not get a National Insurance number after 15 March. “I was trying to get the appointment before that date because it is actually the only official document that proves that you have been living here before the cut off date,” she says.

January- February 2017

Gina Miller’s legal challenge forces the government’s Brexit bill to go to a vote in Parliament. I am hopeful, for about five minutes, that the Labour MP Harriet Harman’s amendment to secure my rights has got a chance. It doesn’t. I complain about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s three-line whip to my local Labour councillors during their Sunday canvassing. “As a traditionally left-wing voter, I'm more angry with Corbyn's Labour than with the Tories,” echoes Marta Maria Casetti, 39, from Italy, in London since 2006.

March 2017

The day before the triggering or Article 50, the Haringey LibDems send me a letter in “support” of EU nationals. I am now a bargaining chip and a stat on a micro-targeting list.

On 29 March, Theresa May officially begins the Brexit negotiations, even though 2017 is the worst possible time to leave the EU. It has almost been a year that 3 million people living in the UK have been left in limbo.

I don’t own a house or have children at school in the UK. Many EU citizens do – they have built their family life in this country, and now fear they may lose it all overnight.

Adriana Bruni, 44, an Italian who married an Englishman and has lived in Chelmsford for six years, says her family would not exist without the European Union: “From today [29 March], a family like mine will never be formed in the same way again.” Bianca Ford Epskamp, a Dutch national and school governor who has lived Dorset since 2001, adds: “Both my children are born here, go to school here, have made friends. I've always been employed, contributed, paid taxes, do voluntary things. Morally, it’s draining.”

Elena Paolini, 51, an Italian translator married to Brit who has lived in London for 27 years, says she doesn’t believe EU nationals will be deported, but she is concerned about her access to the NHS, pensions or bank accounts. She asks out loud the question that has been floating in all our minds for months: “Will I be considered a second rate citizen?”

As for me, I used to say I wanted to be British. I don't say that any more.

Update on 23 June 2017

Last night, Theresa May told EU leaders in Brussels the UK government would offer the same rights as Britons to EU citizens who arrived "lawfully" before Brexit. I can't help but think that it took a year to guarantee rights me, and the other 3 million, already had and took for granted up until 23 June last year.

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