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For cities like mine, Brexit has a price they can't afford

The North East will bear the brunt of the consequences if Britain leaves the European Union, warns Nick Forbes. 

As the council leader of Newcastle City Council, job creation underpins my every aim in the city.  It is both as simple and as important as that.  I know that in every service we deliver, and in every bit of planning and strategy we produce, it all has to build towards a sustainable growing economy that brings opportunity for local residents.  And it’s this same focus on building a vibrant and prosperous local economy that means I’ll be voting to remain in the EU referendum in June.

From developing local businesses and jobs, to protecting working people and supporting our health and environment, Britain’s EU membership is vital to the places we serve.  If we leave Europe, it is our communities that will be hardest hit, and the futures of our local people that will be put at risk.

In Newcastle, since I became leader in 2011 we have spent years working to defy the effects of the economic downturn and spending cuts imposed by Westminster.  We’ve done this by creating the infrastructure for growth, be it building offices or bike lanes, and finding new ways to secure the investment opportunities that underpin thousands of jobs across the city. Look at the skyline in Newcastle and you see cranes because we are building for business. Look at the roads and you see we are investing in making it easier to get around the city.  But economic growth in the UK’s major cities would be put at risk by Brexit.  

Between 2014-2020 the North East’s stands to benefit from £205 million of European Regional Development Fund money which will provide 50 per cent of the revenue or capital funding to support investment in innovation, businesses, low carbon and climate change projects and create jobs.  The EU is by far the UK’s largest trading partner and the world’s largest single market; half of our exports go to EU countries, worth £227 billion in 2014 to the UK economy, and over 200,000 British companies export to the EU.  The economic damage that leaving the EU would bring would wreak havoc on our local businesses and make it harder than ever for Councils to deliver the services people rely on. 

The economies of our core cities have undergone radical transformation since the days when tens of thousands of people did back breaking manual jobs in heavy industry. We now have a modern, diverse, economy with strong companies and sectors, including offshore engineering, professional services and the digital sector.  Right now Newcastle and other major cities are growing and have a bright future.  The recent downturn threatened to derail our aspirations but Brexit could kill them almost entirely.

Local councils have already had to make substantial cuts to their budgets over the last 6 years and leaving the EU will represent a further funding black hole.  The government’s decision to devolve business rates relies on economic growth and so the disastrous economic effects of Brexit could mean catastrophe for our councils’ ability to deliver the services people rely on as our income would simply fall through the floor.

In almost every area of council work, leaving the EU would have a negative impact.  In a reformed EU, the UK’s major cities can be the drivers of a new prosperity and opportunity that leads to greater equality and a more socially just Britain.  But outside it, our economy may crash, the social protections given to our workers could be stripped away and the common standards that help incentivise a cleaner environment wouldn’t be enforced.  So on June 23rd, for the sake of our communities, myself and council leaders representing over 12 million people will be voting to remain. 

Nick Forbes is the leader of Newcastle Council. 

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.