I personally share the shock, anger and profound sadness of my colleagues at the outcome of the UK referendum.
Members of the UK delegation, nearly every one of whom supported the Remain campaign, worked unceasingly to achieve a positive result. But despite our best efforts we failed to deliver a positive outcome, including in my own city which depends for so much of its prosperity, inward investment and jobs from being inside the EU i.
There are many lessons to be learnt from the UK referendum: lessons about how the EU is perceived by its citizens, even those who benefit from membership; lessons about how out-of-touch central government and national politicians appear to the ordinary person; lessons about the wisdom of deciding such momentous constitutional issues by referendum; and lessons about inequalities in our communities and between regions which are driving resentment and intolerance.
Our immediate task now is to shape the future relationship between the UK and the EU in a way that is most beneficial to the communities and local economies that we represent. Local government will work with central government to shape that relationship, but to do so we must have a seat at the table. And it is clear to me and my colleagues that the powers and competences that are passed back from the EU should not stick at the national level, but wherever possible should be handed further down to local governments.
The UK Government must guarantee the vital regeneration funding that councils currently receive in order to avoid any doubts about existing projects. We must also ensure that EU citizens and foreign-owned business should continue to be made to feel welcome in an inclusive and safe environment, and continue our fight against intolerance and inequality.
This is a troubling and uncertain time for my country and our Europe. The UK Government has not yet initiated the withdrawal process and there is great doubt about when that will be done and by whom. Until we have clarity on this, UK CoR members will continue to engage constructively and enthusiastically to ensure that local and regional government has an effective voice in the EU.
Cllr Paul Watson
Leader of the UK Delegation to the CoR