How do British cities deal with Brexit? Robert Gawłowski (WSB University) explains that UK local authorities have been left entirely alone in the process. Without any regulations that would encourage cities to engage in the Brexit process, the vast majority of them have only taken limited actions, such as collecting information about possible outcomes and informing their EU citizens about the requirement of registration. The reason is an inadequate relationship between central and local government, familiar from other European countries.

The Brexit process is not only a challenge for the UK as a state but also for its local governments, and for British cities in particular. However, this issue seems to be forgotten not only in the public debate but also in the Brexit negotiations. It is worth underlining that the Withdrawal Agreement proposed by Theresa May contains almost no references to implications for different regions of the UK, in terms of sub-national distinctiveness, besides the Irish backstop. In this context, Aillen McHarg and James Mitchell (2017) argue that this process reveals the major weaknesses of current political mechanisms of devolution. Chloe Billing et al. (2019) suggest that the UK sub-national institutional system is largely unprepared for the post-Brexit realities. Therefore, it is highly likely that the question about the internal political system of the UK will come on the top of the political agenda as soon as Brexit ends. The only examples of debate about local government during the Brexit process can be found in is the Thirteenth Report of House of Commons – Housing Communities and Local Government Committee “Brexit and local government”.

What then can we say about the actions taken by British cities during Brexit negotiations? The vast majority of them have taken actions to collect information about possible outcomes and inform their EU citizens about the registration duties. Information actions that have been taken by the cities partially depend on governmental communication activities. Actually, cities have been waiting for guidance from the UK government allowing them to join the Brexit process. In most cases, cities have entirely focused on information policies towards national actors. Equally, they have been warning about very similar things.  On the one hand, London has focused on four types of actions. The first one is the information campaign London is Open, which is targeted at the EU citizens to show them that they are welcome in London. The second step was the EU Londoners Hub – a special platform that provides information about the registration process for EU citizens, the possible impact of Brexit on EU Londoners, eligibility for Settled Status, as well as, advice for business. The third type of action taken by the Mayor of London was to appoint the Mayor’s Brexit Expert Advisory Panel. Besides giving advice daily, the Brexit Expert Advisory Panel has helped the Mayor to prepare an official response to the government’s White Paper on Brexit. London’s Global & European Future (Mayor of London and Mayor Brexit Advisory Panel 2017) was an example of one such official document that provided input to the government’s plans regarding Brexit. On the other hand, in August 2018, Edinburgh’s Corporate and Strategy Committee issued a document entitled ‘Managing transition to Brexit in Edinburgh’. The aim was to maintain the position of Edinburgh as an ‘open and welcoming international city’.

The reason why cities are doing this is that local authorities are worried that their voices have not been sufficiently taken into account during the discussions on the consequences of Brexit. All mayors of the UK’s cities are determined to show their willingness to keep being open to EU citizens. What is worth highlighting is the fact that these cities are mostly working separately. There is no organised action towards government and/or EU institutions.

There is no doubt that UK local authorities have been left entirely alone to face Brexit. There are no legal regulations whatsoever that would encourage cities to engage in the Brexit process. While UK regions have taken part in the Joint Ministers Committee, it is impossible to identify such arrangements for cities. However, taking into consideration the fact that Brexit affects cities to a different extent, some institutional mechanisms are very much needed. Given Brexit affects cities to different extents, institutional mechanisms linking central and local government should be put into place.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor LSE. It is based on a paper by A. Szpak; R. Gawlowski; J. Modrzyńska; P. Modrzyński: Independent players or shadow compatriots. How do the British cities deal with the Brexit process?, European Planning Studies, 2019. Image by JimmyGuano, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Robert Gawłowski, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at WSB University in Torun. His research focuses on public management, public administration and new trends in the public sector.

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