Where the Yorkshire Party stands on Brexit
By Arnie Craven, Party Chairman
Arnie Craven: let’s work together for Yorkshire
Picture: Robbie MacDonald
Brexit seems like a never ending process, doesn’t it? Whether you are a remainer or a leaver, I doubt many of you would’ve expected that, three years after the UK voted to leave, we would be looking at contesting the EU Parliament elections soon.
I’m sure many of you will have noticed that Brexit hasn’t been a topic that the Yorkshire Party has touched upon much before. This is partially because it has never been, and continues not to be, our main priority. The Yorkshire Party was founded to give Yorkshire a voice – a voice so we can start to take control over issues that really matter, such as our schools, roads and hospitals.
Where powers sit now – Westminster or Brussels, has never been our main priority. Our main priority has always been getting those powers to Yorkshire.
But as Party Chairman, I know many of you want more clarity on Brexit than what we currently offer. I also know that our lack of focus on Brexit means some people, especially members of other parties, have taken the initiative and started lying about the Yorkshire Party being ‘extreme remainers’ or ‘hard Brexiteers’, and everything in between.
I wanted to take this opportunity to explain honestly where the Yorkshire Party is on Brexit, so if you are considering voting for us at the EU Parliament elections on May 23, you will have the comfort of clarity.
When our Party was formed in 2014, we took in people from across the political spectrum, centre-left and centre-right. We were bound together by a desire to see meaningful powers come to Yorkshire, so we could start addressing the real issues our region faces, and by a common belief in adopting positive, open, anti-discriminatory politics. We didn’t care where people came from, we just cared that people who believed in equality and fairness would work together constructively and openly to build a better Yorkshire.
Then the Brexit referendum was called, and as a Party we faced a challenge. Some of our members believed that the best way to build an open, positive, fair Yorkshire was to leave the EU and have many powers that were held at EU level devolved to Yorkshire. Some of our members valued the focus the EU brought to places such as Yorkshire through the Committee of the Regions and the Regional Development Fund.
Our members had the same goals – building a stronger and more prosperous Yorkshire in a fairer UK, but differed on how to get to that end point.
That’s why our Party allowed individual members to make their own minds up in 2016. The only red line we had was immigration – the Yorkshire Party has no time for anti-immigration politics, and advocating for Brexit on the grounds of disliking those born in other parts of the world would never have been tolerated. Thankfully, no one in our membership ever adopted such a message.
We felt, as I’m sure many of you did, that the issue of our departure from the EU was settled in June 2016. The UK, and Yorkshire, voted to leave. As a democratic party, the vast majority of our members recognised that Yorkshire voted for Brexit, and we expected Brexit to happen.
In the past few months, the profound failure of the Brexit negotiations has thrown that strategy into doubt. Where once it seemed certain the UK would leave the EU, now debates rage around a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit, a second referendum, Article 50 extensions or revocation, the minutiae of customs policy, and much more.
I won’t lie and tell you this hasn’t been a problem for our Party. Talking personally, after previously believing we should leave, on democratic grounds, I voted to remain – given, what I perceived to be the unacceptable focus from people such as Nigel Farage on immigration throughout the campaign. However, as we voted to leave I now believe we should leave – and look at how Switzerland trades with the EU as a model for our future relationship.
Others in the Party I chair voted to leave and support a much harder form of Brexit – the WTO approach – while some voted to remain and believe in a second referendum. We are split. Just as Yorkshire, and the UK, is split.
I don’t see this as a bad thing, though. I actually think it is our greatest strength. Families across the UK are split on Brexit. I see that every day. But at the end of every day, these families put aside their differences and sit down together for dinner.
The Yorkshire Party is no different. We are ordinary men and women who believe that our region deserves better, from every level of government. We debate and disagree on Brexit, but we keep working together – because we know, in our hearts, that no matter what happens with Brexit, the roof of our local school will still be leaking, the train we catch to work will still be overcrowded, and our district hospital will still be short staffed. Those are the issues the Yorkshire Party wants to take on.
Finally, I wanted to offer you an illustration of how this works. Our top two candidates for the EU Parliament elections are Party Leader Chris Whitwood and Councillor Mike Jordan. Chris is a former Liberal Democrat who voted to remain. He now believes we should respect the fact that Yorkshire voted to leave, and leave – while protecting businesses and trade. Mike ran the Vote Leave campaign in Selby District. He supports Brexit but also believes that our leaving shouldn’t damage business or trade with Europe.
Mike and Chris both come from very different backgrounds and approaches to Brexit. But they work together for the good of Yorkshire.
That’s what I would encourage everyone in Yorkshire to do. Put our differences over Brexit to one side and start to work together. Because if we work together, we can build a Yorkshire where every young person gets the education they deserve, every family gets the childcare they need, and we all share in the prosperity that a successful Yorkshire could enjoy.
In view of the polarising nature of the Brexit debate, and with strong views on either side, the Yorkshire Party has decided to suspend the comments section at the foot of this article