A £1.6 billion fund the British government has said it is setting up as part of its response to the underlying challenges of the country that were manifested in the Brexit vote has become the centre of a new political storm in the U.K.
While the Opposition Labour Party accused the government of attempting “Brexit bribery” through the initiative, by providing “cover” to allow Labour MPs in deprived constituencies that voted to leave the EU to back her deal, others argued it could backfire, making it harder for MPs to do so.
The initiative has also refocussed attention on funding for those regions, and funding cuts to local government that has hit infrastructure and public services in those regions.
The “Stronger Towns Fund”, launched on Monday, is meant to target areas that had not “shared in the proceeds of growth in the same way as prosperous parts of the country”, the government, as it pointed to towns in the North and the Midlands. The funds would help job-boosting projects in these areas.
However, the focus on regions with Labour constituencies, where in many cases the majority voted to leave, led to suggestions from the Labour Party that it was merely a “desperate” attempt to get votes for her “bad withdrawal agreement”.
Anna Soubry, a critic of the government who left the Conservative Party to become one of the ‘Independent Group’ within Parliament, drew a parallel with £1 billion of extra funding allocated to Northern Ireland when the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland agreed to become the government’s partner in Parliament, following the June 2017 election.
However, as details of the fund, which will be rolled out over the course of a seven-year period, emerged, Labour MPs in northern constituencies signalled their rejection of the value of the deal. Lisa Nandy, a half-Indian Labour MP whose constituency of Wigan voted heavily to leave the EU, pointed to the fact that the funds amounted to just £40 million for towns across the North West of England. “To put it in context, in Wigan alone we’ve had cuts of £134 million since 2010 with more in the pipeline.”
‘Deal could backfire’
Tom Kibasi, director of the prominent IPPR think tank, argued that the initiative, rather than giving Labour MPs “cover’ to back the deal, could actually backfire by highlighting that there was little seriousness in Westminster for tackling the issues raised by the Brexit vote.
“Brexit was supposed to change everything but instead it shows “nothing has changed. It receives the great deceit: humiliation comes from Westminster, not from Brussels,” he wrote on Twitter.