As Politicians line up to appear on our TV screens to explain how we should vote on 23rd June to satisfy their view of the world or at least of Europe, there are other decisions being taken about parts of our nation which will have a significant impact on our lives, yet these discussions are currently taking place behind closed doors. The leaders of a number of local authorities in East Sussex, West Sussex and Surrey are meeting with Government Ministers to decide on something which one local MP described as “devolution to rural areas”. This will lead to a major change in the way in which our area will be run, and yet for residents of Brighton & Hove, we have no stake nor any say in these arrangements. The idea that residents of Lewes District in Falmer, or of Mid Sussex in Ditchling, or of Adur in Shoreham could form part of a new political structure that would extend from the Brighton border to include all of Surrey and Sussex, taking in Gatwick Airport, the Ports of Newhaven and Shoreham, with powers and finances to the tune of many £M’s devolved from Central Government, whilst Brighton & Hove would remain as an isolated un-devolved location seems completely barmy. Yet at present that is precisely what is being proposed and decided upon. Indeed the discussions are so secretive that the MP concerned, Nusrat Ghani, MP for Wealden was speaking on 21st March and went on to ask “Local people know their areas best, so they know best how to run their affairs. I would welcome an update from the Minister on how this is progressing.” Sadly for Ms Ghani and indeed for the 120,000 residents of Wealden, there was no answer from the Minister.
One of the problems with referenda is that the power and influence lies exclusively with those that get to set the questions, and the scope of who gets to vote. When the Scottish Referendum took place it was clear that the end of the Union would have impacted those of us without a vote as much as those with a vote. The same is true of the UK referendum on Europe. Whatever the impact on the UK of a leave or remain, the rest of the EU will also be affected, and indeed so will the rest of the world. Hence the comments by President Obama, even though many childish commentators appear to think he should keep quiet. If Surrey and Sussex gain devolved status from the Government, whilst we in Brighton remain outside of the devolved organisation, we will clearly be a great deal worse off, unable to influence the decisions being taken by the Mayor for the devolved area, yet entirely dependent on what he or she does decide. Yet there is no prospect of us being consulted on this matter. By the same token the residents of the rest of Sussex and Surrey will not be given the chance to determine if they would rather be linked to us. We all need to be better engaged with this process than is currently the case.