Localism without borders

A PWB Webinar in partnership with the
Labour Foreign Policy Group

3 June 2021 – 17:00 BST/18:00 CEST

Rebuilding the United Kingdom’s links with our European neighbours is not simply a task for the Foreign Office. Post 1945 the development of understanding between the UK and its neighbours developed around local initiatives such as town twinning and business partnerships aided by local chambers. In the United States the reaction to Donald Trump’s abandonment of the Paris Climate Agreement involved a number of leading US cities and states picking up the torch, committing themselves to climate action and delivering the Agreement’s goals. Can a similar approach to issues crossing borders such as biodiversity, data ownership, automation and migration help foster locally driven internationalism?

The retreat of the Conservatives into nativist English nationalism leaves Labour-led cities to pick up the challenges of promoting European co-operation and common social goals. Meanwhile the European Union faces the complex challenge of delivering cross-Union goals and attempting to become closer to its citizenry. The role of European Union bodies such as the Committee of the Regions and bodies within and beyond the European Union such as the Council of European Municipalities and Regions and Eurocities can offer the means for UK engagement in the development and implementation of policy, co-operation around best-practice and the practical promotion of values and multilateral action which reaches directly into communities. However, the conundrum remains: cities become more liberal, integrated and affluent, while small towns and rural areas lack critical mass and infrastructure, continue to lose employment and young people, become more conservative and insular. The conundrum is far from solely a UK phenomenon: it is present in the slide toward authoritarian regimes in eastern European states and manifested in US voting patterns. UK local government, beyond the largest cities, struggles to justify spending beyond statutory services in the context of dramatic funding reductions since 2010 and an ongoing squeeze on finance over 30 years. How practical are the existing networks and how do they need to change? What lessons has the Covid world taught us for ensuring that cross-border dialogue is more than an occasional trip? How do the UK’s asymmetric governance structures relate to those in other nation states? What is the role of global networks? How does dialogue reach beyond the major cities – could effectively funded global networks contribute or provide a platform? How successful has environmental co-operation been at city-regional level and what are the lessons for other global transformational challenges? What is the localist progressive agenda around the UNSDGs? Is it time for CoR to take a more formal role in the development of EU policy, and what would this mean for the UK?