Mark Whitehead 30 January 2019

Local government and Brexit: a steady hand is needed

With just a few weeks to go, holding your breath and hoping for the best might seem an appropriate response to Brexit. Amid dire warnings of 'crashing out' with no deal and 'driving over a cliff', it can feel as though Armageddon is approaching.

This week's £56m allocation to local government to cover extra costs will have brought some reassurance.

It may prove to be much-needed because local authorities will be in the front line if things don't go smoothly.

Some, with ports within their boundaries, could be particularly hit by potential disruption to freight supply chains. But others could be affected by secondary effects of the historic break with the EU.

There can be few times when the nation has been more deeply divided with such strong feelings on either side.

Amid all the parliamentary wrangling over the scope of a deal with Brussels, Brexiteers are confident the withdrawal will go ahead one way or another.

But on the other side some Remainers, even at this stage, are arguing that Brexit should not take place at all. Even to the point of suggesting a kind of civil disobedience. 'Scotland should not and will not be dragged out of the EU', the SNP leader in the House of Commons warned.

It's a recipe for civil strife when push might literally come to shove. No wonder the Government recently announced it was putting 3,500 troops on standby for Brexit Day on 29 March.

Most commentators accept there will be some disruption whatever kind of deal – or no deal – eventually wins favour.

But the dislocation could last some time after Departure Day. If, under worst case scenarios, costs rise, businesses close and unemployment starts going up, the effects could be much more far-reaching.

Councils will need to deal with much of the longer-term social problems if things go as badly as some predict.

There are, of course, those who see such nightmare scenarios as a continuation of 'project fear'. The British are above all pragmatic and will find ways round any difficulties caused by Brexit, and, with EU red tape lifted at last, the country will find itself wealthier and more successful before too long.

No-one can predict how things will go in the weeks leading up to Brexit and beyond.

But one thing is for sure: the steady hand of local government will be needed to make sure all remains as calm as possible while the country goes through a fundamental and potentially cataclysmic change.

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