Manchester and Liverpool mayors seek to ‘reset’ post-Brexit ties with Ireland

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The trip comes at a low point in Anglo-Irish relations following the acrimony of the Brexit process and ongoing dispute between London and Brussels over the Northern Ireland protocol. Speaking to the Irish Times before the trip, mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham drew a distinction between Manchester and Boris Johnson’s Conservative Government at Westminster.

He said: “When people in Westminster speak, they don’t always speak for us.

“I can imagine how in Ireland some people might think that they do, or they might think, ‘What’s happened to the north-west, has it changed’.

“Obviously, we’re coming over to say that we haven’t changed. We don’t want to see some of the nonsense in national politics disrupt our relationship with Ireland.

“The north-west of England and Ireland not drifting apart post-Brexit, [about] pulling us both together… resetting things for a new era post-pandemic, post-Brexit.”

Also speaking to The Irish Times, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region Steve Rotherham said that the trip was an opportunity to strengthen links between the two north-western English cities and Ireland.

He also argued that they may be more popular than the Conservative Government in Ireland.

He said: “Brand Liverpool and brand Manchester are probably more of an attraction [in Ireland] than perhaps the UK or certainly an English Government.”

The mayors will meet Irish President Michael D Higgins as well as Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar virtually before moving on to spend Wednesday in Belfast.

They are due to be joined by 15 businesses as well as former Republic of Ireland and Manchester United footballer Dennis Irwin, who will act as an ambassador during the visit.

Ireland’s imports from Britain fell by 13 percent in 2021, which is the first year of new checks on British goods post-Brexit, in comparison to 2020, according to the Irish Central Statistics Office.

Mr Burnham emphasised that before the coronavirus pandemic Ireland was “up there with Germany” as Manchester’s main trading partner.

This is something the mayor made clear he wants to establish and pointed to opportunities for collaboration in the tech sector. 

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Mr Rotherham pointed to the “green industrial revolution” as well as offshore wind power as an area of potential collaboration.

They will also meet the mayors of Dublin and Belfast to sign an agreement on cooperation in relation to harnessing green energy.

Although the mayors of both cities are elected politicians, they aren’t directly elected unlike Mr Burnham and Mr Rotherham.

Their visit comes as a Citizens Assembly is due to be held in Dublin to debate the merits of establishing a directly elected mayor in the city after voters in Limerick backed the idea in 2019.

Mr Burnham said directly elected mayors in Manchester and Liverpool had given both cities a “louder voice” than they previously had in a “very London-centric country”.

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