Nigel Farage believes in plain speaking. Well the UKIP leader now has a rival in that department. Manuel Barroso, the outgoing European Commission President has spelt it out for David Cameron as he seeks to appease UKIP over immigration.


An arbitrary cap on immigrants from eastern Europe would fall foul of the Lisbon Treaty of 2007 and the original Rome Treaty of 1957, Barroso said. So David Cameron would need a treaty change. The Polish ambassador to the UK has said Poland would veto such a change. Therefore Cameron would fail in the negotiations and would be under enormous pressure to campaign to come out of the EU. If he refused then Boris Johnson or the ambitious Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond would be eager to replace him and back a better off out campaign. Under those circumstances it is a racing certainty the British people would vote to come out.


I have believed for a long time that it is more likely than not that a referendum would lead to us leaving the EU, so it is time for business, small, medium and large to start speaking up and spelling out the serious consequences of our withdrawal for jobs.


Pressure is building up in the Labour Party for a switch in their position. It is one of the few principled stands that I admire Ed Miliband for. However MPs are in despair at his poll ratings and some want to grasp at offering an EU referendum in a desperate effort to improve their chances of winning next May. The close shave in the Heywood and Middleton by election has only added to the pressure. There is even talk of a northern Labour MP defecting to UKIP.




The City Growth Commission this week increased the pressure on the government to give more power and money to city regions. The Chancellor is expected to make an announcement in the Autumn Statement. Greater Manchester is preparing a partial back down in its opposition to Mr Osborne’s demand for an elected mayor for the conurbation. They are set to name Lord Smith of Wigan as leader of the Combined Authority. It is far short of the directly elected accountability that the government rightly demand but it may be enough for now.


If the Chancellor hands over 90% of business rates to cities like Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, the vision of a northern powerhouse will begin to take shape. But what about the rest of the north? I was at an event in Lancaster this week where the economy of north Lancashire and Cumbria was under discussion. Places like Lancaster, Workington and Carlisle struggle to retain their talented youngsters who are drawn to the big cities. They also suffer from the scrapping of the regional spatial strategies that used to provide a framework for economic investment. Similar issues arise in North Yorkshire and the Humber.


So as we power up our big cities, we also need to convince the government that the whole North needs support from an overarching Council of the North





I met Gordon Brown this week for the first time since he was Prime Minister. He is in many ways Britain’s Richard Nixon. Both clever men with a passion for what politics can achieve. Each had a towering achievement. Nixon’s was the breakthrough between the United States and Red China. Brown’s was keeping our cash machines open in October 2008 and leading the world as it reeled from the collapse of Lehman Brothers. But both men’s periods in office ended disastrously partly because they saw enemies around every corner, enemies that had to be crushed.

For the last four years Brown has largely disappeared from front line politics. He has a role with the United Nations but is rarely seen at Westminster. Indeed in a speech this week to Commons correspondents he made a joke of it. He spoke of needing a tour guide and taking the new members induction course. Dangerous stuff, many think he should have left the Commons on ceasing to be Prime Minister as Tony Blair did.

But as one reporter observed, little has changed since Brown’s time in No 10. We still have senior Cabinet Ministers at each others throats and special advisers resigning.

Brown was anxious to point out that he wasn’t seeking to return to the limelight except to be “a foot soldier” in the campaign against Scottish independence.

There has been speculation as to why Brown has, so far, kept a low profile in the debate. Perhaps it was because the Better Together campaign is headed by Alistair Darling who faced the “forces of Hell” when as Brown’s Chancellor he accurately forecast the coming economic meltdown in the summer of 2008.

We will see whether Brown the foot soldier can keep from standing on people’s toes in the coming weeks. His suggestion that the Prime Minister should debate with Alex Salmond has not gone down well. The role of the Conservative Party in the “No” campaign is really tricky. Better Together fear that as the prospect of the Tories being the largest party after the 2015 General Election rises, so does support for independence. So David Cameron has the dilemma of wanting to put his Prime Ministerial authority behind keeping the UK united without helping Salmond to claim that Scotland keeps getting governments it doesn’t vote for.

Brown is clearly unimpressed with the Better Together campaign’s tactics so far. He says they need to avoid it becoming a British politicians v Scotland issue. Scottish identity is not at issue, nor is the existence of the Scottish Parliament with more devolution on the way. All that has been granted. What this is about is severing all links with the UK.

Despite the latest polls showing 58% support for “No” against 42% Yes, Brown fears that if we don’t wake up, Scottish independence could still happen.

Gordon Brown was always more sympathetic to Northern devolution than Tony Blair. That enthusiasm has not diminished. He warned this week that there could be more constitutional turmoil, even if Scotland rejects independence, unless English regions are given more power. He regretted that the Coalition had not taken the opportunity to address these issues as well as Scottish independence.

I wonder why that choice was made by David Cameron. It was because the Scots, and the Welsh, get their act together and demand devolution.

That’s what we need to do starting at Downtown’s Northern Revolution conference next month.