Manchester and Liverpool mayors seek post-Brexit reset in relations amid Irish visit

Trip by Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram follows poor relations due to NI protocol row

The mayors of Manchester and Liverpool will seek a post-Brexit "resetting" of ties with Ireland as they begin a two-day trip to Dublin on Monday.

The visit by Labour mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram comes at a time of poor relations between Ireland and Britain amid the ongoing EU-UK dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol.

Speaking to The Irish Times ahead of the trip, they sought to draw a distinction between their cities in the northwest of England – which have strong social and economic connections to Ireland – and the UK government led by Conservative prime minister Boris Johnson.

Mr Burnham 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 northwest, 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.”

Mr Rotheram said the visit is an opportunity to strengthen links between Ireland and England’s northwest, suggesting: “Brand Liverpool and brand Manchester are probably more of an attraction [in Ireland] than perhaps the UK or certainly an English government.”

Mr Burnham said the trade and cultural mission is “about the northwest of England and Ireland not drifting apart post-Brexit, [about] pulling us both together… resetting things for a new era post-pandemic, post-Brexit.”

The pair are to meet President Michael D Higgins and, virtually, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar among other engagements, before they spend a third day in Belfast.

They will be joined by 15 businesses and former Ireland and Manchester United footballer Denis Irwin, who will act as ambassador during the visit.

Central Statistics Office figures show that Ireland's imports from Britain fell by 13 per cent in 2021 – the first year of new checks on British goods post-Brexit – compared to 2020.

‘Most important trading partner’

Mr Burnham said that before the pandemic, Ireland was “up there with Germany” as Manchester’s “most important trading partner” in the EU. He said he wants to keep that tradition going, and pointed to new opportunities in the tech sector. Mr Rotheram highlighted the “green industrial revolution” and offshore wind power as an area of potential collaboration.

There will also be a meeting with the mayors of Dublin and Belfast to sign a memorandum on co-operation in harnessing green energy from the Irish Sea.

Both politicians are directly elected mayors whose visit to Ireland comes ahead of a Citizens’ Assembly that will soon be debating the merits of bringing in a directly elected mayor for Dublin.

There are already plans for Limerick to have a directly elected mayor after the people there voted in favour of the idea in 2019.

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

He has powers in the areas of transport and housing but wants more control over both areas. According to Mr Burnham the UK was late to having directly elected mayors, but that Ireland is “probably an outlier” in not having such roles.

Mr Rotheram said he would like more flexibility over how money provided by central government could be spent in the Liverpool region.

Having a directly elected mayor, he added, allows a city to “get a bigger bang for our buck” as they can be more “responsive” and “nimble” than what “a national monolith, a great big machine, can do on our behalf”.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times