The Conspicuous Absence of Local Government during the EU Referendum Campaign

Christopher Huggins

The voice of local government during the EU referendum campaign was largely absent. This is surprising given the impact of the EU on English local government. Local authorities are responsible for the implementation of 70% of EU policy. They are main beneficiary of the EU's Structural and Investment Funds. EU rules, such as on procurement and state aid, affect the delivery of local services. Local authorities are also heavily engaged at the European level, both formally through recognition in the Committee of the Regions, and informally through Brussels offices to lobby EU institutions and in transnational networking with other localities to access EU funding, influence EU policy and share policy innovation with European partners. Local government was therefore heavily invested in the outcome of the referendum, yet the local dimension to the UK's relationship with the EU was overlooked while the campaign was dominated by discussions on national sovereignty, immigration, economic prosperity and international trade. Drawing on centralization, local leadership and local level Europeanization literatures, this paper explores why one of the most Europeanized parts of the British polity struggled to find a voice and was largely absent from the EU referendum campaign.

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