WATCH: Burnham slams PM devolution comments and calls for federal UK

Elliot Chappell

Andy Burnham has called for the UK to adopt a more federal model of government as he criticised the Prime Minister over his comments that “devolution has been a disaster north of the border” and was Tony Blair’s “biggest mistake”.

In an interview with Sky News this morning, the mayor of Greater Manchester described the country as “London-centric” and argued that the UK is divided as a result of the disproportionate focus on the capital.

Commenting on remarks made by Boris Johnson during a meeting with Conservative northern research group MPs, Burnham said: “I was a little worried by it, Kate, to be honest.

“He seemed to be talking about devolution north of the border but even so it’s not a particularly helpful comment. It just adds fuel to the fire for those calling for independence, as far as I can see.

“And if the Prime Minister is saying that devolution per se is a disaster, that’s something we really don’t want to hear in Greater Manchester because we live in a very London-centric country.

“It’s why it’s a very divided country and actually what we need is more devolution so that more places like Greater Manchester can be masters of their own destiny and not always subject to the London-centric policies that come out of Westminster…

“The time has come for a more federal UK where we take more power out of Westminster, put it closer to people, and I think that in the long run will strengthen the country and build a better way of doing politics.”

The comments from the mayor follow reports that emerged after the Prime Minister’s meeting with the group of around 60 Tory MPs on Monday evening. Politicians from across the political spectrum have reacted angrily to the comments.

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross said: “Devolution has not been a disaster. The SNP’s non-stop obsession with another referendum — above jobs, schools and everything else — has been a disaster.”

Shadow Scotland Secretary Ian Murray declared: “This confirms that Boris Johnson doesn’t believe in devolution and would put the future of the UK at risk.

“His government should have been working in partnership with the devolved governments during this crisis. Instead, people across the UK have been paying the price for his failings.

“Devolution is one of Labour’s proudest achievements and we will always fight for a strong Scotland in the UK. Scotland deserves better than two governments obsessed by division – Labour will work to bring our country together.”

Downing Street issued a clarification just hours after reports of the initial comments surfaced: “The Prime Minister has always supported devolution but Tony Blair failed to foresee the rise of separatists in Scotland.

“Devolution is great — but not when it’s used by separatists and nationalists to break up the UK.”

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