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Johnson pledges more devolution in second trip to the North

Boris Johnson is heading to the North of England claiming he is giving more powers to businesses, elected mayors and other political leaders to boost the region's economy.

But his visit has already been dismissed by senior Labour figures, who claim people in the North suffering from austerity and cuts will not be fooled by "the circus coming to town".

The prime minister also faces a sceptical reception from the North's mostly Labour mayors, who say they want to see "deeds, not words", and more devolution to the English regions.

And he is due to be greeted by a hostile protest during his visit to South Yorkshire from anti-racism campaigners. But there will also as a counter-demonstration by pro-Brexit supporters.

It is the second time in just over a week that Mr Johnson – who is already campaigning to win the votes of Leave-supporting Labour voters in the North in a general election – has visited Yorkshire.

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Last week he launched a police recruitment drive in Wakefield at an event which led to him being criticised by West Yorkshire's chief constable for using trainee officers as a backdrop to a speech about Brexit.

This time, in a speech at a Convention of the North conference, Mr Johnson will pledge to back a proposed Sheffield City Region Deal, a devolution package of funding and decision-making powers.

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He will also back talks for a similar deal with Leeds and West Yorkshire and announce plans for a new Northern Powerhouse growth body to work with government minister Jake Berry, a close ally of the PM.

In his speech, Mr Johnson will say: "It is time that we gave more people a say over the places where they live, and it is time that we gave you the proper ability to run things your way.

"We are going to maximise the power of the North. And we are going to make sure that it is people here who are in control over the things that matter to them."

The PM will claim one of his top domestic priorities will be to give more powers to local leaders to ensure communities are in control of transport, infrastructure and housing.

"If we succeed in levelling up opportunity across our country, and if we truly put the power in your hands, then I believe you will do for the North – and for our whole country – what the railways did two centuries ago," he will say.

"That is the true potential of this Northern Powerhouse Partnership. And this is a government that will back you to deliver it."

SALFORD, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 02:  Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn walks with members of his shadow cabinet (from left) Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long Bailey, Shadow Communities Secretary, Andrew Gwynne and Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office. John Trickett to hold a meeting in Salfordahead of a shadow cabinet meeting on September 02, 2019 in Salford, England. The Labour leader is due to make a major speech in which he will speak about the battle to stop a No Deal Brexit. The weekend saw demonstrations all over the country against Boris Johnson’s move to suspend parliament. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
Image: Labour's shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne is a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn

But the prime minister's visit has already been slammed by senior Labour MPs at Westminster and received a lukewarm welcome from elected mayors.

"No one is going to be fooled by this whistle stop tour and cheap speech when every day, people are living with the consequences of a decade of austerity and cuts to public services," said Labour's shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn.

"People deserve so much better than the circus coming to town. They deserve a Labour government that will provide local councils with the funding they need to deliver the services that communities rely on."

Labour MP Dan Jarvis, who is also mayor of the Sheffield City Region, told The Yorkshire Post: "The new PM and his government must demonstrate commitment to the North and unlock our huge potential – and I want to see this through deeds, not words.

"Whatever happens with Brexit, the government need to be working constructively with northern leaders. We are the people who know our communities, our opportunities and our challenges best."

And Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: "The prime minister needs to stand on the side of genuine devolution, with more powers for mayors like Andy Burnham, Dan Jarvis and their colleagues and deals for areas from Cheshire to much of Yorkshire which have so far missed out entirely.

"Any new growth body for the North should be accountable to and driven by those elected mayors and civic leaders with a genuine mandate to represent the public, and have serious financial powers.

REDCAR, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Labour shadow Justice Minister Dan Jarvis reacts as he speaks with police officers during a visit on January 22, 2015 in Redcar, England. The visit comes on day eight of a nine day national tour ahead of Labour's general election campaign and Mr Jarvis heard about the challenges of providing neighbourhood policing.  (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
Image: Labour MP Dan Jarvis is also the mayor of the Sheffield City Region

"The causes of the Brexit vote in the North were not so much about Europe in many places, but more about feeling a loss of control.

"If the North is to take back control it must be the Northern Powerhouse that shapes its own destiny. However much we trust Jake Berry MP as our voice at the cabinet table, relying on Whitehall to back us and our plans to rebalance the country is not enough."

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and Liverpool city region mayor Steve Rotheram, who are among the mayors attending the conference where Mr Johnson is speaking, are demanding more devolution.

In a joint article in The Times, they wrote: "To get this country working again, there is an urgent need to take power out of Westminster and give it to our great cities and regions.

"We need to build a new, healthier politics that unifies people around place and positive change and delivers practical change for citizens.

"The crisis over Brexit makes this a make or break moment for Northern devolution. 'Take Back Control' may have been directed at Brussels during the referendum campaign but the reality is that many people were also sending the same message to Westminster.

"Whilst central government has been stuck in the Brexit mire, we have used devolution to deliver for our local communities on the things that matter to them."

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Stand Up To Racism has organised a protest outside the venue where Mr Johnson is speaking. A Facebook post said: "Since becoming PM he's made clear that his government will be nasty, racist and right wing."

But the pro-Leave Yorkshire Brexit Action Group has told its supporters on Facebook: "Get down there, show him your support. Let's show our support for Brexit and get down there. Let's show these Remoaners we want it more than they do."

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