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Irony of ICC Birmingham lost on conference Brexiters

Those still following The Brexit, with its protracted cliff-hangers and tortured subplots, were left none the wiser following the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Birmingham this week.

There was Boris Johnson with his flowery language and classical references hoping his empty shtick hadn’t worn thin with the party faithful. There was the party faithful proving it had not.

There was the supporting cast of desperados – foreign secretaries, people of that ilk – playing to half-empty rooms. And there was Theresa May. Dancing. Her arms doing the inverted commas.

On Brexit we moved not an inch closer to knowing What’s Going to Happen.

However avid followers of The Brexit will not have missed the rich irony of this latest patience-sapping instalment. For the action was taking place not just in Birmingham, but specifically at the International Convention Centre, funded mostly by the European Union with a donation of £50m in 1991. The National Exhibition Centre also benefited from EU largesse in the shape of a £30m cheque towards refurbishment.

The impact on the city centre was huge. The ICC led to the creation of a completely new section of the city and the refurbishment of Broad Street into a cosmopolitan, attractive environment. As a direct result of the ICC’s development, Brindley Place was developed commercially, immediately adjacent to the ICC site, providing high-quality residential, office and retail facilities.

Were those cheering BoJo to the rafters oblivious to the other tranches of EU funding that had helped build the city around them? Like the £9.1m sunk into the redevelopment of Masshouse Circus in 2002. Or Millennium Point, the home of the Thinktank Museum and Birmingham City University, completed in 2000 through a £25m investment from the EU, the UK’s largest ERDF funded project at the time. Or the £6m the EU gave to Innovation Birmingham, the former Aston Science Park, which brought high tech jobs to the city, or the £33m social fund grant towards its scheme to get 16,000 youngster into employment.

And when those Brexit loving delegates took their seats on the trains that took them back to Westminster, were they aware, we wondered, of the £66m the EU put towards upgrading the West Coast Mainline?

Brexiters will point, as they always do, to the UK being a net contributor to the EU. It’s just our money being thrown back at us, they will say. But would risk averse governments, with elections to win, have made the same spending commitments?  Without the EU’s funding of the ICC, I’d wager the city wouldn’t be hosting the 350 events a year that add more than £1bn a year to city coffers. So ask yourself this: when Britain finally leaves the EU, where will the funding of infrastructure like Birmingham’s come from? This government? Or any other? That’s the real cliff hanger.