Brexit could end up stalling Cumbria’s bid to cut back its councils, it has been claimed.

The UK’s tangled departure from the EU may take up too much parliamentary attention in 2019,  according to Cumbria County Council leader Stewart Young.

Councillor Young said: “Whether with Brexit and everything going on that this unitary issue will move on very quickly this year, we’ll have to wait and see. Brexit seems to have sucked all of the oxygen out of parliament.”

Last month, Coun Young won vital backing from the full 84-seat county council and his Labour-Liberal Democrat cabinet to approach the Government expressing an interest in unitary talks.

That is despite opposition from the districts.

A unitary plan could see Cumbria’s six districts councils in Barrow, South Lakeland, Eden, Carlisle, Allerdale and Copeland, and the county council cut back to one or two.

That could lead to the loss of potentially thousands of local council jobs and wipe 200 councillors off the county’s electoral map.

Coun Young has written to James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Local Government and told him the current situation is neither “sustainable or desirable”.

Coun Young said: “I will be happy to meet with James Brokenshire. There is no point us doing a load of work on the options if there’s no possibility of it happening.

"The next steps do require the Secretary of State to take the initiative. It’s on the Government now and it has to come from them.

“I haven’t tried to rehearse all the arguments for and against unitaries, but if you take Northamptonshire for example, he issued a directive that they had to have two unitary authorities and that they would come into force in April 2020.

"One of the district councils down there objected and have asked for it to be extended, and again it’s only the Secretary of State who can do that.”

Coun Young said Cumbria’s bid for a unitary would not be made under Cities and Local Government and Devolution Act – which has a clause which closes applications at the end of March.

Instead, the council plans to use previous legislation which remains in force.

It has been estimated that if all of Cumbria’s councils were reduced to one, £24 million would be saved. If the seven councils are cut back to two it could save £14 million.