Conservative mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith has hit back at Labour attacks on his business record, defending his positions on Heathrow expansion, the European Union and the role of business in the capital.
The Richmond Park MP told City A.M. in an interview yesterday: “I don't think we've ever had a Labour party that is more hostile to business, big or small, than the Labour party of today.”
"As a candidate, as an MP, as a mayor I want London to be as open to business as it can be," he added.
Goldsmith was responding to comments made last week by former shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, who called Goldsmith a “threat to London jobs and businesses” and cited Goldsmith’s previous comments on Heathrow airport and the European Union.
Goldsmith, a long-time opponent of a third runway at Heathrow, said: “It seems extraordinary to me that anyone would propose the costs associated with Heathrow expansion, when we know that the gains in the most optimistic scenario are no more than 12 additional international routes.”
“The economic case has disintegrated,” he said, adding, “I would politely recommend to Chuka that he reads the [Airports Commission’s] report, [and that] he seeks to understand the issue before taking a view, as any good politician should.”
Goldsmith has vowed to resign from his Richmond Park seat and trigger a by-election if the government supports expansion at the west London airport – a decision that is expected to come as soon as next month.
On Europe, Goldsmith, a self-described Eurosceptic, said: “I think it would be completely irresponsible and reckless to say that you want to stay in Europe no matter what terms, no matter what the reforms look like.”
But he added that he is a “reformer” and would vote for the UK to stay “in” the European Union if Prime Minister David Cameron “comes back with a meaningful programme of reforms”. Goldsmith said that he is “much more confident” in the Prime Minister’s renegotiation efforts than he was a few months ago, saying: “Europe is a mess at the moment.”
“The fact that the polls in the UK suggest that the number of people who want to vote to come out has grown considerably has strengthened the Prime Minister’s hand in negotiations,” Goldsmith added.
Calling the government’s current immigration policy “perverse” and “political more than anything”, Goldsmith also said that the UK needs to “rethink free movement of people within Europe” in order to have a “less inward-looking immigration policy”.
He said that while he welcomed some regulations, such as a limit on the number of licenses issued, any market interventions had to be “sensible” and “people have to be able to understand why they’re being brought in.”
“Things like the five-minute pause, I don’t think any customers going to understand why there is a cab hanging around nearby and they have to wait five minutes.”
A recent poll put Goldsmith neck-and-neck with his Labour opponent Sadiq Khan, with 28 per cent of people saying Goldsmith would “make the best mayor of London” and 29 per cent backing Khan.