The London option: Britain’s EU deal must guarantee our city’s business pre-eminence

Rajesh Agrawal
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London needs a deal that ensures we stay a global pool for talent (Source: Getty)

In my last piece for City A.M., just 10 days after the referendum, I said that, by working together, we can keep London open for business and leading in the world.

Over the past nine weeks, I’ve been meeting as many business leaders as possible, across all sectors, from startups to global corporations. Sadiq Khan and I have been listening and ensuring that we are doing all we can to articulate and respond to the needs of London business.

I’m proud of what Sadiq has achieved so far, including getting the Night Tube running, which will bring great benefits for our night-time economy. Or unblocking the expansion of City Airport, while pressing ahead with major infrastructure projects such as Crossrail 2. Shortly, we’ll be establishing a Business Advisory Board to provide advice from business as we set out to deliver an ambitious economic strategy.

That strategy will, of course, be rooted in the needs of all Londoners. We are determined to build more homes, for example – and we want to make sure we are building homes that help meet the needs of all Londoners.

But there is no question that the result of the referendum is the overwhelming concern for business, and that the political and economic landscape has been fundamentally shaken by the Brexit vote.

As a city we have always looked to the future, and now more than ever we understand that it is vital that we focus not on how we got here, but on how we respond and move forward.

What business leaders tell Sadiq and me – from the Square Mile to Silicon Roundabout – is that they believe in London’s future. New investment continues to flow, including from overseas. And we are consistently reminded why the world’s most talented people have always flocked here to do business: London is a truly global city, with high living standards, the world’s best cultural offering, great transport links, and highly developed trading links not just with our European neighbours, but across the world.

Read more: Brexit: Stronger China ties will buttress London's financial preeminence

But we also hear concern that the government is not yet sufficiently focused on securing a deal which guarantees London’s status as the world’s leading financial centre.

This further highlights the importance of a strong voice for our city in the negotiations – the seat at the table for which Sadiq has called, a request which the government, to its credit, seems to be warm to.

This isn’t a plea to adopt a Norwegian or Swiss-style model. We need a unique British deal, one that befits the size and strength of our economy. Crucially it must protect the ability of our financial and professional services firms to continue doing business across Europe, as they do now under existing passporting and equivalency arrangements, without being bound by regulations over which we have no control.

Another priority must be the protection of our status as the world’s greatest pool of global talent. We need a flexible visa and immigration system that supports growth, recognising the value of foreign workers, and students, to our economy.

Timing is crucial too. The biggest mistake the government could make would be to trigger Article 50 without a clear sense of what our fundamental asks and expectations from a Brexit deal look like. Sadiq cautioned against such haste last night in his speech at the Lloyd’s of London dinner.

There is no doubt that we face challenges. But this is all the more reason to work together for a deal that works for London. With that, alongside the talent and innovation that have always characterised our city, we can be confident that London will remain the best place in the world to do business.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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