"London is open”.
This much-publicised campaign, launched by mayor of London Sadiq Khan and garlanded with column inches and broadcast coverage, is doing a great job of communicating the fact that the world’s greatest city wants nothing to do with the protectionism that seems to be appearing elsewhere in the world. We stand as a monument to the benefits of internationalism and openness.
This openness, demonstrated across our nation, is a strength dating back centuries. We have always welcomed those who want to come here, work hard and contribute to society and the economy. Of London’s 5m workers, 2m come from overseas. And of that 2m, over half are from the EU.
The Square Mile is no exception. Thirty-two per cent of City employees are from overseas, and the heads of some of our biggest institutions hail from the continent: from the likes of Xavier Rolet at the London Stock Exchange to António Horta Osório at Lloyds.
This matches the figures found in sectors such as construction, while the creative, catering and hospitality industries have figures above 50 per cent, rising to near 80 per cent in some instances. Clearly, London wouldn’t be the same without them.
We also welcome temporary visitors who want to sample London’s unique openness for themselves. Only five years ago we hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games, a celebration of sport which showcased the best of British: our diversity, our prosperity and our position as one of the world’s most welcoming countries. On top of that, in 2015, London attracted 31.5m tourists – a record number and a 20 per cent increase on five years ago – making the capital one of the most visited cities on earth.
But to many it might seem that that welcoming sparkle of the UK has faded a little. EU migrants who pay their taxes and contribute to society still aren’t sure whether they will be allowed to stay after the UK exits the European Union.
We need the government to provide clarity for EU nationals as a matter of priority. Not only for the workers who are here at the moment, but also for those who might consider working here in the future. How will we attract top talent and internationally-coveted skills if we send out the wrong message?
Part of my job is to convey this “open” message when I travel overseas. Having just returned from Nepal and Pakistan, I am now gearing up for an important policy and business trip to China, Hong Kong and Korea next week. I will tell their respective governments and business leaders that, contrary to what we are seeing across the Atlantic, the UK wants international businesses, investors and skilled workers to come here and be part of the most open and dynamic city in the world. You might say that I’m taking “London is open” on the road.
The international reception so far has been heartening. But I’m confident that with our reputation for an international, optimistic outlook, it will get even better.