On 8 June, the electorate sent a clear and simple message: a rejection of the government’s misguided plans for an extreme hard Brexit.
Before the election, the government was driving at breakneck speed towards a cliff edge – an exit from the European Union that would mean crashing out of the Single Market without either a free trade deal or any kind of transitional arrangement in place.
What is now clear is that voters in London and across much of the rest of Britain do not want to follow that path to unnecessary economic turmoil. It’s time to apply the handbrake.
The General Election result has moved the goalposts, and now the government must respect the will of the British people. That means negotiating and securing a jobs-first Brexit, with continued access to the benefits of frictionless trade in goods and services, access to European talent, and movement of data.
In practice, that must mean continued membership of the Single Market. I spend much of my time speaking to businesses, both large and small, and it’s clear to me that membership of the Single Market is the only way in which to ensure we can protect jobs, growth, and investment in our great city.
Admittedly, Single Market membership post-Brexit is not up to Britain alone, and would require agreement from the EU. But given the significance of the UK in general, and London in particular, for our European trade partners, there is reason to believe this is not only possible, but desirable for all sides.
London is a global powerhouse with a pre-eminent position as a capital for business, culture, innovation and openness which has developed over time and is built on strong foundations. This will not change after Brexit. But, unlike ministers, we cannot go around with our heads buried in the sand.
Naturally, many businesses have developed, and are beginning to execute, contingency plans to move certain functions and small numbers of staff into Europe. But the real competition to London comes from further afield – from cities like New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore, which aspire to take our global financial crown.
Our growing status as a global technology hub too must be protected. These challenges are real – it’s something we have to face up to, but I’m confident London will continue to thrive as an open, diverse and inclusive global city. The commitment from Amazon, announced earlier this week, to open its new headquarters in London is testament to that. But we need to make the case relentlessly to government – and indeed to our European neighbours.
One of the other key asks from London businesses post-Brexit is access to talent. Our economy needs and relies on a growing, talented and diverse labour force to thrive. Migration is crucial for the capital’s economy, with 616,000 people born elsewhere in Europe currently working in London – 12.5 per cent of the entire workforce. That is why both the mayor Sadiq Khan and I have called on the government to give a cast-iron guarantee to those EU nationals that they can stay after Brexit and continue contributing to the success of our city.
We held a summit earlier this month at City Hall, where we discussed how London must have a flexible system to attract the talent we need to remain the best city in the world to do business, and also what can be done to make it easier for high-skilled workers from outside of Europe to come to Britain.
These are the conversations we must be having, and that means listening to businesses and listening to Londoners about what they want from Brexit to ensure our capital remains competitive and ready to meet the imminent challenges ahead. It’s the approach the government must also adopt. It must listen, rather than thinking ministers know best, to the will of the people and to secure a jobs-first Brexit, with continued membership of the Single Market.
Now is the time for them to step back from the brink and act in the best interests of London and the country.