London Mayor Sadiq Khan will today call on the goverment to adopt "qualified" freedom of movement after Brexit as the best way to protect the economic prosperity of London.
Speaking at the Conferederation of British Industry (CBI)'s autumn lunch, Khan will accuse successive governments of "ducking" the issue of immigration, saying that the current approach to look tough at the risk of economic stability is "one of the most severe, irresponsible and selfish mistakes by any political party in decades".
For London and the rest of the country to prosper after the UK leaves the EU, he will argue that barrier-free access to the EU's workforce is "vital".
Since the General Election, the Mayor has argued for continuation of Single Market membership beyond the point that the UK leaves the EU.
Khan said "secure borders" and a "robust" immigration system are essential but claim there is scope to seek qualified freedom of movement under existing treaties. He will also call on Theresa May to drop international students from the annual net migration target "as a matter of urgency", while introducing a post-study work policy that will give international students the chance to work after graduation for 12-24 months.
Although he will stop short of calling for a shortage occupation list, something which the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry this morning called for, he will say that if government is unable to ensure a flexible national migration approach then it should "look at options for allowing London and other regions to deliver this".
Khan will say: “It’s time for us to stand up and make the case for the freedom of movement of people and the benefits it has brought to our economy… Of course, we need a robust, managed immigration system and secure borders. This goes without saying.
“But we also need a system that makes it easier – not harder – to bring in the people from around the world who can help grow our prosperity and create more wealth, jobs and opportunities… Immigration brings new skills and innovation to our shores...
“We’ve failed to explain why economic immigration and the freedom of movement across the EU has been a good thing for our country. Not only economically, but culturally and socially too. I’m not embarrassed to make this case.”
Khan will add: “The government’s non-EU visa system is no longer fit for purpose. The process is slow and laborious. The government likes to say that Brexit is an opportunity to build new relationships with the rest of the world. But why does this need to wait until after Brexit?
“A clear signal of our ambition would be to begin reforming the visa system now.”
Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director general, welcomed the Mayor's stance, urging government to put forward a "pragmatic and determined approach" to Brexit negotiations.
Julia Onslow-Cole, head of global Immigration, PwC and a member of the Mayor’s Brexit Expert Advisory Panel, added: “Businesses see it as essential that London is able to attract and retain a diverse and global workforce. This underpins the success of the City, the benefits are felt across the whole of the UK."
Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of business group London First, said: “Migration contributes a huge amount to London’s success, proven to create jobs and growth. But we’re beginning to see the impact of continued uncertainty, with 33,000 more EU citizens leaving the UK over the past year, and this is a big concern for business. Government must send a positive signal now, unilaterally guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens already living and working here and responding to the plans already put on the table by business to keep our doors open to the people we need.”