A plan to save London from Brexit: special London-only work permits for Europeans

It’s morning in London, or so Sadiq Khan hopes.
It’s morning in London, or so Sadiq Khan hopes.
Image: Reuters/Toby Melville
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Britain has not yet begun its long (and likely tortuous) process of leaving the European Union. Its terms of exit from the bloc are still unclear, and ever since the vote, uncertainty has hovered over the future of London’s coveted status as a European business hub.

Enter Sadiq Khan, just months into his job as mayor of London, and himself a backer of Britain staying in the EU. (Londoners voted around 60% in favour of remaining—in some districts more than 75%.) Khan confirmed this week that his office is hammering out plans for a separate London-only work permit to ensure the city can continue to attract and recruit European workers after Britain leaves the EU.

Speaking to Sky News, he said:

We are talking to business leaders, businesses, business representatives to see what we can do to make sure London doesn’t lose out on the talent, the innovation, the partnership that has let us be the greatest city in the world.

The good news is the Government gets it. The good news is in all the conversations I’ve had with members of the Government, from the Chancellor to the Brexit Secretary to the Foreign Secretary and others in Government, I think they get it.

One proposal, according to The Times (paywall), is to give councils, trade associations, and unions more power in deciding which skills are most needed in different regions. Visas could then be issued based on this need.

Since June 24, Khan has repeatedly said that London should be represented during Brexit negotiations around trade deals and free movement, and has stressed that Britain must retain access to the single market. Soon after the referendum result came out Khan praised London’s almost 1 million European immigrants for their contribution to the city, and in July followed up with a #LondonIsOpen campaign to encourage visitors and reassure investors. (He has not, however, thrown his weight behind more offbeat suggestions, such as a petition to declare London independent.)

His proposals for a London-only work permit are well-timed. A survey out this week from KPMG found that three-quarters of CEOs in Britain are considering moving their operations out of the UK post-Brexit. And France has redoubled its efforts to lure firms away from London, offering them a swift registration process that can be conducted entirely in English.