It would be very tempting to stand here today and point out that back in 2016 Londoners decisively thought Brexit was a bad thing. I could easily highlight how they made that very clear in the ballot box – and since then every development has strongly confirmed that decision – demonstrating how well informed, clever and progressive Londoners truly are. And it is true London voted by 60 per cent in favour of remaining with many boroughs over 70%. However, just highlighting these figures isn’t enough.
In fact, quite frankly being smug is the last thing that Remainers should be, especially if we really want a people’s vote on the final deal. In 2016 the Remain campaign fell into the trap of appearing to merely want to defend the status quo and not to recognise that people were angry over a whole range of issues, including the disconnect with politics at all levels.
I have to say that if you have criticisms of aspects of the European Union, you are not alone. I am a passionate Remainer, but that doesn’t mean I think the EU is perfect. I think the decision making process of the EU could be far more open and in some areas its budgets could be better spent.
I also think the record of some Members of the European Parliament over the years has been abysmal – although if you want to find examples of the worst attendance records and the most appalling abuses of expenses, it has to be said that UKIP MEPs easily succeed in topping that league table.
I further think it is simply bonkers that the European Parliament meets in two different places every month – in both Brussels and Strasbourg. And yes, I think some of the EU activities need to change, most notably the Common Agricultural Policy, where producer interests have too often come first, and not those of consumers and the environment.
However, I make these criticisms, not because I am against the EU, but precisely because I support it and want to see it improve. Just as the most critical supporters of a football team are actually its fans on the terraces, so too some of the most passionate supporters of the EU are also the most critical of certain aspects of its activities.
Tonight I am not suggesting the EU is perfect – far from it.
Tonight I am not suggesting that reform and changes are not needed – they are of course.
However, I am saying that even with its faults the EU provides huge benefits. Its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses.
Yet sadly those benefits are already trickling away from London, even before we have left the EU. Forty per cent of the world’s largest 250 companies have chosen London for their European or global headquarters, and half of them cite our EU membership as the core reason for investing.
Sadly, this is already been undermined due to the prospect of Brexit. Barclays, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and Microsoft are just a few examples of companies that have already decided to expand operations in other European cities, at the expense of London. New York has now overtaken London as the world’s top financial centre, as reported yesterday. And perhaps most embarrassing for the image of London, even Lloyds of London has decided to move jobs out of the capital. It has opened a Brussels subsidiary to help guarantee trading with the EU.
I also want to highlight some of the benefits to London of the European Investment Bank, part of the EU. The Investment Bank borrows money on a commercial basis, and then re-lends at incredibly low interest rates – far lower than even the Public Works Loan Board. I was first alerted to how significant its lending was when, a few years ago, I discovered TfL had entered into a new £1 billion loan with the Bank to support investment in a number of Boris Johnson’s projects, including station upgrades, track renewals and cycle superhighways.
In London it has funded numerous projects including for Crossrail, the East London Line, London Overground, Thameslink and new trains. But also 38 schools in Croydon have more places for children, the Tideway Tunnel cleaning up the Thames and investment in our universities.
Brexit will make transport and infrastructure projects in London far more expensive and sadly some schemes will no longer be viable. This means more overcrowded trains, falling down schools and crumbling public services.
Another downside of Brexit is that London will be a far less safe place. The Met police cooperates with other EU forces through Europol enabling officers to work together on joint investigations; through information sharing across police forces using real-time data on suspects; and of course, through the European Arrest Warrant.
Speed of extradition is a huge benefit. Under the Warrant it takes an average of three months, compared to 10 months for non-EU countries. One of its greatest successes was the London bomber Hussain Osman, returned from Italy in just eight weeks back in 2005. The Warrant has seen a significant number of foreign criminals removed from British soil including those wanted for child sex offences, rape, murder and drug trafficking. Brexit will lose these benefits and access to information that helps keep Londoners safe.
And Brexit will be bad for London because it will harm our families. London is made up of a city with a huge number of EU citizens. They are our neighbours, friends, work colleagues and more often or not they are relatives. For many people in this city their spouses and partners are EU citizens. Of course it is claimed that current EU citizens will be allowed “settled status”. Does anyone really think that a Home Office which shamefully deported people who have been legally resident here since 1950s, as part of the Windrush generation, will suddenly deal efficiently and humanely with these citizenship applications? Just ponder upon that.
My final comment, is when considering Brexit, it is worth looking at who is in favour and who is against –especially on a global stage. The EU has delivered real benefits for its citizens – economic, social and environmental. But in addition it has allowed the voice of EU member states to be heard on the world stage. And it is precisely because of this influence that both Putin in the Kremlin and Trump in the White House have been keen to undermine the EU. Sometimes, if you want to know whether you are on the right side of an argument, you need to take a look at those who are on your team!
London is an outward-looking city. London is a city which has benefited greatly from trading, welcoming visitors, and attracting investment within the EU. London is a city which benefits greatly from having the same language as north America, but the same time zone as western Europe and the benefits of full access to the EU.
Brexit is already leading to stalled investment and job losses from the capital. That is a fact. And that impacts on the whole UK economy given the contribution London makes in taxation.
London will be poorer because of Brexit. London’s infrastructure will stall. And London will be a less safe place. If you were a Leave voter in 2016 I respect your decision. But I hope for the sake of our city and country that you are now changing your mind.