Sara John: the facts show that Londoners have gained from the EU

Sara John: the facts show that Londoners have gained from the EU

I’m Sara John, a lawyer working in advocacy for Best for Britain. I am not Andrew Adonis, but I am just as passionate as he is about Brexit. I don’t believe that any form of Brexit will be good for London. And most Londoners don’t think so either.

Two years ago, London voted 60-40 per cent to stay in the EU. Only five out of 32 London Boroughs voted to leave: Barking & Dagenham, Bexley, Sutton, Bromley and Havering. Londoners will make the best of Brexit. But don’t expect us to believe in it. We still hope it won’t happen.

Our recent Brexit Shift Report, published last month in partnership with Hope not Hate, showed that Britain as a whole would now vote to stay in the EU by 53 per cent  to 47 per cent. And London would vote to stay by a margin even bigger than before.

A 13.8 point swing has changed Margaret Hodge’s seat in Barking from Leave to 51.5 per cent Remain. Wes Streeting’s Ilford North seat is now majority Remain, as is Boris Johnson’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat. Momentum is moving away from Brexit as we get closer to losing the great deal we have now.

Our Mayor, Sadiq Khan, campaigned for London to stay in the EU and would still favour a People’s Vote on the deal. If we get a deal. Our previous Mayor used to like the EU too. In 2013 Boris Johnson wanted us “to be able to trade freely with our European friends and partners” and he claimed to be the most pro-immigration politician in the country.

He didn’t stop there! A year later, in November 2014, he admitted that: “Most of our problems are not caused by Brussels, but by chronic British short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills and a culture of easy gratification and under-investment.” 

Well he should know I suppose! That quote is more honest than anything Boris has said since about Brexit.

The EU has been a useful scapegoat for politicians and sections of our media. It has been unfairly castigated for everything from its (false) desire to dictate the shape of bananas, to “over regulation of industry” that actually gave us cleaner rivers, paid holiday entitlement and safer, healthier places to work.

I have lost count of the number of politicians who have said to me over the past two years that they wish they had done more to stand up for the EU and not breezily taken credit for Europe’s good initiatives while blaming Brussels for anything unpopular.

We need more of this honesty. Facts matter. And the facts show that we have all benefited from EU membership – even in those areas of the country which voted for Brexit two years ago. There is plenty wrong with our country. But we can’t solve our problems by blaming the EU.

So. What has the EU ever done for us? An app called can tell you about one thing. Search by UK postcode and find out exactly what has been done in your local area. There is such a thirst for facts now that this new app went viral after its launch last Sunday – with 100,000 visits in the first 48 hours. The interactive app was built by volunteers inspired by a weekend hackathon organised by Best for Britain and Tech for UK. It details how and where £5 bn was invested by the EU in Britain last year.  

In Havering – 70% leave in 2016 – MyEU tells us that more than £2m was given last year to projects for farmers, £4m for research and £5m to create jobs in and around Romford. The app also enables you write to the local MP to let them know too. Armed with facts like these we are now finally starting to have the debate we should have had before the referendum.

And what else should we be talking about? London’s creative industries perhaps? Worth 6 per cent of the UK’s GDP and an invaluable component of our “soft power”. For these industries – music, books, games, fashion – the world is their market, not just the EU. This is not an either/or, as some Brexiters suggest. They have definitely benefited from membership of a single market of 500 million people on their doorstep. So 96 per cent of people in this sector voted to stay in it.

And London’s creative industries are still struggling to understand how making access to their nearest market more difficult and expensive will help them to become more global. Many are looking to relocate. Broadcasters for example. The UK is currently the preferred location for companies broadcasting to other EU member states. Roughly 400 international TV services worth £1bn a year and supporting one in five jobs in UK broadcasting are based here, many in London.

Market conditions are good – with a stable regulatory regime, skilled workers, excellent facilities London has been an ideal base. But how will pan European broadcasting work after Brexit?

The EU’s Country of Origin principle – set out in the Audio-Visual Media Services Directive – creates a common area for broadcasters transmitting from one EU member state to others across the single market. But if Brexit happens, and we leave the single market, the UK will no longer be able to broadcast from here on a pan-European basis. London will lose its status as a major TV broadcasting hub.

A new type of company is now popping up in entrepreneurial London, consultancies with a business plan to help broadcasters and others relocate to other parts of the EU. One I know about (EMP) has produced a country by country guide to broadcast regulation and has found several EU countries keen to offer incentives to attract broadcasters from the UK. The top five are Ireland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Malta and Estonia. All are competing to become the EU’s main TV industry hub in place of the UK.

Over 60 per cent of London’s companies have already made post Brexit contingency plans. Many involve a significant part of their business leaving London for pastures new. Don’t think this can’t be done. Netflix already operates out of Amsterdam.

And only yesterday London lost its crown as the world’s top financial centre to New York. London slipped into second place as Brexit has prompted many banks to shift thousands of jobs out of the city.

This picture is repeated over and over in other sectors. London is a service-based economy. We need freedom of movement for talented people to come and go. We prosper most by being diverse. Without these things it may not be Armageddon, but there will be a gradual, steady transfer of jobs and influence away from London to a more welcoming environment.

This is not just a problem for business or our standing in the world. London is all about embracing and respecting other cultures; a collective mind-set which we want to preserve, and one which feels at odds with Brexit. London has always embraced globalism. Our music, our artists, our influences and our audiences are multi-cultural, and we like it that way.

In London we believe in a world based on communication, collaboration and celebration of difference. How can the Brexit of Nigel Farage ever deliver that?

Other speeches at the debate were given by the pro-Brexit Daniel Moylan and the anti-Brexit Caroline Pidgeon. Follow Sara John on Twitter.

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