Would London be better off separating from the United Kingdom and becoming an independent state? The question might seem, well, theoretical at best – whatever your opinion, it isn’t going to happen any time soon. But there are plenty of good reasons for thinking about it and discussing it, which is why On London and The London Society have joined forces to hold an event doing precisely that.
Just imagine. Instead of living in Great Britain, we Londoners would be citizens of the new nation of Greater London. We might feel sad about being severed from former compatriots in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but we could have a liberal immigration regime and maybe enjoy big benefits.
For example, the elected leaders of our 60% remain majority population would be free to apply to join the European Union. While maintaining our extensive trading relationships with the new, London-less UK we would no longer subside it with up to £40 billion a year in taxes. That money would be collected by our government’s Treasury, not the UK’s, and our government would spend it in London instead of seeing it fund public services and investment in an often ungrateful north and midlands of England and elsewhere.
Independence would set London free to bring about major changes to such as property taxes. These have long been desperately needed and would surely command the support of most Londoners, perhaps especially those many who are living in substandard or unsuitable housing or struggling to make ends meet. A responsive, locally-focused London state would better able to help. Transport for London would never again have to endure hostile micro-management by Whitehall. London’s police service would literally become exactly that.
Of course, there would be problems and conundrums. More than half a century after the current Greater London’s creation, people in some bits of its still don’t feel that they belong. There might be secessionist urges in Havering and Bromley. At the same time, there could be demands from further afield to be absorbed into our newborn nation – they don’t called Brighton Hackney-on-Sea for nothing.
Arrangements would have to be made for the peaceful removal of UK government bodies and institutions to Birmingham, or wherever its new centre of government was to be. And, no hard feelings, but King Charles would have to make some big decisions. Dual nationality could perhaps be considered, but even if an independent London chose to have a monarch, doing that job in two countries would look greedy.
On the lighter side, the new nation of Greater London would set about selecting its flag and national anthem – Waterloo Sunset would surely be any early favourite, though perhaps a brand new song would be commissioned.
One potential satisfying outcome of London becoming an independent city state would have a touch of schadenfreude about it. Accustomed to being derided as the self-satisfied stronghold of a “metropolitan elite”, a lawless “third world shithole” or both, London would be entitled to gently ask its neighbours in an increasingly impoverished and isolated UK how things are going for them without The Great Wen to blame for their troubles.
How does it sound so far? Fun to think about, I hope. But also a bit of a gateway into some deep and serious issues about devolution, the autonomy and powers of London government and the future of the capital’s relationship with the rest of the country.
That is why we have assembled a high-powered panel to explore issues such as those above and no doubt many more.
- Nick Bowes, chief executive of think tank Centre for London.
- Jenna Goldberg, partner and MD (insight) with London Communications Agency.
- Catherine McGuinness, former chair, policy & resources, City of London.
- Tony Travers, visiting professor LSE dept. of government and director, LSE London.
I will be chairing the event. Join us for an evening of serious enjoyment on 6 December 2022. Buy tickets HERE. (discounts available for On London supporters – email firstname.lastname@example.org).