To Brits, London can often seem like another country inside England. It’s wealthier, more cosmopolitan, and the restaurants are way better. And now London’s mayor Sadiq Khan plans to open the gap yet further, by offering London-only visas for foreign workers.
The visas are Khan’s attempt to fix one of Brexit’s biggest potential disasters. If immigration is curtailed, London will lose access to the free flow of foreign talent that drives its business and industry. Unlike the rest of England, Londoners voted to remain in the EU, with 60% of the vote, reaching almost 80% in some boroughs.
One of Brexit’s key objectives is to curb immigration, including the free movement within Europe for citizens of member states, which lets Europeans move to any country and get a home and and job. London doesn’t want this, and Khan is in the early stages of working out a special deal for London, allowing it to keep bringing in talent. It wouldn’t be quite the level of freedom enjoyed now, but it’s better than the insular world planned for the rest of the U.K.
And England’s government seems to agree. “The good news is the Government gets it,” Khan told Sky News. “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.”
Cities are the first line when it comes to dealing with both immigrants and refugees, and it can be argued that they should be given much more power to organize themselves. Immigration law is almost always determined at the national level, and yet cities are much better equipped to meet the needs of incoming people.
Many Londoners want to go even further, leaving the rest of Britain behind and declaring their home a City State (with the catchy hashtag #londependence). That seems unlikely as long as the country’s government is based in town, but London needs to do something. Currently it’s a truly international city, like New York. But by cutting off its access to the best of the world’s entrepreneurs and workers, the U.K. might be destroying its only international advantage.
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