Today the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has launched a campaign telling the world that London is ‘still open for business’. He has announced a Twitter hashtag: #LondonisOpen. It’s an odd campaign, echoing the ‘Britain is open for business’ line that George Osborne was trying to peddle before being sacked. The premise seems to be that the Brexit vote was a disaster, but one we can recover from if we grit our teeth and adopt the spirit of the blitz. But the only people who thought that Brexit would somehow not mean being open for business were Osborne, Khan and others advocating Project Fear. Their gloom was outvoted by the optimism of Vote Leave.
I’m sure that Mr Khan is very well-intentioned. But he’d do better to admit that Brexit was the biggest possible declaration that London – and the rest of the UK – is very much open for business. And, crucially, open to global business, not just EU business. Millions of Brits had grown tired of being hemmed in by a protectionist Little Europe, and now want to cut trade deals with the world. Brexit was a vote of a globally-minded people to raise their sights to more distant horizons.
And the signs of post-Brexit financial disaster? London houses are becoming cheaper, at long last. But jobs? Reed, a recruitment specialist, said at the weekend that demand for new staff has flourished since the referendum. It has added 150,000 more jobs to its website in the past three weeks, compared with the same period last year. There are 15,000 more jobs in London alone. James Reed, its chairman, puts it well:
‘If a drop in confidence begins to feed through I think we’d be the first to see it. We were the first to see the jobs recovery after the financial crisis because people advertise jobs that only later come through in Government statistics.’
Even the FT’s weekly doomometer shows John Lewis weekly sales up and overall high street footfall up by about 4 per cent. A survey of graduate recruiters shows that ‘just 5 per cent said they would reduce their hiring at this stage.’ It’s apocalypse-not-quite-yet.
Sadiq Khan would do more to help his fellow Londoners by adopting a hashtag like #LondonisGlobal and explaining that the Brexit vote was a move to break free of EU parochialism and to do more business with the rest of the world. In fact, Khan rather embodies the global nature of Britain’s links. His parents came here from Pakistan, a Commonwealth country to which we can (hopefully) get far closer to now on trade deals and more. Hopefully, we can soon abolish the awful requirements that non-EU migrants must earn £35,000 a year or be booted out. And hopefully do a free trade deal with the US.
Brexit was, above all, a vote of confidence in Britain. Sadiq Khan would be a better salesman for his city if he made this fairly basic point.