According to the latest polling, 82 per cent of Londoners would vote to remain in the EU. Nowhere else in the UK is as positive about Britain’s place in Brussels as the capital. But what if, come 23 June 2016, the rest of the country shows Europe the door? Should the UK decide to leave, Londoners might well wake up the morning after the vote and feel like a city under occupation, a hostage to its own nation.
Would London just have to lump it? Perhaps - but there should be an alternative.
Both Vote Leave’s Dominic Cummings and London Mayor Boris Johnson have suggested the idea of a second referendum to decide the terms of any departure. Such a vote, were it to happen, offers the opportunity to get creative with our membership of the EU. One possibility is that, even if Britain votes to leave, London could remain and retain its own distinct links with Europe.
This is not as mad as it might sound. London could become a variant of a charter city - bound by common EU trade laws, including the free movement of people, but the rest of the UK governed outside its jurisdiction. At the very least this is an interesting thought experiment.
What’s the barrier? Some would say rules; I would argue imagination.
The EU has found it agreeable to break its own laws repeatedly and without prejudice. The notion that membership is specific to nation states is simply another law fit to be broken. Given that London is the sixth largest economy in the EU, would they really wish to disenfranchise it?
So far conversation on alternatives to full membership has been bound by existing options, for example, a Norway type deal which offers access to the single market but not a vote on the rules. If there were to be an alternative form of membership for Britain, then why could it not be specific to Britain?
A new ‘city state’ tier of membership could be created. This would work for London, but could also be an interesting start for non-member states who want into the European club.
Would the British public be amenable? I think they would.
London is already considered a foreign land by many Brits who live or work outside of it. (“Great for a visit but couldn't live there,” so the saying goes.) This would be a novel extension of George Osborne's devolution revolution, too. London is for, all intents and purposes, a city state anyway; why not codify it with a neat deal between city hall and Number 10 on Europe.
The truth is that, even if Britain leaves the EU, London will remain Europe’s commercial and cultural capital. Tourists and traders will not say farewell. For better or worse its identity is now defined by its aggressive multiculturalism, far more than any latent blitz spirit.
London belongs to more than we British, my bet is that the rest of Europe won’t want to let her go. And quite frankly, who can blame them.
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