From Barnet & Camden London Assembly Member Andrew Dismore,
I wanted to write to you, post the EU referendum, to give my initial reaction and thoughts.
As I hope you know, I campaigned for a ‘Remain’ vote, and I am deeply disappointed by the result. I know many residents in Barnet and Camden, and indeed London as a whole, are also profoundly disappointed.
For the record, the results in Barnet and Camden (which were far better for ‘Remain’ than was expected):
Barnet: remain 62% ; leave 38%
Camden: remain 75% ; leave 25%
London: remain 60% ; leave 40%
Before I comment on the implications, a few words about the call for a second referendum, supported by millions of outraged people. I fully understand the frustrations of those who back this call, but I think it is the wrong thing at the wrong time, though I do not wish to dissuade anyone from signing the on line petition. In the unlikely event that there were to be a rerun (presumably due to a legal technicality), then the result could be worse - experience tells us that usually when elections are rerun, the result is confirmed more strongly. We have to respect the outcome.
However, there is much still to be decided. I consider the opportunity to examine the detailed implications will come soon. I believe a General Election in the Autumn must follow, after a new Prime Minister has been appointed by the Conservative Party. I hope that our European partners will accept that the formal process (‘Article 50’) should not commence till then, and after such an election has given a new Government a clear mandate on how to address the consequences of the vote. Those consequences are profound: for the cohesion of our society; for our national and London economy; and for our politics.
There is little doubt that the referendum has exposed deep fractures in our society: geographic, inter-generational, class, ethnicity and many others, divisions exploited and exacerbated by demagogues in the campaign. The challenges looking ahead will be to address these social impacts and their causes. I believe the referendum was seen by many as the chance to express their alienation and dissatisfaction. The cause of that alienation I believe has its roots in the fallout from austerity and its impact on public services, and for which immigration became a convenient scapegoat. The consequences we are now seeing include an increase in hate crime against minorities, especially towards migrants both from the EU and elsewhere. I am pleased that Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, has emphasised to the Metropolitan Police his policy of zero tolerance towards such crimes. I also fully endorse his statement that EU migrants, who make such an important contribution to the life and economy of London, are welcome here.
By the Autumn, the early economic consequences will become increasingly clear and biting: It is not just a case of more expensive foreign travel unless the pound recovers against the dollar and euro (which seems unlikely), but prices will start to rise as the impact of higher fuel prices affect not just motorists at the petrol pump, but feed through into transportation costs for all other goods; and the cost of imports of all types will rise.
The consequences for London’s financial services’ contribution to the economy cannot be underestimated . Lord Hill, the UK’s EU Commissioner who held the financial services portfolio on the EU Commission is resigning, which means we will not have a say in the setting of policy for this sector, which is so vital to London’s jobs and economy, and where we have had to resist changes that would have affected the sector detrimentally.
We have to do all we can, to ensure that the country does not leave the single market, for which the referendum did not give a mandate. Although this is important for the trade in goods, for London it is also vital for the provision of services which is not yet fully covered by the single market. The risk is that any further implementation of the single market for services will not reflect the circumstances of London’s business in services, and will be to our detriment.
This is why Sadiq Khan is right to demand that London has a seat at the ‘EU exit’ negotiating table, to do the best we can to minimise the impact on our capital’s economy and by extension, the nation’s.
Although most of the rest of the country voted the other way to London, they are heavily dependent on the resources generated by and in London. Overall, London provides a net subsidy (money raised in London but spent elsewhere) of 20.3 per cent of GDP, so one pound in every five earned by Londoners is used to fund the rest of the country, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).
Therefore, in my view, the result makes irresistible the case for much more devolution to London over fiscal powers as well as services, so that we can address the consequences for ourselves, given that the London economy is so different from that of most of the rest of the country - If London were a country, our economy would place us 11th largest among EU countries.
London Government also needs to find common cause with the other ‘Remain voting’ big cities, including Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle, and work, so far as it is London’s interests to do so, with Scotland too.
What of our politics? It is clear that the main parties are in crisis, over the disconnect with the communities they represent. In this I include Barnet, where two of the local ‘Brexit’ supporting Conservative MPs, those for Hendon and Chipping Barnet, were out of step with their ‘Remain’ voting electorates by a large margin. In Finchley, although the MP supported ‘Remain’ he was invisible in the campaign. Almost all of Barnet’s Conservative Councillors (with a small handful of exceptions) also supported Brexit.
On the other hand, I am pleased that the Labour Party in both boroughs- MPs, Councillors, local parties as well as myself as London Assembly member- campaigned for Remain, in accordance with the majority of our constituents’ wishes. Labour carried out the ‘heavy lifting’ of the Remain campaign in Barnet and Camden.
The challenge nationally is how to reconnect with the disaffected voters I referred to at the start of this email, when there are such clear differences between the regions of the country. I believe in due course the answer should lie in party political devolution to London so we can set out own domestic political agenda, in the same way that political devolution has been granted by the parties to Scotland. If this is not granted, then any party manifestos risk alienating one or other part of the country, when there are such disparate aspirations of London, the regions and the other nations.
Finally, for the long term, we are in uncharted waters: the effect on our economy and trade, on savings and pensions, and our political role in the wider world remains to be seen. These consequences will be the subject of my further updates in due course.
Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden