Though I often follow flights of fancy in my own mind, I rarely share them with the public. Furthermore, posting about politcs rather than tech is definitely outside my comfort zone. However, today's Brexit vote has changed that for me.
When I first saw someone tweet #IndependenceforLondon and #Londependence, I laughed and thought it was a joke, yet the more and more I consider it, the more I realise that it is not only practical but in some ways inevitable.
London spoke out overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the EU, one of the only parts of England to do so. If London had been a patchwork of results with some boroughs in and some out across the city, I wouldn't be writing this piece, but it wasn't. Though there were some boroughs where the votes were less decisive and a few on the edges chose to vote to leave, in the main we voted as a block. In this I am reminded of the 2015, elections where London voted mainly Labour/Lib Dem, and the country went Conservative.
This is the second time in two years in my mind where the central core of London has voted for something and been overridden by the wishes of people with whom, to be frank, we begin to feel less and less in common with as they endorse a more conservative social and economic policy, and vote against issues and ideals that we hold close.
There have been many comments today on Twitter, where people have said that London needs to accept the democratic turnout and deal with it. Yet, when you live in a system where your democratic voice will always be drowned out by another large group, with no checks against that, you have to ask whether you want to participate in that system. Although this may be true of many liberal cities the world over, like Austin in Texas, for example which votes Democrat in a Republican state, in terms of scale London is large enough to suceed with more freedom from the UK government. Also Austin has the hope that other parts of the country may vote democrat and even the scale, there is no such balancer for London in the UK.
Now the notion of an independent London is a bit farfetched. I mean many countries do happily have a land border with another country, so yes, we could build a giant wall. This is less likely, but it is what we would need to do if we are to stay inside the Schengen zone as we can't have a soft-border with a country that doesn't offer freedom of movement. So let's shelve that notion for a moment and look at some reasonably practical things that London can do if the UK gets more insular and closed off. I'll be honest, not being an economist these are just ideas, we have two years to research the good ones.
London post-Brexit could see:
Increased powers for the Mayor of London to implement and ratify UK legislation where it pertains to governance and how they affect the city rather than foreign policy.
A devolved London-only council, that has full control over domestic issues within the city, with multiple representatives from each borough that must ratify the effects of UK legislation where it pertains to London.
Tax revenue generated in London being retained for use to grow London-specific services like, hospitals, roads, transport, housing, infrastructure etc, rather than being distributed across the UK
The ability to establish trade agreements under the EEA, and control/waive tariff rates for goods and services on companies registered within London
Full control over corporate tax rates and laws for companies based in London
London specific easy-access Visas for any EU National with return flights booked to and from London airports and a fast track system at the airports that does not impose import taxes etc.
London work Visas granted for people who wish to move and work within London tied to rented or owned properties within the city rather than company sponsorship.
And more I'm sure we can think up as this is discussed.
This is just a snapshot, but the freedom to control its own agenda, and to guarantee a Europe-like agreement to companies that wish to operate in London would provide a great benefit to the city and more important measures like this would allow London to align itself closely with the EU something that we have demonstrated we want. Furthermore it would allow us to address some of the issues that this city alone has to deal with.
There are precedents for this, China and Hong Kong have a similar relationship, where one country controls foreign policy, and the other has large amounts of independence over its internal controls and in doing so thrives as an international business hub. We can also draw parallels in this arrangement with the strong role the Mayor of New York plays to guide the direction of that global city separate to state legislature.
I'm sure that we can construct this idea even further over the next few months/years, but the fact is that Brexit has set a precedent in this country for dissolving existing unions in the name of democratic public demand. The UK is leaving the EU, Scotland will vote again on independence, Northern Ireland has rumblings of reunification rather than building a hard border with the Republic and damaging the peace process further, so why not London?
If we have repeatedly demonstrated that our views are not that of the country that we are attached to, we have repeated asked for representation based on population rather than regions, and had no result. As such we are chained to a system which cannot provide the changes that a global city needs to function in the 21st century, as it is too heavily controlled by people who do not live in and will not accomodate the cities needs. This Brexit referendum has paved the way to question whether other long-standing associations should also continue, against the democratic will of the people living under them or whether we should question those too. So why consider properly the notion of an semi to fully independent liberal European London?
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