Casting our minds back to 24 June, it was hard to ignore the split between London and the rest of the country for Brexit. With 59% of London's population voting to remain, this in turn triggered calls from members of the public and some business figures for London to declare itself a separate "state" to the rest of the UK.
The theme of immigration played a large role in the division and to an extent, it's no surprise when it comes to London. London's population is diverse and cosmopolitan and arguably, relies more heavily on immigration than any other region in the country. In particular, EU nationals contribute more than £26bn to London's Gross Value Added and they pay direct taxes of about £7bn a year, offering skills and staff that make them highly valued members of the London business community.
So it was interesting to see yesterday that in response to this sentiment, the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) has called for a new visa initiative in a post-Brexit world to protect immigration in the City. In essence, employers in London would be able to sponsor skilled foreign workers for visas after Britain leaves the EU. The scheme would permit EU workers to receive London-specific national insurance numbers that prevent them from working elsewhere in the country.
Taking a closer look at the proposed visa, it is a bold proposition, and one that will undoubtedly divide opinion. For businesses in London this would provide the reassurance they need that they will not lose the skills and staff that are vital to the capital's future. It also highlights to businesses that the government acknowledges the importance of migrant workers in London is very different to the rest of the UK. Businesses need to be able to attract and retain workers and they need the government's support for workers to encourage this in the future.
On paper, it offers a glimmer of hope for the future of London. However, as always in this post-referendum world, we are shrouded in uncertainty. The City requires more clarity on specific policies, how this visa would roll out and associates timings before this can get the green light. Whatever happens with immigration and passporting rights between the UK and Europe, the system needs to be transparent and demonstrate to businesses the direction in which immigration policies are going. London (and other parts of the country) must give business access to skills and talent while they also recruit and train local workers.
This proposed visa is a good starting ground for the City of London and if developed further will give businesses the reassurance they need to be confident that they can continue to secure the talent needed from across Europe in the most efficient manner. We may well see the government arguing that a London visa could be the thin end of the wedge and it might not be long before Scotland want to own carve out their own niche. Ultimately though that may be no bad thing, and for much the same reasons.Suggest a correction