It’s been almost a year since Sadiq Khan won the election and asked me to become his deputy mayor for business. With his commitment to become the most pro-business Mayor London had ever seen, he handed me the formidable task of leading this effort, a task that was made more complicated when the UK voted to leave the European Union.
Like many of you, I wanted Britain to stay in the EU and Sadiq, as I’m sure you know, campaigned passionately for Remain. The reaction in London last June, a city that had voted on mass to remain in Europe, was one of shock and disappointment. This was quickly followed by great concern for the future, as Londoners came to terms with the fact that the UK was really going to leave.
But, as the dust settled, businesses in the capital started to face up to the reality, challenges, and opportunities posed by Brexit. In this scenario, despite Brexit, I believe we can and must be confident about London’s future.
The Mayor launched the London is Open campaign shortly after the referendum, to spread the message that here in London, we celebrate diversity. We will always be a global city which is vibrant, tolerant, innovative and open – open to investment, trade, and talent. London is, and will remain, the best place in the world to do business.
Like many of you, I wasn’t born in this city, nor even in this country. When I came here from India, I had just a few possessions and a couple of hundred pounds.
London gave me the opportunity to succeed, to start and grow my own business. Just as it gave the Mayor and his family the opportunities they needed. Just as it has given so many of you, who are immigrants or the children of immigrants, the opportunities you needed to succeed.
Now it is incumbent on us to ensure that London continues to be open to talented people from Europe, from Asia, and around the world.
Over the last ten months Sadiq and I have been meeting business people, entrepreneurs and workers from across London to better understand what our city economy needs from the UK’s future relationship with Europe. These meetings brought to light how important access to European markets and talent is to London’s business.
The Mayor has met with the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Brexit Secretary amongst others to push the case for London on issues like access to markets and talent. In these meetings, the Mayor joins his voice with that of London’s businesses and we have begun to see the government speak more constructively on some of the key issues. The Mayor has laid out a clear call for the negotiations with the European Union to focus on protecting barrier free trade between UK and EU businesses.
We have lobbied hard for an early interim deal, to cover the length of the negotiations on trade beyond Brexit, and to provide businesses with the security they need. And we are pushing hard for an ironclad guarantee to be given to all EU citizens living in the UK before the negotiations begin in earnest.
Meanwhile, we are also working with businesses to call for a future immigration system that guarantees London can access the talent it needs from the rest of the world – to make sure that talented people from Asia, Africa, the Americas and beyond can continue to come here and contribute to our economy.
The EU Referendum vote does not alter London’s position as the best place in Europe to invest in and grow a business. This has been clear whenever I travelled overseas in my first few months in this job – during which I have undertaken trade missions to Canada, the United States, India and, most recently, Berlin, Paris and Madrid.
There has been confusion about the Brexit vote but there is also an appreciation that the things that make London so competitive have not changed. You just have to look at some of the recent investments that have been made in London to confirm this. Google have put forward a £1 billion investment plan for a new headquarters in King’s Cross. Facebook announced an additional 500 jobs for London. And Apple revealed its plans for a new headquarters in Battersea.
These were followed by investments for London from Amazon, Expedia and Snap, as well as investments from Asian-based companies like Wipro Infotech and Usha Martin Technologies.
When I look around and see the strength of the Asian Business Community it gives me another reason to remain confident in London’s future. At a time when the Mayor and I are working hard to dispel the image that Brexit has created for London, you provide a living example of how open London is, and the opportunities this great city provides.
As we move towards leaving the European Union, London must look increasingly to the fast-growing economies in Asia for future trading and investment partners.
This means an opportunity – and perhaps even a duty – for us to become ambassadors for this city, amongst the communities and the nations from which you or your families first arrived in London. There is an opportunity to build bridges and grow networks that will help shape the next chapter in this city’s history.
The above is an edited version of the speech given by Rajesh Agrawal, deputy mayor of London for business, at the 2017 annual dinner of the Asian Business Association of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The dinner was sponsored by Heathrow and Lloyds Bank, supported by the India Business Group and took place at the Savoy Hotel, London.
View LCCI ABA Dinner 2017 photos