Political row over Brexit impact on London economy escalates as inquiry begins

Conservative London Assembly members have decided to boycott an investigation into how Brexit has impacted London, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Tory Neil Garratt AM (inset right) and Labour AM Marina Ahmad (inset left)
Tory Neil Garratt AM (inset right) and Labour AM Marina Ahmad (inset left)

City Hall Conservatives have said they will boycott an investigation into the impact of Brexit on London’s economy, as they accuse Labour of “ignoring” the capital’s “real problems”.

Members of the London Assembly’s Tory group had been expected to help lead an inquiry this week into the consequences of the UK’s departure from the EU, but have now stressed the need to “look forward, not back”.

It comes as mayor Sadiq Khan prepares to give a set-piece speech on Thursday evening at Mansion House, where he will warn that London is facing a “cost of Brexit crisis” which is “dragging our economy down”.

Research commissioned by City Hall and conducted by Cambridge Econometrics has found that Brexit shrunk London’s economy by £30billion last year.

The new investigation is being led by the assembly’s economy committee, but Neil Garratt, leader of City Hall’s Conservative group, said the inquiry “symbolises everything that is wrong with Sadiq Khan and Labour in London”.

He added: “On a week when the trade unions threatened to bring London’s economy to its knees with Tube strikes and the 1,000th murder since Sadiq Khan became mayor, Labour chooses to re-visit Brexit.

“This is typical Sadiq Khan and typical Labour. They won’t focus on the issues that matter to Londoners.

“Labour in City Hall are spending time on national foreign policy they don’t control, while ignoring the real problems in London that are the mayor’s actual job: crime, transport, housing.”

The committee, which currently has a Labour chair, is meeting on Thursday afternoon to quiz academics from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Warwick, along with business experts, about Brexit’s impacts on London.

But in an unusual move, Garratt said that he and fellow Tory committee member Andrew Boff will not be attending the session, or other meetings related to the investigation. It will leave the five remaining members to conduct the inquiry – three from Labour, one Green and one Liberal Democrat.

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“It makes no sense to revisit Brexit,” Garratt continued. “We need to look forward, not back. We think this is a waste of time and a distraction.

“Mayor Khan started this week encouraging unions to threaten Londoners with even more strikes, what is he doing about that?”

Marina Ahmad, the committee’s Labour chair, said in response: “It is typical that the Conservatives don’t want to focus on the real challenges facing Londoners.

“The average Londoner was £3,400 worse off last year because of Brexit, which has cost the country £140billion as a whole. To suggest looking at the impact of Brexit on London’s economy is a waste of time shows how hopeless the Conservatives’ understanding of our economy is.

“These are very real financial impacts being felt by London’s businesses as well as citizens, but instead of taking part in this discussion with independent experts, the Conservatives have gone on strike.

“They might want to bury their heads in the sand and pretend Brexit is a problem of the past, but this does a disservice to the Londoners affected.”

Garratt’s reference to the mayor “encouraging” strikes stems from the fact that Khan on Sunday unexpectedly said he had found extra funds from City Hall to boost the annual pay rise for 16,000 tube staff. It led the RMT to suspend strike action that would have shut the London Underground until Friday.

The Conservatives were quick to criticise the move, with assembly member Keith Prince calling it a “band aid solution designed to save Sadiq Khan’s skin” which “will embolden other unions to play hardball and demand higher pay”.

Khan said earlier this week that it was important to “talk to colleagues who may have concerns”.

He added: “I don’t see it as a sign of weakness. I see it as recognising the fantastic work our transport workers do. They are represented by excellent trade unions and I am keen to ensure we resolve things amicably.”

The figure of 1,003 murders taking place in London since Sadiq Khan took office was reported by the Daily Mail this week. A spokesperson for Khan told the paper: “There have been massive government cuts to policing and youth services over the last decade, and a nationwide increase in police recorded violent crime.

“But thanks to record investment in the police from City Hall and in early intervention through his Violence Reduction Unit, the number of homicides in London last year fell to its lowest since 2014.

“Homicides, gun crime and the number of young people injured with knives have all fallen in London since 2016.”

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