Sadiq Khan today broke with Labour’s official migration policy to set out his own blueprint for attracting skilled workers to London after Brexit.
The Mayor called for a flexible system that would allow the capital to set its own immigration criteria for the global talent it needs to thrive.
He said the Government should make it “easier, not harder” to bring in EU workers to help the capital’s public services and key business sectors flourish.
Mr Khan’s intervention puts him at odds with his own party, which backs free movement during a Brexit transition but has stopped short of a long-term commitment.
Labour is split on the issue with London MPs, including shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, instinctively pro-free movement while others in strong Leave areas in the Midlands and North are pressing for tougher rules.
Mr Khan told the Confederation of British Industry that he was “not embarrassed” to make the positive case for immigration, but he told business chiefs and fellow pro-EU politicians that he could not do it alone, urging them to join him “before it’s too late.”
He accused successive governments — including those of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown — of “ducking” the issue. He said: “Too many politicians — and I have to say some business leaders too — have been scared of saying how they really feel based on their experience and expertise. The consequence is that we’ve failed to explain why economic immigration and the freedom of movement across the EU has been a good thing.”
He added: “It’s time for us to stand up and make the case.”
The Government will set out its own plans next year. Officials are thought to be developing tougher hurdles to work in the UK for all but the highest-skilled EU migrants.
But Mr Khan said failure to grasp the benefits of immigration was putting London’s economy in danger. Mr Khan’s own migration blueprint called on the PM to allow London to have its own visa system, if the Government was unable to deliver one that guaranteed sufficient skilled workers.