The mayor of London has warned that reducing immigration to tens of thousands would have a "huge impact on our ability to be a wealth generator for our country".
Speaking in front of the Brexit select committee on Tuesday, Sadiq Khan said that London not only needs but wants more immigration, and called on Theresa May to do more to help EU citizens living in the UK.
"London was the one region in England who voted to remain in the EU, in some boroughs by 78, 79%," he said. "Not only do we need talented people and immigration, but we want it as well."
Khan hit out at the Conservative promise to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands a year, saying it would be nowhere near enough for the capital.
He described a scenario in which immigration to Britain was down to around 100,000 people a year: "Using current proportions of immigration that London gets, we get 38,000 of the 100,000 per year as a city. Construction sector alone, we employ 300,000 in London. Of those 300,000, 50% are born in the UK."
He went on: "Between 10 and 20% of those 50% will retire within five years. I accept we’ve got to do much more to skill up our youngsters for the jobs of tomorrow, it’s really important."
He added: "Even putting aside he cultural sector’s need for immigration, the financial sector’s need for immigration, social care’s need, NHS need, that level, 38,000, is not enough to look after our construction sector."
He went on to claim that failing to attract talent would "huge impact on our ability to be a wealth generator for our country".
The exchanges with MPs occasionally featured some ribbing – Khan pointedly said "I'm sure we can get an expert to answer that question" when challenged by Michael Gove, who notoriously claimed "we've had enough of experts" while campaigning for Leave.
Khan said Theresa May should be guaranteeing the legal status of EU citizens living in the UK. He said she should do so even without the EU making reciprocal arrangements for UK citizens living in the EU.
"One out of three EU citizens who are in the UK are in London," he said. "What I’d like the prime minister to do when she serves the Article 50 at the end of this month, on that day, to say, 'I give a cast-iron guarantee to all the EU citizens who are already here,' then to streamline permanent residency.
"That would show when it comes to negotiations with the EU, this isn’t a clean break divorce, this is a negotiation that will lead to a relationship post us leaving the EU, and what a great way to start a negotiation by saying 'look, as a gesture of good will, we’re giving a cast-iron guarantee to EU citizens here', and that will hopefully lead to amicable and fruitful negotiation with the EU."
Yesterday Khan warned that Theresa May's insistence on a trade deal with the EU being completed within two years was causing uncertainty for business, and said concluding the negotiations without a deal would cause "colossal damage" to the city.
MPs overturned a Lords amendment on Monday night that would have guaranteed the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, and voted in favour of the Brexit bill, which means that Theresa May is now free to trigger Article 50 by the end of the month.
Marie Le Conte is a politics and media reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Marie Le Conte at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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