‘London will come through Brexit unscathed’


London businesses were encouraged to be cautiously optimistic about life after Brexit as a panel of experts from a wide range of sectors chewed the fat of Britain’s ejection from the EU.

Hosted by London Chamber of Commerce & Industry in City Hall, Thursday night’s debate featured input from Talk Radio political editor Ross Kempsell, IEA senior counsel Victoria Hewson, LSE London director professor Tony Travers, Fragomen partner Julia Onslow-Cole, PwC partner and global head of Brexit Andrew Gray, and London City Airport director of corporate affairs Liam McKay.

Keynote speaker Rajesh Agrawal, deputy mayor for business, kicked things off by declaring that Brexit could lead to a “lost decade of growth”.

But while the panel agreed that the uncertainty surrounding Theresa May’s negotiations with her EU counterparts was the primary driver of business fear, the general attitude towards Brexit was that there was as much to look forward to as to be wary of – for London if not the rest of the UK.

That stance was supported with data presented by Oliver Wright, managing director of polling organisation ComRes, who revealed that for many metrics opinion was still split down the middle.

A survey conducted on the perceptions of Brexit showed that benefiting from trade deals with nations outside the EU is seen as Britain’s greatest opportunity across the board.

This is countered by the risk of increased cost to trade and reduction in access to the continent, something which 76% of all councillors quizzed listed as their greatest apprehension.

Mr Travers said a meaningful discussion on migration was key to progressing the current stalemate, something that he says couldn’t be done with Mrs May in office.

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London’s Living Room was the setting for a lively debate on the issues facing London businesses

“Once she’s gone I think it will be possible to move on, which is good.”

He went on to say that a no deal scenario would at least provide “one type of certainty”.

He added: “The earlier all that gets sorted out, the uncertainty ends sooner.”

Mr McKay, meanwhile, was unwavering in his belief that London would maintain its position as the world’s leading city, referring to it as the “vanguard of change and culture”.

He said: “Trip Advisor ranks London as the best city in the world. They cited Harry and Megan but for me it’s for a number of reasons.

“I know events in the news appeal to the pessimistic British psyche. But we had record growth last year and that will continue into the next decade.

“There is a demand to be here. We have a brand, people want to champion us. People around the world are wearing Arsenal, Tottenham and even Chelsea football strips – that is brand London.”

Mr Gray described Brexit as a “disruptive distraction” but moved to ease fears that London would suffer long-term because of the divorce from Europe.

“The fact is we’ve operated In Europe for so long we’ve forgotten what it is like to operate without Europe,” he said.

Mr Travers concurred with the distraction assessment, and said Brexit had snuffed the oxygen from other key issues facing government.

“The real problem lies in not talking about transport, about Crossrail, about affordable homes and housing.

“Meanwhile, in Frankfurt and Paris, they are having these discussions.”

Ms Hewson, however, did issue a warning.

“Even if a deal is passed, don’t be complacent about what it gives. If we go into a backstop situation it is not friction-less trade – it is a customs union; that’s not far from no deal and we’re not out of the woods.”