Sadiq Khan speech at Davos

Thank you. I’m proud to speak with you at this dinner – graciously hosted by Morgan Stanley. It’s a privilege to address such a distinguished audience – with representatives from politics, media and businesses from around the world.

I became Mayor of London just over eight months ago. I knew then that my city had big challenges ahead. The same challenges we see in many global cities – from poor air quality to lack of affordable housing – with solutions that could – and should – have been put in place years ago. But it’s now clear that the biggest challenge facing London– and all of Europe – is a new one. Brexit.

I campaigned passionately to stay in the EU – in the interests of London, Britain and all of Europe. I did this as a proud Londoner and patriotic Briton. But also as a proud European and internationalist – values that I’ve always held dear. So even though Britain chose a different path, I was pleased that London voted to remain in the EU. However, Brexit is going to happen. We have to respect the democratic will of the British people. The question now is: what form it should take?

As a proud Londoner and European, I come to Davos with four important messages:

  • Firstly, that despite what Theresa May said yesterday, we must secure privileged access to the single market as a priority.
  • Secondly, that a ‘hard Brexit’ would hurt the rest of Europe just as much as Britain.
  • Thirdly – a warning – that the divisions we saw through the referendum are not unique to Britain – and represent a new global challenge.
  • And finally, a positive vision for Britain’s future relationship with Europe.

Since the referendum, I’ve worked to persuade my Government to take the right path on Brexit. Towards a deal that’s in the best interests of London and the whole country. A deal that enables us to retain our ability to attract the best talent. And privileged access to the single market.

The single market is the foundation of thousands of British jobs. For much of our wealth. And for much of our future prosperity. The single market is not just an abstract concept – the benefits for the British people are very tangible. The single market is the difference between businesses thriving or struggling to survive. And it’s the difference between using the proceeds of growth to invest in more teachers, nurses and police officers – or another decade of public service cuts.

So my message to Theresa May after her speech yesterday is this:

Securing privileged access to the single market must be the top priority for the negotiations. It’s can’t be brushed aside – as it was yesterday. It’s critical for London. Nothing else will do. A hard-line approach to Brexit may hold the Conservative Party together, but it could rip Britain apart. And if we continue on this path – towards a ‘Hard Brexit’ – we risk having to explain to future generations why we knowingly put their economy, their prosperity and their place on the world stage in such peril.

The consequences of a hard Brexit don’t just matter to the UK. It should be the single biggest concern across Europe. And this is the second message I want to convey. That securing a good Brexit deal is not just in London’s interest – it’s in the interests of every European nation. So I’m here today to ask for your help. Because it’s important that business leaders across Europe – you here tonight – make this case in the strongest terms. The case that Brexit must work for both Britain and Europe – in our shared economic interest.

London is Europe’s undisputed financial and commercial capital. It’s not only the beating heart of Britain’s economy, but the key organ for growth across Europe. I say this with all due respect, but a hard Brexit would cut Europe off from its only truly global financial center. This would disrupt the supply chains of car manufactures, aeronautics as well as other sectors across the continent. And would cost everyone. Nobody should assume that we would see financial institutions and transactions move from London to Paris, Frankfurt or Madrid. Business leaders are clear that we could see business leaving Europe and going to New York, Singapore and Hong Kong instead. This would be bad news for Europe as well as Britain. So a hard Brexit really would be a lose-lose situation.

So if you’re a CEO of a car manufacturer or tech company in France or Germany – I would ask you to tell your political leaders that a hard Brexit deal is not in the best interests of your company. And if you’re a city leader in Spain or Italy – I would ask you to tell your colleagues in central Government that a hard Brexit will hurt the people you represent. Of course this won’t be easy. But I’m confident that despite the British Prime Minister’s rhetoric, there is still a deal to be done.

And this takes me on to my third key message. A warning. Because Brexit is not just about economics. It’s unveiled something deeper that has bubbled under the surface for some time. The fact that too many people feel left behind or side-lined. Many people who voted to leave the EU did so because of unease about the change they’ve experienced in recent decades. Significant numbers of citizens have missed out on the fruits of globalisation. And at the same time, a lack of social integration means it has become harder for people from different backgrounds to truly understand one another. Fueling the politics of division.

This economic and social divide is not unique to Britain. We see it in the growing strength of populism. And without a concerted response it will spread further. So my warning is this: If your country held an EU referendum tomorrow, it could well go the same way as ours. This is an existential threat to the EU – that we must combat together. One of the most crucial tasks for us now is to take pro-active steps to build stronger and more integrated communities. And to ensure that everyone benefits from globalisation. So I’m pleased that inclusive growth is one of the themes at Davos this year.

However, there are no quick fixes. These will be some of the 21st century’s defining challenges. And we must treat them with the urgency and seriousness they deserve. The alternative is division, protectionism and isolationism.

My final message is more upbeat. Because despite all this, I’m confident that London will remain as Europe’s leading business hub. London has – and will continue to have – a commercial eco-system that makes it such a great place to do business. London is – and will always continue to be – open. Despite Brexit – London will always remain a European city – the cultural, social and economic capital of Europe. And one of my proudest boasts will always be: I am a proud European.

So let me finish with this: Great change is often attributed to the actions of a few great men and women. But what the history books don’t reveal is the influences which guided every decision they made. The WEF was established to shape history. And now is not a time to be a passenger. Now is not the time to watch history unfold. Now is the time to make history in our own image. That is my ambition – for London and future generations. And for Europe’s future too.

Thank you.