Photographer: Andrew Aitchison/Corbis via Getty Images

London Mayor Khan Warns of Chronic Skills Shortage Over Brexit

  • Khan, SNP say EU nationals shouldn’t be ‘bargaining chips’
  • SNP to lead parliamentary debate on status of EU citizens

London risks a “chronic skills shortage” because of the uncertainty European Union citizens who work in the capital are facing over Brexit, Mayor Sadiq Khan said.

Speaking to the London Assembly on Wednesday, Khan joined the Scottish National Party in accusing Prime Minister Theresa May of using EU nationals as “bargaining chips” in her Brexit negotiations. May has said the residency rights of EU nationals will be assured only if there are similar guarantees for U.K. citizens living in other EU nations, a line repeated by Home Office Minister Robert Goodwill during a debate in Parliament later in the day.

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“One million EU citizens live and work in London and our economy relies on them,” Khan told London Assembly members. “Because this government is using them as a bargaining chip, there is real uncertainty over how many will stay after Brexit. We could be left with a chronic skills shortage that hits London more than elsewhere.”

Starting off the parliamentary debate, the SNP urged May to give EU workers a “cast-iron guarantee” that their status in the U.K. will be protected. Goodwill signaled that a final resolution of the issue is months away at the minimum, because it’ll feed into formal divorce talks that won’t start until May officially triggers them by activating Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty. She’s said she’ll do that by the end of March.

Reciprocal Arrangement

“The time frame for resolving this issue is to address it as part of the wider negotiation on the U.K.’s exit from the EU to ensure the fair treatment of British citizens,” Goodwill said. “The government has been clear that it wants to protect the status of EU nationals resident in the U.K. As the prime minister has made clear, the only circumstances in which that would not be possible are if British citizens’ rights in other EU member states are not protected in return.”

May has also said controlling immigration will be a key component of the Brexit deal, to reflect the views of those who voted in June to leave the EU.

“Human beings should not be used as bargaining counters,” Joanna Cherry, the SNP’s home-affairs spokeswoman, said in the debate. “If the British government does the right thing and takes the initiative and says it will protect EU citizens’ rights, then it could hope for in return a reciprocal gesture in relation to the British citizens abroad.”

Khan, a member of the main opposition Labour Party, said that London has become “one of the biggest, richest and best cities on Earth because of our openness” and urged the government to ensure any new visa system is “flexible.”

‘Open and Competitive’

“We need to maintain as much access as possible to the single market. I see advantages to a system that will makes sure that London is open and competitive,” Khan said. “This cannot be one that restricts London’s access to the talent that we need.”

Khan said that the City of London Corporation, which runs the city’s financial district, and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry are preparing proposals on post-Brexit access for foreign workers, and he’ll get them by November. His administration isn’t carrying out its own study so as “not to duplicate” the work, he said.

“We’re going to obviously work with the government in relation to making sure any proposals are workable: Just to be frank, the proposals may not be workable,” Khan said. “We need to move sooner rather than later because obviously in the meantime there is a need to make sure we carry on attracting talent.”

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