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Sadiq Khan pitches ‘associate citizenship’ idea in Brussels

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan in Brussels (Photo: Getty Images)
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan in Brussels (Photo: Getty Images)

SADIQ KHAN wants Londoners to have the choice of availing “associate citizenship” of the European Union.

The Mayor, who had written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the idea, was in Brussels today (18) to discuss with European leaders on retaining London-EU links.

Associate citizenship would allow Britons to retain rights on free movement, and work and live in Europe.

Khan tweeted: “It’s no secret I wanted to remain in the EU, but I’m determined to ensure London thrives after Brexit.”

At a news conference with MEP Guy Verhofstadt in the Belgian capital, Khan said Brexit had left many Londoners, including him, “heartbroken”.

He added: “I’m going to bang the drum for our city and to be close to our friends in Europe… but also seeing if there’s a possibility, even though we’ve left the EU, of some sort of associate citizenship going forward.

“I’ve been pleased with the response and it gives hope to Londoners and others across our country.”

Verhofstadt, who was chairman of the European Parliament’s Brexit steering group, maintained his support for associate citizenship.

He said his answer to Khan was to “fight together for European associated citizenship for all those who want to keep their link with Europe”.

“But first of all, let’s be very frank about it, we need to do a lot of work here in Europe to convince member states about that… Also from the UK side they should offer them the same possibilities and the same rights to EU citizens,” added Verhofstadt, who had mooted the idea in 2016.

After meeting EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, Khan tweeted that “London is and always will be a part of Europe—Brexit hasn’t changed that”.

Khan said they discussed “how vital it is that a Brexit deal protects our economy, the rights of Londoners and Europeans, and the relationship our city has built with Europe”.

Before the meeting, the mayor had said he was optimistic that “the EU will put out the fraternal hand of friendship and recognise there are people in our country who want to stay close to the EU” even if the UK government did not reciprocate.

He wanted the proposal to be “at the heart of talks” during the next phase of Brexit negotiations.

“It’s a great way to unite the country,” he told the Evening Standard before the Brussels meetings. “It’s an olive branch. We have left the EU but for those of us Remainers who want to stay close to the EU, this is one way of doing that.

“It may need a treaty change. It may need a new treaty. If under the current rules it can’t be done, there is no reason why the EU, if they were amenable to this, couldn’t explore this further.”

He added: “Like so many Londoners, I am heartbroken that we are no longer a member of the European Union, but that doesn’t mean our country’s future can’t be closely linked with the rest of Europe.

“The Prime Minister says his job is to bring the country together and move us forward and I cannot think of a better way of reconciling the differences between British voters who wanted to leave, and the millions of Londoners and British nationals who still feel and want to be European.

“There would be support from millions of Londoners and British nationals who are devastated they are losing their rights as EU citizens. As the UK and EU start their next phase of negotiations, I want this issue of associate citizenship to be at the heart of talks about our future relationship.”

Notably, there are more than a million EU citizens in London.

Critics, however, termed Khan’s move as a “gimmick” and “undoable”, especially since the UK was stern on divergence. Some also drew his attention to London’s crime scene.

Independent mayoral candidate Rory Stewart said: “This is only a sound bite—the policy cannot work. The Mayor has a responsibility to produce a much more detailed position on Brexit—that protects London. I have such a plan.

“And if I were Mayor I would be focused on making detailed arguments about a future immigration system – as well as service agreements – to keep London as close as possible to Europe.”

Tory candidate Shaun Bailey said: “Three more Londoners were stabbed on the weekend and a teenager is fighting for his life as we speak, and where is our Mayor? In Brussels, announcing a gimmick he has no powers to implement.

“The Mayor has got to focus on his actual responsibilities; he should be in London, urgently speaking with the Met Police, over whom he does have actual powers, about how to stop kids being stabbed to death on our streets. We need a change in leadership, we need a new Mayor whose priority is keeping Londoners safe.”