This is the rationale which brought the Alliance of European Metropolitan Chambers (AEMC) to London in early April for a ‘Brexit summit’. Alliance members from across Europe met at City Hall to discuss mutual concerns, and share points of interest, as the UK stands poised to leave the EU. Athens, Berlin, Brussels, Budapest, Frankfurt, Madrid, Milan, Paris and Turin were amongst the cities that, together with an audience over 100 business leaders and thinkers, debated session topics including business priorities for Brexit, migration and skills, tariffs, trade and transport connectivity.
Coming only a week after the Prime Minister’s triggering of Article 50 at the end of March – beginning the formal process of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union – the summit was particularly timely. Its overriding message to EU governments and policy makers was that listening to the AEMC – collectively representing hundreds of thousands of businesses and tens of millions of workers – is a good place to start as negotiations get underway.
The summit began with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan urging Alliance members to call upon their own political leaders to ensure that Brexit negotiations are conducted in the best interests of their businesses, and the future of their cities. Khan urged AEMC leaders to fight “for a Brexit deal that works for London, the UK and the rest of Europe” by “increasing collaboration and fostering new business links that benefit all of us”.
“I’m in no doubt that it’s possible to secure a sensible Brexit deal that protects jobs, growth and investment across the continent. The notion that our cities should only compete with each other – or that form of jobs, businesses and transactions moving away from London – is misguided.”
“London’s global competitiveness supports the competitiveness of businesses in Frankfurt, Paris, Madrid – and all of Europe’s great cities
The Mayor said that growth need not be a zero-sum game for our cities. “London’s global competitiveness supports the competitiveness of businesses in Frankfurt, Paris, Madrid – and all of Europe’s great cities. And the damage of financial business moving away from London and Europe to New York, Hong Kong and Singapore would be bad for us all.
“Despite Brexit, I’m optimistic about London’s future and our place as the best city in the world to do business. I want businesses across Europe to know that they will always be welcome here and, now more than ever, we should be increasing our collaborations and fostering new business links that will benefit all of us. The truth is that London will always remain a key partner for European cities and countries long after Brexit is resolved.”
At the summit AEMC members signed a ‘declaration’ highlighting their collective view, as European Chambers of Commerce, that the process of Brexit will inevitably present varying challenges to the good functioning of pan-European business, and that a ‘hard’ Brexit could pose significant risk to job creation and wealth production in the UK, the EU and wider Europe.
As advocates for businesses in our cities, regions and states, AEMC undertook to harness its collective energies, resources and experiences and work together to make a positive contribution in the testing months and years ahead. This has begun with a call for a realistic transitional period for Brexit, to create sufficient space for European business and European governments to adjust to a new situation.
The summit closed with Lord Bridges, Under Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union, emphasising that while the UK is leaving the European Union, it is definitely not leaving Europe. He confirmed the UK government’s wish to see the status of both UK nationals in the EU and EU nationals in the UK resolved as early as possible in the negotiations, and government’s view that businesses in both the UK and the EU would benefit from implementation periods to adjust in a smooth and orderly way to new arrangements.
LCCI Chief Executive Colin Stanbridge said that whilst the Chamber had always enjoyed working alongside our European Chamber colleagues, “now is a chance to solidify those relationships and ensure we have an even stronger partnership moving forward”. The AEMC summit is the start of that process. There is much more to come.