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Chair, with the Government refusing to clarify when and how it intends to comply with the law enacted by the Benn Act, there remains a very real risk of a no-deal Brexit at the end of October. We have to hope that common sense and the law will prevail in securing an extension, but nothing can be taken for granted, and a disastrous no-deal Brexit in a fortnight is a real risk.
Any form of Brexit would do long-term damage. However, a no-deal Brexit would be the worst of all possible scenarios. Leading economic forecasters - the Bank of England, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) and the Institute for Fiscal Studies – to conclude that a no-deal Brexit is likely to be followed by a recession in 2020 and UK debt levels would reach their highest levels since the 1960s. This would fall hardest on London’s most deprived households. Their prospects of staying in work are most likely to be diminished in a recession. They have already suffered the worst effects of welfare reform and austerity, and lower wage growth and higher food prices will push them even more into poverty.
Uncertainty around Brexit has deterred many businesses from investing since the referendum. UK productivity has suffered its worst drop in five years, and the latest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures show the UK’s economic growth is close to zero.
We continue to work extremely hard to ensure plans are in place for a no-deal Brexit, should that occur on 31 October . However, I want to be clear that the very best that can be achieved is merely a mitigation of the worst impacts of a no-deal Brexit on Londoners and on our city. I will continue to oppose a no-deal Brexit, which could be avoided completely by withdrawing Article 50. Ultimately, there must be a public vote with remain on the ballet paper to give the public the final say.
Thank you very much, Mr Mayor. Perhaps we can have a slightly more mature discussion about Brexit and the potential for different types of Brexit deal or no deal.
The Government, as you are aware, has released its no-deal readiness report. What is your assessment of that report and what it might mean for London’s economy?
The short answer is it would be disastrous for our economy. Leaving with no deal would simply cause problems with jobs, growth and prosperity, but also it is worth reminding ourselves that that is when the negotiations begin to our future relationship with the EU. If we do leave the EU without a deal on 31 October , that is not the end of it. That is actually when the real business begins in relation to our future trade deal with the EU. Depending on what trade deal we have, that has an impact on jobs, growth and prosperity in our city.
We asked Cambridge Econometrics to do some analysis, and the scenario most damaging to our city was no deal: not a member of the single market, not a member of the Customs Union, no transition period. It appears that we are heading towards that scenario.
I have spoken to a lot of people, some who voted leave, some who voted remain, some who still support leave, some who still support remain, some who have changed their views. I think a lot of people were expecting a deal to be negotiated, and we have had this really long period first with one Prime Minister and now with another. Given all the evidence of the implications of a no-deal Brexit, do you, therefore, think that it is right for the Mayor of London to be supporting Londoners and businesses through what has been an extended period of uncertainty and trying to assist people over the implications of the deal, rather than just washing your hands of this?
I was with business leaders yesterday and spent lots of time speaking to businesses, small, medium and large. The point they are making is there is nobody from Government talking or listening to them. It is really important, and one of my roles you will be aware, is to promote the economy of London. I think I would not be discharging my duties as the Mayor if I was not doing so. Frankly speaking, any Member of this Assembly who is not advocating for our businesses in London is not doing their job as a Member of the Assembly and they should be ashamed.
Here is the thing. Those who complain about a public vote need to explain why more democracy is a bad thing. What we have been offered now by this Government is a million miles away from what was promised in 2016. You can go back and look at some of the quotes and arguments raised by prominent Brexiteers, from Boris Johnson [Prime Minister] to Michael Gove [Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster] to Liam Fox [Member of Parliament for North Somerset] to Nigel Farage [Leader, Brexit Party]. None of them talked about leaving the EU without a deal. Most of them talked about us being members of the Customs Union and the single market and being able to do a trade deal over the course of an afternoon. Bearing in mind we are a million miles away now from what was promised in 2016, I think we should give the British public a final say: “Do you accept the terms of exit in the scenario negotiated by the Government?” with the option, not in abstract terms, “Now you know the terms of exit, do you want to remain in the EU?”