Opinion

Why London Should Not Be An Independent City State

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 16 months ago
Why London Should Not Be An Independent City State

There's been some talk about London going it alone after the EU referendum. As a region, London voted to remain in the EU, whereas most of the rest of England didn't. A petition asking Sadiq Khan to declare London independent from the UK and apply to join the EU has, at the time of writing, 172,700 signatures.

While anyone who's ever had a grim-faced northerner mutter at them about 'that London' might momentarily find Londependence appealing, here's why it's really not a good idea.

London isn't Gibraltar

We don't have the weather, for one thing. More seriously, Gibraltar voted 95.9% for staying in the EU. London voted by a comparatively meagre 60% to stay. Even in the borough most in favour of Remain, Lambeth, more than a fifth of voters wanted to Leave. Let's not kid ourselves that everyone's unhappy with the result.

London didn't even vote as a whole for Remain. Barking and Dagenham, Hillingdon, Havering, Bexley and Sutton voted for Leave — very strongly in some cases. Which brings us onto another point:

There'd be rebellious pockets

Can London cope with a potential civil war on its fringes? Bexley, Barking and Havering form a bloc to the east, but there's also Sutton to the south and Hillingdon to the west. Anyone with a passing knowledge of history knows what happens when you fight a war on multiple fronts.

Besides, this risks casting Havering in the role of the Rebel Alliance, with Islington and Camden in the role of the Empire. Is that what you want, London? Is it?

(We're obviously exaggerating to make a point, but there's no way the quintet wouldn't kick up all kinds of bureaucratic hell.)

Given these boroughs are on the edges, an independent London could theoretically carve itself out around them. But:
a) that's going to involve border crossings on the M25 (and one small bit of the North Circular in Barking)
b) London would probably want to keep Heathrow.

Could we do without border controls? After all, you can just stroll into Vatican City. Well, let's see how that works out for Northern Ireland.

Photo by Kevin Ronson from the Londonist Flickr pool

Internal migration

Right now, there's a lot of movement between London and the rest of the UK. In the year to June 2013, 197,000 internal migrants moved to London — but perhaps more crucially, 252,000 moved out.

If London became an independent state embracing the principle of freedom of movement we would, presumably, still welcome people in from outside the EU (England and Wales; let's face it, Scotland's gone) as well from within.

But would the rest of the UK — which has, remember, just indicated it's not a big fan of migrants — accept people moving out? Would Essex and Kent be willing to take in the 30-somethings who want a nice home with a garden for their families?

Back when London was a walled city, when the population got too large it spilled out into the surrounding fields. The Home Counties might not be up for that. And let's not think about sealed trains shuttling people up to Scotland.

Housing

Inevitably, we have to talk about housing. At the moment, one idea for easing London's housing crisis is to build garden cities outside the capital and let people commute in. If we're an independent state, we'd be expecting the government of another country to do that for us. Haha, nice try.

If London tried to cope with housing its working population on its own (a task we've been very, very bad at lately) we would either:
a) fail
b) have to build a lot of skyscrapers
c) kiss goodbye to the green belt.

All this is before we start thinking about the people who already live in the Home Counties and commute in. Border controls on commuter trains? What a horrible idea.

Flouncing off

Leave the UK? Isn't that exactly what Remainers are cross about? 'Yeah, we're all about unity. Bye.'

We'd be abandoning all the other Remain voters

52% to 48% is a close vote. Even just looking at England, the vote was 53.4% to 46.6%. Places like Hertsmere, Rutland, Canterbury and Watford went Leave on very tight results. Significant parts of England went Remain. Over 16 million people voted to stay in the EU; furthermore over 18 million people weren't even eligible to vote.

Talk about an independent London sounds a lot like taking our metropolitan elite ball home. Millions around the country also voted Remain. Hundreds of thousands in London didn't. Let's not pretend we're special, let's not pretend we're all that different. Wasn't the point of Stronger In that we're better together?

Last Updated 27 June 2016