REUTERS - London should swiftly be granted more autonomy to help it ride out the economic uncertainty unleashed by Britain's vote to leave the European Union, Mayor Sadiq Khan said on Tuesday.
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While the United Kingdom voted 52 to 48 percent to leave the bloc, London voted to remain, unlike most of the rest of England. Since then, more than 175,000 people have signed an online petition calling for London to become an independent city-state.
"On behalf of all Londoners, I am demanding more autonomy for the capital - right now," Khan, who last month became the first Muslim mayor of a major Western capital, said in a speech to business leaders.
"London has to take back control too. Londoners, who voted for a different path to the rest of England, need more self-determination," he said. "We need to control our own destiny."
Khan, who campaigned for Britain to remain a member of the EU, said he was not talking about making London independent, but that the city needed to be able to determine its own future after the vote triggered turmoil on global markets.
"You will be pleased to know I am not planning to blockade the M25," he quipped, referring to London's orbital motorway. "Greater devolution is the best path towards reuniting our country."
Thursday's Brexit vote has sent shockwaves through the EU, wiped more than $3 trillion off global stockmarkets and increased the risk that the United Kingdom will divide after Scotland said it was highly likely to hold a new referendum on independence.
Khan, a former opposition Labour lawmaker, is seeking devolution of tax-raising powers, as well as more control over areas including business, transport, housing and planning, health and policing, his office said.
"More autonomy in order to protect London's economy from the uncertainty ahead," said Khan, 45, who grew up in public housing in inner-city London.
City state of London?
Khan said there was no way to reverse the result of the referendum and that Britain would leave the EU, though he expressed concern about the uncertainty that the vote had created for businesses in the capital.
"The speed of our exit from the EU looks likely to be decided in Brussels, Paris and Berlin rather than in London," Khan said.
He added that London, which is ranked as the EU's largest and richest city, must have a seat in the negotiations with the EU over Britain's future relationship with the bloc.
"Britain must remain part of the European single market," he said. "Remaining in the single market needs to be priority one, two and three of our negotiation with the EU."
London, which offers by far the deepest pool of capital in the time zone between Asia and the United States, accounts for 41 percent of global foreign exchange turnover. That is more than double the nearest competitor, New York, and well above the 3 percent of its closest EU competitors, France and Switzerland.
Banks based in London rely on a so-called EU "passporting" system which allows them to operate across the 28-country bloc's capital market unhindered. Some banks have said they would shift operations to the euro zone if Britain left the EU.
Khan, who succeeded Conservative lawmaker and leading Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson as mayor, said he had the support of local authorities and the City of London financial center and called on business leaders to back his plan to get more control.
"Your voice matters ... so that we can ensure that London thrives over the years ahead. So that we can ensure London remains the best place in the world to do business," he said.
"It is now absolutely crucial that we move fast. We can't hang around for the outcome of the EU negotiations before we give London more control - it needs to happen now."