Sadiq Khan has launched a fresh bid to water-down Brexit as the London Mayor pushes for the relaxation of immigration restrictions.
Khan, a vocal Remainer who previously called for a second referendum on EU membership, argued a “youth mobility agreement” would enable young people to travel more freely to and from the bloc.
He claimed such an agreement would lessen the economic and cultural damage inflicted by the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
Khan revealed he backs either a bespoke “youth mobility agreement” with EU countries or changes to post-Brexit visa rules.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan speaks to the media as he arrives ahead of a cross-party rally organised by the People’s Vote organisation campaigning for a second EU refrendum
Current visa rules restrict travel and the ability to work in other European countries.
Despite consistently bashing Brexit, Khan is not expected to advocate rejoining the bloc.
However, the London Mayor has called for a “pragmatic debate” on membership of the single market and customs union when the terms of the Brexit deal come up for discussion again in 2025.
Khan told The Observer: “The Government’s hard Brexit has done damage right across London and it is young people who have been hardest hit in so many ways.
“Not only is it more difficult for young people to move abroad for work, but the Government’s wrong-headed decision to leave the Erasmus scheme has made it much harder for students to study abroad too.
“I’m clear that I’d be supportive of a youth mobility scheme, which would benefit us economically, culturally and socially.
“While the UK may no longer be part of the EU, London is, and always will be, a European city.”
A Labour source also said: “I think Sadiq’s people realise how anti-Brexit most voters are in London and understandably they want to appeal to them.”
Hilary Benn MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, delivers a speech to party delegates on day two of the Labour Party conference
Londoners were split on the Brexit debate, with a number of outer boroughs voting to leave the EU.
The division is perhaps best summarised by the difference between the 70 per cent Brexit-backing borough of Havering and 79 per cent Remain-supporting borough of Lambeth.
However, unlike the majority of UK voters, the capital ultimately decided it would rather stay in the bloc by 60 per cent to 40 per cent.
Khan’s comments come after Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Hilary Benn argued the EU would welcome Sir Keir Starmer’s expected victory against Rishi Sunak by breathing a “sigh of relief”.
The Leeds Central MP, whose father Tony Benn was an ardent Eurosceptic, also appeared to suggest Labour could look to pursue closer ties with the Brussels bloc.
Tories have frequently blasted Khan for his Brexit-bashing and for echoing Benn’s comments about pursuing closer ties with the EU.
Conservative Party Chairman Richard Holden MP said: “It’s hardly surprising Sadiq Khan wants to drag us back into the EU given Sir Keir Starmer spent years trying to block Brexit then overturn the largest democratic vote in British history – and now he’s plotting to rip up our new relationship with the EU and even drag us back into the EU by ‘stealth’ with plans to hand millions of EU nationals the vote.
“Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives will continue to build on our freedoms and stick to the plan which is working and has seen us have higher economic growth than either France or Germany.
“It couldn’t be more clear that Labour would take us back to square one.”
Khan also appeared to blame Brexit for his City Hall failings during London Mayor’s Questions earlier this week.
He said: “One example of something that has gone wrong is the disastrously hard Brexit that has so far shaved £30billion off growth in London’s economy, meaning 290,000 fewer jobs and Londoners being £3,400 worse off.
“City Hall’s analysis has shown that the cost to the UK economy has been a staggering £140billion already and that is projected to rise to £300billion in 2035 if our current trading arrangements don’t change.”
Speaking to GB News after locking horns with Khan, the Conservative Party’s City Hall candidate Susan Hall argued the London Mayor always reverts to Brexit-bashing when he comes under pressure.
Hall, who supported Brexit, argued: “Sadiq Khan always ends up banging on about Brexit when he gets into trouble.”
Conservative Assembly Members recently boycotted Khan’s inquiry into Brexit after claiming it showed the London Mayor is not looking forward.
City Hall’s independent report by Cambridge Econometrics showed London has 290,000 fewer jobs than if Brexit had not taken place.
Half of the two million job losses nationwide linked to it are in the financial services and construction sectors.
Despite a number of issues threatening Khan’s popularity, the former Tooting MP is expected to romp to victory come polling day.
A Find Out Now survey conducted in November gave the London Mayor 46 per cent of the vote, with Hall languishing behind in a distant second on just 25 per cent.