Evening Standard comment: It’s time for the great EU charm offensive

EVENING STANDARD COMMENT

The Mayor’s visit to Brussels, and his joint appearance with the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, is a useful signal that if Britain is open for business, London is even more so. Tomorrow, the Prime Minister triggers Article 50; today Sadiq Khan issues what his aides are describing as a “love letter” to the EU. He says in a speech to EU leaders that a bad Brexit deal for Britain would be bad for the EU and appeals to them to avoid a punitive approach — “there is no need ... for the EU to send a message, or to instil fear, by punishing the UK. Because a proud, optimistic and confident institution does not secure its future by fear.” Fortunately, Mr Khan’s approach appears to be shared on the EU side; Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared this weekend that it had no wish to punish Britain. The talks will be hard-headed but that is not the same as hostile.

The Mayor’s visit is useful; we must deploy every means we have to make clear that in leaving the EU, Britain is not leaving Europe, and our relationship with the EU will be as positive as we can make it. The City of London’s special representative to the EU, Jeremy Browne, regularly makes the same point: that a positive relationship benefits both sides. Indeed, he insists that the City should be a resource for the whole of the EU, not just the UK. He has a point; if the City is diminished by Brexit, it won’t be Paris that benefits so much as New York.

The Mayor’s appearance with the Mayor of Paris is a useful indication that great cities often have more in common than the countries of which they are capitals. They are launching a joint initiative to attract tourism and investment to the two cities, building on considerable mutual investment between London and Parisian institutions. This approach makes sense: Chinese visitors to Europe for instance are quite willing to combine visits to London and Paris — the two capitals can co-operate sensibly on drumming up tourism. More bleakly, Paris and London — and Brussels and Berlin — share a common threat from Islamist extremism. It is inconceivable that Brexit should diminish cross-border information sharing.

Today, the PM made a speech about Global Britain. She’s right, of course, but a global Britain need not be at the expense of European Britain. We’re one and the other.

Building tall

Following Westminster council’s shift in policy towards giving planning permission for more tall buildings, City Hall has set out the Mayor’s stance: “Tall buildings have a role to play in London but they should only be built in suitable areas, contribute positively to the skyline and their locality and, if residential, help ease the capital’s housing crisis.” These are admirable objectives but every developer will maintain that his proposal will enhance the skyline. And while tall buildings do have the potential to provide more housing, medium-rise buildings such as mansion blocks also make for high density. This is an issue with huge implications for our environment; what we decide now will affect future generations. Decisions should be preceded by wide-ranging public debate, and we should be having it now.

Remember the victims

Kurt Cochran was on his first trip outside the US when he was murdered on Westminster Bridge last week. His wife was badly injured. Remarkably, his family say they will not bear ill feelings towards the killer but will focus instead on the positive memories of Kurt’s life. This is a reminder to us all to keep in mind the victims of last week’s attack, rather than concentrating only on its perpetrator.

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