Sadiq Khan calls for ‘youth mobility agreement’ around EU countries and suggests UK should rejoin customs union

20 January 2024, 23:35 | Updated: 20 January 2024, 23:53

London Mayor Sadiq Khan during his speech to the Fabian Society conference in central London. Picture date: Saturday January 20, 2024.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan during his speech to the Fabian Society conference in central London. Picture date: Saturday January 20, 2024. Picture: Alamy

By Christian Oliver

Sadiq Khan has called for young people to be freed from European Union travel restrictions, arguing a 'youth mobility agreement' needs to be implemented when the Brexit deal comes up for review in 2024.

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London's Mayor, who supported the Remain Campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum, said there needed to be a bespoke new scheme to allow young people to move between EU countries and amend visa rules.

Mr Khan criticised the Conservative government's "extreme hard Brexit", and also appeared to hit out at Labour's "omerta", or pact of silence, preventing the party from discussing potential economic reintegration with Brussels.

The Labour mayor is seeking a third terms when London heads to the polls in May's mayoral election, where he will stand against Conservative Susan Hall. Mr Khan is expected to again win convincingly.

In a statement first reported by the Observer, Mr Khan said re-entering the customs union should be on the table when the Brexit deal with the EU comes up for review in 2024. He noted London had been particularly hampered by Brexit.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan speaking at the 2024 Fabian Society New Year Conference, at Guildhall in London
London Mayor Sadiq Khan speaking at the 2024 Fabian Society New Year Conference, at Guildhall in London. Picture: Alamy

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"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 wrongheaded 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."

The mayor wants young people to be able to study, travel and fill vacancies in key sectors of the economy such as hospitality, which has historically relied on EU workers and has faced staff shortages.

Earlier on Saturday, Mr Khan said "let's have the conversation" about steps to align with the bloc.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan speaking at the 2024 Fabian Society New Year Conference, at Guildhall in London.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan speaking at the 2024 Fabian Society New Year Conference, at Guildhall in London. Picture: Alamy

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He told the Fabian Society conference in London: "I'm not saying today we should rejoin the European Union. What I'm saying is that (shadow foreign secretary) David Lammy is on to something when he's saying we should have a closer relationship with the European Union."

He then suggested there is a code of silence meaning "you can't talk about being close to the European Union, joining the single market, joining the customs union".

He said "the economic cost of this extreme hard Brexit is huge", pointing to a Cambridge Econometrics study which found that it has already cost the UK economy £140 billion and London £30 billion.

Mr Khan also said Rishi Sunak's Government is using its Rwanda deportation plan "in the same way they used Brexit - as a deflection of all the problems they've caused to our country".

He called for the Labour Party to "speak up" on the benefits of immigration and diversity.

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