Last week, the majority of the UK voted to leave the European Union. The majority of London did not. Most Londoners used their ballot papers to show that we treasure our closeness to Europe. We wanted to let you know that as far as most Londoners are concerned, our attitude to Europe is the same as it ever was.
We’re not just a British city – we are a European city. Many of us were born to European parents, many of us cherish EU nationals as our friends. And that’s just those of us who were able to vote in the referendum. For huge numbers of us, London isn’t just a vital part of Europe. Europe is a vital part of London (and we’re not just saying that because it’s quicker for us to get to Paris than to cross our own city by bus in rush hour).
We want to be clear: people who were not born in this city are welcome here. Not just Europeans, everyone: no matter what nationality, race, creed, colour or shoe size. Ask most Londoners what we love about this city and we’ll say one thing: its diversity. We want this city to remain a place for the outward-looking, for people with something different to offer. There is no place in this city for anyone who wants to make anyone else feel unwelcome on the basis of their nationality or race. If you have a problem with people who look or sound different to you, then you’re not a real Londoner.
This is a nation whose royal family are part Greek and part German. Those proud British lions at the foot of Nelson’s Column? A French-Italian sculptor carved them. Our national dish? It’s either fish and chips (thanks to a Jewish immigrant setting up London’s first chippy) or it’s chicken tikka masala – not, in case we need to point it out, a recipe that was invented by people who boasted that they could trace their lineage back to William the Conqueror. (William the Conqueror was French, anyway). The very word ‘English’ comes from the Anglo Saxons – a Germanic tribe – so what does our national identity even mean if not: ‘People who’ve welcomed immigrants for thousands of years’?
Real Londoners understand that you cannot send our city’s migrants home (imagine the miserable consequences for the Premier League and our restaurants); real Londoners understand that London IS their home. Our city has not changed overnight: it remains a place full of people who cherish human beings of all nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. Now and for ever, we see all people as people. And, more than that, we see them as Londoners. So, people of Europe and people of the world: thank you for making our city your home. No, let’s rephrase that: thank you for making YOUR city your home.
Yours, as always