Wednesday

26th Jul 2017

Interview

London Assembly chair hopes EU agencies can stay

  • 'So many people like living in London because of ... the London buzz' (Photo: Paul Hudson)

The chairwoman of the London Assembly still has hopes that one or both EU agencies located in the UK capital can stay after Brexit.

“I think the top three European cities are London, Paris, and Berlin,” said Jennette Arnold, who chairs the elected body that holds the London mayor accountable.

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But when EUobserver asked her to assess whether the French and German capitals, therefore, have the biggest chance of winning the competition to host the European Banking Authority (EBA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) after Brexit, Arnold did not want to give a preference.

“I’m not going to speak. I hope not, because I don’t want them to leave,” Arnold said about the agencies.

Arnold represents three London boroughs - Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest - home to almost 800,000 Londoners.

Hackney directly borders the borough where the two EU agencies are located.

“I’m sure, for instance, many of these people [working in EU agencies] might live in my constituency. I don’t want them to leave. Their children might be going to the schools in my constituency.”

“I have an analogy, it’s like this lovely tapestry. Once you start to pull a thread out, you notice it. We all bring something to our city.”

Jennette Arnold is a member of the Labour party, a Remainer, self-proclaimed socialist, and wholehearted supporter of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“I’m a Corbynista - I say this with pride.”

She also preferred to say that the Remain side received 49 percent of the vote in the 23 June 2016 EU referendum, even though it received 48.1 percent. Arnold spoke of the Brexit side's 51 percent, even though the Leave campaign got 51.9 percent.

“51 point something,” she said when EUobserver pointed out the error.

“No, they didn’t get 52, because I’m a Remainer. So I’m more likely to round mine up,” she said, whilst laughing.

And although EU leaders agreed last month on a voting procedure to select the new hosts for the two EU agencies currently in London, Jennette Arnold said there could still be a future in London for one or both of the agencies.

She noted that if the agencies leave London, then jobs will leave with them too. But it is also about “prestige” and the positive impact the agencies have had on London’s universities and research communities.

“Of course I understand that you would want your banking agency ... within the Union, but these are different times. This is two hours away by Eurostar,” she said jovially, referring to the high-speed rail service between London and Brussels.

“It is not rational to say the EBA of Europe can be outside [of the EU], but we don’t know what the agreement [between UK and EU] will be. So it’s almost like: maybe we will become the offshore.”

Arnold noted that the people working at the EU agencies enjoy their lives in London.

“These people who work in these areas, they want more out of life than just to work. They are working so hard, they need an aspect of life which they find in London. So many people like living in London because of, we call it, the London buzz.”

She noted that there are questions around whether the agencies can continue to recruit and retain staff, because of the uncertainty, and that this “has got to be taken into consideration” when discussing the agencies’ future.

“Without seeing the deal, I’m not going to become pessimistic. … They say an optimist has a better journey towards the end,” she said.

Transition period

Arnold made her suggestions on the day the UK government produced several position papers on Brexit - some days before the next round of talks begin in Brussels on Monday (17 July).

One of those papers opened the door for a transitional period, during which an EU agency may temporarily continue to operate out of the UK.

“The UK recognises the need, in the context of an overall settlement on withdrawal, for certain privileges and immunities to apply for a limited period after exit, in order to permit the EU a reasonable time in which to wind up its current operations in the UK,” the paper said.

Committee of the Regions

Arnold spoke to EUobserver on Thursday (13 July) in Brussels, where she attended a plenary meeting of the Committee of the Regions (CoR).

The CoR is one of the EU’s advisory bodies, and is asked for (non-binding) input on legislation. It is also a way for local administrators from across the EU to keep in touch.

UK members of the body will have to leave after Brexit.

But the London Assembly chairwoman is not afraid that contact with other European cities will cease after what she called E-day, the UK's exit day.

“National governments - they do what they do. Cities will always cooperate among themselves,” she said.

Relocation of EU agencies could save money

The EU agencies that will leave London after Brexit are likely have a financial windfall of several million euros a year, because of the way EU salaries are calculated.

EU urges UK to clarify its Brexit positions

EU and UK negotiators presented their Brexit positions to identify common grounds this week, but that was made difficult by the scarcity of UK position papers.

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