To mark the first anniversary of his election as Mayor of London, I caught up with Sadiq Khan last week (I profiled him at length for the NS last year). The Mayor was at County House in Beckenham, south London, to meet the first tenants to benefit from his London Living Rent.
When I spoke to Khan afterwards we discussed his first year at City Hall, Donald Trump and the general election. But it was on Brexit that the Mayor was most striking. Though Khan praised shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer for recognising “the importance of privileged access to a single market”, he delivered a frank assessment of Labour’s standing.
“There is an issue on the doorstep, which is people are unclear about the Labour position [on Brexit] nationally,” he told me. “Everyone’s clear about my position in London, you know where you stand with the Tories – extreme hard Brexit – you know where you stand with the Lib Dems: they wish the referendum had never happened and want a second one. People are less clear about Labour’s position nationally.”
Khan’s admission that the public didn’t know where Labour stands on the issue of the day was a damning verdict from the party’s most senior elected politician (and its most popular one). But in an attempt to change that, the Mayor will be campaigning with Starmer (who he has known since their legal days) throughout the campaign. Khan said: “For too long voters were not clear about where Labour stood on Brexit, but I’m really pleased Keir’s recent interventions have clarified our position.
“We are staunchly opposed to the extreme ‘hard Brexit’ the Tories want to lead us into, and a Labour government would fight to retain access to the single market and give a cast-iron guarantee to those EU citizens already living here that they are allow to stay after Brexit.
“I look forward to working with Keir over the coming weeks to make sure voters know that a vote for Labour is Britain’s last chance to stop the Tories’ extreme ‘hard Brexit’.”
I also asked Khan whether, like Tony Blair, he regarded a Conservative election victory as inevitable. “The polls show a massive lead for the Conservative Party, that’s the reason Theresa May called an election,” he said. “She thinks she can win a massive majority. If she wins a massive majority it means that she can negotiate an extreme hard Brexit, impose further cuts to our police and the NHS.” In acknowledgment of Labour and Corbyn’s parlous poll ratings, he added: “Even if you’re not doing it with a huge amount of enthusiasm, even if you’re not necessarily inspired by the Labour Party, I’d encourage you to vote Labour because a Labour government is far better for you and your family and future generations than this Conservative government.”
Update: Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has responded to Khan’s comments. He said: “Sadiq has admitted what has been abundantly clear. Labour voted with the Conservatives for a hard Brexit, out of the single market, and to deny the people a say on the final deal.
“Only the Liberal Democrats are fighting to stay in the Single Market and for the rights of EU citizens to remain in their jobs and homes – and only we are committing to give people, not politicians, the final say on the Brexit deal.”
The full interview will appear in this week’s New Statesman