Paris, London mayors pledge to work ‘closer than ever’ despite Brexit

Sadiq Khan

Sadiq Khan

EU leaders will press the British prime minister to waste no time triggering his country’s divorce from the bloc at a tense summit on Tuesday, seeking to stave off the threat of prolonged instability in the wake of last week’s Brexit vote.

The leaders of Germany, France and Italy agreed on the eve of the summit in Brussels that there could be no talks on Britain’s relations with the group until after it has formally notified the European Union of its intention to leave by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Under EU rules, the UK would have two years to negotiate the terms of its divorce from the EU once it has triggered Article 50.

But Prime Minister David Cameron – who announced his plan to resign in the wake of the shock referendum vote – has insisted Britain will not pull the trigger until his successor is in place in September.

With England’s disgraced football team returning from France after being dumped out of Euro 2016 by Iceland, Cameron heads to Brussels for an awkward encounter with his 27 counterparts.

A British government source said ahead of the meeting that Cameron will reiterate his position that beginning Britain’s extraction from the EU is a job for his successor.

“He will want to encourage people to think about how both the UK and the EU needs to work now to make the best of the decision that the British people have taken,” the source added.

Cameron will first sit down with EU President Donald Tusk, before the European Council meets later in the day.

Later, the British prime minister will “explain the situation” to his fellow leaders over a dinner, according to an invitation letter from Tusk.

Still a full member

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been pushing for Britain to be given more time as the crisis tears through its political scene, with the end of 2016 being seen as the latest for Britain to trigger Article 50.

But she, French President François Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi – who with Britain’s exit make up the three largest economies in the bloc – all rejected London’s suggestion that it should have a “clear view” of what its future trade relationship with the EU would look like before initiating the divorce.

Merkel, Hollande and Renzi met on Monday in Berlin, and agreed “that there will be no informal or formal talks on the exit of Britain until an application has been filed to leave the European Union”.

Britain’s reluctance to start divorce proceedings has led some countries to think there may be space for a solution to keep it in the bloc, with Poland’s ruling party chief suggesting Monday there should be a second referendum.

Hidalgo and Khan, who passionately campaigned to keep the UK in the EU, argued that cities will have an increasingly prominent role to play on vital issues such as the economy and the fight against climate change, pledging to present a united front against these shared challenges.

“Together, we can act as a powerful counterweight to the lethargy of nation states and to the influence of industrial lobbies. Together, we can and will shape the century ahead,” the mayors said.

The collaborative spirit of the letter marked a break with the recent past, when the two cities have been pitted as bitter competitors.

Paris saw its Olympic ambitions destroyed in 2005 as London claimed the right to host the Games seven years later, and in 2012 British Prime Minister David Cameron said London was ready to “roll out the red carpet” for French businesses overburdened with taxes.

‘Feel at home’

Both the children of working-class immigrant families, Hidalgo and Kahn have made a name for themselves as trailblazer mayors on either side of the English Channel.

Born in southern Spain as Ana Hidalgo, the Paris mayor moved to the French city of Lyon with her family when she was 2 years old and became a French citizen at 14. A Socialist, she became the first female mayor of Paris in 2014 after serving as deputy mayor for 13 years.

Khan made headlines in May by becoming London’s first Muslim mayor. The son of Pakistani immigrants, he frequently cited his modest upbringing during the race for the capital’s top job.

During the EU referendum campaign he was a leading voice for the “Remain” camp, famously accusing his predecessor Boris Johnson and others of turning the ballot into “project hate” in a widely viewed television debate.

“In cities we celebrate our diversity and see our differences as a great source of strength,” the mayors wrote, in an apparent reference to the concerns over immigrants and refugees that were stoked by “Leave” partisans.

“Our cities are places where everyone, whatever their backgrounds, can feel at home.”