Why London's mayor told EU citizens 'You are very welcome here'

Following Britain's historic vote to leave the European Union, London Mayor Sadiq Khan focused on a message of inclusion amid debates about immigration.

Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP
London Mayor Sadiq Khan arrives at Wembley Arena during preparations for a national live TV debate on Tuesday. In the wake of Britain's historic vote to leave the European Union this week, Mr. Khan, who was in favor of remaining in the EU, called for unity and told EU citizens they were "very welcome" in London.

With Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union this week, debates about immigration – and what critics said was an undercurrent of xenophobia and nativism in the ‘Leave’ campaign – have now taken center stage.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the city’s first Muslim mayor, took a strong stance towards inclusion. “I want to send a clear message to every European resident living in London – you are very welcome here,” Mr. Khan wrote in a Facebook post on Friday that was shared by more than 400,000 people.

“As a city, we are grateful for the enormous contribution you make, and that will not change as a result of this referendum,” he wrote, noting that nearly one million European citizens live in London.

While the majority of Londoners voted to remain in the EU, and some have even called for the city to seek independence from Britain, the vote has raised significant concerns about what will happen to the approximately three million European living in the country, and to British expats living in Europe.

As he announced his resignation on Friday, British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had pushed for the country to remain in the EU, sought to reassure British expats that “there would be no immediate changes,” Spain’s The Local reports.

The Vote Leave campaign has also said EU citizens currently living in Britain should be allowed to stay. In Spain, interim Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy offered a similar message of what he called "calm and serenity" following the vote.

In a televised address, he said there would be “at least two years from the formal notification,” of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, saying legal relationships, including employment rules and pensions rights, wouldn’t be affected during that time, The Local reports. That would apply to both EU citizens and British expats, Mr. Rajoy said.

Mr. Cameron also declined to trigger Article 50 — the official notification of when a member state leaves the European Union, saying he would leave that to his successor.

But in Sunderland, a city in Britain’s North East which voted in favor of a Brexit by a larger than expected margin, Tadeuz Kaminski, who is from Warsaw and has been working as a baker in the British city since 2011, expressed alarm.

“I think it’s a very bad idea,” she told Britain’s Daily Mail. “I don’t even know if I have a future in the UK anymore.”

Before the vote on Thursday, a parliamentary committee also pointed to legal challenges in sorting out the status of EU citizens and British expats, with one lawmaker calling them “ghastly,” The Local reports.

“This is complex stuff – you are talking about the right to residence, to healthcare and to schooling, about maintenance payments and access to children, about research projects and contracts that cross borders, sorting all this out would be a daunting task,” said Lord Boswell of Aynho, a Conservative MP.

The stakes are also high for educational institutions. In emailed statement on Friday, the London School of Economics, which has a highly international student body, including 20 percent of its students from the EU, sought to reassure students and faculty, at least for the short term. 

“While the School maintained a position of institutional neutrality throughout the referendum campaign, this is not the result that the higher education sector at large, nor many of us here at LSE, wanted to see,” the statement said.

It noted that while tuition rates had been set for students who began at the school during this academic year, “no decision has yet been made for EU students starting at LSE in 2017/18.”

Mr. Khan, who faced a tumultuous election campaign to become London's mayor, including efforts to paint him as an extremist, pushed for unity in his post on Friday. He also supported efforts to remain in the EU.

“We all have a responsibility to now seek to heal the divisions that have emerged throughout this campaign — and to focus on what unites us, rather than that which divides us,” he said.

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