Still suffering from the EU referendum earthquake, the wheels may be coming off the UK already. Scotland gave a resounding ‘No’ to the Eurosceptic lobby setting the scene for another independence vote. Northern Ireland chose to remain despite the DUP’s self-serving europhobia. Voters in both countries can rightly claim they’ve been unwillingly pulled in the wrong direction. More than anyone else, Londoners must feel their destiny is now out of their hands. Despite huge support for Remain across the city, millions of Londoners find themselves thrown out in the storm by their fellow Englishmen. Disenchanted urbanites might now be ready to take drastic steps.
The Brexit vote in the English heartland is a rejection of everything London is: cosmopolitan, internationalist and wrapped up in the European economy. With more than 8.5 million people and a powerful financial sector, London is well-placed to make its own destiny. City states are historical curiosities for most people, but a city as wealthy and influential as London could cut a swathe in European affairs. Singapore, the world’s ‘only real city state’, has a smaller population than London and provides an example of how a Republic of London would work. The City traders want to remain in the EU, so an independent, pro-European London could see big wins for the markets. A London republic would be the 15th or 16th most populous nation in the EU and one of the very richest. London would lose little economically by ditching the rump of Britain.
The structure of government is already in place. London’s Assembly would gain greater powers and the Mayor might become a modern day Doge, albeit in a much more responsive democracy than medieval Venice. Everyone knows Londoners care more about tube services than their MP at Westminster. Like the free cities of the Holy Roman Empire, London is an economic powerhouse and an international centre of arts and culture. Divorced from narrow-minded British nationalism, London could finally embrace its real identity as a diverse, ingenious city for the ages. And uncoupled from Britain’s disastrous adventurism abroad, a London republic would be more secure and far less likely to send its children to die on distant battlefields.
While London remains in a crisis-stricken UK, it risks further disappointment from governments Londoners don’t want making decisions Londoners voted against. If the kingdom suddenly finds itself much less united, with Scotland jumping ship and a radical change in Anglo-Irish relations, the city that was once the capital of a global empire may find itself trapped in a much diminished nation ruled by Little Englanders opposed to London’s very identity. No great international city can avoid decline fenced off from its natural allies and ruled unhappily by a decaying nation.
Europeans and Londoners know the truth – London is a European city. England’s capital has always had a strong international character but in the age of a globalised economy, the internet and prolonged peace and democracy, the city has grown into something better, stronger and more worthy than the smallness of selfish, and often violent, nation states.
As stocks and the pound nosedived and the similarities between Scotland and London became clearer and clearer, London’s great and good must have realised the future of a magnificent city is at stake. If a small nation like Scotland can seize the opportunity and break free from a country that no longer represents its public’s wishes or its economic interests, how can London not follow? This nation-sized city with all its money and influence may be dragged out of its natural home thanks to voters and leaders who sneer at Londoners’ way of life. The streets of London aren’t paved with gold, but the future may see a golden age for a Republic of London, if its leaders have the vision and guts to do what’s right.