Opinion Politics Society, 25/06/2016

Why Did London Vote to Remain?

Taras Danko

Professor of International Business at National Technical University “Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute”

For many of us June 24 results of Brexit referendum have the awakening effect. Paradoxes of what happened are challenging, as they require us to reassess our understanding and knowledge about many realities of the world we have to live in. One of the major paradoxes is that while the majority of the Britain votes to leave, London, the capital, decides to remain in the European Union by a substantial majority of 59,9% voices  against 40,1%.

“Look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.” ― Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

To me, this is the manifestation of the global city recognizing its economic interest. Sociologists say that people with better education and of younger age voted to remain. But this is not about education or age. This is about economy. This is about the fact that younger people with better education gravitate to global cities that give them better opportunities for achievement. And London by no doubt is the global city. According to Global Cities Index 2015 London is second in the rank following New York. Maybe unconsciousness, but people in the city realize that its future prosperity and growth depend on global connectivity. Self-isolation is devastating for global cities. Networking and mobility are the basis for growth and prosperity in the knowledge economy. And Europe provides the network of cities that is vital to belong. The European Union is the civilization of connected cities. United, they are strong.

This evidently manifests the conflict in our understanding what drives economies and nations ahead nowadays. Free trade, openness, inclusiveness or protectionism, building of the walls.

Global cities are the engines of development. Like it or not, but the whole Britain is dependent of the ability of London to remain global. Deprived of this ability it will harm the whole nation.

What’s ahead? In the end of the day London will succeed if it will get more freedom of mobility and global exposure after Brexit. After all, Britain was always more about Commonwealth than Europe. The chances of London regaining its global empire are low, but if played well the city will benefit. But London will definitely lose if it chooses to close itself to the world. London will depreciate. That’s the choice Britain faces now. From the next day it has to compete against European Union. It has to compete globally on its own. And it is the global city that is the locomotive of its competitiveness. Making London provincial will make Britain weak. So the paradox is that if Britain wants to win it has to become more open. Even more open than European Union is today. Otherwise be ready to greet new global city on the rise – Berlin. And Paris is already there following on the heels of London.

This is dramatically redrawing the map of Europe. It does not matter if we are aware of it but we are living in time when geopolitics of global cities shapes the world. The destinies of nations are decided by global cities. They are decided at global cities.

Lessons for Kharkiv

Cities prosper when they are connected. The bigger is the city, the more distant should be its reach. Isolation ruins big cities. It makes them provincial. In ancient times to capture the city they sieged it. Without supplies and fresh air city cannot stand long.

So it’s simple. Think big, act global, be European, and you will gain in the turmoil to come.