As UK ‘triggers’ Article 50 next week London Mayor warns of those who seek to spread division and intolerance
With Prime Minister Theresa May’s government due to formally start its withdrawal from the EU next week (Wednesday 29 March) London’s Mayor has urged the Irish community to do all it can to ensure the capital, and the country, to not become insular after Brexit.
Mayor Sadiq Khan’s overwhelmingly positive appeal to the Irish here coincided with an Irish government minister’s warning that Brexit should not be allowed undo the great good achieved by the UK in the EU as many far right groups hope it will.
Ireland’s Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton TD told London’s Diplomatic Corps at the Embassy of Ireland that while it is hugely important to protect Britain and Ireland’s trading relationship it is equally important not to let a Border set back Northern Ireland’s peace process. His comments followed remarks by the UK’s Brexit Secretary David Davis that the UK intends to copy existing 1948 legislation which gives Irish and British citizens reciprocal rights in each other’s home countries and to use CCTV to police the Border.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he hopes the Irish community in London, and the wider UK, will do all it can to prevent Brexit making the capital and country “an insular, inward looking city or country”.
Speaking at the St. Patrick’s Festival in Trafalgar Square on Sunday he said this year’s celebrations, extended over three days for the first time, were the biggest London had ever seen.
Mr Khan, who grew up in a mixed, multiethnic and multi-cultural working class community in south London, was positively unqualified in his praise for the Irish and how they paved the way for other immigrants. “One of the key things I tell my children, and I tell others they’ve got to tell their children, is this city was built on the contribution of immigrants and we should remember our history.
“The Irish community first came here in the 12th century and think about some of the persecution they faced in previous centuries. We know about the Troubles in the 1970s and 80s.
“But the Irish community is positive and enthusiastic, always looks on the bright side and literally helped rebuild this city post the Second World War, filled the gaps in pubic service, the NHS, in teaching, in construction, and in entrepreneurship and I want to celebrate that contribution,” he said.
Asked if, given the community’s own experiences of overcoming discrimination, bias and even persecution to go on to thrive in London Irish people here might help other present day, newer communities – including followers of Islam – the Mayor replied: “Oh, they do. Some of the stories I hear about cooperation between Londoners of the Irish community and Londoners of the Islamic faith, and others, fills you with joy because they’ve shown how to be resilient, they’ve shown how to be positive.
“The reality is hundreds of thousands of Londoners have some connection with Ireland.”
“My message to Londoners of Irish origin, my message to the Irish community is: you have a big role to make sure post-Brexit we don’t become an insular, inward looking city or country.
“I want us always to be open-minded, outward looking, to show the rest of our country that we are a beacon.
“Our campaign London Is Open was to show the world we’re going to carry on being open-minded, outward looking.
“(Irish) values, your heritage, are really important in making sure we carry on being a beacon for pluralism, for celebrating others, for respecting others and making sure we embrace others as well,” said Mayor Khan. “The Irish community has shown its resilience, its sense of humour, its creativity.
“That’s the message we’ve got to send at these difficult times because you know there are some who try and divide our communities, some who try and say post-Brexit we’re going to stop being open-minded and outward looking.
“We’re going to show the world it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian, Catholic or Protestant, a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, Sikh, whether you’re a member of an organised faith or not, whether you’re rich or poor, whether you’re old or young, we don’t simply tolerate you, we welcome you and we embrace you and we celebrate you.”
He added: “They talk about the luck of the Irish, London is lucky to have the Irish, (they) are in the DNA of this city, the greatest city in the world.”