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Khan embraces EU presence in London despite Brexit fears

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan
Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

Mayor Sadiq Khan downplayed concerns that London will suffer in the wake of Brexit, telling CNBC in an interview that European Union citizens "are welcome" in the city and "that's not going to change."

Last June, U.K. voters decided to leave the EU, but the mayor of London appeared willing to show that the capital would not close its doors.

As the calendar prepared to flip to 2017—the year when negotiations to exit the European Union are due to start—Khan touted London's advantages, some of which might suffer if Brexit erodes key economic and financial perks the U.K. currently enjoys.

The estimated one million Londoners who are citizens of other E.U. countries "contribute to London's success whether they're working in the health service, social care, construction, finance, banking," and other sectors, Khan told CNBC in an interview on Saturday. For those reasons, "they will always be welcome here," he said.

"They make a huge contribution to our city. That's not going to change," Khan added.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The decision to leave the EU was heavily influenced in part by concerns that the U.K. is absorbing too many new immigrants. However, a great number of E.U. citizens migrating to the U.K. are skilled workers, something London firms covet.

Khan, who has been meeting firms across the city, told CNBC that one of their main concerns is to continue to attract talent post-Brexit. Among other advantages, Britain is hoping to retain access to Europe's common market, which currently requires the country to allow free movement of E.U. citizens across borders.

"The key is to continue to be able to attract talent. Access to single market is important," he said when asked what concerns businesses have voiced to him. "It's also about a state of mind."

Businesses "don't want us to become inward-looking, they don't us to stop becoming the country and the city we've been for more than a thousand years," he said, adding that the U.K. government should not forget these concerns when negotiating with the E.U.

"It's important that the government understands what London's needs are when it comes to negotiating with the EU," he said, which include "things like the passport of financial services."

Critics have pointed out that countries like Switzerland and Norway are not E.U. members, yet have managed to thrive economically. Yet financial firms based in London are concerned that they might lose the right to sell and trade in euros and across Europe if they are not subject to E.U. laws.

Khan, however, said U.K. businesses are optimistic about the future.

"The good news is that the chief executives, the entrepreneurs, the investors I speak to are optimistic about London, mainly because of our people," he also said.

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