Rory Stewart promised to boost the City of London’s representation in European capitals after Brexit if he becomes the next mayor of London.
The former cabinet minister is running as an independent candidate after being kicked out of the Conservative party over his opposition to a hard Brexit by Boris Johnson last summer.
With the prime minister now pursuing “a harder form of Brexit”, Mr Stewart said it was important for the UK to keep fighting for close access to European markets for the financial services sector.
“If I’m the mayor, I would be supporting the City of London to effectively have embassies in Europe making very very detailed arguments around financial services,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times.
The former Tory international development secretary faces a tough challenge to oust Sadiq Khan, who has run the UK’s capital city for the past four years.
But bookmakers suggest that Mr Stewart is in second place — ahead of Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate, having built up a significant public profile during his failed attempt to become Tory leader last summer. He believes he stands a chance if Mr Bailey is eliminated in the first round of the contest and second preference votes from Tory backers switch to him.
The current mayor, Mr Khan, already has a small “European Office” in Brussels that aims to ensure that London’s interests are taken into account in the EU.
But Mr Stewart said he wanted more outposts in cities such as Berlin, Paris and Warsaw making the case for the Square Mile.
His comments come after the EU last week shot down the prospect of awarding the UK permanent access arrangements for financial services when the Brexit transition period expires at the end of this year.
With the City of London set to lose automatic access to the EU single market, the UK wants Brussels to grant a longer-term equivalence regime whereby the EU grants financial firms access provided Britain’s rules and regulations are similar to theirs. Unless the EU backs down in the coming negotiations then the equivalence arrangements could be withdrawn with just 30 days’ notice.
Mr Stewart said the arguments over financial regulation would not be settled by the mayoral elections in May, nor by the end of the transition period at Christmas, because the EU would keep changing its rules in the future.
“It’s about providing the facility, the kudos, the legitimacy, authority and expertise in those areas to win those arguments because we have to win the argument now.”
The new European outposts would be largely funded by the private sector but would answer to the mayor, he suggested.
“We’ve got good organisations here: Corporation of London, City UK, these are good trade bodies,” he said. “But everything I’ve learnt in government is that you mustn’t ever wait for the civil service to come up with a strategy, you must write it for them.”
The current mayor already has a promotion agency called “London and Partners” with offices in German and French cities.
Mr Stewart said: “What I would envisage is something with real expertise; often those mentioned are simply marketing arms so what I’m talking about is that it’s difficult for the UK’s permanent mission in Brussels to have the full expertise and the details of financial services regulation.”
In his campaign to win the London mayoralty Mr Stewart is promising more police on the streets and the building of 250,000 new homes over five years, accused Mr Khan of having failed to hit targets on housing, tree-planting and crime.
He said his campaign had 21 paid staff as well as a policy team of 52 people offering advice of between four and 30 hours a week. He is trying to raise £2.3m from potential donors but declined to identify those paying for his campaign.