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CrossRail – what will happen if Brexit goes ahead?
08 Aug, 2017

Crossrail is London’s $20 billion high-speed train line, which plans to start taking passengers late next year, and is believed to be Europe’s biggest infrastructure project. What future does it have in Brexit Britain?

A thought-provoking article by Michael Kimmerman in the New York Times – London’s New Subway Symbolized the Future. Then Came Brexit – considers the future of Crossrail in a post-Brexit Britain.

Before Britain voted last summer to leave the European Union, Crossrail was conceived for a London open to the world and speeding into the future. Now, with Brexit, the nightmare scenario is that this massive project, to provide more trains moving more people more quickly through a growing city, ends up moving fewer people more quickly through a shrinking city.

It an unpromising sign this spring when May’s Conservative government, as if fearing exactly what anti-Brexiters predicted about an economic downturn, issued a campaign manifesto that conspicuously omitted funding for Crossrail 2, the long-planned, $39 billion critical north-south sequel to Crossrail’s east-west line.

Since then, the government’s transport secretary has endorsed the project — provided that the city pay half the whopping cost, upfront. The semi-reversal suggested a grudging acknowledgment that, whatever the political fallout or economic prospects, Britain ultimately needs a thriving London all the more after Brexit.

But what if the flow of incoming bankers slows, if immigrants look elsewhere, if the excesses of European money and human capital that helped drive growth begin to dry up? As Brexit skeptics warned, the pound has lost value and inflation is starting to rise. Some companies are already making plans to move employees out of London.

“The danger with Brexit,” says George Iacobescu, Canary Wharf’s longtime chairman, who helped lead the push for Crossrail, “is that if Britain gets out of the European Union and doesn’t keep the UK an attractive place for financial institutions, they will think twice about growing here. The issue isn’t banks leaving Canary Wharf. Most of them have long-term leases. The issue will be the pace of growth.”

But because of Brexit worries, construction plans for several of Canary Wharf’s new buildings have already been put on hold. And long-term leases can always be broken.