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No, There Won’t Be a Referendum on London’s Independence

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"I am not planning to install border points on the M25," said London Mayor Sadiq Khan.Photograph by YUI MOK AFP/Getty Images

In the aftermath of Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union last week, Remainers have circulated a petition for a second referendum on the U.K.’s membership in the bloc. What the proposal suggests is not unprecedented nor is it the worst idea, since it’s become evident in recent days that many Britons didn’t quite understand what they were voting for. (Even so, it remains a long-shot.)

But there’s another petition circulating that’s much more far-fetched and indicative of the febrile atmosphere in some parts of Britain that’s bordering on fantastical as the fallout of the Brexit vote starts to spread. More than 175,000 people have signed a proposal for London to break from the U.K. and apply on its own to the EU.

The petition says, “Let’s face it—the rest of the country disagrees. So rather than passive aggressively vote against each other at every election, let’s make the divorce official and move in with our friends on the continent.” The petition’s creator, James O’Malley, wrote in the Telegraph on Tuesday that the measure started as “a bit of a joke for frustrated Remainers” but has since “snowballed.”

London’s newly-elected mayor Sadiq Khan addressed the measure on Tuesday and said he’s “not seriously talking about independence today.”

“I am not planning to install border points on the M25,” he said, referring to the highway that circles the city. “This petition wasn’t started by a politician or pushed by any particular interest group. It was an organic movement born out of Londoners desire to have more control over their city’s future.”

In London, 60% of ballots cast supported staying in the EU in Thursday’s vote, singling out the city as one of the rare Remain hotspots in what turned out out to be a country of Leavers. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also fueled speculation of an independent London when she aligned her country with Britain’s capital city as she announced Scotland’s plans to hold another vote on splitting from the U.K.

“I also be communicated over the weekend with each EU member state to make clear that Scotland has voted to stay in the EU and I intend to discussion all options for doing so,” she said on Friday. “I have also spoken this morning with [London] mayor Sadiq Khan and he is clear that he shares this objective for London, so there is clear common cause between us.”

In dismissing the notion of an independent London on Tuesday, Khan did call for more control of for the city.

“On behalf of all Londoners, I am demanding more autonomy for the capital—right now,” he said. The mayor wants “the devolution of fiscal responsibility including tax raising powers, as well as more control over business and skills, housing and planning, transport, health and policing and criminal justice,” according to his office.

Khan’s comments are rather boilerplate for a politician—what elected official has ever asked for less control over his constituency—but they are not helpful at this point. The national government is unlikely to ever entertain his suggestions as it contends with a power vacuum of unprecedented proportions. Moreover, Khan’s remarks only deepen the gash gouged by the Brexit vote, which revealed the ideological divide between the U.K.’s wealthier, urban areas and its more rural outposts, where citizens feel marginalized.