Mr Hugo Swire, Foreign Office minister responsible for South Asia and the Commonwealth, is keen that the Asian community registers by June 7 and votes in large numbers during the June 23 referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union….reports PS Prabhakara
“The overarching point I want to make is that it is important that everybody in the Indian and Asian community votes. Research shows that the Indian diaspora is not on the whole registered,” Swire told Asian Lite.
“My message to your readers is, please do take part in this very important vote. They have until June 7 to register. I believe all the communities we have in Britain will be better off within a reformed EU. I passionately believe in the Commonwealth”.
Answering a range of questions on the increasingly acrimonious referendum campaign, Swire said it will be “crazy” to come of the EU, which would not only have an adverse effect on ties with India but also prevent high-achieving professionals in the Indian community here from leveraging access to the EU and its markets.
Swire said: “The idea that somehow trade with the Commonwealth can replace trade with the European Union (as claimed by the Brexit camp) is misguided and misleading. As the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, Indian companies use Britain as a gateway to the EU”.
“It could take 15 or 20 years to have a free trade agreement with India if Britain is outside the EU. It is not a clever thing to do. We know the certainty of increasing Indian investment into Britain in the current situation. No one knows, but I can’t believe it (Brexit) will have a positive impact on ties with India”, he added.
Swire, however, is more focussed for now on encouraging the Asian community to register and vote in the referendum.
“The Commonwealth is of immense importance to the United Kingdom. No matter how you look at the relationship – historic, cultural, or our personal ties – our connection with the Commonwealth is stronger now than ever”.
“Pakistan’s exports to the EU have soared as a result of our efforts to cut duty, linked to progress on human rights. Bangladesh’s economy has been boosted thanks to duty-free access to the EU market, championed by the UK”.
“We help secure huge amounts of EU development funding for both these countries and many others like South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Nigeria. And we continue to push the EU for free trade deal with many Commonwealth countries like Australia and India”.
Swire noted that the fact that Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK have the right to vote shows just how close the connection is.
“But many still haven’t registered to do so, despite this being the biggest decision the UK will make for a generation. So what is stopping you? Maybe you think you are not eligible? You are, as long as you are a Commonwealth national with leave to remain in the UK – even if you haven’t taken out British citizenship.
“Or maybe you think the process is too complicated? It’s not, it takes just five minutes online. You need your passport and National Insurance number, then go to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote (or search for ‘UK register to vote’)”.
“Or perhaps you think this referendum doesn’t matter to you? If you live in the UK, you have as much of a role in this referendum as I do. Many of you have spent years living, working and contributing to the UK. And most of you still have deep ties with India; whether through family, property, or returning to live there again one day”.
On other issues, Swire made light of the claim of his ministerial colleague, Priti Patel (minister of state for Employment), who believes that leaving the EU would lead to a “massive boost” in UK-India ties, and ridiculed the picture of ‘milk and honey’ that the Brexit camp has been allegedly portraying.
To claims by Patel that much-needed skilled chefs from India and Bangladesh were being prevented to come to Britain due to tougher controls imposed in the wake of uncontrolled immigration from the EU, Swiresaid: “Priti is making up Home Office policy on the hoof here”.
“What she is suggesting is that if we were outside the EU we would have free flow of people from India and Pakistan and Bangladesh. That simply wouldn’t be the case. It is regrettable that she is giving false hopes. I don’t think that’s the most responsible claim I’ve heard”, he said.
Swire agreed that the EU referendum debate had led to strains within the ruling Conservative party, with six ministers and several party MPs opposing the pro-EU position taken by the David Cameron government.