In a feeble attempt at a straw poll last week, I asked Patel, my local corner shop proprietor, whether he was going to vote to remain in the European Union (EU) or to leave. He said he was abstaining as the result would make no difference to him. He did say, however, that in the immediate past and almost definitely for a few weeks in the future his sales of newspapers had and would increase, as people wanted information about the pros and cons and then about the fallout of whatever the result would be.
“Ah, but if Britain votes to leave and, as the economic gurus predict there will be a recession, people will have less money to spend on your sweets and chocolates,” I said.
He resignedly said, in Gujarati, that that would be god’s will.
God didn’t have much to do with this referendum, even though the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby declared that he, and perhaps Jesus, were in favour of staying in.
But now the referendum has yielded its result and this country’s vote to leave the EU has caused huge economic and political turmoil all over Britain. Prime Minister David Cameron has resigned and a grievously divided Tory Party will soon choose another leader. The Labour opposition has been exposed as seriously out of touch with its traditional working-class base and may spell the end of its electoral prospects, unless it elects a new leadership. Economically, Pound Sterling has taken a pounding and the markets have demonstrated the biggest wobble and fall for decades. Most threateningly there will be pressure from the majority of their populace for Scotland and Northern Ireland to break away from Great Britain and rejoin the EU.
So doom and gloom on the broadest scale for the country. The European citizens who live and work in Britain are certainly apprehensive about their future. When the negotiations for Britain’s exit from the EU are concluded they would lose their automatic right to be in the country and certainly lose their right to work here.
The majority of Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans in Britain have claimed and been granted British citizenship. The leaders of the campaign to leave the EU insisted during it that if they won Britain would make fresh trade deals with countries such as India and other members of the Commonwealth. Immigration was the biggest issue in the popular imagination during the campaign and a fear of the country being ‘swamped’ by foreigners decisively delivered the ‘Leave’ result. Boris Johnson, the potential successor to Cameron, has repeatedly said that he is not against immigration but it must be controlled and people should be admitted to work in Britain only if the labour market needs their skills.
Such an immigration policy will mean that any medical staff, doctors or nurses will have open-door entry to Britain and may result in a large number of, in particular, medically-qualified Indian professionals moving here. On the other hand, more stringent laws on immigration may mean that spouses and families of Indians and people from the subcontinent may face a ban or more hurdles and restrictions to entry.
The now defunct Tata Steel industries in Britain were largely affected by cheaper Chinese imports and no tariffs and obstacles erected by the EU were able to prevent this. Tata’s Jaguar Land Rover manufacturing in Britain will certainly be affected by Brexit if Europe chooses to restrict imports of these cars by its member states. Tata may even now be contemplating moving the manufacture of these cars to where labour is cheaper and their European markets safe. Tata must own the brand names and they’ll possibly have to take them to Poland.
Patel may be sanguine about it but there are a couple of Indians and several Pakistanis in London who ought to be wary of the result. Several legal cases in the past, at least three of them involving Islamist hate preachers, have been determined by EU laws on human rights. One of the things that the Leave camp wants is to abolish these laws, which they claim prevented, for some years, the extradition or expulsion of criminals who claimed their protection to remain in Britain. If these laws no longer apply to people seeking refuge in Britain it may very well be that Indian citizens who have for, say, financial reasons, landed up here in defiance of Indian requests for their return to face charges, will have reason to consider their position. The same goes for the Pakistani agitator Altaf Hussain even though he may by now have acquired British citizenship.
Of course if the law changes, the two Indians I have in mind could, like Julian Assange, seek refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy.
Farrukh Dhondy is an author, screenplay writer and columnist based in London
The views expressed are personal