Britain-India relations could benefit from the hung Parliament | opinion$Comment | Hindustan Times
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Britain-India relations could benefit from the hung Parliament

Prime Minister Theresa May and her international trade secretary Liam Fox have made a big promise of securing trade deals with India and other countries. They can make the biggest difference by offering these policies on immigration, before trade negotiations even begin. They ought to do this right away.

opinion Updated: Jun 13, 2017 13:33 IST
Prime Minister Theresa May and her international trade secretary Liam Fox have made a big promise of securing trade deals with India and other countries. They can make the biggest difference by offering these policies on immigration, before trade negotiations even begin. They ought to do this right away.
Prime Minister Theresa May and her international trade secretary Liam Fox have made a big promise of securing trade deals with India and other countries. They can make the biggest difference by offering these policies on immigration, before trade negotiations even begin. They ought to do this right away.(REUTERS)

Less than 16 months ago, Britain was the fastest-growing economy in the western world, at the top table of Europe. And it was the envy of Europe – a country which was a respected global power at every top table, with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, membership of the G7, G8 and the G20.

We had the best of all possible worlds in Europe – in the single market, access to the European Union work-force, with 3.2 million in the Britain from highly-skilled to lower skilled, leading to the lowest level of unemployment we have had in living memory and the highest level of employment.

We were not in the Euro and we were not in Schengen and so we were less affected by the migration crisis.

We spent barely 1% of our £800 billion annual public spending per year –– £8.5 billion – net to the European Union every year and for that sum we have had peace in the EU for over seven decades.

Yet, how our world has changed since the February 22, 2016, when the European Union referendum was announced by David Cameron. Today, we are the laughing stock of Europe and, quite frankly, of the world. If only the people who voted for Brexit would realise that today, one of the most serious consequences of their actions is that Britain is losing and has possibly lost its standing and respect in Europe and the global community.

This puts us in an even weaker position, trying to negotiate a Brexit where the odds have been stacked against us from day one: We are one country against 27; we are 65 million people against 500 million; and we are also against the European Commission, European Parliament and the European council.

And now, having such weak and unstable government – quite apart from threatening the possibility of negotiating Brexit within less than two years (it took Canada eight years to negotiate their trade deal with the EU) – we are threatening the inward investment that the City of London and this country relies upon, as the largest recipient of inward investment in Europe and one of three largest countries as recipients of inward investment in the world.

We need the respect of the world, and we need the confidence of the world and the global community. We need the prime minister, to begin with, to really reach out by offering Indian tourists and business visitors from India the same £87 two-year multiple-entry visa rate, a discount from the usual £330 price and the same rate offered to visitors from China. We must address immigration policy as a priority.

Prime Minister Theresa May and her international trade secretary Liam Fox have made a big promise of securing trade deals with India and other countries. They can make the biggest difference by offering these policies on immigration, before trade negotiations even begin. They ought to do this right away.

That is because, if Britain really does carry on and leave the EU, then a Britain-India trade deal could take a long time to negotiate and we will have to rely on all the power we have, but if we end up staying in the European Union, then we need to put all of these immigration policies in place right away.

Brexiteer ministers need to realise that trade deals are not just about tariffs and goods; they are also about services and the free movement of people, including international students.

The prospect of a Hard Brexit, with the PM continually threatening that ‘no deal is a bad deal’, would not have benefited Britain-India relations in the slightest.

India sees Britain as a launch pad into the EU with many Indian companies currently having their European headquarters in Britain and in London in particular.

This current hung Parliament makes the prospect of a soft Brexit or even no Brexit at all much more likely, which will hugely benefit India and Indian companies and remove the uncertainty going forward.

It is a shame that the former PM called the referendum and the sorry situation we are in as a country today was brought about by the extreme right-wing half of the Conservative party, along with Ukip, a party that held 14% of the vote in the 2015 General Election, despite the fact that they have historically only ever had two members of parliament and in this election could not win a single seat, dropping to just 2% as a share of the vote. How ironic that this tiny minority of our political landscape has caused such uncalled-for chaos for the whole population.

An election that was called because of Brexit, has resulted in an election campaign where Brexit was hardly spoken about and yet what was spoken about were the issues that matter to the people of Britain and in particular to the youth of Britain: education, health…

Yet with regard to immigration, throughout the election the PM reiterated her target to bring immigration down to the tens of thousands. With current non-EU immigration alone running at over 180,000 and the PM refusing to remove international students from the net migration figures, the current situation will be a wake-up call for the PM to listen to British universities, and to the House of Lords and the public and come up with a more positive, proactive, pro-international students policy, changing the current negative perceptions of her party.

An election that was called to create more stability and give our government and the PM more power to negotiate ‘the best deal for Britain’ has turned out to be a disaster. We now have a hung parliament and we as a people have been left hung out to dry.

The silver lining in all this is that, hopefully, the public will wake up to the folly of Brexit and that we as a country will unilaterally revoke Article 50 and continue to stay in the EU, regaining our place at the top table of Europe and our respect and confidence among the global community.

What is clear is the youth of this country who, sadly, did not turn out in numbers for the EU referendum, having learnt their lesson and regretted that, did turn out in droves in this general election and were largely responsible for this result. With this engagement from the youth there is all the more encouragement that, given their say in what is their future, Brexit will not happen.

Lord Bilimoria is the chancellor of the University of Birmingham and the founding chairman of the UK-India Business Council.

The views expressed are personal