Karan Bilimoria, a member of the House of Lords and one of Britain’s celebrated entrepreneurs, has been the target of sustained racist attacks during and after the EU referendum, asking him to “go back to India” and take “your lot” along.
Son of the decorated Indian Army veteran Lt Gen FN Bilimoria, the founder of a successful drinks company came to Britain as a 19-year-old student and is often held up as an example of British internationalism and success of the country’s immigration policy.
But the June 23 Brexit vote has soured his success story: “This is not the Britain I know and not the Britain I love. In 35 years I have never experienced any hate crime except for this year – and this year I have received it in abundance”, Bilimoria, 54, told Hindustan Times on Saturday.
Currently on a visit to India – where he has major investments – as part of the delegation of Prime Minister Theresa May, he said: “It is nasty, blatant. Whether it is tweets, emails or letters, I cannot even repeat what people have been saying to me. It is no longer anonymous, people are openly identifying themselves in the hate mail to me”.
“It has saddened me. And yet this is the country that Liam Fox (international trade secretary) talks about opening up to the world. The world is laughing at us. They see us as closing up to the world, inward looking and insular, not open, not diverse, not plural, not tolerant and not brilliant”.
Bilimoria recalled that there was “prejudice” in Britain when he arrived as a student, but said it evaporated as the country over the years became a meritocracy, without glass ceilings. But the “wretched” EU referendum seemed to have given licence to unleash racist abuse at immigrants.
It is not enough to say that the police will deal with hate crime. Something has to be done about it”, Bilimoria said, reflecting similar views expressed by others since the EU referendum, including by parliamentarians.
According to Chris Smith, independent member of the House of Lords, some of the most senior academics from EU background in the University of Cambridge had also directly experienced racist abuse: “It is almost as if licence has been given to denigrate and to hate. Where, oh where, is that tolerant, internationalist, welcoming, quirky, slightly grumpy, outward-looking, gentle, civilised country that I thought we were living in? I want it back”.
Bilimoria wants Prime Minister Theresa May to send at least two major signals while in India to improve negative perceptions about Britain: extend the pilot for longer and cheaper UK visa currently underway in China to India, and to remove students from net migration statistics.
“India needs to be reassured that there will be no ‘hard Brexit’, that Indian companies will continue to have the same access and rights after the process of exiting is complete. Removing students from net migration statistics will go a long way to remove negative perception about Britain in India and elsewhere”, he added.
As Home secretary, May has refused to meet the demand of universities and other stakeholders to remove non-EU students from overall migration statistics that are closely watched given the Conservative government's promise to reduce annual immigration to "the tens of thousands instead of hundreds of thousands".