Rival camps took to the Thames on Wednesday to enlist support as the “Remain in EU” camp made a forceful plea to learn from the success of federalism in India and to vote to stay in the 28-nation bloc during the June 23 referendum.
A pro-Brexit flotilla sailed past iconic structures along the Thames, followed by rubber boats with large flags with the word “IN”.
Four lawmakers – two MPs and two members of the House of Lords – debated the question “Would Brexit benefit India” in a committee room in parliament. They included Bob Blackman and Archibald Hamilton for “Vote Leave”, and Stephen Pound and Dolar Popat for Remain.
Making a forceful plea for Britain to remain in the European Union, Labour MP Pound said: “Don’t be terrified of EU’s federalism; look at the India’s successful federalism. Britain’s bilateralism with India will suffer if we vote to leave the EU.”
On claims that Britain was better off trading with the Commonwealth than the EU, Pound said “it is not an either, or; we can trade with both” by remaining in the EU. He highlighted investments made in Britain by Indian companies in recent years.
“Brexit won’t cause loss of sleep in India. We are not doing India any favours; those days are gone. India will suffer in the short term if we leave the EU, but not in the long term. India adapts,” Pound said.
Hamilton, who was defence minister in the Margaret Thatcher government, said Britain was unable to have a free trade deal with India due to membership of the EU. The EU, he said, will not be able to have such a deal with India.
“An EU-India trade deal is out of the question. We have to get out of the EU to have the deal with India. EU does not have a trade deal with the top economies. We have to get control back. Our future lies with the new economies,” he said.
Noting that India is the third largest investor in Britain, Popat said the UK thrived within the EU and leaving the bloc will shrink its economy. He highlighted the “Make in India“ programme and said Indian companies came to Britain to access the 500 million-strong EU market.
According to Blackman, the EU had moved since 1975 from being an economic organisation to a political one. He said it was unfair that Indian professionals in Britain have to go through various hoops to get a visa, while unskilled EU nationals could walk into the country.
Meanwhile, chancellor George Osborne said he would have to raise taxes and further slash public spending if the vote is to leave the EU, prompting furious response from more than 50 MPs, who said he may have to consider his position if he delivered a “punishment budget” after the referendum.