Is Priti Patel, the minister of state for employment and the ‘Indian Diaspora Champion’ in the David Cameron government, out of step with mainstream opinion in the Indian community that Britain should stay in the European Union?
It would appear so, after several Indian-origin MPs and members of the House of Lords declared themselves firmly in the Remain camp. Patel is one of six ministers in the Cameron government campaigning for Britain vote to exit the EU in the June 23 referendum.
According to her, Britain’s ties with India will receive a ‘massive boot’ if Britain leave the EU, on the ground that it would be easier to have a trade deal directly rather than through the EU – contention disputed by the Remain camp and others yet to decide on the referendum.
Called ‘British Indians for IN’, the Indian-origin parliamentarians launched the cross-party group on the grounds of the palaces of Westminster this week, insisting that EU membership helps to enhance and strengthen Britain’s relationship with India.
Nearly 1.2 million people of Indian origin and Indian citizens here for six months or more are eligible to vote in the referendum. Besides Patel, no other parliamentarian of Indian origin has joined the Brexit camp.
The 15 parliamentarians backing the group signed an open letter on the issue: “We are British Parliamentarians of Indian-origin and whilst we represent different political views, on a whole range of matters, we believe that membership of the EU is an issue which transcends party politics”.
“We are united in our belief that the UK is stronger, safer and better off as a member of the EU. Contrary to the argument made by some, that Britain needs to leave the EU in order to strengthen its ties with Commonwealth countries, we believe that our membership of the EU helps to enhance and strengthen the UK’s partnership with countries like India”.
“In the lead up to the EU referendum on 23rd of June we will be encouraging everyone to vote to remain in the European Union, including the 1.2 million British Indians eligible to vote whose votes could prove to be decisive in determining the outcome of the referendum.”
The signatories to the letter include: Karan Bilimoria, Navnit Dholakia, Rajinder Loomba, Seema Malhotra, Dolar Popat, Diljit Rana, Alok Sharma, Virendra Sharma, Ranbir Suri, Bhikhu Parekh, Shailesh Vara, Keith Vaz, Valerie Vaz, Sandip Verma, and Rumi Verjee.
Conservative MP Sharma, who is helping to co-ordinate the campaign, said: “British Indians are outward looking internationalists which is why so many of us believe that Britain’s place belongs in the EU, where we are leading the agenda for reform”.
“A vote to remain guarantees us continued unfettered access to Europe’s free trade single market of 500 million consumers, meaning lower prices, more jobs, increased investment and financial security. It also means a seat at the table as the EU negotiates some of the biggest trade deals in history – such as the ongoing discussions with the United States, China and India.”