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Curry politics in UK as Indian-origin MPs spar over Brexit

After foreign office minister Hugo Swire ridiculed ministerial colleague Priti Patel for linking a severe shortage of chefs in Indian restaurants to immigration from within the EU, it was the turn on Friday of senior Labour MP Keith Vaz to take her on.

world Updated: May 20, 2016 21:53 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Brexit
Britain's minister of state for employment Priti Patel believes it is unfair that restaurant owners cannot recruit from the Indian subcontinent while chefs from Europe can move to Britain freely.(REUTERS File Photo)

After foreign office minister Hugo Swire ridiculed ministerial colleague Priti Patel for linking a severe shortage of chefs in Indian restaurants to immigration from within the EU, it was the turn on Friday of senior Labour MP Keith Vaz to take her on.

Patel, who is minister of state for employment and one of six ministers in the David Cameron government in the Brexit camp, believes it is unfair that restaurant owners cannot recruit from the Indian subcontinent while chefs from Europe can move to Britain freely.

She said on Wednesday: “Our curry houses are becoming the victims of the European Union uncontrolled immigration rules. By voting to leave the EU we can take back control of our immigration policies, save our curry houses and join the rest of the world.”

After Swire remarked Patel was “making up Home Office policy on the hoof”, Vaz, who has often espoused the cause of India’s restaurant industry, reacted with fury.

“So I was furious to see Priti Patel claiming that leaving the EU and shutting the door on immigrants from Poland and elsewhere would save Britain’s curry houses. This is divide and rule politics of the worst kind,” he said.

“The truth is that the stoking of anti-Eastern European sentiment is a new form of racism that is no less bad than that experienced by previous waves of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent.

“I will defend to the hilt the right of those who come here and contribute to our society, wherever they come from. Giving in to rhetoric that sets one community against another would be to take a step towards a less tolerant and more mean-spirited Britain,” Vaz said.

Vaz accused Patel of not acting on demands that, as employment minister, she could easily lower the salary threshold required to recruit chefs from the Indian subcontinent.

“This (curry crisis) could easily be solved in a stroke of Priti Patel’s pen by lowering the minimum salary requirement for chefs, something I have campaigned for long with MPs from all parties. But Priti Patel has failed to address this vital issue and is now conveniently using the EU as a scapegoat,” he said.

The curry industry in Britain is worth more than £3.6 billion and employs more than 100,000 people.

“It is deeply alarming that on average two curry houses are closing every week. But this has nothing to do with the EU and everything to do the policies espoused by Priti Patel, who just happens to be an employment minister and the Government’s ‘diaspora champion’,” Vaz added.