Hugo Swire, the Foreign Office minister responsible for India and the Commonwealth, on Wednesday debunked the claim of the Brexit camp that ties with India will receive a “massive boost” if Britain votes to exit the European Union.
Swire told Hindustan Times in what used to be the colonial India Office that it will “crazy” to come out of the EU, which will not only have an adverse effect on ties with India but prevent high-achieving professionals in the Indian community here from leveraging access to the EU and its markets.
He said: “The idea that somehow trade with the Commonwealth can replace trade with the European Union (as claimed by the Brexit camp) is misguided and misleading. As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, Indian companies use Britain as a gateway to the EU.
“It could take 15 or 20 years to have a free trade agreement with India if Britain is outside the EU. It is not a clever thing to do. We know the certainty of increasing Indian investment into Britain in the current situation. No one knows, but I can’t believe it (Brexit) will have a positive impact on ties with India.”
Swire made light of the claim of his ministerial colleague Priti Patel (minister of state for employment), who believes leaving the EU will give a “massive boost” to Britain-India ties, and ridiculed the picture of “milk and honey” that the Brexit camp has been portraying.
Responding to claims by Patel that much-needed skilled chefs from India and Bangladesh are being prevented from coming to Britain by tougher controls imposed in the wake of uncontrolled immigration from the EU, Swire said: “Priti is making up Home Office policy on the hoof here.
“What she is suggesting is that if we were outside the EU, we would have free flow of people from India and Pakistan and Bangladesh. That simply wouldn’t be the case. It is regrettable that she is giving false hopes. I don’t think that’s the most responsible claim I’ve heard,” he said.
Swire agreed the debate on the EU referendum scheduled for June 23 has led to strains within the ruling Conservative Party, with six ministers and several MPs opposing the pro-EU position taken by the David Cameron government.
He wanted the Indian community to register in larger numbers with the Electoral Commission and vote in the referendum. New research suggests the ethnic minority vote, including the Indian community, will have a crucial role in the outcome.
Britain out of EU will lead to very complex negotiations with several countries, including India, on trade, a process Swire said will be “wonderful work” for officials, but could take years and decades.