UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson faces flak for talking up whisky in gurdwara

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson apologised after a Sikh woman became angry when he talked at a gurdwara about a possible increase in exports of Scotch whisky to India.

world Updated: May 18, 2017 00:22 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
UK election,foreign secretary Boris Johnson,Sri Guru Nanak Prakash Singh Sabha Gurdwara
British foreign secretary Boris Johnson during his visit to the Sri Guru Nanak Prakash Singh Sabha Gurdwara in Bristol on Wednesday.(Twitter)

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson was confronted by a woman during an election visit to a gurdwara in Bristol on Wednesday after he highlighted the possibility of a large increase inexports of Scotch whisky to India after a free trade agreement is forged following Brexit.

Johnson, who is married to a woman of Sikh origin, was in Bristol to canvass support for Conservative candidate Theo Clarke. He visited Sri Guru Nanak Prakash Singh Sabha Gurdwara and addressed the gathering.

Known for wit and humour not always appreciated by many,Johnson reportedly said: “What are the consequences of having so many Sikh relatives, and I hope I am not embarrassing anybody, is that whenever we go to India, to Mumbai or to Delhi, we have to bring ‘clinkie’ in our luggage.

"We have to bring Johnnie Walker or we have to bring whisky because as you know there is a duty of 150% in India on Scotch whisky.But imagine what we could do if there was a free trade deal with India – which there will be.

"You are talking hundreds of millions of pounds of new exports and more exports is great for a fantastic export city like Bristol,” said Johnson, who was wearing a saffron turban.

Reports from Bristol said he was thenconfronted by a woman known locally as Balbir Kaur: “How dare you talk about alcohol in a Sikh temple?

“You have just said that the main objective is to get the trade between India and England and the basis of that is alcohol, which in Sikhism is against our religion, so I wouldn’t be wanting to put somebody in power who wants to put more alcohol in India which is causing lots of problems at the moment.I am a practicing Sikh and to me that is absolutely outrageous,” she reportedly told him.

“You’re standing in a Sikh gurdwara and talking about alcohol in front of our Guru Granth Sahib…It’s not right,” she added.

Johnson apologised by saying: “I’m very sorry if you think alcohol is a bad thing, I understand your point of view.”

A spokesman for Johnson denied it was a gaffe. “Boris was simply making the point that a free trade deal with, for example India, could be huge for both sides, pointing out that in India, billions of litres of whisky are consumed every year but there is a 150% tariff on imports of Scotch whisky.

“One lady expressed her views based on a personal situation but the other 30 attendees warmly welcomed his remarks. He said he was sorry to hear of her personal story, that was all. There was no gaffe...The temple regulars loved him being there.”

The Daily Telegraph reported the woman latersaid she found Johnson’s address disrespectful. “Although he says his wife is Indian, he has no values for India and to me that means that the Conservatives are not bothered about what the people want, it is what they want to do.

“In front of the gurdwara, to talk about and promote alcohol is offensive, he should not have been stood there talking about that, he should have known that.”

Local website Fishponds Voice tweeted: "I think it's fair to say Boris Johnson got a mixed reception from Sikhs in St George today."

First Published: May 17, 2017 22:28 IST