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Ficci differs with Patel on Brexit

Voting to leave EU willboost India ties: Minister

By Amit Roy in London
  • Published 25.02.16
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British employment minister Priti Patel

London, Feb. 24: British employment minister Priti Patel's view that it would be better for India if the UK quit the EU after the referendum on June 23 was flatly contradicted today by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

As David Cameron's "diaspora champion", Priti is effectively the de facto "minister for India" in the British government but she is bravely opposing her Prime Minister.

"An independent Britain free from the EU can ensure that we realise the full potential of our special relationship with India," she claimed.

"Although the focus of the Conservative government on enhancing our relationship with India has led to an increase in trade since 2010, we could go further if we were not held back by the vested self-interests of the EU," argued Priti, who has long been known to be a Euro sceptic.

"I know that many members of the Indian diaspora find it deeply unfair that other EU nationals effectively get special treatment," she said. "This can and will change if Britain leaves the EU," she promised.

She argued: "Voting to leave the EU would be a massive boost to UK-India relations. New opportunities for the UK and India to cooperate more closely and develop stronger trading links would emerge as the UK re-aligns its foreign policy and trade priorities. During the forthcoming referendum the Indian diaspora can vote to make a real and positive difference to the future of the UK and India by voting to leave the EU."

But after consulting "several hundred" of its members who have trade links with Britain from its pool of 250,000 members, Ficci general secretary Didar Singh said today: "Britain is considered an entry point and a gateway for the European Union by many Indian companies, a view echoed by Prime Minister Modi in his visit to the UK in November last year."

"While deciding on membership of the EU is a sovereign matter for Britain and its people, Indian industry is of the view that foreign businesses cannot remain isolated from such decisions," he went on.

He emphasised that "the UK is a valued economic partner for India and we firmly believe that leaving the EU would create considerable uncertainty for Indian businesses engaged with UK.

and would possibly have an adverse impact on investment and movement of professionals to the UK."

Ficci's views echo those of senior British Indian businessmen and MPs.

The consequences of leaving were presented in the starkest possible language by Apurv Bagri, son and Lord Bagri, the former Calcutta-origin chairman of the London Metal Exchange.

Bagri junior, who is managing director of Metdist, the family firm that has worldwide dealings in copper, said: "I am sad that the debate is even taking place because I cannot for the life of me see how, in the context of the global economic system in which we operate, Britain would do better outside."

Bagri, who is also chairman of governors at the London Business School and a visiting professor at Cass Business School, said: "It would be a tragedy for the UK if that was to happen and I think it will have very serious long term implications for investment into the UK."

He pointed out: "On negotiating an exit, how do you negotiate an exit? This agreement has no exit clause. I think the cost of not being in will be horrendous for this country and it will affect every single person irrespective of what they happen to do."

Among senior figures in the community, Lord Swraj Paul revealed that he had been considering campaigning actively for Britain to remain a member of the EU but after the death of his son, Angad, in tragic circumstances last November, "I am a different person".

Still, if asked, he would argue that Britain should remain a member, the Labour peer, 16 of whose Caparo Industries companies were taken into administration last year because of the steel crisis.

He acknowledged that the 28 member states of the EU often appeared to be at odds with each other but "look at India and see how difficult it can be to hold on to a federal structure - it's the same thing with Europe".

There seems to be a consensus about Asian origin MPs that Cameron is in the right about the yes vote.

Alok Sharma, Conservative MP for West Reading and recently returned from India where he went in his new role as Cameron's "infrastructure envoy", said: "Some of those who want to leave the EU have said that instead of focusing on trade with the EU, we prioritise our links with Commonwealth countries and growth economies across the world. This presents a false choice. We should be doing both."

"Currently 7 per cent of UK exports are to the BRIC countries, which includes India," he pointed out. "44 per cent of UK exports are to the EU. Leaving the EU is not going to suddenly boost our trade with other economies. What is much more likely to have a big boost to British-Indian trade, for instance, would be to conclude the ongoing discussions to secure a free trade agreement between the EU and India."

"When I speak to Indian corporates, one of the key reasons they give for investing in the UK is that it acts as a bridgehead into the rest of the EU single market. If Britain was outside the EU and did not have access to the single market, these investors would think twice about further investment into the UK.

"I believe Britain is at its best when we our engaging on the world stage and through the EU. I believe that the majority of British Indians share that view. So, like the prime minister, I will be campaigning for the UK to remain a part of the European Union."

Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East and chairman of the home affairs select committee, was succinct: "Britain's place is in a reformed Europe. We cannot be isolated. We must be at the heart of the EU, leading, not following."

Among two MPs with a large number of Indian constituents, Seema Malhotra, Labour member for Feltham & Heston and shadow chief secretary to the treasury, summed up her view: "For businesses in Hounslow based around Heathrow, leaving Europe could have a greater negative impact on imports and exports - and that cost be passed on to local families.

"That's why all businesses I have spoken to over the last year - small or large - national or local - have said they think Britain should stay in Europe. In the words of Joni Mitchell, sometimes 'you don't know what you've got till it's gone'."

Virendra Sharma, Labour MP for Ealing Southall, agreed: "I don't want to see British prosperity risked for petty personal politics. Britain is stronger in Europe and I will proudly campaign alongside my colleagues in the Labour Party for us to remain a member of the most successful international project in the world. London is inherently linked with Europe, in fact half a million jobs directly depend on Europe. London exports goods and services worth more than £12 billion a year to Europe, and London is home to the European headquarters of over 60 per cent of the world's non-European global businesses."