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regular-article-logo Thursday, 20 June 2024

Meet Suella Braverman who loves the British empire and doesn’t believe her skin colour should dictate her politics

Britain’s new home secretary’s Opposition to 'overstaying’ Indian migrants could scuttle India-UK trade deal

Paran Balakrishnan Published 13.10.22, 11:45 AM
Suella Braverman

Suella Braverman File picture

So, who is Suella Braverman, the Indian-origin British home secretary whose remarks criticising Indian migrants are threatening to torpedo UK hopes of clinching a free-trade deal with India by Diwali?

Well, first off, Braverman, who has a Goan-origin father who came to Britain from Kenya and a Tamil mother who's from Mauritius, hasn’t got a bad word to say about the British Empire. “I am proud of the British Empire,” Braverman declared last week in an interview with the right-wing UK publication The Spectator.

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“It was the British Empire that brought infrastructure, the legal system, the civil service, the military to countries like Mauritius and Kenya,” she said, adding that her parents came to “this country (Britain) with a huge fondness for the British Empire".

Bold words from a woman who is visibly a child of the empire. But Braverman, who’s a barrister with a Cambridge law degree, a law Master’s from the Sorbonne and is a qualified New York attorney, has always been an unguided missile, unafraid to speak her mind and controversy be damned.

While the previous home secretary Priti Patel, also of Indian origin, was considered an immigration hardliner, Braverman has already vowed to go much further. “Think Priti Patel was bad? The home secretary’s chilling rhetoric lays the ground for the harshest, most damaging immigration environment yet,” said the British newspaper The Guardian after Braverman’s appointment.

About beefing up already tight migration controls, Braverman, a practicing Buddhist, said: “I have no qualms… It is a common argument trotted out by the Left that because of the colour of my skin, I have to think a certain way.”

Braverman, who describes herself as a “natural Conservative”, may have already succeeded in scuttling chances of the "early harvest" India-UK free-trade deal British Prime Minister Liz Truss hoped to sign by October 24 to coincide with Diwali.

'On verge of collapse'

Even though the British government on Wednesday asserted it was still confident of securing a “high-ambition free-trade deal by the deadline, The Times said the trade talks were “on the verge of collapse”.

Braverman declared to The Spectator that Indians are the worst visa overstayers and threatened to oppose any deal offering to ease already stiff visa conditions for Indians. “Look at migration in this country – the largest group of people who overstay are Indian migrants,” she said.

“I have concerns about having an open-borders migration policy with India because I don’t think that’s what people voted for with Brexit,” she added. While Braverman’s parents were immigrants, “they came legally,” she stressed.

Indian officials 'livid'

The Times quoted UK government sources as saying Indian officials involved with the free trade talks were livid at Braverman’s comments. “They were apoplectic. Mad doesn’t even come close to describing it,” a UK government source said.

India’s key demand is freer mobility and the government source said: “Everything else… hinges on the mobility ask. And Suella has gone and pulled the rug from under the mobility ask.”

[UK Home Office statistics show that 4.4 per cent of 473,600 Indians overstayed their visas in 2020, but that percentage is lower when compared to nationals of other countries like China, Philippines, Pakistan and Nigeria who have overstay rates of 7-9 per cent.]

More work and study visas

India has been pushing for more work and study visas similar to those agreed by London in deals with Australia and New Zealand which allow under-35s to live in Britain for up to three years. Former prime minister Boris Johnson, who championed the free-trade agreement, had said Indian workers could plug shortages in Britain in areas such as IT and computer programming.

For Truss, the India-UK deal would be a trophy she could wave as one of the few achievements of her government which is lurching from one crisis to another.

Now, though, Braverman is openly defying her and could get supporters for her anti-immigrant stance in the uber-right cabinet. She’s pledged to achieve a target of bringing the overall migration figure down to “tens of thousands” from the current 239,000.

“We have got to definitely substantially reduce the number of students, the number of work visas and in particular the number of dependents on those sorts of visas,” Braverman said at this month’s Conservative Party annual conference where she won a standing ovation.

The Rwanda plan

Along with spoiling chances of the free-trade deal, Braverman is focusing on pushing through a hare-brained scheme attempted by Patel to send illegal immigrants to camps in Rwanda and she’s vowing human rights legislation won’t get in her way. Braverman has been arguing Britain should pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights in order to clamp down on illegal immigration.

Braverman, whose gushing enthusiasm about the deportation scheme is cringe-worthy, said at the Conservative conference: “I would love to have a front-page of the Daily Telegraph with a plane (of illegal migrants) taking off to Rwanda. That’s my dream, it’s my obsession.”

Critics, though, said Braverman’s dream was the stuff of many people’s nightmares. Asked popular UK radio host James O’Brien: “What’s wrong with her? When most of us dream of seeing our football team win the FA Cup, Suella Braverman sits awake at night dreaming of deporting completely innocent and decent fellow human beings.”

Risen through the ranks

Amazingly, despite her outlier views, Braverman has risen through the government’s ranks at meteoric speed. She’s only 42 and already has one of the most powerful jobs in government. It’s an extraordinary rise considering that she’s only been in parliament since 2015.

Since taking over as home secretary, Braverman’s been a regular headline-maker in other areas too. She accused former cabinet minister Michael Gove of “trying to stage a coup” after he opposed Truss’s plans to scrap the 45-per-cent top tax rate as being too generous to the rich during hard economic times. Truss backed down in the face of overwhelming opposition, only to be slammed by Braverman.

Braverman ran to succeed Johnson as Conservative leader but was knocked out early and threw her support to Truss, who’s now visibly floundering in the job and betting odds are rising on her being ousted before year-end.

Leadership hopes

Some commentators speculate Braverman still harbours leadership hopes and her undermining of the free-trade deal is a bid to cement her credentials with the party’s far right. In fact, they even believe Braverman has already launched her own leadership campaign and it won’t be long before she launches a more direct offensive.

One Indian-origin candidate Rishi Sunak has just lost his bid to be prime minister. Could Braverman, who like Truss has a potent combination of greater ambition than ability, succeed where Sunak failed?

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