Brexit: Britain showed what it's got, but India is smiling

Nirpal Dhaliwal
Nirpal DhaliwalJun 24, 2016 | 13:04

Brexit: Britain showed what it's got, but India is smiling

I did not see that coming. Never in my heart of hearts did I think Britain would vote to leave the European Union – largely out of my belief that the British were a spent and complacent force who would opt for economic security over their sovereignty. I certainly got that wrong. Indeed, I'd like to congratulate Swapan Dasgupta – a writer I've long admired – for having a much firmer finger on the British political pulse from his perch in Delhi than I and many other commentators over here had. He predicted this result months ago, and is cheerfully optimistic about Britain's post-EU future. I hope to God he's right about that as well.


However much I disagree with the decision, I have to give the Brits credit: I really didn't think they had the balls to do it. Now we shall see if they have the mettle to weather the uncertainty that has immediately accompanied the vote – as I write, the pound has dropped by eight per cent already this morning (its steepest fall for thirty-one years) – and carve themselves a fresh identity and a healthy slice of global trade. Never has life here felt less predictable to me than it does right now. And never have I felt gladder that my parents were born in India, giving me access to my PIO card and the option of clearing out if things go belly up.

Without the EU, Britain's relationships with the rest of the world, particularly with India and China, will now be more important than at any time since the height of the empire – except this time the terms of trade will be set by those from the East, who know the British are the ones in the most need of making a deal.


I was heartened to see Dasgupta tweeting this morning about the opportunity Britain's departure from the EU presents India, and how India should leap in straightaway with the offer of a free-trade deal. I truly hope India does. In a recent column, he opined that independent India has always profited from "a little churning" in the West – such as the end of the Cold War – and this could well prove to be the case again. For British-Indians, this could be the chance of a lifetime as they bridge the commercial and cultural gap between the two countries. In leaving the EU, Britain will need to maximise such connections as never before.

This is easily the biggest political convulsion I have experienced here in my lifetime. The implications of it are vast and unpredictable. It will inspire all the other anti-EU movements across the continent – including the extremist parties, such as Marine Le Pen's Front National in France – and will incite a serious challenge to the existence of the European Union.

British Prime MInister David Cameron.

Britain will be leaving the European Union and triggering its possible collapse at a time that it is more exposed than ever. America is looking ever eastwards to ensure its strategic and economic interests, and its commitment to NATO does not look rock-solid anymore. Politicians across the political spectrum there have aired frustration at the unwillingness of Europeans – including the British – to pay for their own security. Donald Trump has openly expressed his contempt for how America's allies have sponged of the US tax-payer to maintain lavish welfare economies while handing the extortionate bill for their defence to Washington.


America's pivot towards Asia and its waning interest in Europe comes as Vladimir Putin's Russia is asserting itself ever more confidently against Europe, and as the Middle East and North Africa are descending into civilisational disintegration. In the absence of American leadership, the pooled resources of the European Union would have been the surest way to protect the continent from these enormous risks these issues pose.

Millions of refugees will flee the collapse in the Arab world – and they will head for Europe, and Britain. Arab political chaos will feed into the jihadism that is already a massive problem  here. While facing these crises, a disunited Europe will also have to contend with a mischief-making Russia, while continuing to lose its share of the global economy to rising powers in the East and receiving less American assistance. This referendum result might be ushering in an era of uncertainty that modern Brits and Europeans are not at all prepared for.

Brexit certainly does provide an incredible opportunity – just maybe not as much for the British as for others.

Indians should place themselves among the winners as soon as possible and start tying up deals with Britain, not least to secure the enormous investments Indians already have in this country. As Britain sails into uncharted territory – engaging with the world while having neither an empire nor the EU to back it up – India should join the trip early to have more of a steer on the direction, and also to have more power in the West.

Of all the western countries, Britain is the one with which it already has by far the most leverage, connections and investment, and deepening all this will only strengthen India's position among western countries as a whole. Britain may be leaving the EU, but the island is not floating away to exist in isolation amid the ocean. It will still trade and affect matters on the continent, and will continue to have its privileged position in the UN and other international bodies, while London will remain a major centre of global finance. The more influence India can grab for itself in Britain, the more it will have in the world as a whole.

India should not waste this golden opportunity. Brexit is India's chance to do what Britain did two hundred years before: establish a deep foothold in a fractious and faraway continent in order to secure its own prosperity for decades to come.

Last updated: June 24, 2016 | 16:55
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