On the face of it, Brexit is great news for India, if not for my country. Win-win for you, lose-lose for us.
It gives me no pleasure to write that as although my family heritage is Indian, the United Kingdom is my home and my country and I will always want what is best for it.
I have lived here since the age of 11 and my children were all born here. It was for them and their whole generation that I fought so hard to ensure all the citizens of the United Kingdom know the facts about Brexit — and why, in 2016, I successfully took the British Government to court over its attempt to put itself above the law and bypass Parliament by denying our MPs a vote on invoking Article 50, the process by which we leave the European Union.
That case — billed as the most important British constitutional legal action undertaken in 400 years — meant the world to me as it struck at the heart of our Parliament’s sovereignty.
Saying no to Brexit. (Photo: Reuters)
So much of what Brexit is about is fundamentally reframing our values and principles and it’s changing, too, the way we operate as a country, internally and across the world where we have, until now, always been looked upon as a beacon of hope and a bastion of common sense, reason and decency.
Great Britain and India have of course had a long and sometimes painful history, but what always strikes me is how the love our two countries have for each other has conquered all. Brexit may well benefit India financially, but I sense no obvious rejoicing on the subcontinent about what is happening here.
It is hard not to think of an old and valued friend looking upon us now with quiet despair. India, like many other countries, respected us because of our rule of law, seemingly incorruptible institutions, unemotional calm and ability to compromise and convene.
Brexit may benefit India financially — but there is no rejoicing about what is happening. (Photo: Reuters)
Those who voted for Brexit in the UK have underestimated our powerbase and exactly where it comes from. It has not been about economic or military power but much harder to measure, less tangible sources of power that has held the UK in high global esteem and regard for much of the last 70 years. But for the last 40 of those 70 years, it has been largely derived from the UK being at the EU top table with a seat at the continental political entity. This has allowed us to punch well above our weight on the international stage.
We were seen as a source of order and stability in a world that needs both more than ever. If this were not a time when we were fixated about ourselves, our eyes looking inwards and not outwards, we would, I am sure, have a prime minister now fully engaged with the profoundly worrying situation in Kashmir, not to mention other flashpoints such as Myanmar and Yemen.
In the event, theses crises have hardly been mentioned at all by our most senior politicians — and they are being kept off our front pages by the endless twists and turns in the Brexit saga.
Sadly, along with Donald Trump in the United States and Vladimir Putin in Russia, my country can now reasonably be said to be a destabilising rather than a stabilising influence.
What is worse, the strident tone of some of the Brexit politicians and their supporters in the tabloid press have put out a message that Britain is becoming an intolerant country.
Much of the language we heard leading up to and since the 2016 Referendum vote to leave the European Union has conjured up a kind of imperialistic vision of Britain and Britishness that evokes memories of writers such as Rudyard Kipling at their absolute worst.
Still, the benefits of Brexit to India are now obvious.
The weak pound means it is now significantly less expensive for Indians to holiday, study or even buy property here. Our departure from the European Union — especially if we leave without an agreement — will give a real sense of urgency to trade negotiations between our two countries. And while it will no doubt be easier to pull one off without having to factor in the needs of other EU member states, we will no longer be negotiating from a position of strength.
Brexit has led to Britain's economy losing steam. Will it ever regain its position of dominance? (Photo: Reuters)
Ironically, given that for many British voters, Brexit was about clamping down on immigration, it will almost certainly result in the relaxation of UK immigration policies that would favour skilled and professional workers from India coming here. Already we are well aware of the shortage of EU workers who are either leaving or not coming here because Brexit means their futures are uncertain — a study from the Migration Observatory at Oxford University shows EU net migration down an astonishing 70 per cent since the referendum, the lowest it has been since 2009.
The tragedy is that before Brexit, my country and India enjoyed a brilliant relationship.
Trade between our two countries had been growing rapidly in the last 10 years — it was £18 billion in 2017 alone — but now, a great many Indian companies based in the UK are pondering shifting their operations across the English Channel as they recognise we are no longer a springboard to the European market.
I have attempted through my Lead Not Leave organisation to bring clarity to the arguments now raging around the issues in Westminster and have gone so far as to set out some common sense proposals to the British government, based on a promising dialogue that Theresa May’s predecessor, David Cameron, had begun with Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, some months before he chose to call the EU referendum.
However, one of the biggest problems is that the wave of populism in the UK, across Europe and America, is about emotion, rather than reason — so it is hard to engage in this argument on the basis of facts and common sense. Talking to leading Indian businessmen and women, it is hard not to detect a barely disguised note of exasperation in their voices now, as they talk about the UK.
Nationalism and isolationism are threats we face today, which cloud our judgement entirely. (Photo: Reuters)
Ralf Speth, the CEO of Jaguar Land Rover, owned by the mighty Indian conglomerate Tata, warned last Autumn that a "no-deal" Brexit and a lack of clarity over Britain's post-Brexit plans were threatening the UK-based luxury car maker's entire operational set-up. In January, JLR confirmed it was cutting 4,500 jobs, with the majority coming from its 40,000 strong UK workforce. The cuts come on top of last year's 1,500 job losses.
Nationalism and isolationism are all very well — but ultimately, the threats we face, not least tackling the huge social impact of globalisation on our work forces, climate change, the digital revolution and terrorism, can only be addressed internationally.
The words of John Donne’s poem No Man’s an Island ring through my head often these days.
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.