Saturday, December 17, 2016

Some advice for Theresa May

The government of Theresa May, which was put in place following the historic #Brexit vote and is now tasked with charting the future of the UK outside of the EU, has already faced several challenges. The #Remain camp, although defeated at the hustings, has continued its opposition to leaving the EU, using both the media and the courts to try to block it. Meanwhile, May is under increasing pressure to spell out what the UK's actual plan is (and also to reign in her rather gaffe-prone Foreign Secretary). However, if actions are anything to go by, May's hopes seem to lie in trade - with the British Empire.

And it was with that hope that May came to India last month - the crown jewel of the Empire - to negotiate a lucrative trade deal that would make Britain rich again, just as India had done two centuries ago. Unfortunately for her, she rudely realized that the British Empire was gone, and Britain was a little island again. And Indian industry and the government rejected her idea of enhanced trade without freedom of movement of people - "they want our trade, but not our children" as one industrialist put it. That simply will not work. And yet, having supported Brexit and opposed the monstrosity of the EU, I hope that May, and the UK, survives this. For, despite all the hard feelings of a 200 year long occupation, in fact because of it, India and Britain have a lot in common today, and can truly help each other out.

But for that, the UK is going to have to pay its end of the bargain. To go anywhere for a trade deal while still part of the EU and without even explaining to anyone what the relationship between the UK and the EU would be post-Article 50, is quite silly. And to do so with the domineering attitude of a colonial empress is much worse. From India's perspective, Britain has always been the gateway to the EU, despite a lot of German mollycoddling, and the Indian diaspora there represents an integral and valued part of our civilization. However, economic dynamics are changing, and India is set to be the first former British colony after the US to have surpassed its economy. Therefore, a little respect and understanding can go a long way - this has to be a negotiation between equals.

For India, whose most prized resource are its people, freedom of movement of people is essential. If #Brexit was about keeping all immigrants out, then Britain has little future in this world. However, if it was about creating a rules-based system for immigration, that is quite acceptable. However, the rules have to be the same for everyone - that is costs more for an Indian to get a UK visa than a Chinese citizen is a source of great resentment, and May could've had a more successful visit had she dropped that rule before she came. A racist system that values one race over another regardless of the worth of the individual is simply not acceptable.

May can certainly fall back on India - the country is large, and has learned (the hard way) to welcome trade and globalization. The #Brexit camp was not wrong in that India could be a source of strength for the UK for, despite not being in the Commonwealth Realm, it is a leading member of the Commonwealth, and, as Nigel Farage rightly says, has more in common with the UK than many EU nations, including the Common Law. However, to make any of that word, Britain needs to accept that it is going to be hard, and it needs help from a friend - there are no debts to call here. 

No comments: