Minister of state in the Foreign and Commonwealth office in charge of India Hugo Swire said Brexit camp's claim that an exit from the EU would enable greater freedom of entry into the UK for Indians was based on imagination
Terming as ‘erroneous’ the claim of Brexit camp that India would benefit if the UK left the EU, a senior British minister has said such ‘creeping narratives’ promoted by the Brexitiers are ‘misleading’.
Appealing 1.2-million strong Indian diaspora to vote in favour of the UK staying in the European Union in the June 23 referendum, minister of state in the Foreign and Commonwealth office in charge of India Hugo Swire said Brexit camp's claim that an exit from the EU would enable greater freedom of entry into the UK for Indians was based on imagination.
"There has been a creeping narrative promoted by the Brexitiers that somehow the Commonwealth can replace the EU as the UK's trading bloc partner. My argument is that it is an erroneous leap of faith to take," said Swire.
"This is all based on imagination, rather than reality. Our membership of the EU does not prevent us from allowing people in from Commonwealth countries. It is not a binary decision, either EU or Commonwealth," Swire told PTI on Wednesday.
He said that over 60,000 work visas were issued to Indian nationals in the year ending March 2015, which makes up over a third of all work visas issued globally by the UK.
"India remains one of the biggest markets for UK visas, with around 455,000 non-settlement visas issued in the same period," he said.
"So if you fulfil the criteria, you can come here with a work visa. Anyone suggesting that it would be any different or easier [in case of Brexit], is suggesting we would water down that criteria. That is misleading and unhelpful," he said.
Highlighting that the average among Indian diaspora registered to vote in Britain was 78 per cent, as against a national UK average of 90 per cent, Swire said "there is quite a way to go" before the registration deadline of June 7.
"Any Commonwealth citizen here in the UK can vote and every vote counts equally. It is purely a numbers game," Swire said.
"I also want to address head-on the idea that this is somehow an argument that doesn't involve them (Indian diaspora); that couldn't be further from the truth. They live here, they have as much of a role in this as I do. It is as much about their future. It is terribly important that they recognise that their vote is important," he said.
As opinion polls indicate knife-edge results in the referendum, both remain and leave camps have redoubled their efforts to attract votes, with the 1.2-million strong Indian diaspora representing a significant chunk of the votes.
Swire, who will be visiting India later this month on a trade mission, also dismissed any suggestions that India-UK ties could somehow benefit from Brexit.
"Prime Minister Modi himself said during his visit to the UK last year that India sees the UK as an entry point to the EU. So where would Indian companies look to if the UK were to leave, these are the unknowns to consider," he said.
Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters