India-UK free trade agreement (FTA) is in jeopardy after some recent remarks by British Home Secretary Suella Braverman who is of Indian origin herself, much as her parents had migrated from Kenya and Mauritius. Braverman had said that Indian travellers to the UK tended to overstay their visa durations in an interview.
When asked about the irony in an interview, Braverman said her parents had migrated "legally". She also hailed British colonialism.
Who is Suella Braverman?
Braverman, who has a history of migrations, was born in Harrow, Greater London, and raised in Wembley. She is the daughter of Uma (née Mootien-Pillay) and Christie Fernandes, both of Indian origin, who emigrated to the UK in the 1960s from Kenya and Mauritius respectively.
Her mother, of Hindu Tamil-Mauritian descent, was a nurse and a councillor in Brent, as well as the Conservative candidate in Tottenham in the 2001 general election and the 2003 Brent East by-election. Her father, of Goan ancestry (who formerly was an Indian in Kenya), worked for a housing association.
She is the niece of Mahen Kundasamy, former Mauritian High Commissioner to London.
Braverman lived in France for two years, as an Erasmus Programme student and then as an Entente Cordiale Scholar, where she completed a master's degree in European and French law at Panthéon-Sorbonne University. Before that, she had attended the Uxendon Manor Primary School in Brent and the fee-paying Heathfield School, Pinner, on a partial scholarship, after which she read law at Queens College, Cambridge. During her undergraduate studies, she was president of the Cambridge University Conservative Association.
What did Braverman say?
Braverman said that she was apprehensive of a trade deal with India that would increase migration to the UK at a time when Britain was already finding it hard to cope with Indian visa overstayers. “Look at migration in this country – the largest group of people who overstay are Indian migrants,” Braverman had 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 told The Spectator weekly news magazine.
“We even reached an agreement with the Indian government last year to encourage and facilitate better cooperation in this regard. It has not necessarily worked very well,” she added.
How India reacted to Braverman's statement
“Shocked and disappointed" by the “disrespectful" remarks made by Braverman, India is contemplating cancelling Prime Minister Narendra Modi's UK visit during Diwali to sign the FTA, says Politico, quoting sources.
Several social media users have pointed out that the Indian high commission's new rule in the UK that requires British citizens to attend visa centres in person is retaliatory.
Is Braverman's statement UK's official stand?
While British Prime Minister Liz Truss's 'election' by her party that rejected Indian-origin Rishi Sunak was seen in India as that country's move towards White supremacism, the premier's spokesman said on 12 October that Britain still wanted to reach an agreement on a free trade deal with India by Diwali later this month.
Yesterday, British Foreign Minister James Cleverly said Britain wanted to have an even stronger trading relationship with India after reports that remarks by his colleague about Indian immigrants could affect a future deal.
When asked about the comments made by Braverman about Indian migrants in Britain and the possible impact, Cleverly said: "We do want to have an even stronger, and it's strong already, but an even stronger trading, relationship with India."
Prelude to proposed India-UK FTA
Former British Home Secretary Priti Patel, another Indian-origin official of the UK, and India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had agreed upon the proposed Migration and Mobility Partnership (MMP) agreement in May 2021. Supporters of the deal touted it as a landmark agreement between the governments of India and the UK, which would provide new opportunities to thousands of young people in the UK and India seeking to live, work and experience each other's cultures.
From the British point of view, the interim agreement between India and the UK would make Scotch whisky much cheaper in India and thus increase its sales while also increasing the bilateral trade of other goods and easing the movement of people between the two countries.
On the other hand, India wanted easier access to Britain’s high-technology industries and financial markets and the end of tough visa restrictions on travel to the UK, which serves a British interest too, as Indians have consistently topped the charts of highly skilled migrants issued visas to live and work in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
According to the British Home Office data, about 118,000 Indian students received UK student visas in the year ending June 2022, which is an 89% increase from the corresponding figure of 2021.
But Braverman said about the proposed visa flexibility for students and entrepreneurs under an India-UK FTA: “… I do have some reservations. Look at migration in this country — the largest group of people who overstay are Indian migrants."
“We even reached an agreement with the Indian government last year to encourage and facilitate better cooperation in this regard. It has not necessarily worked very well," she added.