Pakistan warns Grieve's "divisive" remarks may damage bilateral relations

The country's High Commission attacks the Attorney General's comments on ethnic "corruption".

A clue to Dominic Grieve sudden U-turn yesterday has emerged as The High Commission for Pakistan warns UK that his comments regarding Britain’s Pakistani community are "offensive and divisive", "may have repercussions on Pakistan-UK bilateral relations, and damage Pakistani Community’s support to the Conservative Party." Slamming the remarks as "immature" and "bizarre" – language not normally used by diplomats – Pakistan is making clear the high degree of anger felt by the regime.

Grieve had said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph that some immigrants - particularly British Pakistanis - "come from backgrounds where corruption is endemic", "have been brought up to believe you can only get certain things through a favour culture", and are "mainly responsible for electoral corruption."

In a statement, the Pakistan High Commission said: "The High Commission for Pakistan brands the views of Attorney General Dominic Grieve MP as offensive and divisive which may have repercussions on Pakistan-UK bilateral relations and Pakistan Community’s support to the Conservative Party.

"This is with reference to an interview by Attorney General Dominic Grieve MP to the Telegraph published on 22 November 2013 in which he labelled the Pakistani community living in the UK as 'corrupt' and that they support a 'favour culture.'

"The High Commission for Pakistan to the UK finds these remarks by Mr. Grieve MP as offensive and unfounded towards the strong Pakistani Diaspora in the UK. These remarks are contrary to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s repeated appreciation of the constructive role played by Pakistani Diaspora in the economy, culture, politics and society of the UK.

"The Pakistani Diaspora in UK is deeply disturbed by these unfounded and offensive comments made against them. Ever since the publication of this interview, the High Commission has been approached by thousands of Diaspora members who have expressed their disgust towards Dominic Grieve’s remarks.

"Bizarrely, Mr. Grieve’s immature remarks are based on one incident of electoral fraud which was dealt by British Court’s soon after it happened. It is extremely convenient to pass judgements on singular incidents, but it is important to emphasize that the Diaspora may also make their judgement about the Conservative Party and British government on this singular but divisive comment by the British Attorney General.

"It is important to emphasize that Pakistan-UK relations, which had taken on a constructive and meaningful path with the signing of the Enhanced Strategic Dialogue may be affected by such remarks from senior MPs of the British government.

"Pakistan does not accept such unfounded allegations against its own People and maintains that it is against the spirit of friendship. It condemns these views in the strongest possible terms.

"Pakistan does not accept such unfounded allegations against its own People and maintains that it is against the spirit of friendship. It condemns these views in the strongest possible terms."

It is not the first time Tories have sparked a furious diplomatic row between London and Islamabad. Soon after becoming prime minister in July 2010, David Cameron accused divisions of the Pakistani state of exporting terror and "looking both ways" by tolerating terrorism yet demanding respect as a democracy. At the time, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan's high commissioner, commented: "One would have wished that the prime minister would have considered Pakistan's enormous role in the war on terror and the sacrifices it has rendered since 9/11.”

As recently as June this year, Cameron pledged to "stand together" with Pakistan in the fight against terrorism following consultations with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He said the relationship would increase opportunities for trade and investment. Islamabad has repeatedly made efforts to demonstrate bi-lateral cooperation not just against terrorism, but also in trade and finance. Earlier this year, the Pakistani high commissioner opened trading on the London markets at London Stock Exchange to mark the second Pakistan Capital Markets Day.

The latest announcement from Pakistan’s diplomats, however, suggests Dominic Grieve’s "apology" may not, on its own, be enough to get the relationship back on track.  

Imran Khan was a Conservative councillor (2008-12). He campaigns on citizenship issues.

Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif speaks with Indian external affairs minister Salman Kurshid before a working session at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Inside the progressive alliance that beat Zac Goldsmith in Richmond

Frantic phone calls, hundreds of volunteers, and Labour MPs constrained by their party. 

Politics for a progressive has been gloomy for a long time. On Thursday, in Richmond Park of all places, there was a ray of light. Progressive parties (at least some of them) and ordinary voters combined to beat Ukip, the Tories and their "hard Brexit, soft racist" candidate.

It didn’t happen by accident. Let's be clear, the Liberal Democrats do by-elections really well. Their activists flood in, and good luck to them. But Richmond Park was too big a mountain for even their focused efforts. No, the narrow win was also down to the fast growing idea of a progressive alliance. 

The progressive alliance is both a defensive and offensive move. It recognises the tactical weakness of progressives under first past the post – a system the Tories and their press know how to game. With progressive forces spilt between Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Women’s Equality Party and more – there is no choice but to co-operate, bring in proportional representation and then a whole new political world begins.

This move opens up the wider strategy – to end the domination of the City, and right-wing newspapers like the Mail, so Britain can have a real debate and make real choices about what sort of economy and society it wants. A pipedream? Well, maybe. But last night the fuse was lit in Richmond Park. The progressive alliance can work.

Months before the by-election, the pressure group for a progressive alliance that I chair, Compass, the Greens, and some Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP MPs and activists, began considering this. The alternative after Brexit was staring into the void.

Then the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith stepped down over Heathrow. To be fair, he had pledged to do this, and we should have been better prepared. In the event, urgent behind-the-scenes calls were made between the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. Compass acted as the safe house. The Greens, wonderfully, clung onto democracy – the local party had to decide. And they decided to stand up for a new politics. Andree Frieze would have been the Green candidate, and enjoyed her moment in the autumn sun. She and her party turned it down for a greater good. So did the Women’s Equality Party.

Meanwhile, what about Labour? Last time, they came a distant third. Again the phones were hit and meetings held. There was growing support not to stand. But what would they get back from the Liberal Democrats, and what did the rules say about not standing? It was getting close to the wire. I spent an hour after midnight, in the freezing cold of Aberdeen, on the phone to a sympathetic Labour MP trying to work out what the party rule book said before the selection meeting.

At the meeting, I am told, a move was made from the floor not to select. The London regional official ruled it out of order and said a candidate would be imposed if they didn’t select. Some members walked out at this point. Where was the new kinder, gentler politics? Where was membership democracy? Fast forward to last night, and the Labour candidate got less votes than the party has members.

The idea of a progressive alliance in Richmond was then cemented in a draughty church hall on the first Tuesday of the campaign – the Unitarian Church of course. Within 48 hours notice, 200 local activist of all parties and none had come together to hear the case for a progressive alliance. Both the Greens and Compass produced literature to make the case for voting for the best-placed progressive candidate. The Liberal Democrats wove their by-election magic. And together we won.

It’s a small victory – but it shows what is possible. Labour is going to have to think very hard whether it wants to stay outside of this, when so many MPs and members see it as common sense. The lurch to the right has to be stopped – a progressive alliance, in which Labour is the biggest tent in the campsite, is the only hope.

In the New Year, the Progressive Alliance will be officially launched with a steering committee, website and activists tool-kit. There will also be a trained by-election hit squad, manifestos of ideas and alliances build locally and across civil society.

There are lots of problems that lie ahead - Labour tribalism, the 52 per cent versus the 48 per cent, Scottish independence and the rest. But there were lots of problems in Richmond Park, and we overcame them. And you know, working together felt good – it felt like the future. The Tories, Ukip and Arron Banks want a different future – a regressive alliance. We have to do better than them. On Thursday, we showed we could.

Could the progressive alliance be the start of the new politics we have all hoped for?

Neal Lawson is the Chair of Compass, the pressure group for the progressive alliance.

Neal Lawson is chair of the pressure group Compass, which brings together progressives from all parties and none. His views on internal Labour matters are personal ones.