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.
Photo: Getty
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What's going on in Northern Ireland?

Everything you need to know about why Northern Ireland is heading for an early election - and how it all works. 

Northern Irish voters will elect a new government, just seven months after the last election. Here’s what you need to know.

It all starts with something called the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), a scheme designed to encourage businesses to switch to renewable sources of heating, by paying them to do so. But the plan had two flaws. Firstly, there was no upper limit to how much you could receive under the scheme and secondly there was no requirement that the new heaters replace the old.

That led to businesses installing biomass boilers to heat rooms that had previously not been heated, including storage rooms and in some cases, empty sheds.

 The cost of the scheme has now run way over budget, and although the door has been closed to new entrants, existing participants in the scheme will continue collecting money for the next 20 years, with the expected bill for the Northern Irish assembly expected to reach £1bn.  

The row is politically contentious because Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, and the First Minister of Northern Ireland, was head of the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) when the scheme was rolled out, putting her at the heart of the row. Though there is no suggestion that she personally enriched herself or her allies, there are questions about how DETI signed off the scheme without any safeguards and why it took so long for the testimony of whistleblowers to be acted on.

The opposition parties have called for a full inquiry and for Foster to step down while that inquiry takes place, something which she has refused to do. What happened instead is that the Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, resigned his post, he said as a result of frustration with the DUP’s instrangience about the scheme.

Under the rules of the devolved assembly (of which, more below), the executive – the ministers tasked with running the government day-to-day must be compromised of politicians drawn from the parties that finish first and second in the vote, otherwise the administration is dissolved.  McGuinesss’ Sinn Fein finished second and their refusal to continue participating in the executive while Foster remains in place automatically triggers fresh elections.

Northern Ireland uses the single transferable vote (STV) to elect members of the legislative assembly (MLAs). Under STV, multiple MLAs are elected from a single constituency, to more accurately reflect the votes of the people who live there and, crucially, to prevent a repeat of the pattern of devolved rule under first-past-the-post, when prolonged one-party rule by the Unionist and Protestant majority contributed to a sense of political alienation among the Catholic minority.

Elections are contested across 18 seats, with five MPs elected to every seat. To further ensure that no part of the community is unrepresented in the running of the devolved assembly, the executive, too, is put together with a form of proportional representation. Not only does the executive require a majority in the legislature to pass its business, under a system of “mandatory coalition”, posts on the executive are allocated under the D’Hondt system of proportional representation, with posts on the executive allocated according to how well parties do, with the first party getting first pick, and so on until it comes back to the first party until all the posts are filled.

Although the parties which finish third and lower can opt out of taking their seats on the executive and instead oppose the government, if the first and second party don’t participate in the coalition, there is no government.

As it is highly unlikely that the DUP and Sinn Fein will not occupy the first and second places when the election is over, it is equally unlikely that a second election will do anything other than prolong the chaos and disunity at Stormont. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.