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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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.