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EU membership is essential to continuing our strong Commonwealth ties

Britain’s ties with the countries of the Commonwealth are stronger if we remain in the European Union.

Contrary to the arguments by those who believe Britain should leave Europe, the UK can preserve our strong links to India and the other Commonwealth countries while being a leading EU member. We don’t need to make the choice – Britain is a stronger partner to India when it is in Europe.

This is a vital issue when you consider that there are 3.2m people born in other Commonwealth countries living in the UK, 1.2m of those living in London. In London alone there are half a million Indians, a third of the total Indian population in the UK.

The impression is often given that if the UK left the EU we would be able to pursue trading opportunities with the rest of the world more successfully.  However, there is no bar resulting from EU membership to the UK trading with the Commonwealth. Indeed, British exports to Commonwealth members have increased by an average of 63 per cent since 2004 - while Britain continued to be a leading EU member. Our exports to India specifically rose by 143 per cent in this period, just as they rose by 82 per cent to Pakistan and by 69 per cent to Australia. Last week more than £9 Billion worth of new trade deals were agreed while the Indian Prime Minister was in London.

What’s more, EU trade deals with Commonwealth countries protect their interests and cement historic ties. The UK benefits from EU agreements with countries such as Canada, which is set to be worth £2.3bn to the UK economy per year. The EU continues to be in discussions with India about a new trading partnership.

Outside of the EU the UK would not benefit from being part of the world’s largest trading bloc. That is why Prime Minister Modi said that the UK was India’s “gateway” to the EU: commonwealth countries want to trade with and invest in the UK because of our links to Europe, which would be sacrificed if we left. India is the third largest source of FDI to the UK. Our membership of the EU is no barrier to trade with the Commonwealth, it is what makes trade and investment with the UK an appetizing proposition.

Those who want Britain to leave the EU also say that this would end free movement of people and benefit migrants from Commonwealth countries. But this would not happen if we wanted to continue to have a trading relationship with the EU. Norway and Switzerland are not members of the EU but have higher rates of immigration than the UK, including from EU countries, because free movement is mandatory.

If leave campaigners want to end the UK’s access to Europe’s free trade area, they should say so. When the jobs of so many in the UK are linked to EU trade, why put people’s livelihoods at risk and endanger our families’ prosperity? The single market has the potential to bring 800,000 new jobs and £60bn to the UK economy. Of course we want trading relationships around the globe, but turning our back on our biggest markets just next door is no way to look ‘open for business’. The economic security and opportunities of all communities in the UK who benefit from a thriving UK economy would be at risk if we ignore such numbers.

Of course we want people from Commonwealth countries to be able to come and settle here in the UK, we have a proud history of welcoming economic migrants, who have set up some of Britain’s most successful businesses. We should welcome those from anywhere in the Commonwealth wanting to make a life, and build a family here, but not at the expense of being part of Europe, the answer isn’t sacrificing the strength of the Britain’s economy.

Virendra Sharma is Labour MP for Ealing Southall.

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