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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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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder