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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 5 things the Tories aren't telling you about their manifesto

Turns out the NHS is something you really have to pay for after all. 

When Theresa May launched the Conservative 2017 manifesto, she borrowed the most popular policies from across the political spectrum. Some anti-immigrant rhetoric? Some strong action on rip-off energy firms? The message is clear - you can have it all if you vote Tory.

But can you? The respected thinktank the Institute for Fiscal Studies has now been through the manifesto with a fine tooth comb, and it turns out there are some things the Tory manifesto just doesn't mention...

1. How budgeting works

They say: "a balanced budget by the middle of the next decade"

What they don't say: The Conservatives don't talk very much about new taxes or spending commitments in the manifesto. But the IFS argues that balancing the budget "would likely require more spending cuts or tax rises even beyond the end of the next parliament."

2. How this isn't the end of austerity

They say: "We will always be guided by what matters to the ordinary, working families of this nation."

What they don't say: The manifesto does not backtrack on existing planned cuts to working-age welfare benefits. According to the IFS, these cuts will "reduce the incomes of the lowest income working age households significantly – and by more than the cuts seen since 2010".

3. Why some policies don't make a difference

They say: "The Triple Lock has worked: it is now time to set pensions on an even course."

What they don't say: The argument behind scrapping the "triple lock" on pensions is that it provides an unneccessarily generous subsidy to pensioners (including superbly wealthy ones) at the expense of the taxpayer.

However, the IFS found that the Conservatives' proposed solution - a "double lock" which rises with earnings or inflation - will cost the taxpayer just as much over the coming Parliament. After all, Brexit has caused a drop in the value of sterling, which is now causing price inflation...

4. That healthcare can't be done cheap

They say: "The next Conservative government will give the NHS the resources it needs."

What they don't say: The £8bn more promised for the NHS over the next five years is a continuation of underinvestment in the NHS. The IFS says: "Conservative plans for NHS spending look very tight indeed and may well be undeliverable."

5. Cutting immigration costs us

They say: "We will therefore establish an immigration policy that allows us to reduce and control the number of people who come to Britain from the European Union, while still allowing us to attract the skilled workers our economy needs." 

What they don't say: The Office for Budget Responsibility has already calculated that lower immigration as a result of the Brexit vote could reduce tax revenues by £6bn a year in four years' time. The IFS calculates that getting net immigration down to the tens of thousands, as the Tories pledge, could double that loss.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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