It has been barely a month since we have had a new Conservative government and I am almost getting nostalgic about the rule-breaking, party-going former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his ‘bullying’ Home Secretary Priti Patel.
That is how bad it is getting now, with Prime Minister Liz Truss and her Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng creating economic havoc with their ‘mini budget’ and Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who is completely in another league of her own.
I won’t say I am surprised at all by Braverman’s latest statements, as I had feared and written she would prove to be dangerous when she threw her hat into the Tory leadership ring earlier this year.
As Attorney General in Johnson’s cabinet, she wanted UK to be pulled out of European Convention on Human Rights. That was the first glaring warning and since then each time I heard her speak, my gut feeling strengthened about her mindset – that she would be extremely divisive, exacerbating the terrible Brexit divide and aggravating culture wars. At the moment my fears are proving to be right.
‘Have Concerns About an Open Borders Migration Policy With India’: Braverman
While reeling under the cost-of-living and energy crisis, the country is struggling with the now unfortunate self-inflicted outcome of Brexit, when the UK needs to secure trade deals, our Home Secretary seems to be on a rampage to destroy UK’s reputation internationally as well as its bilateral relations.
As UK and India stand on the verge of signing a historic Free Trade Agreement, where Truss is prepared to include migration as part of the deal, Indian-origin Braverman is obviously displeased about it.
“I have concerns about having an open borders migration policy with India because I don’t think that’s what people voted for with Brexit,” she told The Spectator.
As far as I understand it is about visa flexibility as a quid pro-quo for free trade and not about complete free movement for all Indian citizens.
“Look at migration in this country – the largest group of people who overstay are Indian migrants. We even reached an agreement with the Indian government last year to encourage and facilitate better co-operation in this regard. It has not necessarily worked very well,” she said.
So, can one expect this friction to grow between Truss and Braverman?
Home Office statistics show that 20,706 Indians overstayed their visas in 2020, higher than any other nationality, although other nationalities recorded a higher proportion of overstayers.
Of the 473,600 Indians whose visas were due to expire in the 12 months to March 2020, 452,894 are known to have left, meaning 4.4% of them overstayed their visa.
No one is denying illegal immigration is a serious issue. But it is an issue that is being dealt with, between the two governments and cannot be allowed to become an impediment to a larger deal which surely the UK needs, following Brexit.
The Indian High Commission has rightly responded: “While certain issues pertaining to Mobility and Migration are currently under discussion as part of these negotiations” and that “any arrangement will include issues of interest on both sides.” It further added: “As per data shared with the Home Office, as on date, action has been initiated on all the cases referred to the High Commission.”
If Anyone Thought Priti Patel Was Bad..
Clearly, anti-immigration Braverman, 42, who supported the deal struck by her predecessor Patel to deport illegal asylum seekers to Rwanda recently went a step forward to say her “dream” was to see the photograph of a plane with asylum seekers on a one-way flight to Rwanda by Christmas, on the front page of a national newspaper and was “obsessed” about it.
If anyone thought Patel was bad, Braverman wants to make claiming asylum near impossible. Reacting to her comments emeritus Professor Prem Sikka tweeted: “She is dreaming about human trafficking, violating the UN Refugee Convention, not about justice, compassion, humanity.”
However, earlier this year, the entire Rwanda deal was vetoed by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. She sees this as another unfinished part of Brexit.
“In legal and constitutional and political terms, we haven’t fully taken back or repatriated powers because we’re subjugated via our subscription to the ECHR,” she said.
Does she not realise that such a radical step would put the UK in the same company as Vladimir Putin’s regime after Russia announced in March it would cease to be party to the convention and was ending jurisdiction of the European court?
‘Proud of the British Empire'
Born of Goan and Mauritian parents who moved to Kenya before settling in the UK, Braverman seems to be keen to rewrite her immigrant past. Or is she one of those, of which there are many, who believe no other immigrant should benefit from what they have.
She has also rejected a proposal from business secretary of state Jacob Rees Mogg’s department for more foreign workers to come to the UK to be town planners, hairdressers and many such categories, and wants to cut down student visas too, amid cabinet split on immigration.
She said she was 'proud of the British Empire' in an interview, adding, “I am informed by the experience of my parents. [They] were born under the British Empire in the 1940s, and they have nothing but good things to tell me about the mother country. It was Britain that gave them opportunity and safety when they were young adults.” She said Mauritius's legal and educational system took inspiration from the British Empire, while in Kenya it was a 'force for good' as it put in place infrastructure and roads. Note, she does not mention her Indian origin.
Is it a case of being more loyal than the King or is there some personal political agenda that she is ready to contradict the not-so-strong Prime Minister vis-à-vis Indian immigrants at the last minute of a trade deal, and vociferously take extreme positions?
Privilege of an Immigrant
Let us understand a bit about Braverman. She belongs to once one of the largest Buddhist sects in the UK which continues to venerate its founder Dennis Lingwood who took the Buddhist name of Sangharakshita, despite all claims that he was a serial sexual predator according to The Observer. She is a ‘mitra’ within the Triratna order.
Daughter of Christie Fernandes of Assagao and Nairobi, Braverman lost her first election to the then Labour leader Keith Vaz, also of Goan origin in 2005.
However, she carried on with her hard right stance bordering on xenophobia to her bizarre “war on woke”. Today, as the Conservatives have been moving to the hard right over the years, Braverman has found her place in the Cabinet.
Many would like to believe that she escapes being called a racist because she is an immigrant herself, a privilege no white minister would enjoy given the statements she is making.
Some believe the Tories were using Patel previously, and her now, both Asian-African immigrants to front grotesque immigration policies. But the other side of the coin could well be she is sharpening her claws to get ready for the next battle if Truss’ position worsens, and, is hence catering to the extreme right of the Conservatives. In a party that is already deeply divided, she may see herself as emerging a winner. But whatever her intent, her modus operandi makes the Conservatives look more like the extreme right, almost defunct UKIP.
It was not too long ago when Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech caused unrest. But it also ruined his career. What does the future hold for the latest radical right Trumpian Suella Braverman? Time will tell.
Most importantly, will Conservatives be able to move back to centre-right? Or will it wither away with its current ratings plummeting to only 27 percent? It’s time for Labour to take a stand, clear and loud.
(Nabanita Sircar is a senior journalist based in London. She tweets at @sircarnabanita. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)