Rishi Sunak’s reappointment of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary may trouble India

Mayank Chhaya –

Mayank Chayya

In reappointing the controversial Suella Braverman as Home secretary, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has likely thrown a wet blanket over celebrations in India over his rise.

Braverman, who is of Indian origin from both her parents’ sides, in her previous avatar as home secretary, was known to be an anti-immigration hawk, particularly in relation to immigrants from India.

In an interview with The Spectator, Braverman, a Tamilian from her mother’s side and Goan from her father’s, had said, “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 had made it a point to highlight in that interview that Indian migrants were the largest visa overstayers.

However, Home Office statistics cited by the Guardian newspaper seemed to suggest a more nuanced picture. “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,” the paper reported earlier this month.

Braverman had earlier expressed skepticism about a trade agreement with India which the former Prime Minister Liz Truss wanted to sign before Diwali. However, the upheaval, caused by Truss’s tax agenda and overall incompetence, came in the way. At that time Braverman was asked if she would consider supporting a trade deal that afforded greater flexibility for students and entrepreneurs.

Her response was candid and something India was unhappy about.

“But I do have some reservations. 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 cooperation in this regard. It has not necessarily worked very well,” she had said.

Now that Sunak has reinstated her at the Home Office, it is too early to stay whether under the new reality of a prime minister battling multiple domestic and international crises would be forced to take a softer approach to issues such as immigration. At a time when Sunak has to balance a lot of competing urgent priorities, coming across as unaccommodating towards India might be perceived as bad form by New Delhi.

Sunak is unlikely to find much time to bask in the glory some historic firsts in his ascension such as being the first “person of color”, the first Hindu and at 42, the youngest prime minister in the last 200 years. Beyond the country’s battered economy, weakening pound, angry trade unionism and high inflation the new prime minister also has to fend against the growing calls for a fresh parliamentary election.

According to a poll by YouGov 63 percent of Britons want an early general election which could expose Sunak’s Conservative Party to some serious electoral jeopardy. The fact that a minuscule percentage of citizens have had any say in the rapidly shifting politics of the country, including first the choice of Truss as prime minister in the aftermath of Boris Johnson’s departure and now Sunak’s ascension in the aftermath of Truss’s ouster is not going down well with the people.

For instance, barely 200 Members of Parliament appointed Sunak at a time when the general public has become rather restive.

One way to placate some of that restless mood is for Sunak to immediately begin to deal with the country’s economy. Soon after taking over as prime minister today, he said in his first speech, “I will place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government’s agenda. This will mean difficult decisions to come.”  His reference to “difficult decisions” was widely seen to signal significant cuts in public expenditure.

“All I can say is that I am not daunted. I know the high office I have accepted and I hope to live up to its demands,” he said.

Meanwhile, New Delhi will be watching with interest how the Sunak government positions itself with India.

Related posts