Virendra Sharma has been the MP for the London constituency of Ealing Southall since 2007, and a vocal campaigner for the U.K. remaining in the EU. Last week, he was one of the 47 Labour MPs who rebelled against the party line to oppose the Brexit legislation. He spoke to The Hindu about his stance on Brexit and the impact that the referendum has had on his constituency, which is 30% of Indian origin. Sixty-five per cent of his constituents voted to remain in Europe in last year’s referendum.
Can you give us a sense of how the Indian community voted in your constituency?
It’s very interesting when you look at the voting pattern, we can assume large numbers voted for Brexit. In the wards where a very high percentage of the population was white, the gap between Remain and Brexit was huge, but if you go towards Southall, the gap is much smaller. So my assumption is that there are many who voted for Brexit. I didn’t come across many on the doorstep, though.
What was the impact on voters of the promise made by some that leaving the EU would give the government flexibility to ease up on rules for Commonwealth countries such as India?
This was wrong information provided by the Leave campaign. Ordinary people did get the sense [from them] that if immigration from Europe was stopped, an easier immigration regime for South Asia would happen — and because we are a big diaspora here, we will have influence. That is the picture that was portrayed to them, but it was not true, and since then, there has been no move to relax it. We can argue from some of the changes they’ve brought in that it’s going to be more harsh. The way Prime Minister Theresa May responded to questions in India indicates very clearly that she is not prepared to give any flexibility to people from the Indian subcontinent, but in fact the other way around.
Why do you think those who voted to remain chose to do so?
The most important reason is that the majority don’t see India as their destination any more — as was the case when I came here. For the third or fourth generation, their best opportunities lie in Europe, the languages, the culture, the environment, the connections. The Asian youth voted to remain for the economic and social opportunities Europe provided.
Has it resulted in any divisions within the local community?
You don’t get the “active” divisions — on the streets — that you might get elsewhere. It depends on the profession. If you are a builder working on a building site, Indians are competing with eastern Europeans for work, and even in other areas, waiters and waitresses. So there are no very obvious divisions, but tensions exist, though they were there even before Brexit.
What will Brexit mean for the constituents of Southall?
To start with, prices will go up, household budgets will suffer — its already happening — even setting aside the larger picture. My constituency is mainly a working class community and it will make a huge difference even if prices go up by a small amount, it will make a huge dent in their income.
What in your view will the impact on India-U.K. relations be?
While India will want to help, the way development is taking place there, the way they want to open the country for business and investment, I think they will bypass Britain to deal with Europe. The relationship we have had is historical but now it’s more about business, we are not talking about the emotional link.
You opposed Brexit from the start, and you continue to oppose the Brexit legislation. Why?
I feel that in the political field you shouldn’t always have to compromise... . Leaving will entail penalties, it will be an expensive business. I was convinced before this began and no one has convinced me there is another way.