Reports that Rishi Sunak ‘faces a new conflict of interest row’ ahead of the G20 summit on the grounds that his wife could benefit from a UK-India trade deal are fuelled – I would say – by the realisation that a major trade win for the Conservative government could dent Labour’s election prospects.
Much of the noise is coming from the Labour benches, who ostensibly support a trade deal, but would much rather not have Sunak claiming the glory and making an economically struggling nation feel better about itself.
To me, the issue is too similar to some other ‘rows’ over India, including the BBC documentary on Narendra Modi and Suella Braverman’s remark about Indians outstaying their visas. They ignore Britain’s greater self-interest in reaching a historic deal in favour of petty point-scoring, with a vaguely xenophobic undertone.
A UK-India trade deal would be absolutely fantastic news for the UK economy, for the Indian economy and for all those of us who have worked tirelessly to promote such a deal for many years.
As a Member of the European Parliament in 2019 and 2020, closer links with India was one of my principal objectives: I chaired the EU India committee. In this role, I had to counter various MEPs asserting that Europe should not do business with India, on grounds of its supposed intolerance or anti-democratic bias. By marshalling the facts and winning over allies, I managed to convince my fellow MEPs that we should pursue deals rather than shun the world’s largest democracy and fastest-growing major economy.
Rishi Sunak must now do the same, and not be cowed by those who seek to destabilise negotiations. If Akshata Murthy (aka Mrs Sunak) stands to benefit from a trade deal, good for her! So will hundreds of thousands of British workers, whose jobs will be funded by the additional economic activity.
If Rishi gains politically, well good for him too! His predecessor but one, Boris Johnson, went out on several limbs to achieve a deal and couldn’t get it over the line. If Rishi succeeds where Boris failed, we should applaud his careful diplomacy, his personable style and wise analysis, rather than nit-picking over his wife’s share portfolio.
Much as I opposed Brexit and all it stood for, I am equally determined to see Britain thrive in the fast-evolving post-Brexit world, where global powers including US and China have become more isolationist in a backlash against the globalisation of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. An India-UK trade deal would be a welcome signal that new partnerships and trade alliances are still possible, especially between countries with such close historic ties.
I’m sure Rishi Sunak needs no advice from me, but just in case: stick to your guns, Rishi. There’s no need to ‘recuse’ yourself from the negotiations, as papers such as the Observer ridiculously suggest. Go out and sign the deal. We’ll all thank you in the end.
Dinesh Dhamija founded, built and sold online travel agency ebookers, before serving as a Member of the European Parliament. His latest book, The Indian Century, will be published in the Autumn.