Farrukh Dhondy | Hedgie, Modi and FTA: Why desperate UK needs a deal…

Update: 2022-11-18 18:30 GMT
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, left, and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi hold a bilateral meeting in Nusa Dua, Indonesia, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. (Photo: AP)

“The autumnal breeze assails the trees

Soon it will be winter which promises a freeze –

The days make us older, this relentless time

Oh Bachchoo don’t suffer

From the shortage of a rhyme!”

From Dill lagi Ki Dillagi, by Bachchoo


Hedgie Sunak talks to Narendraji at the G-20 summit in Bali. They discuss a possible trade agreement by first talking about visas allowing Indian citizens entry into the UK for work and study.

Hedgie is, as Liz Truss, BoJo and all other Brexiteers, desperate to alleviate the economic crisis that Brexit has resulted in by striking trade agreements in the rest of the world. It’s a mirage. At G-20 Hedgie spoke to Joe Biden and no mention was made of such a deal. President Biden and President Barack Obama before him were very clear that Britain outside the European Union will have to await its turn for a favourable trade agreement. In fact, phrases such as “back of the queue” were thrown about.

The spanner in the works of Liz Truss’ attempt to broker this deal was thrown by her home secretary, Suella “Cruella” Braverman. This nasty piece of work, pandering to the racist right of the Tories, had declared that Indians were not welcome here as they were notorious for overstaying their visas. The Indian government was not amused.

Now, Hedgie is desperate not only for the trade deal but also to get over the labour shortages -- in the National Health Service, short by the tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and care workers; in scientific research; and in the hospitality, transport and building industries.

His government desperately boasts that the UK is experiencing the lowest number of people registered as unemployed. And yet there are, paradoxically today, 5.3 million individuals claiming welfare benefits. These are people reluctant to work in the sectors short of labour on the wages that these sectors offer.

Statistics can be seen, as Cruella suggested in one of her outbursts, as proving that a chunk of the British workforce is lazy, exploitative and content to live on state handouts.

This is right-wing Tory tosh, and a cover for the mess they have created of the British economy. It’s the wounded cry of Brexiteers who have chased away the Europeans who filled the gaps we now experience in the British workforce, both professional and blue-collar.

Hedgie will, when he returns to the UK from G-20 in Bali, undoubtedly tell the nation that visas will be given to the skilled Indian doctors and scientists who can fill the NHS vacancies. Will he mention nurses and unskilled labour -- the sort that goes to the Middle East to fill labour shortages for ambitious buildings in, say, Qatar?

Hedgie re-employed Cruella as home secretary precisely six days after she had been forced to resign for a breach of the ministerial code when she leaked confidential documents to the wrong people from her private e-mail address and claimed it was a “mistake”. She is, therefore, in charge of the migrant asylum seekers who arrive in Britain, in the main as refugees from persecution in their own countries. They are kept for months, and some literally for years in limbo, in camps for asylum seekers, as the home office doesn’t make efforts to process them swiftly through the system. Some MPs and other commentators have suggested that the asylum allocations be speeded up, so that at least some asylum seekers can fill the urgent vacancies in the workforce.

Cruella, playing to her right-wing gallery, won’t countenance that. The old joke was “Johnny foreigner, coming over here and taking our jobs!” The new joke is “Johnny foreigner coming here and not taking our jobs!”

I must now confess, gentle reader, that I have never profited from unemployment benefits from the British State, and sometimes think I should have, when desperately waiting for the next income from writing, declaring that I was an out-of-work camel-trainer or some such and couldn’t find re-employment.

I didn’t.

I must say, once while on a two-night train journey in India, when I had chosen to ride in the third-class sleeper compartment, even though my travel was being paid for by Channel 4 and I could have flown business class wherever, I cultivated conversation with six other passengers who gathered round to share conversation and rum as the night approached. As is customary, we asked and told each other where we came from, what we did and our names. Late at night, still sitting up on our bunks with that bottle of rum, one fellow-passenger -- he was a perfume salesman -- asked in Hindi: “Farrukh Saheb, I mean no offence, but I have heard that in England if you don’t work, the government pays you money every week? Is that true?”

I said it was true and was called unemployment benefit.

My answer caused a great deal of interest.

“How does one get to Britain?”

I said the benefit was not much -- survival subsidy.

“I don’t care,” at least two of my audience said, “I am happy with daal and roti!”

Again, I was pressed on how one came to Britain.

Later that night, there were questions about sado-masochism and men paying to be whipped. I had to say it was part of the sex trade and my travelling companions, who expressed their ready willingness to whip all comers for a fee, would not find employment in it.

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