Wasn’t Boris meant to take a victory lap?

Columnist  | Kishwar Desai

Opinion, Op Ed

Jeremy Corbyn, it seems, has managed to alienate large parts of the Indian community in the UK by his statements on Kashmir.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo: AFP)

Poor Prime Minister Boris Johnson. This was meant to be a victory lap, as he thought he had managed to get Parliament prorogued and was now free to Brexit. But things did not go according to plan, and after a court order, Parliament was reopened this week. Given that he thinks he has a people’s mandate to Brexit, he has received another blow in that the Opposition would prefer a fresh referendum, has cut out a no-deal Brexit, and wants an extension of the deadline to next year.

To make matters worse, the debate in Parliament became quite rough in the past few days, as Mr Johnson said that ruling out a no-deal Brexit was the language of “surrender”. This in turn infuriated MPs, and many said that using words like “surrender” encouraged abuse and death threats against them. They remembered Jo Cox, an MP who was anti-Brexit, but who was murdered by a right-wing extremist. Mr Johnson called this “humbug”, and said that the only way to honour Jo Cox’s memory would be to exit the EU without “surrendering”. This outraged many in the Labour Party to which Jo Cox belonged. It also upset people from his own party. Mr Johnson was even ticked off by his own sister, a well-known media personality and journalist, Rachel Johnson, over this faux pas. Mr Johnson appears to be losing support from his family, as a few weeks back his brother Jo Johnson quit the government. But so far polls show that people still prefer Mr Johnson over Jeremy Corbyn. And those hardliners who want to leave are prepared to leave with or without a deal. In short, chaos continues for the third year! Perhaps they need to resurrect Lord Mountbatten to hasten this Partition.

Jeremy Corbyn, it seems, has managed to alienate large parts of the Indian community in the UK by his statements on Kashmir. To begin with, Labour had been the party of choice for many Indians. But over the years, the drift has been towards the Conservatives. After the unfortunate incidents on August 15 outside the Indian high commission in London, it had sadly become apparent that sides would be taken, and battlelines drawn. With Labour deciding to comment on what the Indian government has clearly said is an internal matter, and Mr Corbyn’s recent conversations with Imran Khan, the Pakistani Prime Minister, he is likely to further lose Indian support.

But with Boris there can never be a dull day. Surprisingly enough, just when we thought the Prime Minister was settling down with his girlfriend Carrie Symonds, up pops another case of a suspected sexual involvement which the police are now investigating. It is alleged that while he was mayor of London, he may have had a sexual involvement with an American businesswoman, Jennifer Arcuri, and also “improperly” provided business benefits to her. While Team Boris claims that he will come out ever more popular, like Bill Clinton after the Monica Lewinsky episode, all these distractions come at a time when the British public is fatigued, and would like to see a decisive government rule so that the focus can get back to the economy.

Meanwhile, as the pound gets cheaper, people from overseas are heading here for education, buying property and even getting the coveted “rich list” tier 1 visa, which is yours if you invest £2 million in the country. The golden visa allows the rich to live and work in the country for five years. Since around 255 applications have already been granted in the first six months of 2019, corruption watch agencies are showing concern. In the 11,000 visas which have been granted so far since 2008 when the scheme was first introduced, most applicants were from China and Russia. One of the more interesting amongst the dubious lot who got these golden visas was one lady from Azerbaijan, who came under the scanner after she spent £16 million at Harrods! It seems her husband had been accused of taking money illegally from Azerbaijan’s national bank. But £16 million? What did she buy for God’s sake?

However, with tightened rules, the visa holders can even get residency in the country after five years. Only genuine and “law abiding” investors will be permitted to take these visas according to the home office. Though we are now wondering whether any of the so-called Indian renegades, after being accused of financial irregularities in India, escaped to the UK through this route?

Meanwhile, Priti Patel, the home secretary, is now tightening scrutiny and security on the social media, including WhatsApp and Facebook. She will sign an agreement with US-based tech companies next month to waive their encryption to track criminal activity. But will this be possible across the board?

Of course, this is essential when terrorists are exchanging messages through these channels (and we can just see other countries now scrambling to sign a similar agreement).

But the question everyone will ask is whether viewing of messages can be restricted to the target base of “suspected terrorists, paedophiles and other serious criminals”. Won’t innocuous messages we send asking each other to tea and other fascinating bits of information also be then read by Scotland Yard or MI5? Well, if it makes us safer, it’s all worth it!

(And an important message now to friends in London: Do remember to come to the Mahatma Gandhi statue at Parliament Square, opposite the House of Commons, in London, on October 2, 9 am, to pay our respects to the Mahatma.)

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